The hollow jarring of the distant steam engines

From page 6 of my The Real World of Poldark: Cornwall 1783-1820

On television, we saw Ross Poldark galloping along the cliff tops, crystal clear in the sparkling sunlight. Back in 1795, an anonymous visitor was more concerned with the smoke that enveloped the mining district. Redruth was ‘in a cloud of smoke … which is the reason we did not breakfast’. Although he noted that Camborne was ‘a small village delightfully free from smoke’, the country between there and Penzance, ‘is filled with smoke from the number of steam engines’. The smoke from the ponderous, creaking pumping engines, in addition to that from people’s fireplaces, was striking evidence that west Cornwall was leading the way into the fossil-fuel driven industrialisation that has since revolutionised the world, perhaps rather too effectively for comfort. However, in the 1790s any such doubts lay well into the future. Other visitors too commented on the unusual level of air pollution in west Cornwall. In 1794 William Maton observed that the sand:

blown about by every blast … renders [the appearance of Hayle Towans] truly dismal, the immense volumes of smoke that roll over it, proceeding from the copper houses, increase its cheerless effect, while the hollow jarring of the distant steam engines remind us of the labours of the Cyclops in the entrails of Mount Etna.

He got hold of an advance copy but didn’t think too much of it.

Details of the book can be found here.

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