‘Little huts’: housing in the late 1700s

In the fictional universe of Poldark, Demelza had lived in a ‘tiny, crowded cottage’ before being whisked away by Ross. But exactly how rough and rudimentary were the cottages in which folk like Demelza and her family had to live? Fortunately, we possess several descriptions of the cottages of the labouring poor in these years. The home to which William Pryce, a mine doctor, took a victim of a mining accident in the 1770s does not sound too appealing. It was a ‘hut’, teeming with half-clothed children, ‘destitute of all conveniences, and almost of all necessaries, the whole indeed is a scene of such complicated wretchedness and distress, as words have no power to describe’. This may have been especially bad, but William Jenkin at Redruth in 1799 also described miners’ cottages as ‘little huts’, and in 1796 commented on the poor state of the bedding in miners’ houses.

‘semi-fluid accumulations of putrid slime’

At the end of our period Clement Carlyon, a Truro doctor, memorably described the cottages of the mining districts:

wretchedly built and damp and dirty in the extreme. At their doors may be seen the usual mud-pools, which in winter overflow and render the approach to these inconvenient, whilst in summer these semi-fluid accumulations of putrid slime continue to exhale offensive and deleterious miasmata from their dark green surfaces.

(From Chapter 3: The Cottage, The Real World of Poldark)

Cottage at Scorrier, near Redruth. ‘The thick walls and comfortable looking thatch hid floors of beaten earth, or more usually a mixture of lime and ash … (which was) continually damp. Moreover, these solid cob walls often suffered badly from damp and rats.’ This sort of house would have been a step up from the ‘little huts’ mentioned by Pryce and Jenkin.

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