The Real World of Poldark: an insider’s guide to Cornwall, 1783-1820
You’ve watched the TV series. You’ve read the books. But what was the Cornwall of Poldark’s time really like? The gentry couldn’t have spent all their time galloping up and down the cliffs. So what did they do? Haymakers wouldn’t often have been scything with their shirts off. So what did they wear?
Moreover, were Cornish miners prone to riot? And why? What was the humble cottage like the one in which Demelza grew up actually like? Were prisons as bad as the one in which Jim Carter was kept?
What was Cornwall’s national sport? What happened during a religious revival? How rife was smuggling? Did wreckers loot ships? What did a bal maiden actually do? And who were the real models for the Warleggans?
In this book you’ll meet some of the characters that make up the background in the Poldark saga. People like the irascible and hyper-active Sir Francis Basset, John Opie the talented Cornish artist, and Richard Trevithick , the equally talented Cornish engineer. Moreover, you’ll be introduced to more humble folk, such as the woman who was convicted of poisoning her husband, the tramp who committed suicide in a lonely field and the clergyman who managed a parliamentary borough, not to mention the woman who conducted her own defence after she had accused him of corruption and was sued for libel.
Available from late February/early March the chapters are …
- The Mine
- The Counthouse
- The Cottage
- The Road
- The Sea
- The Chapel
- The Plain an Gwarry
- The Crowd
- The Great House
- The Prison
- The Borough
My aim on this site is to provide a comprehensive first port of call for anyone seeking accurate and trustworthy information on Cornwall and its history. I’ll be adding more topics over time. Regular summaries and reviews of academic work on Cornwall can also be found here. Suggestions for further topics are welcome.
You’ll also find a full list of my own publications on the site, some of which have links to full text versions. (For those who don’t know me, I was Senior Lecturer in Cornish Studies at the Institute of Cornish Studies before retirement.) Meanwhile some details of my other recent publications can be found below.
My most recent book is The Surnames of Cornwall, a gazetteer of family names in Cornwall. This aimed to inject a bit more rigour into the study of surnames by looking at the historical evidence for their geographical distribution and at early spellings. This often enables us to pin down their origin and sometimes helps confirm suggested meanings. The Surnames of Cornwall
- gives the purported meanings for 760 of the surnames which were the most common or the most unique to Cornwall in past times.
- includes spelling variants of the names.
- describes the areas in which the names originated and where they were found in the 1800s.
- notes some well-known bearers of some of the names.
- includes an introduction setting out the context for the study of surnames.
The book is supported by maps (see example below), which are online at this site. These provide snapshots of the distribution of names in the 1861 Census. This book is now available from Amazon for £9.99 (+ postage). Copies can be purchased direct from me. It is also available from The Edge of the World Bookshop, Penzance. There is also an ebook version available from Amazon for £4.99.
Industrial Celts explains how Cornwall’s early industrialisation produced a unique society and a distinct regional culture. Socially, Cornwall became home to a dispersed paternalist society. In economic terms, it was based on mining and merchant capitalism. Culturally, it was dominated by Methodism. The twin symbols of mining and Methodism became central to a sense of Cornishness, encapsulated in the popular dialect literature that flourished in the mid-1800s. At the same time, identification of the Cornish as Celts became more widespread. That self-description had been recognised by Cornish historians as early as the 1700s and did not have to await either the later ‘Cornish Revival’ or romantic, metropolitan dreamers. Moreover, early de-industrialisation and mass emigration meant that Cornwall’s rural industrial economy and society retained material differences well into the twentieth century. However, the sense of identity produced by its industrialisation had its limits and proved incapable of competing with more powerful territorial discourses. Industrial Celts, a revised and more accessible version of my doctoral thesis, restores the importance of Cornwall’s industrial period to the modern sense of Cornishness and is an essential addition to the corpus of scholarly work on Cornwall’s past.
If you’re interested in this can you afford to miss From a Cornish Study: essays on Cornish Studies and Cornwall?