Exploring England #14
We couldn’t go anywhere in the south of Cornwall without seeing the handsome face of Ross Poldark. From cushions to coffee cups, his presence was unavoidable. I wasn’t complaining. I’ve read Winston Graham’s wonderful historic tales of the Poldark family, and I enjoyed watching both the original 1970s and new 2015 television productions as much as anyone.
So did my sister-in-law, who asked for a souvenir. When I purchased a key ring for her, I made sure to tell the shop assistant it wasn’t for me. He laughed – it wasn’t the first time he’d heard that story!
The Poldark name doesn’t just belong to the fictional family though. Close to Helston on the Lizard Peninsula is the Poldark Mine, and you’d be mistaken if you think it’s a television set left behind after filming.
Tin has been mined in this area since the Bronze Age and records show it was being processed here in Tudor times. As the oldest surviving complete tin mine in Cornwall, it’s part of the UNESCO Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site.
The mine shafts visible today date from the 18th century. The only way to see them is on a guided tour; wearing protective helmets, visitors go underground to explore the old tunnels and shafts on several levels. The walls are slick with moisture and the sound of water still flowing deep in the mine fills the dark spaces.
While modern access is via metal steps, remnants of the old ways remain in place and veins of ore-bearing granite left untouched make a dark tracery across the rock walls.
So what is the connection to the Poldark name? Winston Graham launched the last book in his Poldark series here in 2002 and underground mining scenes in both television shows were filmed in the mine. According to our tour guide, the author was a friend of the mine owner and gave his permission for the mine to be renamed in honour of his much loved characters.
Fact or fiction? I don’t know, but it makes a great story!