Links to Places in Cornwall Associated with Jane Austen
This county, forming the south-western extremity of Great Britain, is every where surrounded by the sea except on its eastern side, which borders upon Devonshire, from which county it is separated by the Tamar, and an artificial boundary of a few miles at its northern extremity. It is of an angular figure, growing gradually narrower from east to west, and terminating at last in a point. From the western extremity, called the Land’s End, to the Devonshire border, it measures ninety miles the side contiguous to Devon is above fifty miles; but the breadth very soon contracts to thirty, and near the Land’s End does not exceed seven. Its area in miles is stated at 1407. It contains nine hundreds.
Thus detached as Cornwall is by situation from the rest of England, it was formerly still further separated by the use of a totally different language, a dialect of the Armorican, and related to the Welsh. This language has for two or three centuries ceased to be common, and is now utterly extirpated; but the proper names of the county still exhibit a striking difference from those of English origin.
Cornwall, from its soil, appearance, and climate, is one of the least inviting of the English counties. A ridge of bare rugged hills, intermixed with bleak moors, runs through the midst of its whole length, and in the narrowest parts extends from side to side. The low grounds, from the hills to the sea, are in some places rendered sufficiently fertile by the aid of manure derived from the sea sand and weeds of the beach; but the saltiness of the atmosphere, and the violence of the winds, will scarcely suffer trees, or even hedges, to grow near the shore; so that almost the whole county has a naked and desolate appearance. The air is rendered extremely moist by the surrounding body of water; and the high lands in the center intercept the mists and clouds in their passage; so that rains or fogs are almost daily experienced. At the same time the winds are continually shifting with violence from one point to another; which circumstance, while it increases the mutability of the weather, has a favourable effect in preventing those stagnations of damp air which are so prejudicial to health in some wet countries. The winters are here very mild, snow seldom lying more than two or three days, and frosts being of short duration; 50 that myrtles and other southern plants are able to live the year round in the open air. On the other hand, the summers are cool, and the autumns too wet to bring to perfect maturity the fruits of the earth.
The grain which succeeds best is barley, of which very large crops are produced on the banks of the Camel and in its neighbourhood. Potatoes also yield abundantly in some lands, and seem peculiarly calculated for the climate. Good cyder is made on the eastern side of the county. The cattle kept here are chiefly of the Devonshire breed; and being much in request, are sold in great numbers for fattening.
It is, however, to the shoals of fish on its coast, and its mineral treasures, that Cornwall is indebted for its populousness and relative importance.
Of the great variety of fish on the Cornish coast, none is of considerable an object of commerce as the pilchard, which appears in immense shoals during the summer and autumn. On the northern side the principal fishery is at St. Ives. On the southern they first appear in Mounts Bay, and thence proceed eastward to St. Mawes, Mevagissey, East and West Looe, and quite to the Devonshire coast. They are caught in large nets of a peculiar make, called seans, each of which is managed by three boats, containing about eighteen men. Besides the great supply these fish afford to the miners and ether poor of Cornwall, large quantities are cured and exported, principally up the Mediterranean. Mackerel is also taken in great plenty on the southern coast; and oysters are extremely common, the best being found in the creeks in Constantine parish.
Of the minerals in this county, the granite, here called moor-stone, is one of the most important. It forms the chain of mountains which, commencing at Dartmoor, runs through Cornwall to the Land’s End. When first raised it is soft, and may be worked without much difficulty, but afterwards it becomes extremely hard. Between Liskeard and the Tamar are some quarries of slate, which supply the inhabitants of Plymouth. Several quarries have been opened in other places; but the best in Cornwall are procured at Denyball, near Tintagel, in the north part of the county, the whole quarry being three hundred yards long, one hundred broad, and forty fathoms in depth. The Cornish free-stone of the purest quality approaches to the Portland and Bath stone, and is found in the parishes of Carantoc and the lower St. Columb. The greatest abundance of steatites, or soap rock, is situated between the Lizard and Mullion, the whole of which is rented by the proprietors of the porcellain mannfactory at Worcester. But the fossil of most importance in Cornwall is that called the China-stone, obtained in the parish of St. Stephen near St Austel, which is an essential ingredient in the Staffordshire pottery. It is a decomposed granite, the feldspar of which has lost its property of fusibility. Many ship loads have been sent away every year; and at Truro it has been manufactured into retorts and crucibles of excellent use for resisting fire.
From early antiquity Cornwall has been celebrated for the tin which it yielded, and which was an object of commerce to civilized nations, while Britain was a land of Barbarians. From the time of its first discovery to the present day, tin mines have been dispersed over the greatest part of Cornwall; and the quantity procured of this metal is found to exceed that in any other part of the world, its importance may be judged of by the several towns which have received the name 0f stannary towns, and which are now Launceston, Lostwithiel, Truro, Helston, and Penzance. At all these, the tinners are obliged to convey their blocks respectively to be stamped by the proper officers, which is denominated coining the tin. The demand for this metal has been diminished in England by the introduction of earthen-ware instead of pewter for the use of the table; yet great quantities of tin are still employed for a variety of purposes; and it forms an object of considerable consequence both in domestic and foreign commerce. In particular, a large exportation to China and the East Indies has lately taken place, which has given new activity to the mining business.
Copper ores are found in this county in great abundance and variety. These commonly lie deeper than those of tin and its ores are generally of the pyritous and sulphurated kinds, with more or less arsenic. The ore is considered the richest, when of an uniform lead colour throughout. The annual produce of the copper mines has lately amounted to 40,000 tons of ore, which yields nearly 4,700 tons of copper.
The lead mines in Cornwall are not numerous, but have been found in many parts of the county, and are generally thought to be incorporated with silver. The ores most frequently met with are galena, or pure suiphuret of lead, both crystallized and in masses. Silver, without any mixtore of other metals, has engaged the pursuit of some mining adventurers, but to what degree of success is problematical. Iron ores exist in abundance in many parts, but the expense of working them at home is greater than the profit. Many toils of the ore have of late years been shipped for Wales. Bismuth, lapis calaminaris or calamine, and antimony, add to the metallic products of this rich country.
Of the rivers of Cornwall the most important is that which forms the separation between this county and Devonshire, The Tamar takes its origin from a moor near Morvinstow, the most northern district of Cornwall. Taking a nearly southern course under banks diversified with rocks, wood,, and meadows, and admitting in one part of its track an incursion from Devon to cross it, in fine it opens into the broad bay which passing Saitish, unites with the Plym and forms the noble port of Plymouth.
The Lynher derives its source from the hills in Alternon parish, and winding through a varied country, receives the waters of the Tidi, and spreading into the form of a lake, empties into the Tamar near Saltash. The Fowy rises at a place called Fowywell, between Launceston and Bodmin, and after receiving several rivulets, passes Lostwithiel in a southern course, and joins the sea below Fowey.
The Camel or Alan, after passing Camelford in the northeast of the county, flows in a circuitous channel near Bodmin, below which it turns northward, and becoming navigable for barges, finally empties into the Bristol channel. The Fat, which is the most considerable river in the central part of Cornwall, rises at a place called Fenton-val, and having at length united all its branches in the capacious reservoir called Carreg Rode, forms the harbour of Falmouth.
Before we take into consideration the towns in this county worth notice, it will be proper to make a remark concerning its parliamentary representation. Cornwall, from some singular management, has a greater number of boroughs than any other in the kingdom, the whole, including the county members, amounting to 44. Most of these places are now very inconsiderable; and if a reform is ever effected in this respect, it cannot be doubted that it will make a commencement here. In the mean-time we shall not so far degrade the national representation, as to take the Cornish members into the account.
Text : England Described etc (1818) by John Atkin M.D.
Map: Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.(1812) by John Cary
Jane Austen References
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 1st October 1808
Mansfield Park : Chapter 13
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