Today the BBC launched their long awaited new production of Poldark, the story of Ross Poldark and Demelza and their endeavours to thrive and prosper in a Cornwall of mining, fishing and no doubt smuggling; a Cornwall removed from the rest of jolly England by Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and numerous other geographical features that nowadays we just drive through on the M5 and A30.
Having now seen and enjoyed tonight's episode, which has surprised me. I now know that the story was set in 1783. I don't know the story lines but I do know that Poldark was set in a county which between 1760 and maybe 1880 became one of the richest places on the planet. Tin and copper mining was enjoying a technological revolution and with the aid of the new steam powered beam engines, miners could extract the valuable metals from deeper underground than ever before. Other machines crush and smash ore and move ore and coal like the cells in your veins to and from the surrounding coastal ports; the West Cornish landscape must have seemed like something out of a satanic Bosch painting in it's heyday.
Sadly, the last tin mine closed in 1998 and Cornwall has suffered greatly with the demise of mining, the controls on fishing and a lack of meaningful employment - until now...
Today, Cornwall is technically still in the economic doldrums and many would swear that it ain't getting better but I feel there are signs of life, how do I know this? I surmise that the increase in the number of very competent design businesses springing up throughout the county indicates that the economy is becoming a bit more brand savvy. The internet has levelled the marketing playing field and offers anyone and everyone the ability to provide a product or service from anywhere. To those in the know and in the knowledge economy, Cornwall all of a sudden, offers both a relatively inexpensive place to 'set up shop' with the added bonus of extraordinarily beautiful surroundings and amenity.
The county needs to be very careful however, greed and inappropriate overdevelopment could easily ruin the very thing which differentiates it from the rest of the country and cheapen it's offer to the discerning traveller. Thankfully the 10 major regions of mining activity and the remnants thereof have been protected by UNESCO World Heritage status. But what of it? A bunch of derelict buildings whose photographs adorn the shiny tins of ginger biscuits on the tables and doylies of the aged is not going to polish the image of the county with the young.
Surfing! That's it!
Well I'm not so sure. You ask any seasoned cornish surfer what the problems are and he, or she, will tell you 'there's too many surfers out there dude and it's damned cold!'. And what of the not so active visitor? He or she might like to sit on a crowded beach or on a wet day, visit one of the many 'attractions'.
Which brings us right back round to Poldark. After the previous series in the 1980's a small attraction outside Helston called H'apenny Park rebranded as Poldark Mine. I used to work there producing sepia-toned photographs of tourists dressed as miners, a job I really enjoyed and real chemical darkroom stuff too. Later I produced an illustration used for the cover of their brochure, a job I'm not so proud of. The main attraction of Poldark was a descent into what was described as a mine, I was never convinced that it was a 'real mine' but, it was apparently operational during the tin mining boom and was called Wheal Roots. I have been down the mine a few times and it is a great little tour, you can even organise to have your wedding there in one of the caverns. However, one of the big problems with these sorts of places is the need to keep the kids happy and keep the money rolling in. The museum part had an interesting array of artefacts, in my view arranged badly. The interpretation was designed to be read by someone who was 12 years old and probably wasn't, as museums with artefacts in glass cases are generally so dull. So, more and more 'kidstuff' was piled into the place; arcade games, ball pools, shooting galleries and a lot of tourist fodder tat which I felt somehow cheapened the whole experience.
Poldark mine has recently changed hands and hopefully the new owners will tap into the huge heritage potential and bring the place up and maybe reject some of the less attractive bits. The previous owner, a true mining engineer, who sadly died last year had a great relationship with the mexican mining heritage community. A community derived from 'Cousin Jacks'. It is these things that should be endorsed and championed as well as the local history. The underground tour is still one of the best in the UK.