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ST. AUSTELL PARISH

Life in the Parish

 

A Journey through Cornwall, (St. Austell portion)

exerpted from the book "Through England on a Side-saddle in the Time of William and Mary", Miss Celia Finnes, 1698; J. Mosman, OPC

One of two roads through Cornwall which could lay claim to any importance prior to the middle of the eighteenth century, was that which followed the line of the south coast, and from Cremyll Passage (opposite Plymouth), went through Millbrook and Crafthole to Looe and Fowey, afterwards crossing by Tywardreath Ferry to St. Austell - and thence on to Tregoney.

What the road itself was like may be gathered from the account of that intrepid lady traveller, Celia Fiennes, who, in 1698, entered Cornwall by this route on her way to the Land's End. Her vivid descriptions show clearly enough the nature of the primitive watercourses and roads which still served as thoroughfares in Cornwall, and which made travel in the Duchy not only an exceedingly laborious endeavour, but in many cases hazardous as well.

First in her path lay the challenge of crossing the River Tamar by Cremyll Ferry. She writes "I was at least an hour in going over, about a mile, and notwithstanding there was five men rowing, and I set my own men to row also, I do believe we made not a step of way for almost a quarter of an hour, but blessed by God, I came safely over at last. But those ferry boats are so wet, and then the sea and wind is always cold to be upon, that I never fail to catch cold in a ferry boat as I did this day." Once over, Mrs. Fiennes was faced with a route that descended to the sandy seashore between Plymouth and Looe, for which she was grateful as her horse's shoes by this time were almost completely worn off.

After Looe, further adventures awaited, particularly the old high road which precipitately descended into the town of Fowey.

"A deep clay road it was, which by the rain the night before had made it very dirty and full of water in many places. In the road there were many holes and sloughs wherever there is clay ground, and when by the rain they are filled with water it is difficult to shun danger. Here my horse was quite down in one of these holes full of water, but by the good hand of God's providence, which has always been with me, ever a present help in time of need, I, giving him a good strap, he flounced up again, though he had gotten quite down, his head and all, yet did he retrieve his feet, and got clear off the place with me on his back."

Thence she traveled to "Parr", where " I went over the heath to 'St. Austins', (St. Austell) , which is a Little market town where I lay, but their houses are like Barnes up to ye top of ye house. Here was a pretty good Dineing room and chamber within it and very neate country women. My Landlady brought me one of ye West Country tarts; this was ye first I had met with, though I had asked for them in many places in Sommerset and Devonshire; it is the most acceptable entertainment that Could be made me. They scald their Creame and milk in most parts of these countreys, and so it is a sort of Clouted Creame as we call it, with a Little sugar, and soe put on ye top of ye apple-pie. I was much pleased wth my supper". Less to her taste was the well-nigh "universall <custom of the country of> smoaking": "Both men, women, and children have all their pipes of tobacco in their mouths and soe sit around the fire smoaking, which was not delightful to me when I went down to talke with my landlady for information of any matter and Customs amongst them. I must say they are as comely sort of women as I have seen anywhere, tho' in ordinary dress - good black eyes and crafty enough, and very neat. They know little from home, only to some market town which they frequent, but are none the less very solicitous to know where you go, how far, from whence you came, and where is your abode".

With such primitive modes of transport, and primitive roads upon which to travel, it is small wonder that the Cornish people of the past made but few overland journeys!

(In Miss Finnes time, most transportation was provided by horses, ponies, and people carrying burdens on their back. Vehicles with wheels basically did not exist until 1720. A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, in his book "Cornwall and the Cornish" quotes Dr. Davy, brother of Sir Humphrey Davy, in 1760 "I have heard my mother relate that when she was a girl there was only one cart in the town of Penzance, and that if a carriage appeared in the streets it attracted universal attention." Even as late as 1897, Hammond said "How a crowded coach or van ever contrived to descend (the New coach road, laid out in 1760), in safety is a marvel to me; probably the passengers disembarked at the top: they were certainly ill-advised, if they did not. The fact is, our town (St. Austell) shows at every point that it was laid out in the days of pack-horses." Roads were improved over time, often by the exertion of local councils and influential persons of the area, but progress was slow. The coming of railroads improved contact to an almost unimagineable extent.)

 

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