Poldark Country – my photographs of Winston Graham’s Cornwall
(First Posted June 2017, updated June 2018)
As in the REAL Poldark country! With the arrival of Ross Poldark back on our television screens this weekend, I thought I would share some of my many photos of Cornwall, of the places where the original Poldark books by Winston Graham are really set, on which the television series have been based.
The first television series (1970s) used many of these, and though the current one hasn’t quite so much, the county still very much features in background scenery. So I might well follow this with parts 2 and 3 to show you more of the television locations too! Anyway, these are some of my views around the area of Cornwall where the books are set, and where the author knew…
To start with though, I have a confession for you: I have loved Ross Poldark since I was ten or eleven! The 1970s series was re-shown on BBC2 on a Monday afternoon in the mid-late 1980s, and my family recorded it all onto video tapes, which we avidly watched each week. I then remember reading my way through all the books that had been written so far during my first year at secondary school, followed by each new one as it was published in the years after that, with regular re-readings ever since. So I am a big fan (who loves the new version too), and I will try not to give too much away to those of you who have only watched as far as the current Aiden Turner version has got (- you should read the books too though!!).
The author Winston Graham moved to Cornwall in the 1930s when he was sixteen, returning after the war, and wrote the first four books in the late 1940s and early 1950s whilst living in Perranporth. So this section of the north coast is mainly where the books are set (Perranporth itself now being a large village/town on the coast a little south of Newquay). Existing Cornish towns appear in the story – Redruth, Truro, St. Austell, Falmouth etc., and though the Nampara estate itself, Trenwith, and the villages of Sawle and St. Ann’s, are fictitious, they are often based on the areas around Perranporth.
The photo at the top shows Wheal Coates, on St. Agnes Head, just south of Perranporth (and looking further south, with St. Ives in the far distance). Much of the Poldark story is based on the history of Cornish mining, and the area around Perranporth has remains still visible like these cliff-top engine house ruins above (St. Agnes Head) and below (Porthtowan).
Below: Cornish Cliffs – looking south from the cliffs above Porthtowan
Below is the beach at Perranporth, followed by that of Porthtowan – both similar large sandy beaches with plenty of space, and good surf!
Perranporth has changed a great deal since Winston Graham wrote his first Poldark books, but some places in the area can still be seen, and it was originally a small fishing and mining community. The name of Nampara refers to an area near the centre of Perranporth, where Graham’s own house was (but no longer exists), although he mainly based the description of Nampara on a manor farm miles to the north near St. Endellion. Nampara Cove is a composite of small bays up on the West Pentire headland (between Perranporth and Newquay, see just below and the photo at the end). Hendrawna beach was mostly Perranporth beach (see top of the three beaches above), with Wheel Leisure placed out near the existing Wheal Vlow, with touches of Crantock Bay (to the north near Newquay). The nearby village of St. Ann’s was based on St. Agnes, just south along the coast from Perranporth and inland a little, and Sawle was made from St. Agnes and Trevaunance Cove.
Above: Porth Joke, also known as Polly Joke, on the West Pentire headland, at high tide – the basis for Nampara Cove
Above: This is looking back to the sea, showing the evidence of mining in the area, just inland from Porthtowan and Perranporth – I think it could be St. Agnes that you can see on the hill top on the far right.
Below: The photograph below is looking north across Chapel Porth beach (in the dip in the middle), to St. Agnes Head, with Wheal Coates on the cliff above Chapel Porth.
The Mellingey brook through Sawle is the old name for the Bollingey river that runs down into Perranporth. Mingoose is inland from Chapel Porth, south east of Perranporth, and many other names can be found on an OS map of the area that also appear in the books – some as places, and some re-used as names for characters. Demelza and Warleggan are both Cornish village names, along with Clowance, Tregirls, and Cuby. Morwenna and Loveday however are traditional romantic Cornish names, and others in the book come from Graham’s Cornish history research.
Just inland and south east from Perranporth is the town of Redruth, which holds the fair where Ross first meets and rescues Demelza (the current television production moved this to Truro though). I haven’t any photos of Redruth itself, but many Georgian buildings remain. Gwennap Pit near Redruth, and the rise of Methodism in the county that is covered in the books is all fact. Next to Redruth is a monument on a hilltop to Sir Francis Basset (see photos below) – the same Basset that appears in the Poldark books! The 1st baron de Dunstanville, 1757 – 1835, MP for Penryn, Cornwall, and owner of Tehidy, (near Redruth, see below), a property that also appears in the books. Basset’s feud with Lord Falmouth over power and parliamentary seats in Truro, and his suppression of the riots in Cambourne is all factual too.
The first view from the monument (above) I think must look roughly eastwards, towards the edge of Redruth (and across some mine remains of course!). The second image below looks northwest, with Illogan in the foreground – the Illuggan village that Demelza and her brothers grew up in, under the shadow of Tehidy and Basset.
When we were in Cornwall two years ago, we went for a bike ride around the Tehidy estate – the house is no longer there, but here is the view across the golf course that now is, with the Carn Brea monument on the hill in the distance (built in 1836 by public subscription, the year after Basset’s death):
Below is a view across the roofs of Falmouth to the river estuary and boats, presumably a much bigger town now than when Ross Poldark visited! Then there’s a couple of Truro – the Red Lion pub where Ross often went is no more, but apparently it did used to exist! Caerhays Castle, home of Cuby Trevannion in the later books actually exists, along with other houses such as Prideaux Place at Padstow, and Trelissick, over at the river Fal north of Falmouth, home of Ralph-Allen Daniel. Winston Graham based Trenwith on Trerice (moving its location to nearer Sawle), and again I’ve been, but so long ago my photos will be on film not the computer!
Above and below: Truro Cathedral – this is actually a late Victorian building, built on the site of St. Mary’s Church, where Osborne Whitworth was the Vicar. The south aisle of the original church was retained though, and is shown in the above photograph. I didn’t spot the Vicarage, but the river wasn’t far away, so might be the one at the end of the Vicarage garden in the books! Below is a view of the front spires of the cathedral, from the high street.
The smuggling aspects through the Poldark books are based on fact. Mounts Bay on the south coast was known for smuggling, Prussia Cove over on the eastern edge in particular, but it would have taken place all around the coast. Below is a view across the sand at low tide to St. Michael’s Mount. Fishing and the reliance on pilchards is also historically accurate, and there’s a couple more images below to illustrate these. There really was a double wreck on Perranporth beach too.
Portreath bay is shown below, just south along the coast from Perranporth and Porthtowan. I took this from the headland near the lookout point where the huer would have been on the watch for the pilchards to arrive.
The fishing boats above are either in a harbour at Penzance or at Newlyn, where there is still a fishing community now.
I’ll finish by leaving you with a couple of different beach photos and a cliff top view to enjoy: the first is looking north from Porthtowan beach (just south of Perranporth), and the second beach is one from last year when we went to find Holywell Bay. This is looking north across the beach to the West Pentire headland that Graham knew well, just north of Perranporth. Lastly here’s the view looking south from those West Pentire cliffs, across the entrance to Porth Joke (Nampara Cove), then back towards Holywell Bay and Perranporth.
I hope this has given you a flavour of how beautiful Cornwall is, and the areas that the Poldark author Winston Graham knew when he was writing the books. I love our holidays down there, the scenery is beautiful, the colours and light are fantastic for photography whatever the weather, and of course there is plenty of #searchingforpoldark!
Prints and canvases are available of any of the photos in the post, and many more, or as greetings cards, just let me know. Plus you can Join my newsletter mailing list for photography tips, news, and to be notified of new blog posts – including further Poldark television location blogs!
Winston Graham: All 12 Poldark books; Winston Graham: Poldark’s Cornwall; Winston Graham: Memoirs of a Private Man; David Clarke: Poldark Country (1977); BBC: The World of Poldark (2015).