Thursday Thoughts: Cornwall’s Trade with South Wales

Cornish Story is the outreach program of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter in southwestern Britain. It explores the story of Cornwall and the Cornish overseas in the past and present. They are developing a research project on the historic maritime connections between Cornwall and South Wales. This will be interesting to follow. Coal from south Wales plays an important part in my story. It fuels the new-fangled steam engines in the mines. In Chapter 52 the great inventor John Smeaton drives with the mine captain’s son, Jemmy, to get spare parts for the engine. By the way, Smeaton designed and built the lighthouse on the hazardous Eddystone reef off the southeast coast of Cornwall.

As they drove along the crooked track towards St. Just, they came across a large number of heavily laden mules in a train traveling towards them. They were carrying panniers strapped to their backs. The drovers gave them a cheerful wave.
“Look at all them mules, scores of them. What are they carrying?” asked Jemmy
“Mining coals,” said Smeaton. “Won’t be long before we get more steam engines installed, and there’ll be hundreds of them bringing coal from the Cornish ports, shipped by sea from south Wales. I’ve designed and built all kinds of contraptions for t’ coal mines, far away as Yorkshire. Coal’s being used more and more. Lot of money being made from coal. Dirty stuff to handle; still, where there’s muck there’s brass. That’s what we say in Yorkshire.”
Jemmy had to listen carefully when Mr. Smeaton spoke. He was quite difficult to understand, not like the Cornish. It must be because he was a furriner, from way up north in Yorkshire. Jemmy noticed that when Mr. Smeaton said brass it sounded clipped, short, not like his dad who said brass with a long a, took more time over it. Odd, and instead of saying “the,” Mr. Smeaton said “t”, but Jemmy was too polite to say anything.
“I wish I could be an inventor like you, Mr. Smeaton,” said Jemmy wistfully. “Must be very in’erestin’, thinkin’ up new things, tryin’ things out, and seein’ the world.”
Mule train

Mule train

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