Travel in Penwith

In 1780, Cornwall was without good roads. Those which traversed the county were bridle-paths rather than carriage roads. In fact, carriages were almost unknown, and even carts were very little used..... merchandise was mainly carried by pack mules, and the main mode of travel was on horseback. When Sir Humphrey Davy's mother was a girl, there was only one cart in the town of Penzance, and if a carriage appeared in the streets, it attracted universal attention. People at that time either walked or, if they were rich enough, rode on horseback, very often with wife and children perched up behind on a pillion.

Until the end of the 18thC, most of county's merchandise was carried on the backs of mules or ponies. Coal was taken to the mines, copper to the ports, merchants' goods from town to town, and farmers' wages to the mill or market. At Hayle in 1758, there were usually 500 to 1000 mules and pack-horses carrying coal for the surrounding mines.

In the mining districts, mules were even more common than horses,  travelling in large companies, 70 or more at a time. Each one would carry two sacks of ore placed on either side of a strong pack-saddle, and as their drivers walked behind, the mules picked their own way, more or less as they chose. Their arrival in the towns often led to lively scenes. Sometimes, one of the animals would mount the narrow pavement, forcing the people to scuttle into doorways in order to avoid coming into contact with the slimy, red sacks of ore.

Considering the poor roads and the primitive means of transport, is not surprising that ordinary people did very little travelling. When a Cornishman was forced to go to London on business, he would often make his will before starting, and bid farewell to his friends in case he never saw them again. After about 1750, however, the condition of the roads began to improve, and during the following 50 years, further improvements continued to be made, both in methods of transport and in the state of the roads. By the middle of the last century, the main roads of the county had been improved out of all recognition.

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