My Demelza Poldark moment
I was recently asked by a magazine editor to come to Cornwall for a photo shoot. The photos were to accompany a forthcoming feature on myself and the inspiration behind my debut collection ‘You can take the girl out of Cornwall’. I happily agreed to travel from Wiltshire to Cornwall as I could spend time with my family who live there and also to enjoy being by the sea for a few days. Who doesn't love a trip to Cornwall?! I was asked to suggest a location that meant something to me for the photo shoot and Wheal Coates was the obvious choice. It's an old mining engine house on the north coast, a stone's throw from St Agnes, the village where I grew up.
The view from Wheal Coates is postcard perfection and on a clear day you can see for miles. The area around Wheal Coates was used for filming part of the popular BBC series Poldark, with the engine house and surrounding mines representing the family estate known as Nampara Valley. Winston Graham, the author of the Poldark novels first published in 1945, wrote them while living in Perranporth, a neighbouring village of St Agnes. This whole area is steeped in mining history with many engine houses still visible today. It is said that the character of Demelza was partly based on Graham's wife, Jean, who would offer details for his characters being a very observant woman herself.
This stretch of the coast also has significance for the Cornish legend of Saint Agnes, who the village is named after. When I was around 10 years old I played the part of local heroine Saint Agnes in the first ever community re-enactment of the story, now an annual event known as Bolster Day. I had to save the village (of clay houses made by local school children) from Giant Bolster, a giant puppet who rolled large stones down the cliff to demolish the houses. The procession and performance takes place on the cliffs between Wheal Coates and Chapel Porth beach where, according to the legend, Saint Agnes tricked Giant Bolster into bleeding to his death.
So, it was on a blustery morning on this same coastline that I thought of the fictional characters Demelza and Saint Agnes, both strong and determined women who were dependent on this local area to save their livelihoods. As a fabric designer I find myself looking at the details found in nature for my designs so it’s no wonder that I too was inspired by the Cornish coast having grown up with these stories and scenic views on my doorstep. That’s proper local inspiration right there, even for me who’s now living ‘up country’, as the locals say.