When it comes to historical dramas like Poldark, half the fun is deciphering which details are accurate to real life. It's not uncommon for historical facts to be tossed aside in pop culture for the sake of style or story, which makes it even more exciting when movies and TV shows get the history right.
In the case of Poldark versus real life, it actually contains a lot of truth about what the 18th century was like. From small details like the buttons on Ross Poldark's military suit to larger ones like the mining industry central to Cornwall's economy, Poldark got many things right. Vote up the historical details you're glad Poldark's creators included.
- 111 VOTES
The Horse Breeds Of 18th Century Cornwall
While most fans can’t identify a horse’s breed at a glance, the Poldark crew went to great measures to ensure the horses were accurate to 18th-century Cornwall. This means not everyone is riding a thoroughbred, which was the case the first time the BBC adapted Poldark in the 1970s (because they looked best on camera).
What the creators of that earlier series didn’t consider was that thoroughbreds aren’t workhorses and wouldn’t have been much help to the people of Cornwall, who needed animals that could pull their weight, literally.
On the other hand, wealthier characters are seen riding equines accurate to the period and their status. For example, an Andalusian horse, seen in Season 3, would have been a popular choice for a character like George Warleggan. In the 1970s, Poldark’s horse selection was based on how they looked on film; in the newer adaption, the crew took special care to be sure even the smallest details - like horse breeds - were accurate.
- 211 VOTES
The Use Of Tarot Cards To Divine The Future
It may seem out of place to see Poldark’s Aunt Agatha use tarot cards in an attempt to divine her family’s future - even if her predictions seemingly have a way of coming true (like when a jury finds Ross Poldark not guilty of all the charges he faced in Season 2 after Agatha pulls a card that reads “Justice”).
However, tarot cards truly have been used for divination since the 18th century, when Poldark is set. Their history goes back even farther; beginning in the 14th century, precursors to the modern tarot were originally used as simple playing cards.
- 310 VOTES
The Name Of The Town Pub
Whenever the Poldarks have business in town, they’re guaranteed to make a stop at the town pub, the Red Lion. Exterior shots show the pub sign: a wooden square plastered with the image of a red lion and the name of the pub hanging below it. As minuscule as this detail might seem, the naming convention is steeped in history.
When pubs first started appearing in the 12th century, they had to be named so that illiterate patrons could easily identify them. It was much easier for people to say they’ll meet at the sign depicting a red lion, for example, than to expect them to read a sign with the name spelled out.
- 49 VOTES
People Traveling By Horseback Or Walking Because The Roads Were Too Bad For Carriages
All the Poldarks walk or ride horses everywhere; the characters who do use carriages are few and far between. Even members of the upper class, who have the money to employ a carriage and driver, are often seen walking to and from town or a neighbor's home. While this small detail has little to no effect on the story, it’s a detail that’s accurate to 18th-century Cornwall.
According to Poldark’s horse trainer, roads were so terrible in Cornwall at the time that carriages couldn’t be used - walking and horseback were pretty much the only options. One firsthand account from the period claimed Cornwall's roads were the worst in all of England.
- 59 VOTES
The Localized Banking System And Individual Bank Notes
Whether through sales, bets, or loans, much money changes hands throughout Poldark. During the 18th century, modern banking began taking form. Banks were born from local needs and weren't the result of a large central banking system. In Cornwall, the introduction of banks was spurred by the need to support the region's mining industry.
In Poldark, everything the Poldarks do regarding their mines is wrapped up in Warleggan Bank, the ruthless financiers seeking to dominate Cornwall's mines.
The similarities between the fictional Cornwall economy and real history don’t end there. Poldark’s creators took their dedication to accuracy a step further, modeling the show’s bank notes after a real 18th-century Cornish bank note.
- 67 VOTES
The Rough Copper Mining Conditions
At the heart of life in Poldark’s Cornwall is the family’s mining business. Soon after returning from war, Ross Poldark reopens his family mine, Wheal Leisure. As portrayed in the show, Cornwall had the potential to yield vast amounts of copper and tin to miners, and also provided jobs to those who needed them. However, working in mines was dangerous, both for the laborers and the mine owners.
For the workers, conditions could be deadly - whether it be from the instability of the mines themselves and the danger of collapse, or from the poor air quality’s long-term effects on miners’ lungs. Both harsh realities are depicted in Poldark.
When Dr. Dwight Enys initially moves to Cornwall, he does so to study lung disease in miners and is often seen tending to them at Wheal Leisure. However, Enys is also called upon due to a rock fall in the mine later on, which results in the demise of two miners.
Despite the risks and conditions, mining had the potential to be a lucrative business, though it wasn't a guarantee. In Poldark, Ross and his wife Demelza struggle with their mines for years before finally profiting. Truthfully, the industry was a huge gamble.