Fact meets fiction. Jamaica Inn was built in 1750 as a coaching inn – the 18th century equivalent of a modern day service station for weary travellers. Using the turnpike between Launceston and Bodmin, they would stay at the Inn after crossing the wild and treacherous moor.
Some of the travellers were a little less respectable than others and used the Inn to hide away smuggler’s contraband that had been brought ashore. It is estimated that half the brandy and a quarter of all tea being smuggled into the UK was landed along the Cornish and Devon coasts. Jamaica Inn was remote and isolated so it was the ideal stopping place on the way to Devon and beyond.
*** – History – ***
Though an inn has stood on the main road (modern A30, before the bypass was built) through the hamlet since 1547, the current building dates from 1750. The inn was built in 1750 and extended in 1778 with a coach house, stables and a tack room assembled in an L-shaped fashion.
It is commonly thought that Jamaica Inn was so named because it was used to store rum smuggled into the country from Jamaica. However, the name is actually said to derive from the important local landowning Trelawney family, two of whose members served as Governors of Jamaica in the 18th century. According to stories, gangs of wreckers operated on the coast of Cornwall during the early 19th century and it was described as a “haven of smugglers”. The wreckers enticed ships to this coastline by tricking them with beacon lights, which they deliberately lit on the shore. Once the ships foundered on the rocky coast they were looted by the wreckers.
By 1847, Francis Rodd of Trebartha Hall, who had been High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1845, was building a chapel at Bolventor to accommodate those who lived in the Jamaica Inn area. In 1865, Murray wrote that the inn was frequented in the winter by sportsmen and offered only rudimentary accommodations. The current building still includes the extension of a coach house, stables and a tack room added in 1778. The inn was owned for a period by the novelist Alistair MacLean.
The Smugglers Museum houses one of the finest collections of smuggling artefacts in the country. Featuring 'The History of Jamaica Inn', an educational and historical film show, the Museum brings alive many of the myths and legends associated with Jamaica Inn and Cornwall, including tales of wreckers and smugglers over the past 300 years.
Smuggling evolved when customs dues were first introduced in the thirteenth century, but there was no effective form of law and order until the fifteenth century and even then it was negligible. Goods such as silks, tea, tobacco and brandy were more frequently smuggled into Cornwall than anywhere else in England.
Cornish smugglers were not a violent breed, but very cunning. A famous eighteenth century economist defined a smuggler as: "A person who, though no doubt highly blameable for violating those of natural justice and who would have been in every respect an excellent citizen, had not the laws of his country made that a crime which nature never meant to be so". So, smuggling became accepted and most took part in the proceedings - even the revenue men were quite amenable to the odd bribe.
Smuggling around the Cornish coast was comparatively simple as there were few men to enforce the law and even when a smuggler was caught, he was usually dealt with leniently by the presiding magistrates, most of whom were willing recipients of the smuggled goods.
Jamaica Inn is well known as the setting for Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name, published in 1936. The young author was inspired to write her novel in 1930 after she and a friend became lost in fog whilst out riding on the moors, and were lead back by their horses to safety at the Inn. During the time spent recovering from her ordeal, the local rector is said to have entertained her with ghost stories and tales of smuggling. She described the nocturnal activities of a smuggling ring based at the now celebrated inn, portraying a hidden world as a place of tense excitement and claustrophobia, of real peril and thrill.
Later du Maurier went on to spend a long period at the Inn, furthering her love of the location. The novel was made into the film 'Jamaica Inn' in 1939 by Alfred Hitchcock. The two-storey building, constructed in the mid-18th century, had symmetrical front windows that were replaced in the 20th century. The slate roof is bitumen coated and has hipped ends. An extension with two additional rooms was built in the 19th and 20th centuries. The central door and gabled porch are flanked by two light casements; all are attributed to the 20th century.
The building's exterior is made of dark slate and stone. It has a cobbled courtyard which features an old rusty anchor and a red telephone box. Historically, however, the courtyard was gravel. The exterior to the Smuggler's Bar says, "Through these portals passed smugglers, wreckers, villains and murderers, but rest easy....t'was many years ago".
The interior is characterized by sloping floors with many of its original beams. Internal building partitions have been removed. The fireplaces display roughly cut granite lintels. The Smuggler's Bar in particular retains its 18th-century feel with its large granite fireplace in the bar and dark wood beams. The bar area contains many old bank notes on the walls and various items such as brass or copper kettles and urns. The inn and museum are wheelchair accessible.
Location : Jamaica Inn, Bolventor, Launceston, Cornwall PL15 7TS
Transport: Bodmin Parkway (National Rail) then taxi. Bus Routes : 211 stops outside.
Opening Times Museum: Daily 08:00 to 21:00.
Opening Times Bars: Daily 10:00 to 00:00; 12:00 to 22:30 Sunday
Tickets Museum: Adults £3.95; Child / Senior £2.95
Tel: 01566 86250