Way up high, in the very middle of Bodmin Moor, you’ll find the Jamaica Inn. A pub once frequented by local pirates and smugglers, it’s small and incessantly battered by the elements. So remote and far from civilization is this small inn, that it inspired Daphne du Maurier to write her iconic book of the same name, The Jamaica Inn in the 1930s…
Jamaica Inn: A History
Once upon a time, the only way to reach this pub was by horse and carriage, or if you were brave enough to battle the elements and dubious characters along the way, by foot. The Inn was first built for use as a Coaching Inn, and as a place for weary travellers to stop on their journey through to Land’s End at the very edge of Cornwall. The Inn probably gets its name from the local landowners, the Trelawney Family, who were governors of Jamaica.
When the Inn was built in 1750, there was no main road running through Cornwall. Instead, a dirt track fraught with highwaymen and robbers was the only way to reach the Western most parts of the UK. Though the building of the Jamaica Inn only dates back to the 18th-Century, other parts of its surrounding hamlet date all the way back to the 15th.
Jamaica Inn: A Smuggler’s Haven
When it was first built, the pub was frequented by plenty of pirates and smugglers. The Jamaica Inn probably also played a large role in housing much of the illegal contraband these smugglers transported. After all, it was conveniently located between two major towns in the area, Bodmin, and Launceston.
Cornwall has a long history of ‘free-trade’. That is to say, importers did not pay taxes on their goods and instead smuggled contraband alcohol and food into the country via secret passageways and tunnels. Though they are often touted as the ‘Robin Hoods’ of their day, the smugglers were often ruthless and violent.
That being said, many of the smugglers were trying to support family members and loved ones at a time when the state did little to help those that needed it most. The real truth about the morality of smugglers probably lies somewhere in-between; they were not good men. But they weren’t all bad either…
Vintage Map of Cornwall dating back to 1800
A brief history of Shipwrecking in Cornwall
There are also tales that shipwrecking occurred in the local area, though no evidence has ever come to light…
In the past century, the history of shipbreaking has been dramatically romanticized. Even TV productions have painted the practice of shipbreaking as something admirable and romantic, rather than a shocking practice resulting in the murder of many innocent men.
If you’re not sure what shipwrecking is and what the wreckers did, then it’s this: Shipbreaking was where men known as ‘wreckers’ would trick ships into crashing on the rocks by using beacons of light in the middle of the night.
This light was intended to mimic lighthouses, and therefore safe passage. The ships would then crash and flounder on the rocks. The wreckers would take advantage of the chaos to loot the ship’s goods, often murdering the surviving crew in the process.
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
With the publication of du Maurier’s book, the pub gained worldwide notoriety and fame, attracting international attention from across the globe. Daphne du Maurier was born in London in 1907. However, she loved the countryside from a young age, and often couldn’t wait for her frequent escapes to the Cornish Countryside.
She loved the county so much that she purchased a holiday home there at Bodinnick along the coastline. She even wrote her first novel in Cornwall, based on the stories of boatbuilders in the fictional town of Plyn. And, with its seaside location and pretty houses, the town of Plyn may well refer to the picturesque village of Fowey.
Daphne du Maurier finally arrived at the Jamaica Inn on a cold and misty night in 1930. Travelling with a friend by horse, it’s said that they were lost on the moors. Fortunately, the horses led them to the safety of the Inn, and this is where the idea for her legendary book began.
Over the following few days, du Maurier learned about the complete history of the Inn, as well as all of the smugglings in the area. The book was eventually turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock and several successful TV series. For those who are interested in following in the footsteps of Daphne du Maurier, here’s a Daphne du Maurier guide to Devon and Cornwall!
du Maurier family, Rita Martin, bromide postcard print, circa 1912
Jamaica Inn Museum
Towards the back of the pub, you’ll find the Jamaica Inn Museum. In order to gain entry, you have to pay and ask at the bar. There’s a short film, as well as lots of artifacts and goods related to smuggling in the area. The museum is one of the largest and most comprehensive smuggling museums in the UK.
The film was quite interesting, as well as seeing and reading about many of the stories of local smuggling. That being said, I felt that the museum is quite expensive for what you get.
Via Chris Coleman (CC2.0)
Visit the Jamaica Inn Today
Today, the Jamaica Inn lies near the edge of the A30, the main road through Northern Cornwall. A trip to the pub can, therefore, be easily combined with a visit to the coastline of Northen Cornwall, as it sits just a short five-minute drive from the dual carriageway.
The small pub has gone through some recent major renovations, transforming it into a theme park like attraction. It is very touristic, particularly in the Summer months and I imagine the pub would have been much cozier when Daphne du Maurier visited in the 1930s. Though cool to visit if only to say you’ve been there, I wouldn’t recommend spending more than an hour and I would make sure to combine a trip to the pub with some other local attractions.
Dozmary Pool & Arthurian Legend
Wherever there was once a Celtic settlement, tales of King Arthur and his noble Knights can be found. After all, Dozmary Pool isn’t all that far from Tintagel, legendary birthplace of King Arthur. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, a local historian retelling the legend in the 12th-Century, Cornwall is full of places that pertain to the Arthurian Legend.
A mere stone’s throw away from the Jamaica Inn, you’ll find several large lakes of water. One of these lakes is Dozmary Pool. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, this body of water was home to Lady of the Lake and where Excalibur was returned to following Arthur’s death in battle.
Other historic finds in the surrounding area include the remains of a Knights Templar Church, and prehistoric stone huts. There are plenty of walking and hiking trails in the area, as well as quaint little towns and villages.