Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Digging not so deep for history

The 18th Century round capstan stands at the back of Carleon Cove, beside the later Victorian factory showroom
 Visitors to Poltesco over the last few days will have been treated to a glimpse of the past, as archaeologists have been at work peeling back layers of history within the old capstan at Carleon Cove.

Recording the rediscovered bearing stone
 The work, undertaken by Southwest Archaeology, was commissioned to gain a better understanding of the buildings within the cove, particularly the substantial round stone tower which housed a capstan, or fishing winch, used to haul boats up the beach below. The capstan, dating to the 1700s, is the oldest building in the cove, and was once beside a square of pilchard cellars (like those still standing at nearby Cadgwith and Church Cove). The fishing cellars made way for the serpentine stone factory in the late 1800s which is now itself largely in ruins. The archaeologists were set the task of finding the bearing for the capstan as historians have speculated for many years as to whether it would still be there, and if so how deep it would be buried .

The stone shows a main socket and round wear marks
The answer was surprisingly simple. Yes there is a bearing stone in the centre of the building, and it was just a few inches down! The socket  to take a wooden upright is clearly visible, with a round wear mark formed from the turning of the winch. The capstan was probably turned by manpower, although it's conceivable that ponies or donkeys were used. The long since infilled gap in the wall which the ropes would have passed through to reach the beach is clearly visible on the seaward side.  As well as the bearing stone, some other interesting finds unearthed during the dig included metal brackets, old clay pipe stems, a shoe insole, and a brass button stud.

Whilst on site, the archaeologists have also been recording the exterior of the capstan, information which will help shape plans to undertake consolidation and repair work to the structure later in the year. We're grateful to the RDPE project which is funding both the archaeology and consolidation works. If you'd like to find out more about the fascinating history of Poltesco, join me for a guided walk on  Tuesday 17th July, meeting 1pm Poltesco carpark.


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