|Area:||1,349 square miles|
|County town:||Bodmin or Truro|
|County flower:||Cornish heath |
The County of Cornwall is a shire forming the tip of the south-western peninsula of Great Britain, begirt by the seas to north and south, and divided from Devon to the east by the River Tamar. The Isles of Scilly, lying to the southwest of the mainland, are part of Cornwall and are the westernmost land of England and the southernmost land in the United Kingdom.
Cornwall is almost entirely surrounded by water; the ocean to the north and south and the River Tamar and River Ottery to the east. The Tamar, which forms the county boundary for its whole length (with the exception of an irruption of a finger of Devonshire along the Ottery) rises very close to the north coast, leaving just a mile of dry boundary before the Marsland Water carries the boundary to the sea again. Cornwall's only neighbouring county, across the Tamar, is Devon. There are two detached parts of Devon in Cornwall, both on the Rame peninsula, and one part of Cornwall in Devon, the "Cornish Patch" in St Budeaux.
Some distinct aspects of cultural identity are found in Cornwall reflecting its history and isolated position. Recent years have seen revived interest in the Cornish language.
- 1 Physical geography
- 2 Towns and villages
- 3 Transport
- 4 Etymology
- 5 History
- 6 Tourism
- 7 Industry
- 8 Question of Cornish identity
- 9 Local dishes
- 10 References
Cornwall forms the tip of the south-west peninsula of Great Britain, and is therefore exposed to the full force of the prevailing winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean. The coastline is composed mainly of resistant rocks that give rise in many places to impressive cliffs. The north and south coasts have different characteristics. Inland is a mixture of moor and pasture.
Historically tin mining was important in the Cornish economy, becoming significant during the Middle Ages and expanding greatly during the 19th century when rich copper mines were also in production. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, the tin and copper trades entered a period of decline. Subsequently china clay extraction became more important and metal mining had virtually ended by the 1990s. Traditionally fishing (particularly of pilchards), and agriculture (particularly of dairy products and vegetables), were the other important sectors of the economy. The railways led to the growth of tourism during the 20th century and it is now of greater importance economically than the other industries. Today, Cornwall's economy struggles after the decline of mining and fishing, and has become more dependent on tourism. The area is noted for its wild moorland landscapes, its extensive and varied coastline and its very mild climate.
The north coast
The north coast on the "Celtic Sea", part of the Atlantic Ocean, is more exposed to the ocean. Here plunging cliffs and rocky headlands are interrupted by fine, sandy beaches in sheltered bays. The High Cliff, between Boscastle and St Gennys, is the highest sheer-drop cliff in Cornwall at 732 feet. However, there are also many extensive stretches of fine golden sand which form the beaches that are so important to the tourist industry, such as those at Bude, Polzeath, Watergate Bay, Perranporth, Porthtowan, Fistral Beach, Newquay, St Agnes, St Ives,
The south coast
The south coast of Cornwall is washed by the English Channel at its broadest. This coast characterised by tidal creeks and deep inlets. The south coast has several sandy beaches.
The south coast has been dubbed the "English Riviera". It is more sheltered and has several broad estuaries offering safe anchorages, such as at Falmouth and Fowey. Beaches on the south coast usually consist of coarser sand and shingle, interspersed with rocky sections of wave-cut platform.
The interior of the county consists of a roughly east-west spine of infertile and exposed upland, with a series of granite intrusions, such as Bodmin Moor, which contains the highest land within Cornwall. From east to west, and with approximately descending altitude, these are Bodmin Moor, the area north of St Austell, the area south of Camborne, and the Penwith or Land's End peninsula. These intrusions are the central part of the granite outcrops of south-west Britain, which include Dartmoor to the east in Devon and the Isles of Scilly to the west, the latter intrusion now being partially submerged.
The intrusion of the granite into the surrounding sedimentary rocks gave rise to extensive metamorphism and mineralization, and this led to Cornwall being one of the most important mining areas in Europe until the early 20th century. It is thought Tin was mined here as early as the Bronze Age, and copper, lead, zinc and silver have all been mined in Cornwall. Alteration of the granite also gave rise to extensive deposits of China Clay, especially in the area to the north of St Austell, and the extraction of this remains an important industry.
The uplands are surrounded by more fertile, mainly pastoral farmland. Near the south coast, deep wooded valleys provide sheltered conditions for flora that like shade and a moist, mild climate. These areas lie mainly on Devonian sandstone and slate. The north east of Cornwall lies on Carboniferous rocks known as the Culm Measures. In places these have been subjected to severe folding, as can be seen on the north coast near Crackington Haven and in several other locations.
The Lizard Peninsula
The geology of the Lizard Peninsula is unusual as it is mainland Britain's only example of an ophiolite, a section of oceanic crust now found on land. Much of the Lizard consists of the dark green and red Precambrian serpentinite, which forms spectacular cliffs, notably at Kynance Cove, and carved and polished serpentine ornaments are sold in local gift shops. This ultramafic rock also forms a very infertile soil which covers the flat and marshy heaths of the interior of the peninsula. This is home to rare plants, such as the Cornish heath, which has been adopted as the county flower.
Cornwall is one of the sunniest areas in the United Kingdom, having over 1,541 hours of sunshine a year, with the highest average of 7.6 hours of sunshine a day in July. The moist, mild air coming from the south west brings higher amounts of rainfall than eastern Great Britain, at 41.4 to 50.8 inches a year, however not as much as more northern areas of the west coast. The Isles of Scilly have their own climate, generally warmer than the rest of Britain. Extreme temperatures in Cornwall are particularly rare, but heavy weather in the shape of storms and floods is common.
Towns and villages
Cornwall's largest town is St Austell on the south coast. It is the centre of the china clay industry. Redruth and Camborne together form the largest urban area in Cornwall, and both towns were significant as centres of the global tin mining industry.
The county's only city is Truro. To the south lies Falmouth, a notable port, while the ports at Penzance, the most westerly town in England, St Ives and Padstow have declined. Newquay on the north coast was once primarily a busy fishing port but its now best known for its beaches and it is a popular surfing destination, as is Bude further north.
Cornwall's road connections must all pass through Devon across the River Tamar. The A38 in the south crosses the Tamar on the Tamar Bridge from Saltash to Plymouth, the A39 road in the north crosses towards Barnstaple, while in the middle, the A30 which crosses the border south of Launceston. A car ferry also links Torpoint to Plymouth across the Hamoaze. Smaller road bridges cross the Tamar Valley. Before Brunel, the lowest on the river was the stone "New Bridge" at Gunnislake, bearing the road to Tavistock.
A rail bridge, the Royal Albert Bridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859, provides the only other major transport link. The major city of Plymouth is the nearest large urban centre to eastern Cornwall.
Newquay Airport provides an air link to the rest of Britain, Ireland and to Europe.
The name Cornwall has elements from separate languages. The West Saxons knew the folk of this county as the Westwealas (West Welsh) or Cornwealas ("Corn-welsh"). The element "Corn-" has been much debated. Scholars have proposed that it is the name of the Cornovii tribe who inhabited what is now Cornwall. This has required though a postulated migration of a section of the Cornovii from the Midlands, where they lived in Roman times, into Cornwall. Cornwall is known in Cornish as Kernow and in Welsh as Cernyw, which could be from a common Celtic root cern, or the Latin cornu, both of which mean "horn" or "peninsula", suggestive of the shape of Cornwall's landmass. That might explain a Pictish tribe the Romans named the Cornovii in Caithness, but not the Cornovii of the Midlands, if there is any connection. Another theory suggests that the name of the Cornovii tribes may well be connected to totemic worship of the "horned god" such as the Gaulish Cernunnos or a similar totemic cult. Whatever the origin, Cornwall was recorded as Cornubia by 700 AD. The Ravenna Cosmography of around 700, makes reference to Purocoronavis, (almost certainly a corruption of Durocornovium), 'a fort or walled settlement of the Cornovii', (unidentified, but possibly Tintagel or Carn Brea).
The West Saxons knew all the British tribes as Wealas ("foreigners"), creating the term Cornwealas.
Much remains of the Stone Age and Bronze Age peoples in Cornwall. Later in the Iron Age the land became a Brythonic Celtic land. Traders sailed here, seeking tin, and Pytheas wrote of his voyage to this part of Britain. There is little evidence that Roman rule was effective west of Exeter and few Roman remains have been found. In the Roman period, Devon and Cornwall were lands of the Dumnonii tribe.
Tin mining was important in the Cornish economy from its prehistory and it was widely known across the Mediterranean civilisations as a primary source for this most valuable metal.
Prehistory and Roman periods
John T Koch and others postulated an "Atlantic Bronze Age" in the Late Bronze Age when Cornwall was part of a maritime trading-networked culture called the that also included the other lands of the Atlantic coasts where Celtic languages developed with the Tartessian language, the first written Celtic language so far discovered. During the British Iron Age, Cornwall, like all of Britain south of the Firth of Forth, was inhabited by Britons speaking a language from which eventually Welsh and Cornish developed.
The first account of Cornwall comes from the Sicilian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (c. 90 BC – c. 30 BC), supposedly quoting or paraphrasing the fourth-century BC geographer Pytheas, who had sailed to Britain:
The inhabitants of that part of Britain called Belerion (or Land's End) from their intercourse with foreign merchants, are civilised in their manner of life. They prepare the tin, working very carefully the earth in which it is produced ... Here then the merchants buy the tin from the natives and carry it over to Gaul, and after travelling overland for about thirty days, they finally bring their loads on horses to the mouth of the Rhône.|
The identity of these merchants is unknown but there has been a theory that they were Phoenicians.
There is a theory that silver was extracted from the copper ores of Cornwall in pre-Roman times, as silver is easily converted to its chloride (AgCl) by surface waters containing chlorine.
Relations with Wessex
After the Roman retreat, Cornwall was of the Kingdom of Dyfnaint (Dumnonia). It was sundered from connection with Wales after the Battle of Deorham and thereafter the Britons were driven back westward until only Cornwall remained a British-speaking land. The very name of Dyfnaint became that of a West Saxon shire; Devonshire.
When the English finally annexed Cornwall is unclear. The Annales Cambriae report that in 722 AD the Britons of Cornwall won a battle at Hehil. Annales Cambriae However, it is not stated whether the Cornish fought the West Saxons or some other enemy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states in 815 (adjusted date) "& þy geare gehergade Ecgbryht cyning on West Walas from easteweardum oþ westewearde."..."and in this year king Egbert raided in Cornwall from east to west." and thenceforth apparently held annexed to kingdom. Then in 825 (adjusted date) a battle was fought involving the "Welsh" and the men of Devon, though the Chronicle only states that "Here was the fight of the Welsh and the men of Devon at Gafulforda". However, there is no mention of who won or who lost, whether the men of Cornwall and Devon were fighting each other or on the same side, and no mention of King Egbert. This is the only record of this battle. A brief alliance with the Vikings in the ninth century was disastrous for the Cornish and King Egbert overran the land. In 838, the Cornish and their Danish allies were defeated by Egbert at Hengestesdune, an unknown location (various places have been suggested over the years from Hengistbury Head in Dorset, Hingston Down, Devon to Hingston Down in Cornwall). In 875, the last recorded king of Cornwall, Dumgarth, is said to have drowned in battle.
The will of King Alfred the Great leaves several estates in Cornwall ("amongst the Welsh"). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record for 926 refers to a King of the West Welsh named Huwal (Howell) who signed the treaty of Eamot Bridge in July of that year, though might not refer to a late king of the Cornish but to Howell the Good, King of the Welsh.
William of Malmesbury, writing around 1120, says that King Athelstan (924–939) fixed the boundary between English and Cornish people at the east bank of the River Tamar, though this seems rather late and his source is unknown.
One interpretation of the Domesday Book is that by this time the native Cornish landowning class had been almost completely dispossessed and replaced by English landowners, the largest of whom was Harold Godwinson himself. However, this is highly questionable: the Bodmin manumissions show that two leading Cornish figures bore English names, but these were both glossed with native Cornish names, which suggests that English names in Cornwall indicate not ethnicity, but preferences in naming, perhaps as means to establish membership of a ruling class.
However, after the Norman conquest most of the land was seized and transferred into the hands of a new Breton-Norman aristocracy, with the lion's share going to Robert, Count of Mortain, half-brother of King William and the largest landholder in England after the king. Ultimately ethnic differences rubbed away and this aristocracy became one with the native population as elsewhere in England.
Later mediæval administration and society
Subsequently, however, Norman absentee landlords became replaced by a new Cornish-Norman elite which families eventually became the new ruling class of Cornwall, many becoming involved in the operation of the Stannary Parliament system, Earldom and eventually the Duchy.
The Cornish language continued to be spoken and it acquired a number of characteristics establishing its identity as a separate language from Breton. Cornwall showed a very different type of settlement pattern from that of Saxon Wessex and places continued, even after 1066, to be named in the Cornish tradition with English-derived names relatively uncommon. The earliest record for any Anglo-Saxon place names west of the Tamar is around 1040. They are particularly noticeable in the north-east of the county (Alfred's Triconscir).
The Middle Ages
In Cornwall most of the parish churches in existence in Norman times were generally not in the larger settlements and the mediæval towns which developed thereafter usually had only a chapel of ease with the right of burial remaining at the ancient parish church. Over a hundred holy wells exist in Cornwall, each associated with a particular saint, though not always the same one as the dedication of the church.
Various kinds of religious houses existed in mediæval Cornwall though none of them were nunneries; the benefices of the parishes were in many cases appropriated to religious houses within Cornwall or elsewhere in England or France.
From the Reformation to the Victorian period
In 1549, local resentment against the changes that the Reformation had made to the Church broke out into violence, in the Prayer Book Rebellion. In 1548 the college at Glasney, a centre of learning and study established by the Bishop of Exeter, had been closed and looted with the loss of many manuscripts and documents, which aroused resentment among the Cornish. The Prayer Book Rebellion was a cultural and social disaster for Cornwall, as the reprisals taken by the forces of the Crown have been estimated to have slain 10-11% of the civilian population of Cornwall. Culturally speaking, it saw the beginning of the slow "death" of the Cornish language.
Protestantism soon established itself thoroughly in Cornwall. The Church of England was dominant, and the Puritan strain was strong here, while Anabaptism and Quakerism were found in some areas.
During the 18th century, during John Wesley's lifetime, Methodist missions began in the West Country and had great success. The Methodist separation from the Church of England saw the building of Methodist churches and chapels built throughout the county. Since the early nineteenth century Methodism has been the leading form of Christianity in Cornwall.
Reform of another sort had an effect on Cornwall in the nineteenth century. Until 1821, Cornwall returned 44 members to Parliament: almost as many as the whole of Scotland. Grampound had its rights removed in 1821 for rampant corruption but there were still 40 borough members and two county members. This overrepresentation resulted from the large number of chartered boroughs in Cornwall, each returning two members to Parliament, and perhaps reflects the influence of the Cornish mining interests. The Reform Act of 1832 reduced the number of Cornish Members of Parliament dramatically; the 22 electing boroughs in Cornwall were reduced to just 7.
Today, the Cornish economy depends heavily on its successful tourist industry, which makes up around a quarter of the economy. The official measures of deprivation and poverty at district and 'sub-ward' level show that there is great variation in poverty and prosperity in Cornwall with some areas among the poorest in England and others are among the top half in prosperity.
Cornwall's unique culture, spectacular landscape and mild climate make it a popular tourist destination, despite being somewhat distant from the United Kingdom's main centres of population. Surrounded on three sides by the English Channel and Celtic Sea, Cornwall has many miles of beaches and cliffs. Other tourist attractions include moorland, country gardens, historic and prehistoric sites and wooded valleys. Five million tourists visit Cornwall each year, mostly drawn from within the UK. Visitors to Cornwall are served by airports at Newquay and Plymouth, whilst private jets, charters and helicopters are also served by Perranporth airfield; night sleeper and daily rail services run between Cornwall, London and other regions of Britain.
Cornwall's long sea coasts and countless natural harbours are filled with fishing boats. Fishing however has been significantly re-structured by EU fishing policies.
The poor soils of most of Cornwall best support sheep and cattle. Once important, agriculture too has suffered in the latest generation
Mining was once the leading industry of Cornwall. Tin and copper were won in the mines and had been since prehistory.
Foreign mines with cheaper labour have however made Cornwall's tin uncompetitive, and today the derelict mine workings survive only as a World Heritage Site However, the Camborne School of Mines, which was relocated to Penryn in 2004, is still a world centre of excellence in the field of mining and applied geology and the grant of World Heritage status has attracted funding for conservation and heritage tourism.
China clay extraction has also been an important industry in the St Austell area, but this sector has been in decline, and this, coupled with increased mechanisation, has led to a decrease in employment in this sector.
In recent years Cornwall's creative industries have undergone significant growth. There is now a significant creative industry in Cornwall, encompassing areas like graphic design, product design, web-design, packaging design, environmental design, architecture, photography, art and crafts.
Hard though it is to speak of smuggling with the respect due to lawful industry, nevertheless historically Cornwall was known for the vast scale of smuggling. The county's coasts, with countless creeks, inlets and secluded beaches, made it a prime location for landing goods from France and beyond the eyes of the customs men.
Many books have been written on Cornish smugglers, and romantic novels. At the time it appears that smuggling was an accepted local practice not considered wrong by many, who resented the extortionate customs duties of the day. However behind the romanticism that history casts over it, smuggling was a deadly business; with the noose awaiting any smuggler who was caught, they were not willing to leave witnesses alive.
Question of Cornish identity
In the late twentieth century a quest for a specific Cornish identity began in earnest, which led to a reclaiming of its Celtic roots. Though it would be hard to say whether the majority of Cornishmen today have their ancestry amongst the "West Welsh" or the Anglo-Saxons who have been settling in Cornwall for a thousand years, interest in Cornwall as a "Celtic nation" has blossomed. Cornwall is represented, as one of the Celtic nations, at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, a celebration of Celtic culture held annually in Brittany. The links of commerce and culture between Cornwall and its neighbour across the sea, Brittany, are of longstanding.
There is some uncertainty about how many of the people living in Cornwall consider themselves to be Cornish, since results from different surveys (including the national census) have been varied. In the 2001 census, 7 percent of people in Cornwall identified themselves as Cornish, rather than British or English. However, activists have argued that this underestimated the true number as there was no explicit "Cornish" option included in the official census form. Subsequent surveys have suggested that as many as 44 percent identify as Cornish.
The Cornish language is closely related to the Welsh and Breton languages. The language continued to function as a community language in parts of Cornwall until the late 18th century.
There has been a revival of interest in the language since Henry Jenner's "Handbook of the Cornish Language" was published in 1904. A study in 2000 suggested that there were around 300 people who claimed to speak Cornish fluently. Cornish however has had no "native speakers" and none who speak it as a first or family language since the 18th century, and indeed the Cornish language learnt today has had to be reconstructed for the material remaining from when it was a living language. The language is now taught in about twelve primary schools, and occasionally used in religious and civic ceremonies. A Standard Written Form was agreed in 2008.
Several Cornish mining words are still in use in English language mining terminology, such as costean, gunnies, and vug.
After the 2010 General Election, four Members of Parliament repeated their Parliamentary oaths in Cornish.
The flag is a simple white cross on a black background. A local story is that St Piran adopted these two colours from seeing the white tin in the black coals and ashes during his supposed discovery of tin. Davies Gilbert in 1826 described such a flag as anciently the flag of St Piran and the banner of Cornwall, and another history of 1880 said that: "The white cross of St. Piran was the ancient banner of the Cornish people." The Cornish flag is an exact reverse of the former Breton national flag; a black cross known as the "Kroaz Du".
Cornwall has a strong culinary heritage. Surrounded on three sides by the sea amid fertile fishing grounds, Cornwall naturally has fresh seafood readily available; Newlyn is the largest fishing port in the United Kingdom by value of fish landed. Television chef Rick Stein has long operated a fish restaurant in Padstow for this reason, and Jamie Oliver recently chose to open his second restaurant, Fifteen, in Watergate Bay near Newquay. The founder of Smiths of Smithfield, John Torode, in 2007 bought Seiners in Perranporth.
One famous local fish dish is Stargazy pie, a fish-based pie in which the heads of the fish stick through the piecrust, as though "star-gazing". The pie is cooked as part of traditional celebrations for Tom Bawcock's Eve, but is not generally eaten at any other time.
Cornwall is perhaps best known though for its pasties, a savoury dish made with pastry. Today's pasties usually contain a filling of beef steak, onion, potato and swede with salt and white pepper, but historically pasties had a variety of different fillings. "Turmut, 'tates and mate" (i.e. Turnip, potatoes and meat) describes a filling once very common. For instance, the licky pasty contained mostly leeks, and the herb pasty contained watercress, parsley, and shallots. Pasties are often locally referred to as oggies. Historically, pasties were also often made with sweet fillings such as jam, apple and blackberry, plums or cherries.
The wet climate and relatively poor soil of Cornwall make it unsuitable for growing many arable crops. However, it is ideal for growing the rich grass required for dairying, leading to the production of Cornwall's other famous export, clotted cream. This forms the basis for many local specialities including Cornish fudge and Cornish ice cream. Cornish clotted cream is protected as a "protected designation of origin" and cannot be made anywhere else.
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