OK, so I guess I should explain the ‘Cornwall thing’. Why is a guy who was born in Roehampton SW London and has always lived on the SW London/Surrey border, specialising in Cornish Culture & Identity for a Masters degree at a college of the University of London, I hear you ask.
There is no one simple answer. Firstly, I am very proud to admit to my Great Grandmother being Cornish born and bred. At the present time, I have been able to trace her to both the Redruth and St. Austell areas before moving to London where she met and married my Great Grandfather on my mother’s side. Ever since then, my family linage has been London. But the Cornish roots are there and I am excessively (or is that obsessively?) proud of them. Then, there’s the unique Cornish identity which is something that you cannot help but notice the minute you cross The Border into God’s Country at Saltash. Immediately the place names lose their English connections. There’s the proliferation of the Cornish national flag. There’s the language. There’s the sense of pride of being Cornish. There’s the wonderful male voice choirs, and The Cornish National Anthem of ‘Trelawny’. From the prayer book rebellion, King Athelstan’s setting of the border, Plymouth trying to encroach on Cornish territory to present day demands for a Cornish Assembly there is the wonderful sense of being ‘the other’ – being separate from those ‘on the wrong side of the Tamar’. Yes, my Cornish roots are distant, but they are there, and everytime I cross the Tamar Bridge on the train (I visit Cornwall 3-4 times a year) there is an undistinguishable feeling of being back in a place where I belong. I feel I belong in Cornwall in a way that I don’t feel when I am at home in Surrey.
Then, there’s the rugby. Rugby Union is stated as The National Sport of Cornwall. There’s the tales of yore of Trelawny’s Army and the 40,000 strong Cornish invasion of Twickenham for that famed County Championship Final against Yorkshire – along with many other Cornish invasions since. One of my most unforgettable days was at Twickenham Stadium in 2007 when the Cornish Pirates rugby team took on Exeter Chiefs in the EDF Cup Final – the fact that the Pirates were playing a Devon side certainly added to the occasion. Twickenham was a sea of noise, with Cornish singing, Cornish instruments and an incredible 2nd half comeback from the Pirates to win capped a memorable day. The fact that Pirates’ neighbours Mounts Bay also played at Twickenham that day in a cup final for lower league clubs also added to the occasion. I love rugby union, I have published a book on it (The Game: Tales From A Season Travelling Around The Rugby Union Grounds of Southern England) and believe me, you have never experienced a vocal rugby crowd until you have been to Cornwall. From the fantastic Hellfire Corner at Redruth RFC’s historic and atmospheric ground, to ‘Naughty Boys Corner’ at Cornish Pirates to the stunning cliff top location of St. Ives RFC’s ground, this is a place of true sporting theatre. The local ale and post match singing should not be missed!
If you have any doubt about Cornwall’s sense of being ‘separate’ from England, just consider this. Rugby has clubs representing exiled communities – there is London Irish, London Welsh and London Scottish. In the lower echelons of the game there are clubs called London New Zealand and London French. But there is also a very proud club based in South-West London for the past 52 years known as London Cornish – I consider it a great honour to be their press officer and webmaster.
So, perhaps now you understand a bit about why I am fiercely proud to be specialising in Cornish Culture and Identity for my Masters degree. As this blog goes on and develops, my aim is to discuss both contemporary and historic notions of Cornish Culture & Identity. Some of it may be academic in style, but a lot of it won’t be. I hope there will be plenty of interest for all here. Feel free to add your own comments.