Cornish ‘National Identity’ Through The Sport of Rugby Union & the Cultural Symbolism of London Cornish RFC

This week sees the beginning of another series of themed blog posts on Doronieth Kernow, with the focus now looking at Cornish identity through the sport of Rugby Union. In this opening post, I provide a general overview of the club game in the territory of Cornwall, and highlight the cultural symbolism of London Cornish RFC.

Cornwall remains a serious hot-bed of rugby, a sport which many would describe as being the ‘national game of Cornwall’. The game engenders fierce passions among the Cornish in the way the football does in many other parts of Britain. Rugby Union, historically has been one of the ways that the territory of Cornwall has been able to compete at a high level against ‘other’ parts of England. In the past Cornwall have hosted the touring New Zealand, South Africa and Australian international sides.

Cornwall’s traditional power-house club sides were Redruth (you have never experienced true passion and atmosphere at a rugby ground until you have stood on Hellfire Corner at their fantastic ground) and Camborne (who play at the largest ground in the territory of Cornwall). Penryn also had a period when they took on the best in the land, with several memorable John Player Cup runs, when the mighty Coventry and Rosslyn Park made the long journey down to take on ‘Borough’. St. Ives have produced some outstanding talent over the years, and play, in my opinion at one of the most beautiful locations of any ground – at the top of a high hill with the rolling sea and beaches forming a stunning backdrop at the far end of the ground. Launceston have, in recent times flown up the leagues to be, at one stage as high as what is now The Championship (the second highest league in English rugby) before settling down to National Two South along with their bitter rivals Redruth. The current big fish in Cornish rugby are Cornish Pirates – formally Penzance & Newlyn, who have reached two Championship play-off finals and hope to finally secure a Premiership quality stadium before this year is out – surely Cornwall deserves a Premiership side, and if the stadium finally eventuates, it won’t be long before Pirates make the jump up to the top flight. Of course, any mention of rugby and Cornwall cannot leave out the territory’s relationship with the RFU County Championship competition – something that this blog will return to in detail in future weeks.

A true example of just how strong the passion is for rugby in Cornwall is the existence of London Cornish RFC. There are a large number of clubs in London to represent ex-pats from a range of rugby playing nations – many people have heard of London Scottish, London Irish and London Welsh – there are also London New Zealand, London French, London South Africa and London Nigerians – yet the Cornish are equally proud (and some would say even more proud) to have their own club in London. That the club actually exists speaks volumes for how Cornwall and the Cornish see themselves as a unique and different entity to England – and in the future, this blog will examine further the implications for a national identity through the lens of Cultural Geography that the London Cornish rugby club suggests.

London Cornish were formed as Cornish Exiles in 1962 men from God’s Country, who met up in Fleet Street’s Cock Tavern. The club changed its name to London Cornish shortly thereafter and played occasional fixtures in a variety of locations until moving to the current ground, the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields in the late 1960s. Their clubhouse is the Telegraph Inn on Putney Heath, with the pre-match lunches renowned throughout the leagues!

The advent of the League system saw London Cornish begin life in the Middlesex divisions and there they stayed until 1997/98 when they transferred to Surrey 3, which they promptly won! Recent progress across the club means that in their 52nd season in 2014/15, all 4 of the sides will be playing at the highest levels they have ever achieved; the first team play in London Two South-West, with promotion to London One South a distinct possibility in the near future – if this was achieved, London Cornish would be situated just one division below the National Leagues! ‘The Exiles’ 2nd XV are play in the revamped Zoo Sports Shield Division 3. The Choughs consolidated after back to back Championship seasons and will be once again contesting Middlesex Merit Table Division 1. The Fourth XV, The Dukes will contest Middlesex Merit Table Division 2 for the second season, having been awarded a double promotion following the unbeaten run to the Division 4 Championship in 2012/13.

The club’s coaching staff are steeped in Cornish rugby, with the current Director of Rugby, Redruth born Dickon Moon, in his 12th season at the helm. Moon’s coaching credentials are so respected that he has been part of the current Senior Cornwall County coaching team in recent years, which has helped Cornwall reach back to back Bill Beaumont Cup Finals at Twickenham. He is supported by another Redruth man in former Cornwall County player Tom Sincock in his third season as Head Coach. Club Secretary Dave Fletcher has the longest tenure at the club, having been with ‘The Exiles’ for the vast majority of their existence!

Whilst the club has exceptionally strong links with Cornwall, London Cornish are an open club and their players are drawn from across Cornwall and around the globe, but they remain true to their Celtic roots and are proud that many Cornishmen play in all of the sides at the club. London Cornish’s four teams also boast players from Britain and Ireland, Australia, New Zealand (with whom we have a very close affinity) and elsewhere around the globe.

The club crest is half the One-and-All Cornwall logo and half the red cross and sword on a white background of London and the side proudly wear the black and gold colours of the Cornwall County XV. Permission for this was kindly granted by the patron of the Cornwall RFU who is H.R.H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Another strong link that the club has with its Cornish roots is the annual Arthur Hunt Memorial Cup, which originally saw the club take on the Cornwall Junior Cup Winners, but with London Cornish’s steady progression through the leagues, from season 2010/11 the winners of the Cornwall Senior Cup hosted The Black and Golds. Wadebridge Camels keeping the trophy in the County with a narrow 19-17 win in August 2014. The trophy was given to the club by the widow of the late Arthur Hunt, who fulfilled most of the committee roles at the club during his time. Another source of the club’s high profile and links with Cornwall comes with the excellent coverage that London Cornish receive in the Cornish press online, and with live coverage of their games on BBC Radio Cornwall at least twice a season.

Entry to all London Cornish home matches is free, and full colour match programmes are also available at every home game. With high quality rugby at an extremely friendly club, and the sensational Tribute Cornish ale available at The Telegraph clubhouse, it is well worth a visit!

Club history adapted from http://www.lcrfc.co.uk

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2 comments

  1. PaulS · November 2, 2015

    Very nice and passionately written article. Thank you
    One aspect of this argument left untouched is the matter of Cornish representation at local international tournaments, such as the Seven Nations, as it should be.
    National participation is sports of all kinds, not just rugby, is a great solidifier of national unity and feeling of self-worth, which would greatly benefit the Cornish struggle for self-determination.
    We should all consider ‘What steps can I take to help ensure Cornish representation at international level in all sports’. It is scandalous that whilst The Channel islands, The Isle of Man , The Shetlands, etc, etc all qualify to participate in international football competitions, but not Cornwall. The football world appears to be the most open sport to participation by minority nations around the World. For this reason, we should concentrate our efforts on football and do what we can to ensure Cornish participation in the years to come.

    Like

  2. bgilby2014 · November 5, 2015

    Absolutely right. I would be really interested, as a starting point in some form of Pan Celtic Games which, in an ideal world could be hosted by different Celtic nations and regions on a regular basis, featuring as many different sports as possible. I can’t find any reference to such a thing ever being done before (obviously there have been regular Breton-Cornish wrestling competitions).

    Like

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