Will Cornish Culture Finally Get The Recognition It Deserves?



The Man Engine – The tour of Cornwall this July and August could be the start of a wider recognition of a separate Cornish Culture. Photo: Ben Gilby (in Penzance)

Paulo Freire sees the relationship between a periphery and the state which sees itself as its ruler as being that between the Oppressor and the Oppressed. For Freire, cultural invasion (ie the ‘ruling state’ imposing its own culture on the periphery) is one of the main tools in achieving dominance. “Invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter’s potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression” (1983: p133).



In recent times, indigenous Cornish culture has became a major rallying point for those living in the territory, something which forms an integral part into the Cornish being granted Minority Status under the Council for Europe’s Framework Convention. It continues to be a long hard fight, but one which, if only tourists would scratch the surface, provides one and all with rich rewards. Hoggart’s observation of the “stubborn instinct for survival among minority cultures all over Western Europe and Man’s quite remarkable adherence to them” some fifty years ago is becoming more and more relevant.

But, for all the positivity that was there with the recognition of Minority Status (after such a long battle for it), we still seem to be faced with a case of one step forward and two steps back. A recent piece of research by myself revealed a quote stating: “The Cornish are a race apart and must remain so; any attempt to instigate permanent mass invasion from the faceless hordes from London must be absolutely rejected” came from a West Briton article from 1967! Yet here we are seeing the same conflicts today – indeed in the 1973 local Cornish elections, an Independent stood pledging to push to introduce “bye-laws to ban second homes, improve public transport and ensure Cornish language and history be taught in Cornish schools” (cited in Deacon: 1983: p243). Sound familiar?!

There appears to be an inability by those on the other side of the Tamar to appreciate the fact that Cornwall has a very separate history. It has been suggested by Angarrack that Cornwall had a higher status of being “a Duchy extra-territorial to England” (2008: p 13) and “In 1535 the king’s historian Polydore Vergil wrote in his Anglica Historia how Britain was divided into four parts with each part inhabited by Englishmen, Scotts (sic), Welshmen and Cornish people” (p 15).

Alan M.Kent recently observed: “Despite globalization and the encroachment of English culture and media, the fragments (of Cornish culture) exist…we are able to collect and identify them and understand how they fit into Cornwall’s unique history…there may be a few cracks, but the original culture stands proudly before us” (cited in McMahon: 2016: p ix). There is a chance that a project this summer put together by the Cornish based Golden Tree Productions, with the inspirational Will Coleman driving it forward could, just possibly be the beginning of a major reassembling of these fragments and delivering them to the wider world to appreciate Cornwall’s unique status.


A close up of The Man Engine. Photo: Ben Gilby

Set up to celebrate the tenth (or, as they put it, the tinth) anniversary of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, the Man Engine is described as “the largest mechanical puppet ever to be built in Britain: a colossal metal Cornish Miner, part man, part machine. When he crawled down the road, the height of the Man Engine is 4.5m (about the same as a double-decker bus) but when he ‘transforms’ he stood at over 10m tall (two-and-a-half double-deckers!)” (https://medium.com/balweyth-cornish-mining/the-man-engine-3ad03eff55fb#.9kvgeoav6). Originally scheduled to be viewed by 7,000 people on its twenty-two location tour, well over 130,000 people turned out. If the transformation of the Man Engine was not impressive enough, the overall ceremony that it was part of made very clear the important role mining in Cornwall played – and the integral part it played in Cornish culture and the transportation of it around the world as Cousin Jack and Jennies travelled to South Australia, South Africa, the USA and beyond in order to work the Mines.


With huge media interest in the event, not just across the UK, but around the world, including China and Australia – the word has been spread far and wide, and Will Coleman has already announced embryonic plans to take the Man Engine to some of the sites around the world which were previously mined by large numbers of Cornish people, who established Cornish cultural groups in such locations. Lets hope that the hard work of Golden Tree bears even more fruit – with those not just on the other side of the Tamar, but around the world appreciating that Cornish Culture is very different from English Culture.


Angarrack, John: (2008): Scat t’Larrups? Resist And Survive: Independent Academic Press: Padstow

Deacon, Bernard: (1983): The Electoral Impact of Cornish Nationalism in O’Luain, Cathal (ed): For A Celtic Future: A Tribute to Alan Heusaff: Celtic League: Dublin.

Freire, Paulo: (1983): Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Penguin: London.

McMahon, Brendan: (2016): Gathering The Fragments: Storytelling and Cultural Resistance in Cornwall: Evertype: Lecanvey: County Mayo.


From One Cornish Icon To Another: The massed crowds in Penzance help to transfer a huge Davy Lamp from the town’s statue of Humphrey Davy down Market Jew Street to the Man Engine. Photo: Ben Gilby.


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