London Talk on the Social & Cultural Geography of Cornwall

On Tuesday of this week, I presented a short paper to an audience of around eighty people in Staines, South-West London entitled ‘A Cultural Geographer’s Guide To Cornwall’.

The presentation, which lasted just over half an hour, followed by questions was a whistle stop tour of Cornwall away from the tourist trail, examining seven towns and villages which play(ed) a major part in the social and cultural history of Cornwall, and were/are locations of radical social movements where work was done to preserve a sense of distinct Cornish identity and industry, which make the territory the place it is.

The talk included discussion on the strategic importance of Launceston (Lannstevan) before moving on to the village of Pelynt (Pluwnennys), where the role of the Trelawny family, notably Bishop Jonathan Trelawny and his imprisonment in the Tower of London following his petitioning along with other Bishops against James II’s Declaration of Indulgence in 1687 and 1688 was highlighted. Bodmin’s (Bosvenegh) importance, being the centre of three Cornish uprisings was then discussed before moving on to the mining industry in the area around Redruth (Resrudh), which included the development of the Mining Exchange and the work of William Murdoch who put together the first gas lighting. The talk then highlighted the cultural significance of Penyrn (Pennrynn), and Glasney College in terms of the written Cornish language, and being the location for the writing of the ancient mystery plays. Whilst concentrating on Penryn, the audience heard about Peter Mundy, son of a pilchard trader who, it is thought was one of the first Europeans to taste tea when he travelled in Asia. Mundy later returned to Penryn and wrote Itinerarium Mundi, one of the first travel guides written in the English language.



Above: Penryn, home of Glasney College and Peter Mundy.


No cultural and social discussion of Cornwall could be complete without mention of St. Keverne (Lannaghevran), and its most famous son, Michael Joseph An Gof, and the reasons behind his leading the Rebellyans Kernow of 1497. The final location mentioned in the paper was Newlyn (Lulyn), where the reasons behind the riots in 1896 were laid out, along with the explanation of the protest which culminated with the Rosebud trawler sailing up the River Thames to Westminster over the proposed Newlyn Clearances in the mid to late 1930s.

The audience were left with no doubt that there remains an inherent sense of injustice among the Cornish about their historic treatment at the hands of the English, something, which is still continuing today, and will be addressed further in my next paper which will be presented at the Gorsedh Kernow Conference at the beginning of September.


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