Cornish Culture & Tourism – A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow – Part One.

Last week, I presented the above paper to the Gorsedh Kernow Conference. Over the coming weeks, I will reproduce the presentation in several parts of around 1,000 words each.

This first part examines the huge concerns of Cultural Geographers and Social Scientists into representations of Cornish Culture and Heritage by the tourism industry and two mini case-studies featuring Heartlands and Tintagel.

o0o

 

The extent to which tourism bodies and site owners currently mis-represent Cornwall’s indigenous culture and history is now so marked that it is not just Cornish people that have been voicing concerns. Over the past twenty years, a number of cultural geographers and the wider social science community have written about their disquiet. Back in 1998, the unease of academics was demonstrated in the International Journal of Heritage Studies where Kennedy and Kingcome (1998) warned of the dangers of:

“Cultural artefacts and guide-book representations (which) raise the spectre of a sanitised, Disneyesque ‘Kernowland’…For the Cornish, the combination of ‘heritage and tourism’ has serious and demoralising implications. There is the uneasy sense of living in a theme-park where sites are misappropriated, preserved and commodified by others”    (p 45 & 54).

Everett and Aitchison published a paper in The Journal of Sustainable Tourism in 2008 highlighting the dangers of Cornwall becoming “increasingly perceived as a place only to be consumed and exploited by tourists” before going on to pose a stark warning about it termed the “commoditisation” of Cornish culture “by the influx of mass tourism, which poses a serious threat to ‘Cornishness’ as a form of cultural identity.”

Critics of these views may point to a group of academics who may not sufficiently understand that areas such as Cornwall who rely on revenue generated by tourism to stay financially afloat need to be creative in their representations of culture. But what are the actual ramifications of this?

Before I go into a more in-depth examination of the views of the interviews and focus groups that I held for this paper, it is worth a brief examination of two particular sites; Heartlands and Tintagel in relationship to their depiction of Cornish history and culture.

On its website, Heartlands is described as:

“Truly tak(ing) you someplace else. This is a lighning bolt of fun… Set in the shadow of an iconic Cornish engine house, Heartlands has brought the former derelict mining landscape at Robinson’s Shaft back to life through a £35 million project, thanks to a mammoth amount of hard work, the support and imagination of the local community and some generous funding from the Big Lottery Living Landmark programme (£22.3 million), European Union, Cornwall Council and the Homes and Community agency.”

Based on the above, you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that here was, potentially an authentic piece of Cornish culture, which could show tourists a crucial part of Cornwall’s social and economic history. However, there have been major concerns at the direction that Heartlands has taken – perhaps heading towards what Harris (2010) termed as being an example of “cappuccino Cornwall…designed for the affluent middle classes and does not welcome lower income groups” (p 40), and see also the work of Binks (1997) and Deacon (1997) on the blurring or reconstruction of legitimate culture. A participant in one of my focus groups stated:

“I think the biggest thing is, yes, we have to have tourism, but the concern is the right type of tourism. I’m worried that Cornwall is going to turn into some Disney style theme park. Cultural tourism is what we want. It saddens me that all that money that was spent at Heartlands and now they are looking at putting in Premier Inns and KFC drive-thrus and Subway.”

The issue that this additional development may be brushed aside as people not comprehending the importance of these planned facilities in increasing the revenue generated by sites like Heartlands. However one reckons without the simple fact that, as one in-comer put it to me “There is no other place that I’ve been whereby people go round that particular region and use it to express their identity and pride in it.”

Another prime example that those concerned about the direction that Cornwall’s tourist sites are taking has been seen with recent developments and plans at Tintagel. This, they argue has been seen with a carving of Merlin into the rocks and a King Arthur statue as well as plans to build a footbridge on a site managed by English Heritage. This case, described by The Guardian Newspaper as ‘The Battle of Tintagel Castle,’ has received UK wide media attention as concern grows over what has happened at the site. The Heritage Journal was brutally frank about how they saw this development: “English Heritage’s need for finance is over-riding any consideration for the actual history and heritage of the site at Tintagel”. Such concerns were also echoed in the compliance report of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in March 2017, as it highlighted concerns that “Cornish history is (being) distorted” (Doronieth Kernow and Morris: 2017).

A very quick examination of these two Cornish sites has highlighted a range of serious concerns about the direction that the management of Cornish heritage and history has taken. What I believe makes the situation highly incongruous is that these new developments are taking place in an era where expressions and visibility of indigenous Cornish culture are more widespread than they have been, arguably since the time of the Celtic Revival, and indeed against the backdrop of Cornwall becoming a recognised National Minority under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention. Additionally, first-hand experience at what is possible at important cultural sites in Brittany, where all signage and explanations in museums is presented in both French and Breton also raised queries in my own mind as to why Cornwall has failed to do this quite so prominently.

NEXT WEEK: Endangered Language researcher speaks out about threat of cultural homogenization in Cornwall, Views of the Cornish young and English Heritage’ missed Cultural Capital opportunities.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Binks, H. (1997): ‘Jamaica Inn: The Creation of Meanings on a Tourist Site’: in Westland, E. (ed): Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place: Patten Press: Penzance.

Deacon, B. (1997): ‘The Hollow Jarring of the Distant Steam Engines: Images of Cornwall Between West Barbary and Delectable Duchy’: in Westland, E. (ed): Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place: Patten Press: Penzance.

Doronieth Kernow (2017) Advisory Committee Report Supports The Cornish & Makes Grim Reading For Government. Available at https://doroniethkernow.wordpress.com (Accessed on 10th March 2017).

Everett, S. & Aitchison, C. (2008): ‘The Role of Food Tourism in Sustaining Regional Identity: A Case Study of Cornwall, South-West England’ in ‘Journal of Sustainable Tourism’ Vol. 16 No. 2.

Harris, R. (2010): ‘South Crofty and the Regeneration of Pool: National Agenda v Cornish Ethnicity’: in Payton, P. (ed): ‘Cornish Studies Eighteen: Exeter University Press: Exeter.

Heartlands Cornwall: (2017): ‘Visitor Information’: Available at: http://www.heartlandscornwall.com/visitor-info.php (Accessed on 21st August 2017).

Heritage Journal, The: (2017): ‘Tintagel: Do English Heritage Understand the Meaning of the Word ‘Heritage’’: Available at https://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/tintagel-do-english-heritage-understand-the-meaning-of-the-word-heritage/ (Accessed on 26th June 2017).

Kennedy, N. & Kingcome, N. (1998): ‘Disneyfication of Cornwall – Developing a Poldark Heritage Complex’: in ‘International Journal of Heritage Studies’: Vol. 4 No.1.

Morris, S. (2016) ‘This is not Disneyland it’s Cornwall: The battle of Tintagel Castle’ The Guardian 18th March 2016. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/18/this-is-not-disneyland-its-cornwall-battle-tintagel-castle (Accessed on 20th April 2017).

Morris, S. (2017) ‘Government accused of neglecting Cornish culture’ The Guardian 11th March 2017. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/10/council-of-europe-criticises-uk-for-cornish-language-funding-cuts (Accessed on 21st April 2017).

 

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One comment

  1. Roger Watson · September 11, 2017

    An interesting read and a warning bell to those of who love and care about our homeland.

    Like

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