Researching the Cornish Language in the Late 1700s to Early 1900s – A PhD

I am in the very early days of PhD research at the Institute of Cornish Studies, based at the Humanities department of the University of Exeter’s campus in Penryn, Cornwall. My research, generously financed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust is on ‘The Cornish Language: 18th Century to the Early 20th Century’. This PhD was the culmination of a MA Cultural Geography Research degree in the outstanding Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, where my dissertation was entitled ‘The Renaissance of Kernewek: The Indigenous Cornish Language: 1900 – 2017’ – a paper which will be published in this blog in an abridged version over several parts in the near future.

My PhD has three main research questions:

i) What was the reach of Kernewek in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Within this era in Cornwall, mass emigration was taking place and a vital part of my research attempts to examine the relationships between remaining Kernewek speakers and the wider indigenous Cornish groups both within Cornwall and among the diaspora. Discussions that I have had with other Cornish language researchers over the course of my Masters dissertation suggest that there may well have been pockets of Kernewek speakers in the area around Summercourt in Mid-Cornwall and Lanherne, near Newquay, as well as some Kernewek being spoken and written on the Lizard peninsula much later than previously thought. If research in these particular areas could prove this, then it could, potentially, lead to the east/west model of language retreat being rethought. Lyon (2001) offers  potential locations and individuals that would serve as starting points for this particular branch of the research. There are two examples within Lyon’s work which I am particularly interested to investigate further. Firstly, the potential identity of the several hundred miners “using uncouth jargon” (ibid p 11), in 1795 around Flushing, which quite possibly was a form of Kernewek.  Lyon suggests this group may have come from the St. Day and Carharrack area. Secondly, the example of John Davey who died in Boswednack in 1891 (ibid p 18-19). Morton Nance expressed doubts about Davey’s use of Cornish, suggesting instead that he picked it up from reading Pryce’s work Archaeologia Cornu-Britannica but Lyon asserts that he “would have had a good knowledge of Cornish, learned traditionally at home” (ibid p 19).  Due to Davey dying in the late nineteenth century, it would be, potentially highly significant to discover whether or not he had learned the language and, perhaps if he was in a position to speak it or teach it to others.

A final aspect of my research within this first framework, would be to consider whether or not Kernewek was used as an example of resistance against the earlier imposition of English – a situation which Gramsci (1971) may recognise as Passive Revolution. It would be particularly fruitful to investigate whether or not there were examples of local figures who were actively involved in the use/promotion of Kernewek and attempting to discover their motivation.
ii) How was Kernewek language use recorded?

Within this section of my research, I wish to examine the locations of language use with an emphasis on the communications between Cornish emigrants and their families and friends who remained in Cornwall.  In terms of the Cornish language community within Cornwall in the period, I wish to examine the relationship between Kernewek as a day-to-day domestically spoken language and the influence of some of its words on Cornish dialect within the English language to see the extent to which there may have been a cross-over in this era. Using the existing research of Lyon (2001) as a starting point, it would be worth examining records from areas around the Lizard and Zennor – both locations in which he suggests that the Cornish language may have still existed to a degree throughout the nineteenth century.

Creating interest among the young generations will be vital in the progression of my research, and I am very keen to use my experience as a qualified primary school teacher to develop ‘Language Detective’ sessions with Cornish primary schools in conjunction with the Institute of Cornish Studies and the Cornwall Heritage Trust, to get as many people on board with finding out what their own families may know or what documents they may have. The next generation of Cornwall needs to have some ownership of this research as they will be the ones who will take it forward in the future.

An additional route that my research would take would be to examine the interconnection between Cornish words in the English dialect and the intersection between them. It is highly likely that much of this cross-over took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Looking closely at early examples of this, and the people who were writing in Cornish dialect may open avenues to explore whether or not these people may have been communicating in Cornish for longer than had previously been thought. A consideration of gender issues could also prove worthwhile – it is possible that the language use of Cornish women, as a socio-economic group has been ignored, with only the men’s language choice being recorded. Research in this area, again, potentially in the form of written correspondence, could unearth evidence of women using Kernewek into the nineteenth century.

iii) What relationships were developed with other Celtic groups and nations, particularly Brittany?

With reference to the Celtic Revival and separate literature surrounding the establishment of the Breton Goursez, I believe it is particularly important to research the connections between the Cornish language communities and their Celtic cousins in Brittany. Stoyle (2002) and Spriggs (2003 and 2005) have noted the emphasis placed by Scawen on the loss of links between Cornwall and Brittany having a negative impact on the use of Kernewek. Despite this, I believe it would be important to investigate what links remained linguistically, particularly within the maritime and fishing industries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Attempting to discover use of Kernewek by Newlyn fishermen and whether or not they may have used aspects of the language when conversing with their Breton counterparts who began fishing around Cornwall from 1902 could offer some important information.

There has been a long history of trade between the regions of Cornwall and Brittany, but more research is needed to discover what written correspondence took place between the two areas in the nineteenth century. Discovering if any letters or written documents remain in Kernewek or Brezhoneg and if so, finding out about the identity and roles of the people who wrote them could be extremely worthwhile. It is known that in the post reformation period, there was a translation of saints from Cornwall to Brittany, and records in Breton monasteries could be a potential source of information as well as the public records offices and university libraries and archives in the territory. Preliminary links that I have made with Dr. Jean-Yves Le Disez at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale, who co-edited the book Bretagne/Cornouailles (Britanniques): Quelles Relations? will prove to be important in this area.

NEXT WEEK: Preliminary Research – in the archives of the British Library…


Lyon, R.T. (2001): ‘Cornish: The Struggle for Survival’: Taves an Werin.






Cornish Culture & Tourism: A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow Part IV

In this final part of the paper I presented for the Gorsedh Kernow Conference, we look at potential solutions to the problematical representation of Cornish culture in the tourism industry, offered by respondents to my research.


The establishment of Heritage Kernow by HM Government and Cornwall Council is an example of what could be a hugely positive step forward. Note the insertion of the word could though. Cornwall Council describes the group as: “Existing to bring partners together to improve understanding, interpretation and stewardship of the culturally distinctive historic character and heritage assets of Cornwall.”  However, like most things, how successful this body will be is likely to depend solely on who exactly is involved on the management committee of the organisation. My conversations with English Heritage were greatly disturbing and so an effective and open minded committee for Heritage Kernow is absolutely vital.

The Heritage Kernow Board, of which the Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard is a member has met sporadically and has come under significant criticism for not listening to grass roots organisations and individuals. Linked to this major concern, my respondents were clear about the importance of having a body who had real control, strong equal relationships with Cornish cultural groups and power to get their voice and narrative about Cornish identity represented within the tourist industry. A key point was that: “This body needs to be financed and run within Cornwall for Cornwall.”

Ian Saltern, highlighted to me: “The pressing need for such an organisation to monitor, advise and assist with developing the presentation of Cornish culture through tourist attractions. There is a fear of getting it wrong which leads to some avoiding Cornish culture entirely and tokenistic representations of Cornish culture playing to jaded clichés.”

The fear of getting it wrong, it could be asserted, is only there if you don’t sufficiently engage with or include indigenous Cornish cultural movements – a fact which goes to further underline the vital importance of getting such an organisation off the ground.

For any organisation to have a chance of success, the existing bodies need to be open and willing to work effectively with the formulation of what Heritage Kernow could be. The National Trust are in the early stages of updating their Cornish language policy, and Ian Marsh, the General Manager for West Cornwall has formed a working relationship with archaeologist and writer Craig Weatherhill to formulate a new document, which has been shared with me. Whilst it must be emphasised that this work is, at the present stages, in draft form, it could potentially offer a major improvement in the visibility of Kernewek and understanding of Cornish culture at the Trust’s sites in Cornwall.

Section 2.1 of the draft document notes that The National Trust recognises the distinctive cultural history of Cornwall and the place of the Cornish language as a unique and positive asset with The Cornish Language Office and other recommended experts forming a relationship to provide the Trust with help and advice, including translation services” (Weatherhill: 2017: p 2).

At the present time, the fact that the National Trust are willing to engage and openly consider further enhancing their use of Kernewek is positive. Whilst the final document when it is put together may be modified from how it presently reads, it appears that there is recognition of the momentum that is gathering around Cornwall. All it needs now is for other institutions to engage with this. There are many people, the vast majority of whom are volunteers, doing quite outstanding work around Cornwall to highlight, promote and stage examples of indigenous culture, history and arts. The skills of these people need to be harnessed by Cornwall’s tourism bodies and site owners so that their work, and the unique identity and history of Cornwall can get the wider recognition that it so desperately deserves.

Should these bodies seek to develop more recognition of Cornish culture, and build more of an inclusive and two-way relationship with cultural and historical groups around Cornwall, they would, quite possibly be pushing at an open door – as long as, and this is the key thing – the relationship that they seek to develop is one which represents Cornwall in a mature and truthful manner.


Weatherhill, C. (2017): ‘National Trust Policy for the use of the Cornish Language – Draft’.

The Push For Independence In Catalonia

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Above: Could this soon be the world’s newest national flag as Catalonia’s independence bid grows?

Back in 2015, I published this article on Doronieth Kernow about movements for independence in Catalonia. Given recent events, it seems worth republishing the piece:


Following Scotland’s independence vote last year, another historic region of Europe is in the process of trying to become an independent state. Catalonia has had a tempestuous relationship with the nation state of Spain ever since Ferdinand of the Principat of Catalonia (or Aragon as it was named) married Isabel of Castile which led to unification. Although Catalonia still had political autonomy, this marriage had, perhaps unwittingly, set in motion a long running series of battles to prevent the region being fully integrated into a greater Spain – a process which began in the 1830s (Nagel: 20151) and concluded with the dictatorships of Primo de Rivera in the 1920s and General Franco from 1939 (adapted from Nogue & Vicente: 2004: p 120-121).

Throughout the Franco era, the use of the Catalan language was forbidden, as was raising the Catalan flag. The only outlet for the identity of the region was through CF Barcelona, who competed in the higher echelons of the Spanish and European football world. People “threw their cultural pride in to Barca. At a Barca match, people could shout in Catalan and sing traditional songs when they could do it nowhere else” (cited in Peffer: 1984: p 120). As Franco’s grip on power lessened during the 1970s, it was through some of the directors of CF Barcelona that Catalan nationalism began to surge. They used their influence within the nationalist Convergencia Democratica de Catalunya to “promote a campaign advocating the use of Catalan in schools, use Catalan to make announcements over the public address system and they also flew a Catalan flag in the stadium” (Shobe: 2008: p 341). It was this influence by an educated group, seeking to use the indigenous language in a move akin to Gramsci’s ‘passive revolution’ theory, which began the reawakening of Catalan identity.

When Franco’s regime ended with the dictator’s death in 1975, Catalonia became one of seventeen autonomous communities in Spain, with its own parliament, and an executive known as the Generalitat. The Catalan parliament has 135 seats, with elections at least once every four years. It is responsible for matters such as culture, transport, and commerce. The region has its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquada and has laid down legislation to ensure that the Catalan language is spoken in all schools. Additionally to this, it has eighteen universities or higher education institutions. With all this existing autonomy, why does Catalonia want more?

The answer to this is manifold – firstly, there is “popular support among the region’s positionally advantaged, native middle-strata, in pursuit of a ‘Catalanizing’ agenda” (Miley: 2013: p 9). This ‘Catalanizing’ has been a long established process, crucially rooted in academia. Garcia-Ramon and Nogue-Font (1994) speak of the role of the Catalan Geographical Society in constructing a nationalist identity of the region, and resistance against the rule of Franco. They also identify how the popular Catalan pastime of hiking developed an awakening of patriotism. Hiking group meetings became fertile ground for Catalan intellectuals to spread nationalistic feelings through lectures regularly delivered as part of group activities. Such overt involvement in Catalan nationalism by the territory’s leading minds meant that “Although the Catalan language was long persecuted by the state…(it) remained widely spoken among the middle classes, including the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie” (Keating: 2001: p 166). As Paasi (2001) has suggested, this was absolutely crucial, – those at the higher echelons of Catalan authority were keeping the language alive, and they were continuing to spread nationalist feelings.

The first step on the road to where the territory presently finds itself was taken on 11th September 1977 – the National Day of Catalonia when: “A demonstration… drew a supposed one million Catalans onto the streets of Barcelona to assert their Catalan identity and demand a statute of autonomy” (Crameri: 2011: p 58). Over the years this growing demand for greater autonomy has been reflected in the elections for the Catalan Parliament. The moderate CiU group have, historically been the most popular party in the Generalitat, but recent elections have seen their popularity plunge from a high water mark of 73 seats in 1984 (Bukowski: 2001: p 159) to its present tally of 50 (Guardian Newspaper Website: 2014). During the same period, the fiercely pro-independence ERC party have risen from holding just five seats to an all-time high of 21 in 2012.

The economy has provided a further factor in independence demands. With the crisis in the Eurozone in 2009, Catalans became aware of an ever-growing deficit fiscal. Historically, Catalonia was responsible for around 20% of the total Spanish GDP, and 30% of total Spanish exports (Bukowski: 2001: p 162). It has always been leading virtually all of the nation’s economic indicators. In order to maximise its financial and political impact within Europe, Catalonia joined up with three other financially powerful regions of the continent – Baden Wurttemberg, Lombardy and Rhone-Alpes – in a bid to develop business relations and attract further investment (cited in Loughlin: 2000 p 30). This served to widen Catalonia’s potential ‘agglomeration of locations’ and put in place reciprocal freight agreements which mirrored Losch’s (1978) theory and strengthened their ‘economics of location’. Additionally, this could aid the region’s ability in breaking what Lefebvre (1991) would see as Spain’s colonization of Catalonia’s spatial grids of power.

As the gap between the amount paid in taxes by the Catalans and what they received in return from the Spanish state in terms of services and investment grew ever wider, concerns grew about the unfairness of Catalonia’s relationship with the Spanish government. Therefore it was not long before “a growing civil movement for independence with a strong presence of young Catalans” began emerging (Crameri: 2011: p 52). This movement presented a powerful argument, claiming that if all taxation collecting responsibilities in the territory was the responsibility of the Catalan parliament, it would result in major improvements to the local budget and welfare situation. There is also an increasing school of thought that an independent Catalonia could thrive, despite the impact of a likely boycott of Catalan goods by Spain and what part of Spain’s debt the new country would have to pay (Nagel: 2015: p398). Consequently, the moderates of Mas’ CiU called for a referendum on Catalonia’s self-determination. To many, this didn’t go far enough, as “most of the opinion polls published since 2010 show(ed) that between 40% and 50% of the population would support independence as an alternative to the status quo” (Serrano: 2013: p 525). Fuelled by the lack of recognition from Madrid that Catalonia was being unfairly treated, the opposition to the national government grew. On 11th September 2012, over a million Catalans marched through Barcelona “under the slogan ‘Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa’ (Catalonia, new state of Europe)” (Marti: 2013: p 509). A year later, groups without any political affiliations organised a human chain of Catalans to be set up from the border with France in the north, to the region of Valencia in the south. Turnout for the subsequent Catalan Parliamentary elections was a record high – 67.8% – and the results set in trend a motion for a non-binding vote on independence in 2014. The outcome was, given the events of the previous three years, no surprise – 80% of the two million people who voted (out of a total eligible of 5.4 million) were in favour of secession. In September 2015, what could turn out to be a landmark Regional Election was held in Catalonia, with the outcome an absolute majority for Catalan nationalist parties. Another record high voter turnout (77.4%) emphasized just what an important issue independence is at the present time. The JxSi movement (Together For Yes) stated: “The responsibility we have now is to fulfil this democratic mandate” (Nationalia: 2015).

The die had been cast, and in November 2015, the Catalan parliament voted in favour of beginning the process to breakaway from Spain, with a stated aim to declare independence as early as 2017. Here we see clearly what Gramsci (1971) meant when he stated the importance of a (regional) political party performing in a way that could set a wider agenda in terms of challenging the hegemony of the state. Spain’s response had all the hallmarks of Hechter’s Internal Colonialism. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatened to impose direct rule on Catalonia and refer the matter to the Constitutional Court, which has “persistently ruled against any moves towards independence” (Herald Scotland: 2015/Nagel: 2015: p 393). Rajoy is in a seemingly impossible position influenced by the forthcoming General Election on 20th December 2015. He will be more than aware that “If the rest of Spain goes down the pan and an independent Catalunya thrives, there are…serious implications” (Guardian Newspaper Website: 2014).


Anderson, B. (2006): ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism: Verso: London.

Agnew, J. (2001): ‘Regions in Revolt’ in Progress in Human Geography Vol. 25 No. 1

BBC News Website: (2014): ‘Catalonia vote: 80% back independence – officials’ 10th November 2014.

Bukowski, J. (2001): ‘A Space for Political Choice? Regional Development Policy in Andalucia and Catalonia’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 12 No. 1

Crameri, K. (2011): ‘We Need Another Hero: The construction of Josep Moragues as a symbol of independence for Catalonia’ in National Identities, Vol. 13 No. 1.

Garcia-Ramon, M-D & Nogue-Font, J (1994): ‘Nationalism and Geography in Catalonia’ in Hooson, David (ed) ‘Geography & National Identity: Blackwells: Oxford.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971): ‘Selections from the Prison Notebooks’: Lawrence & Wishart: London.

Guardian Newspaper (2014): ‘Waiting in the wings: The Genie is out of the bottle – we want more power’ 12th September 2014.

Guardian Newspaper Website (2014): ‘Catalan independence poll: what happens next? 11th November 2014.

Herald Scotland Website (2015): ‘Spain Has Threatened To Impose Direct Rule on Catalonia’ (accessed on 10th November 2015).

Hobsbawm, E. & Ranger, T. (eds) (1983): ‘The Invention of Tradition’: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Johnston, R.J. et al (2000): ‘The Dictionary of Human Geography’: Blackwell Publishers: Oxford.

Keating, M. (2001): ‘Nations Against The State: The New Politics of Nationalism in Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland’: Palgrave: Basingstoke.

Lefebvre, H. (1991): ‘The Production of Space’: Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.

Losch, A. (1978): ‘The Economics of Location’: Yale University Press: New Haven.

Loughlin, J. (2000): ‘Regional Autonomy and State Paradigm Shifts in Western Europe’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 10 No. 2

MacLeod, G. & Jones, M. (eds) (2001): ‘Renewing The Geography of Regions’ in Environment & Planning ‘D’: Vol 19.

Marti, D. (2013): ‘Election Report: The 2012 Catalan Election: The First Step Towards Independence? In Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 23 No. 4.

Miley, T.J. (2013): ‘Blocked Articulation and Nationalist Hegemony in Catalonia’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 23 No.1

Moreno, L. (2002): ‘Decentralization in Spain’ in Regional Studies Vol. 36 No. 4.

Nagel, Klaus-Jurgen (2015): ‘Catalonia’s Struggle for Self-Determination’, Chapter Eighteen in Achankeng, Fonkem: ‘Nationalism and Intra-State Conflicts in the Postcolonial World’: Lexington: Lanham. (2015): ‘Catalan Parties To Start Negotiations Over New Government, Roadmap to Independence’ accessed on 29th September 2015.

Nogue, J. & Vicente, J. (2004): ‘Landscape and national identity in Catalonia’ in Political Geography Vol. 23.

Passi, A. (1986): ‘The Institutionalization of Regions: A Theoretical Framework for Understanding the Emergence of Regions and the Constitution of Regional Identity’ in Fennia Vol. 164 No.1.

Paasi, A. (2001) in MacLeod, G. & Jones, M. (eds) ‘Renewing The Geography of Regions’ in Environment & Planning ‘D’: Vol 19.

Peffer, R. (1984): ‘Spain’s country within a country: Catalonia’ in National Geographic Vol. 165 No. 1

Serrano, I. (2013): ‘Just a Matter of Identity? Support for Independence in Catalonia’ in Regional and Federal Studies Vol. 23 No. 5

Schakel, A.H. & Jeffery, C: (2013): ‘Are Regional Elections really ‘Second-Order’ Elections?’ in Regional Studies Vol. 47 No. 3.

Shobe, H. (2008): ‘Place, identity and football: Catalonia, Catalanisme and Football Club Barcelona, 1899-1975’ in National Identities Vol. 10, No. 3.

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

In this week’s third part of the paper that I presented to the Gorsedh Kernow Conference, we look at the outcomes of my interviews with Visit Cornwall, English Heritage and the National Trust and see a mixture of some potential grounds for positivity and confirmation of the rather worrying stance and views of English Heritage.



Malcolm Bell of Visit Cornwall has highlighted that his organisation does not outwardly use the Cornish language or wider examples of Cornish culture in his company’s promotion of the territory because:

“All our customers would not be aware of it, let alone being able to understand it…(but) we did ask a question in 2015 and discovered that 33% of visitors knew that there was a Cornish language.”

Bell pointed out that “The tourism industry is responsible for over 20% of all jobs in Cornwall, and in 2015 brought in £491,755,000 into the Cornish economy”, and pointed to a 2012 ‘Community Attitudes survey’ that identified that 89% of residents feel tourism is good for Cornwall. When I questioned him about the more recent criticism surrounding ‘Disneyfication’, Bell replied:

“We have to be honest and authentic and to some that may be Disney, to others it is not. We need to ensure that the culture is interpreted in a way that firstly gains the support of local people and local communities as well as being able to be understood by tourists coming to Cornwall.”

In our interview via email exchange, I suggested to Bell that other Celtic nations are using their separate identity, history and heritage in marketing tourism, he answered:

“We will weave language and culture in a sensitive manner that honestly reflects its role in Cornwall. We will not ram it down the throats of a visitor like Wales has done, but soft sell through education and inspiration.”

The views of Malcolm Bell were put to the members of my focus groups, and the general consensus was that the percentage of visitors demonstrating a knowledge of the Cornish language without any marketing was far higher than they would expect – and therefore could quite conceivably be used in an advertising campaign by Visit Cornwall to “emphasise a notion of Cornwall being a different land within England” and that “Visit Cornwall should and indeed could be able to deliver authentic Cornish cultural things through their campaigns.”

English Heritage, who are responsible for seventeen historic sites in Cornwall also responded to my queries about how they aim to reflect and use Cornish Culture in their sites. Sophie White, who is the body’s Western Marketing Manager began by highlighting the importance of the sense that Cornwall is ‘different’:

“Cornwall’s distinctiveness and interest is what attracts many visitors in the first place. Making steps to reflect Cornish culture will help to ensure visitors return to learn more about a place they love, whilst helping those who live in Cornwall to feel their story is properly represented. At English Heritage, we use Cornish culture and language to educate visitors about the story of a place that is different to the other parts of the island of Britain in the hope that they will leave having learned something new about the place they have visited.”

However, there then followed a slightly disconcerting definition of what the body believed to be “distinctive signifiers of Cornwall”. White went on:

“Many of the more obvious signifiers of Cornwall may not actually be culturally distinctive to Cornwall – sandy beaches in sunshine, fine food, picturesque coastal villages, wild upland landscapes. These phenomena are credible as attracting tourists to Cornwall, but if we accept a distinction between ‘culture in Cornwall’ and ‘Cornish culture’, they tend to be associated with the former rather than the latter, and thus they are often not unique to Cornwall.”

I pointed out to White that if, as she stated originally, it is Cornwall’s distinctiveness that attracts many of its visitors, then surely it would make sense for English Heritage to keep their focus on the elements of indigenous Cornish culture rather than her later descriptions of sandy beaches and coastal villages in what they believe to be the most important distinctive signifiers of Cornwall. In her response, she said:

“We liaise with Cornish interest groups and some of our signs and leaflets feature the Cornish language. We have been investing in a new interpretation of Tintagel Castle and have made extra efforts to make use of the Cornish language as part of these new displays. Resources are often scarce and visitors only spend a relatively short period of time at tourist attractions, so it will never be possible to provide a comprehensive education on all aspects of Cornish culture. We participate in the St. Piran’s Day Celebrations at Launceston with a special St. Piran’s flag flying at the castle.”

It is worth pointing out at this moment White’s reference to the St. Piran’s flag. This is only a recent change after a former Grand Bard asked English Heritage why permission should be sought to fly our own flag from one of our own monument’s on our own saint’s day! As White had mentioned Tintagel Castle, it seemed a good time to turn the conversation in the direction of the large amount of criticism that has come English Heritage’s way for what they term a “new interpretation” and what others have termed “vandalism”. White’s response was:

“We believe a place like Tintagel Castle deserves to be communicated effectively, and our new exhibition and scheme of outdoor interpretations aims to take visitors on an informative tour through the history and legend associated with the 18 acre site. Highlights include a series of interpretive panels exploring 1,500 years of Tintagel’s history and making use of the Cornish language, and an eight foot bronze sculpture Gallos, by artist Rubin Eynon inspired by the legends associated with the site. We are proud of the steps we have made to better tell the stories of the places in our care in Cornwall. The term ‘Disneyfication’ is difficult to define, but the suggestion is of a globalised homogenisation and of stripping a real place or event of its original character. This was certainly not the case at Tintagel, where we made every effort to reflect the unique story of Tintagel in particular, and Cornish culture. We feel confident that our new interpretation provided a sensible balance between the various aspects which make the place so special, whilst ensuring that there was no stripping of the original character of the place.”

 I suggested to White that, at best it could be argued that the elements that English Heritage have included at Tintagel misinterpret Cornish history. In response she said that she feels that her organisation are doing everything they can to reach out to Cornish cultural movements. She pointed to the body’s:

“extra efforts to make use of the Cornish language, following input from other Cornish stakeholder groups, and the Cornish Language Partnership, and the fact that we are active members of the Ertach Kernow Forum and the Ertach Kernow Board, where we liaise with a range of Cornish cultural groups on a regular basis. We find these relationships are very helpful, and we very much appreciate the work of the Gorsedh Kernow and other Cornish cultural groups in making us aware of local feeling on various issues.”

It’s fair to say that my conversation with English Heritage left me with a sense of deep unease about the organisation’s grasp of Cornwall’s heritage and history.

One of the groups that English Hertiage identified as having a relationship with was the Cornwall Heritage Trust. A trustee for this body spoke to me about their personal concerns about English Heritage and wider concerns with the representation of Cornish culture in tourism:

“English Heritage have got a lot to answer for at Tintagel and of course, there is the infamous Lands End fiasco. Existing bodies such as Visit Cornwall and English Heritage seem to be nervous of exploiting Cornish culture – perhaps because they have the perception that it lowers the standard of their offering.  Somehow we need to overcome this vision, created mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries, of the Cornish being somehow old-fashioned and backward.”

In contrast, the views of the National Trust’s General Manager for West Cornwall, Ian Marsh did provide some grounds for optimism for the future representation of the Cornish language and culture at his organisation’s own sites in the territory. Marsh was aware that the National Trust had not always got things right in Cornwall and were open to learn and improve. He told me:

“Our use of Cornish culture is becoming better. We have formed relations with the Gorsedh Kernow to work specifically on projects. When we do Cornish culture badly, and we have done at times, it can appear Disneyfied. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that different people have different tolerance levels.”

So, where do we go from here? I ended the initial stage of my primary data generation with a feeling that we were, potentially at a crossroads. The greater visibility of Kernewek, National Minority Status and the burgeoning indigenous cultural scene around Cornwall means that greater pressure can, theoretically be applied to tourism groups and site owners in the territory. Yet, what steps need to be taken before we can travel towards a more widely accepted representation of Cornwall’s identity in the tourist industry? This is what we will explore in next week’s final part of this paper.

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

Continuing the publication of the paper that I made to the Gorsedh Kernow Conference. In this week’s second part, we begin to look at the results of my primary data, and an Endangered Language researcher speaks out about threat of cultural homogenization in Cornwall, we discover some of the views of the Cornish young and highlight English Heritage’ missed opportunities to boost Cultural Capital on indigenous Cornish matters.


My primary data generation consisted of twenty-three individual interviews, carried out in person, on the phone, by email or via Skype. These took place between November 2016 and February 2017 with further interviews carried out between May and August 2017. I ran five focus groups in different locations between January and February 2017 which were attended by a mix of Cornish born people and in-comers. The largest focus group was attended by ten people, the smallest by six, and the total number of people attending them was thirty-two. There was an even split of male and female attendees with 28% of those taking part being forty or under, and 18% of participants being in-comers.

What became pretty apparent when I examined the results of my data was that people’s concerns broke down, pretty broadly into two issues. Firstly, the influence of individuals or bodies which are either not based in Cornwall or, if they are, are not perceived to have sufficient positive relationships with Cornish Cultural and Historical groups and secondly, what appeared to be an inability by tourism bodies or site managers in Cornwall to grasp how to tap into the burgeoning Cornish cultural scene. Taking each of these concerns in turn, I will now highlight the issues that the focus groups and interviews flagged up and examine the response of some of the tourism bodies and site owners in Cornwall when I put these matters to them subsequently, and then, use all of the information gathered to propose some methods of making Cornish social, cultural and historical groups feel more included and taking more of a leading role in the presentation of Cornish culture in the tourism industry in the territory. NB This will be reported in Parts Two to Four of this blog representation of the Gorsedh paper.

The phenomena that the representation of indigenous culture and history in Cornwall is being, at best distorted and at worst wilfully ignored for what a number of respondents felt may be political reasons was something that resonated strongly. Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Merv Davey said:

“English Heritage’s control of the interpretation of Cornish sites is political control of history. The anger at English imperialism might draw in people to support (the) Cornish (language) who otherwise might not be concerned.”

Archeologist and author Craig Weatherhill went further with his opinion on the present situation with the tourist industry:

“Visit Cornwall, the National Trust and English Heritage have shown themselves over several decades that they are utterly incapable of delivering genuine Cornish culture…their senior staff are largely imported into Cornwall from outside. At Tintagel, the carving on Merlin’s face into a cliff-face supposedly protected under SSSI designation is an example of burying Cornish history under a plethora of largely spurious legend.””

A researcher in Endangered Languages at SOAS, University of London told me that these “specific instances of attack, such as Disneyfication of beloved landmarks” is simply part of a wider narrative which she sees as “cultural homogenization and a very hard metaphorical slap in the face to the Cornish.” This viewpoint was found in several other people’s opinions – that misrepresentations of Cornish culture is just one example of several battles that Cornwall is facing – whether it be through numbers of in-comers moving into the territory, second homes and lack of affordable housing and the Devonwall parliamentary constituency concerns. One of my respondents highlighted the consequences of this:

“There is a lack of teaching of our separate history, culture or language, so the Cornishness comes out of us. The Cornish are hanging onto their identity by their fingernails.”

Under the present Devolution Deal, it is not possible for Cornish schools to be able to have specific lessons in each year group on specific Cornish history, or even where events in England were felt and experienced completely differently in Cornwall. Yet, despite this, there are high hopes that children in the territory, who are growing up in an era where both Kernewek and the renaissance of a number of Cornish cultural events is increasingly visible, may possibly grow up wanting to do something about it. School Census data (previously known as PLASC data) shows that the number of pupils in Cornwall who self-identified as Cornish rose every year from 2006, when 23.7% of pupils stated they were Cornish rather than English to 2013 (the last data set available) when the figure had grown to 46% – a total of 32,254 out of 70,097 pupils (Ethnicity breakdown from the schools census – Cornwall Council 2006-2013). My respondents in all locations felt that the National Curriculum first needed to recognise and encourage the teaching of Cornish culture and Cornish history more widely in the territory’s schools – something which is still notably lacking due to, what one person described as “the provision of teacher training in Cornwall, which gives no additional time in their training on local history and culture or on the Cornish language”. A cut in funding for Kernewek from Westminster, and budget restrictions that schools are facing nationwide has created a vicious circle whereby schools that may be keen to embrace Kernewek and Cornish culture are prevented to due to lack of timetable space and money. Yet, should awareness of Cornish culture and history continue to grow, there are grounds for positivity about the role that the territory’s young people will play, and the recent initiative of a family Cornish language learning group at Heartlands on Saturday mornings, initiated by Loveday Jenkin and Rob Lawrance is another sign of what this could, potentially mean in the future.

Despite this, it appears that tourist site owners have not really caught up with the momentum. The use of duel language signage at museums or tourist sites is notably lacking. Is this because, as one bard of the Gorsedh Kernow asserted that he suspects there is “a concerted campaign to weaken Cornish identity, as in certain quarters there is a perception that an emboldened Cornish identity is a threat.” Or even perhaps, as a former Grand Bard told me, that there are fears that “monoglot speakers don’t understand, or want to understand what others are doing.” I believe, if this is the case, the likes of Visit Cornwall, English Heritage and the National Trust are missing a trick. Many of the sites that the latter two institutions own are ones which, it could be asserted, people would visit in an attempt to boost their Cultural Capital.

For Bourdieu & Passeron (1977), Cultural Capital is “a mechanism for the transmission of social status…(and) can be differentiated into three sub-forms; institutionalised, incorporated and objective” (Moskal: 2016: p 143). It is the institutionalised cultural capital that interests us most in this particular case. Here, capital is accrued due to an individual’s success in gaining language learning skills and cultural exposure with resulting intellectual and financial consequences (Georg: 2004 and Smala et al: 2013). Exposure to Kernewek, or Cornish culture at such tourist sites is an example of allowing visitors to gain an additional knowledge and skills, which sets such a person apart from those who do not possess such abilities (MacLeod: 1987, McCollum: 1999, Polanyi: 1995). The motivation and skills that can be perceived to be part of exposure to such phenomena are, for Norton (2013) “a range of symbolic resources (language, education, friendship)…which will in turn increase the value of their cultural capital” (p 6). The socio-economic background of people who may be expected to visit such sites in Cornwall, Tsimprea Maluch et al (2015) have noted should be those who would be actively interested in separate cultures and language.

John Pollard, the then leader of Cornwall Council highlighted to me the potential consequences of the likes of English Heritage and the National Trust taking on a more open minded approach to Cornish culture when he said:

“Growing awareness of our heritage and language is an important element. We need to open up people to the different culture and history of Cornwall…(people) need to take on board local issues and feeling.”

NEXT WEEK: The views of Visit Cornwall and the National Trust, plus English Heritage’s perspective on how they incorporate Cornish history and identity in their sites and what they describe as their “sensible new interpretation” at Tintagel.


Bourdieu, P. (1977): ‘Outline of a theory of Practice’: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Bourdieu, P & Passeron, J-C. (1977): ‘Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture’ translated by Nice, R. Sage: London.

Bourdieu, P. (1991): ‘Language and Symbolic Power: The Economy of Linguistic Exchanges’: Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ethnicity breakdown from the schools census – Cornwall Council (2006-2013) Available at (Accessed on 7th April 2017).

Georg, W. (2004): ‘Cultural Capital and social inequality in the life course’: in European Sociological Review Vol. 20 No. 4.

MacLeod, J. (1987): ‘Ain’t no makin’ it: levelled aspirations in a low-income neighbourhood: Westview Press: Boulder: CO.

McCollom, P. (1999): ‘Learning To Value English: Cultural Capital in a Two-way Bilingual Program’ in Bilingual Research Journal: Vol. 23 No. 2-3.

Moskal, M. (2016): ‘Language and cultural capital in school experience of Polish children in Scotland‘ in Race, Ethnicity and Education Journal, Vol 19 Issue 1.

Norton, B. (2013): ‘Identity and Language Learning: Extending the Conversation:’ Multilingual Matters: Bristol.

Polanyi, L. (1995): ‘Language Learning and Living Abroad: stories from the field’ in Freed, B (ed): ‘Second language acquisition in a study abroad context’: John Benjamins: Amsterdam/Philadelphia.

Smala, S., Bergas Paz, J., Lingard, B. (2013): ‘Languages, Cultural Capital and School Choice: distinction and second-language immersion programmes’ in British Journal of Sociology of Education: Vol. 34 No. 3.

Tsimprea Maluch, J., Kempert, S., Neumann, M., Stannat, P. (2015): ‘The effect of speaking a minority language at home on foreign language learningin Learning and Instruction Journal Vol. 36.

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.



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.


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 (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: (Accessed on 21st August 2017).

Heritage Journal, The: (2017): ‘Tintagel: Do English Heritage Understand the Meaning of the Word ‘Heritage’’: Available at (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 (Accessed on 20th April 2017).

Morris, S. (2017) ‘Government accused of neglecting Cornish culture’ The Guardian 11th March 2017. Available at (Accessed on 21st April 2017).


Gorsedh Kernow Esedhvos 2017


This year’s Esedhvos is almost upon us, and on a personal level it will be a hugely important one, as I have been invited to present a paper at the Gorsedh Kernow conference which takes place on Friday 1st September in Launceston Town Hall – more of which later!

The Esedhvos commences on Wednesday 30th August with the Grand Bard’s chair on display at St Mary Magdalene Church in the town.

The main events begin the following day at Launceston Town Hall with a Book Festival from 11am – 3pm, with admission free. A number of new books will be launched at 11:30am including Cornish Bards of the Launceston Area by Bill Roberts, Place Names of Launceston, a facsimile edition of Cornish for All: A Guide to Unified Cornish by Robert Morton Nance and Padstow Carols. The afternoon sees two ‘Meet the Author’ sessions with two writers interviewed on stage in each session. First up at 12:10pm is Judy Scrimshaw, author of The Little Red Egg a children’s book about a family of dragons who lay their final egg in Cornwall, who will be talking to Rael Harvey. Following this sees former Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Rod Lyon in discussion with Elizabeth Carne about his work Tenkys. The second batch of ‘Meet the Author’ interviews commences at 1:30pm and Dr. Bernard Deacon, writer of Cornwall’s First Golden Age and the forthcoming collection of essays From A Cornish Study, will be in discussion with Gareth Parry, who will later be joined by David Thorn, who co-authored Bude Pioneers of Photography: Tintagel to Clovelly. From 7:00pm in the same venue, the presentation to winners of Young People’s Awards and Adults Awards & Competitions by Merv Davey, Grand Bard. The evening will be hosted by Ed Rowe (perhaps better known as Kernow King) and will also feature a guest appearance by Jim Causley, folk singer and songwriter who is a relation of the great Cornish poet Charles Causley, who was born in Launceston a hundred years ago this month.

Friday 1st September sees the Annual Gorsedh Kernow Conference at Launceston Town Hall, which this year is entitled ‘Cornish Culture and Tourism: Friends or Foes’. Grand Bard Merv Davey will open the event, before Visit Cornwall’s Malcolm Bell will address the conference. Following this, I will be presentating a paper entitled Cornish Culture & Tourism: A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow. Making presentations after me will be Fiona Wotton (Director of Cornwall 365 – a body aiming to build a network of cultural and tourism players around the territory), Kim Conchie (CEO Cornwall Chamber of Commerce) and Merryn Davies-Deacon (PhD candidate at Queen’s University, Belfast researching Regional Minority Languages of France with a particular focus on Breton). My own paper will be published on this blog in three or four parts on a weekly basis from next week (w/c 4th Sept 2017) onwards. Tickets need to be purchased in advance (£5) to join the audience. The evening sees a Cornish Troyl/Ceilidh with Carmen Hunt & the Scoot Lyskerrys Collective at Launceston Town Hall, which is free to enter.

Saturday 2nd September sees a range of Cornish stalls at Launceston Castle from 11am before the procession of bards from the Central Methodist Church to Launceston Castle from 1:30pm via Church Street, High Street and The Square, with the Bardic Ceremony led by Grand Bard Merv Davey from 2pm at the castle grounds, or, if wet at St. Mary Magdalene Church. The evening sees a host of music. A Gala Concert will take place at Central Methodist Church, Castle Street, Launceston featuring Jane Nancarrow reading poetry of Charles Causley, Rob Strike and students from Launceston College, Mike O’Connor & Barbara Griggs and Launceston Town Band. The event will be compered by Bert Biscoe. Tickets, costing £5 should be purchased in advance from Launceston TIC (Tel 01566 772321). Starting at 8:30pm is the ‘Come All Ye’ Cornish music and song session at The Bell Inn, Tower St, Launceston, and hosted by Rob Strike and there is free entry.

The Esedhvos ends on Sunday 3rd September with three final events. First, from 9.30 – 11.30am  ‘Blas a Gernewek – A Taste of Cornish’ session, will take place at Launceston Town Hall with entry free. At 11.00am, a free History Walk around the beautiful town of Launceston, led by bard Rob Tremain, will start at Launceston Town Hall and finish at The Bell Inn before a Choral Evensong in Cornish at St. Mary Magdalene Church from 3:00pm.

If you have never experienced an Esedhvos – do everything possible to get to Launceston this year – it is a fantastic celebration of Cornwall’s indigenous history, culture and language.