Caerhays Castle
Caerhays Castle

A brief history of Cornwall

Cornwall has a very long and fascinating history, and even has its own language which was developed from when the Celts inhabited the region. The Cornish people are very proud of it and it is still spoken in some parts by the locals, who keep the tradition alive.

There is evidence of habitation in Cornwall from way back in the Stone Age, and numerous prehistoric remains have been unearthed over the years. Standing stone circles, monuments and burial mounds are still visible throughout the countryside.

It is widely believed that the Scilly Isles, to the west of Lands End, may well have originally been accessible by foot to mainland Cornwall, and that they were in fact only one or two larger islands before the land became flooded and separated by the rising seas, they still form part of the Duchy of Cornwall today.

Wheel Coates Tin MineThe Bronze Age saw the onset of tin mining in Cornwall, as large reserves of copper and tin were found in the land and tin was vital for the production of bronze. Both copper and tin mines developed all over the county and the unmistakable tall thin chimneys can still be seen in some places. Tin miner's wives were responsible for the invention of the Cornish pasty, once an economical meal for a working man and now a famous and well sought after local delicacy. Originally the pasties had a sweet filling at one end, and a savoury filling at the other. Potatoes and turnip was wrapped in pastry with a thick crusty edge which the miners used to hold it with. The edges could then be thrown away to prevent the miners from being poisoned by the arsenic residue on their hands.

Pirates and smugglers are a big part of the history of Cornwall, and there are endless tales of skullduggery on the high seas. The many hidden coves and deep coastal waters made perfect hideaways under cover of darkness, for boats to land and stash their booty. The rocky bays also contain caves which made perfect hideouts, and from which tunnels were dug underneath the cliffs to reach local inns, this illegal trading eventually led to the formation and introduction of the coast guard which we know today. However the rocks are also very treacherous and numerous treasure ships went aground or were wrecked off the coast, it is alleged that some were deliberately sabotaged by ‘wreckers' who would shine lights to lure the sailors on to the rocks, then they would steal the cargo. Many of the ancient wrecks still remain and are a favourite haunt for divers.

St Mawes CastleFishing has long been one of the most important industries to the Cornish people and has provided a living for the local villages for hundreds of years. The colourful fishing boats have made good use of the natural harbours and sheltered inlets to provide food and an income for the families who live there. Since the 1700's there has been pilchard fishing, all the fishermen in the village would go out to sea where huge circular nets would be cast between their boats. ‘Huers' would climb to the cliff tops and shout down to direct the boats to the huge shoals of fish, which would then be scooped up in the nets. Most of the fish were salted before being exported abroad and this brought great wealth to many Cornish villages.

In 1901 the first trans-world telecommunications broadcast was made by the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi from his station at Polhdu in Cornwall and via a sub-sea cable to St. Johns in Newfoundland, marking a massive breakthrough in technology and putting Cornwall well and truly on the world map.

For centuries there has been a Cornish flag and certainly since around the 18th century Cornwall has celebrated it. The distinctive black background with a white cross is often seen flying in the gardens of local village houses and from the rooftops of government buildings. The flag is the emblem of St Piran, the Patron Saint of Cornwall, and something which the locals are very proud of.

St Michaels MountCornish locals have many tales to tell as this historic land is filled with legends and folklore. The legend of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur is related to the north of Cornwall, and Tintagel in particular is widely thought to have been the site of his castle at Camelot. The lake from which the sword was thrown is said to be Dozemary Pool, on Bodmin Moor which legend has it is bottomless and has many ghostly tales to tell! The whole area is littered with ancient stone circles and the remains of buildings dating back to King Arthur's reign, including stones named after him ‘King Arthur's Hall and King Arthur's Bed', and a number of tools and implements have also been unearthed here.

The Olympic torch, lit from the sun's rays at the Temple of Hera in the ruins of the Greek city of Olympia arrived in the UK on the 18th May 2012. It landed at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall on board an aircraft named The Firefly. It was then flown to Lands End to begin its journey on a relay spanning 8000 miles of the UK mainland before lighting the torch at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics on the 27th July 2012.

Other historical sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Cornwall
http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=19985
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/cornish_nation_01.shtml