The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







(with the Isles of Scilly)
Status: Ceremonial & (smaller) Administrative County
Region: South West England
- Total
- Admin. council
- Admin. area
Ranked 12th
3,563 km²
Ranked 9th
3,547 km²
Admin HQ: Truro
ISO 3166-2: GB-CON
ONS code: 15
- Total (2002 est.)
- Density
- Admin. council
- Admin. pop.
Ranked 40th
143 / km²
Ranked 24th
Ethnicity: 99.0% White
Cornwall County Council
Executive: All party
MPs: Candy Atherton, Paul Tyler, Colin Breed, Andrew George, Matthew Taylor
  1. Penwith
  2. Kerrier
  3. Carrick
  4. Restormel
  5. Caradon
  6. North Cornwall
  7. Isles of Scilly (unitary)

Cornwall (Cornish: Kernow or occasionally Curnow) is the part of Great Britain's south-west peninsula that is west of the River Tamar, often known as the Cornish peninsula or plateau. Cornwall is described as an administrative / ceremonial county of England, However the constitutional status of Cornwall is the subject of controversy. The region has a distinctive culture and identity, and some residents speak the Cornish language. A Cornish nationalist movement seeks to gain the area more autonomy. Cornwall's motto is "One And All" (Cornish: "Onan Hag Oll"). Also associated with Cornwall are the Isles of Scilly.



Cornwall borders the county of Devon at the River Tamar. Major road links between Cornwall and the rest of England are the A38 which crosses the Tamar at Plymouth via the Tamar Bridge, and the A30 which crosses the border south of Launceston. A car ferry also links Plymouth with the town of Torpoint on the opposite side of the Hamoaze. A rail bridge, the Royal Albert Bridge, built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1859) provides the only other major transport link.


The modern English name is derived from the tribal name Cornovii and the Anglo-Saxon word wealas meaning "foreigners". Cornovii may mean "horn (i.e. peninsula) people". Wealas is also the origin of the name Wales. [1]. The Romans knew the area as Cornubia, while in Cornish it was known as Kernow or Curnow; a name which has regained some currency today. It is worthy of note that on many maps produced before 18th century Cornwall was depicted as a nation of Great Britain; a famous example is Gerardus Mercator's Atlas [2].

Cornwall was the principal source of tin for the civilisations of the ancient Mediterranean, and at one time the Cornish were the world's foremost experts at mining. As Cornwall's reserves of tin began to be exhausted many Cornishmen emigrated to places such as the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where their skills were in demand. The Cornish Rebellion of 1497 is attributed to Tin miners. The tin mines in Cornwall are now economically worked-out at current prices, but the expertise and culture of the Cornish tin miners lives on in a number of places around the world. It is said that, wherever you may go in the world, if you see a hole in the ground, you'll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it. Several Cornish mining words are in use in English language mining terminology, such as costean, gunnies, and vug.

In 1841 there were nine hundreds of Cornwall: East , Kerrier, Lesneweth , Penwith, Powder , Pydar , Stratton, Trigg, and West . The shire suffix has been attached to various of these, notably Powdershire and Triggshire, and East and West appear to be divisions of Wivelshire . The names of Kerrier and Penwith have been re-used for modern local government districts.

Since the decline of tin mining, farming and fishing, the area's economy has become increasingly dependent on tourism — some of the world's most spectacular coastal scenery can be found here. However, behind the facade lies an economically depressed and neglected region. This has been recognised by the EU and Cornwall has been granted Objective One status. A political party, Mebyon Kernow, the MK, or 'Sons of Cornwall', has been formed in order to attempt to reassert some degree of autonomy (see Cornish nationalist); although increasingly the flag of St. Piran is seen across Cornwall at protests and demonstrations, the party has not achieved significant success at the ballot box, although they do have some councillors.

Recently there have been some interesting developments in the recognition of Cornish identity or ethnicity. In 2001 for the first time in the UK the inhabitants of Cornwall could record their ethnicity as Cornish on the national census. Campaigners, although happy with this change, expressed reservations about the lack of publicity surrounding the issue, the lack of a clear tick box for a Cornish option on the census and the need to deny being British in order to write Cornish in the "others" box.

In 2004 the schools census in Cornwall carried a Cornish option as a subdivision of white British. This came about after a successful campaign by parent groups and Cornwall 2000.

Additionally within the past few years the Council of Europe has been applying increasing pressure on the UK government to recognise the Cornish for protection under the councils Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities .


The Cornish language is closely related to Welsh and Breton, and less so to Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx. It continued as a living Celtic language until 1777 and the death of Dolly Pentreath, the last person thought to have used only the Cornish language (although this is disputed on a number of counts). The publication of Henry Jenner's "Handbook of the Cornish Language" in 1904 caused a resurgence of interest in the Cornish language and efforts are being made to revive it. Although there has never been a census, there are some 2,000 Cornish speakers, 100-150 of whom are fluent. It has recently been officially recognised by the UK government as a minority language.

Some Cornish surnames are prefixed by Tre, Pol, or Pen, as indicated in the rhyme "by Tre, Pol and Pen ye shall know Cornishmen." These come from Cornish language words meaning, respectively, town (or farm), pool, and head.


Traditionally, the Cornish have been nonconformists, in religion. Celtic Christianity was a feature of Cornwall and many Cornish saints are commemorated in legends, churches and placenames.

In contrast to the Welsh language, the churches failed to produce a translation of the Bible into the local language, and this has been seen by some as a crucial factor in the demise of the language. The bible was translated into Cornish in 2004.

In the 1540s, the Prayer Book Rebellion caused the deaths of thousands of Cornish.

The Methodism of John Wesley also proved to be very popular with the working classes in Cornwall in the 18th century. Methodist chapels became important social centres, with male voice choirs and other church-affiliated groups playing a central role in the social lives of working class Cornishmen. Methodism still plays a large part in the religious life of Cornwall today, although Cornwall has shared in the post-World War II decline in British religious feeling.

In 2003, a campaign group was formed called Fry an Spyrys (free the spirit in Cornish) [3]. It is dedicated to disestablishing the Church of England in Cornwall and to forming an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion - a Church of Cornwall. Its chairman is Dr Garry Tregidga of the Institute of Cornish Studies. The Anglican Church in Wales was disestablished to form the Church in Wales in 1920 and in Ireland in 1869.


Although Cornwall is politically a county of England, an independence movement exists that seeks to give the area more autonomy. Additionally some groups and individuals question the constitutional nature of Cornwall and its relation to the Duchy of Cornwall. Cornish nationalist have organised into two political parties: Mebyon Kernow and the Cornish Nationalist Party. In addition to the political parties the Cornish Stannary Parliament acts as a pressure group on Cornish constitutional issues and Cornwall 2000 the Human Rights organisation works with Cornish cultural issues. In November 2000 the Cornish Constitutional Convention was formed. It is a cross-party organisation including representatives from the private, public and voluntary sectors, of all political parties and none.

Between 5 March 2000 and December 2001, the campaign for a Cornish Assembly collected the signatures of over 50,000 people endorsing the Declaration for a Cornish Assembly. The British government however has no current plans to devolve power to Cornwall and the issue does not receive much political or media attention.

Parliamentary representation for Cornwall is dominated by the Liberal Democrats. Currently four out of the five Cornish MP's are Liberal Democrat; the remaining MP is from the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats often support moves for devolved agencies and governance to Cornwall.


Saint Piran's Flag

There is some dispute about whether the patron saint of Cornwall is Saint Michael, Saint Petroc or Saint Piran. Saint Piran is the most popular of the three; his emblem (a vertical white cross on a black background) is recognised as the flag of Cornwall, and his day (March 5) is celebrated by Cornish people around the world. The Saint Piran's Flag even features on the packaging for Ginster's Cornish pasties to advertise their status as a Cornwall-based company.

Cornish studies and literary references

The Institute of Cornish Studies, established in 1970, moved to the new Combined Universities in Cornwall Campus at Tremough, Penryn in October of 2004. The institute is a branch of the University of Exeter.

On Cornish history, Philip Payton professor of Exeter University's department of Cornish studies has written Cornwall a History as well as editing the Cornish studies series.

Mark Stoyle Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Southampton asks ‘Are the Cornish English?’in his book West Britons a work on Cornish history exploring the nature of Cornishness in the early modern period.

John Angarrack of the human rights organisation Cornwall 2000 has produced two books to date. Breaking the Chains and Our Future is History are polemical reexaminations of Cornish history and identity.

A detailed overview of literature is provided by A. M. Kent's 'The Literature of Cornwall'. It covers everything from Medieval mystery plays to more recent literary works that draw on the Cornish landscape.

Cornish World is a colour magazine covering all aspects of Cornish life, it has proved popular with the descendants of Cornish emigrants as well as Cornish residents, it is produced in Cornwall.

Notable Cornish writers include Arthur Quiller-Couch alias "Q", the deaf short story writer, Jack Clemo and D M Thomas acclaimed author and poet.

Cornwall also produced a substantial amount of passion plays during the Middle Ages. Many are still extant, and provide valuable information about the Cornish language.

Daphne du Maurier lived in Cornwall and set many of her novels there, including Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman's Creek, My Cousin Rachel, and The House on the Strand . She is also noted for writing Vanishing Cornwall .

Charles de Lint, writer of many modern and urban fairy tales, set his novel The Little Country in the village of Mousehole in Cornwall.

Gilbert and Sullivan based their musical The Pirates of Penzance in Cornwall.

Cornwall is featured heavily in the beginning of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley as the home of Igraine, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. The castle at Tintagel has been said to be the birthplace of King Arthur.

Cornwall was the setting for the popular series of Poldark books by Winston Graham, and for the television series based on those books.

Other culture

Music and festivals

Cornwall has a rich and vibrant folk music tradition which has survived into the present. Cornwall is well known for some of its unusual folk survivals such as the Padstow’s Obby Oss , Helston’s Furry Dance and Mummers Play’s.

Cornish players are regular participants in inter-Celtic festivals, and Cornwall itself has several lively inter-Celtic festivals such as Perranporth's folk festival.

Sports and Games

See Sport in Cornwall

Cornwall has its own unique form of wrestling related to Breton wrestling.

Cornwall's other national sport is hurling, a kind of medieval football played with a silver ball. Hurling is distinct from Irish Hurling. The sport now takes place in St Columb and St Ives only.

Rugby has a larger following in Cornwall than football. The county team often drawing very large crowds of supporters, dubbed Trelawny 's Army.

Due to its large coastline, various maritime sports are popular in Cornwall, notably sailing and surfing. International events in both are held in Cornwall. Cornwall will host the Inter Celtic Watersports Festival in 2006.

In 2005 a campaign [4] was started for a Cornish national team to be included in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the argument being that Cornwall is one of the historic nations of the British Isles.

Euchre is a popular card game in Cornwall, it is normally a game for four players consisting of two teams. Its origins are unclear but some claim it is a Cornish game. There are several leagues in Cornwall at present.


Cornwall is famous for its pasties (a type of pie), but saffron buns, Cornish Heavy (Hevva) Cake, Cornish fairings (biscuit), Cornish fudge and Cornish ice cream are also quite common.

Cornwall with the South West shares clotted cream and many types of cider. There are also many types of beers brewed in Cornwall including a stout and there is some small scale production of wine.


Ruin of Cornish tin mine
Ruin of Cornish tin mine

This is a list of the main towns and cities in the county; for a complete list of settlements see list of places in Cornwall.

Places of interest

The Isles of Scilly have in some periods been served by the same county administration as Cornwall, but are today a separate Unitary Authority. Some secessionists have found the phrase "English Heritage" to be controversial, and in 2003, there has been a general move to replace these signs, and the Tudor Rose with the Cornish flag, after a group started removing them.

See also

External links

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