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The Nance Family

of New South Wales, Australia

 

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Cornwall

 

Cornwall is located on the south-west tip of England extending nearly 100 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. It includes a group of Islands named the Scilly Isles which are located some 30 miles west of Lands End at the tip of Cornwall, and can be seen on a clear day from the mainland. Cornwall is separated from the rest of England by the River Tamar.

Cornwall to this day still clings to its celtic origins. The name "Cornwall" appears to have been derived from the Saxon words Cornovii and Wealas, meaning the Welsh of the West.  The Cornish peninsula was strategically placed for trade, and with trade came new ideas and new religions. The early saints and other freethinkers passed through Cornwall en route from continental Europe to the shrines of Ireland. Traces of their passage can be seen everywhere, in the weathered crosses and holy wells, and in the names of the churches.

Not all visitors in history were made so welcome. Roman legions, marauding Vikings, the slaughtering armies of Wessex, Spanish raiding parties - all tried to quell the defiant Cornish who attempted to fortify their vulnerable coastline. Cliff forts of the Iron and Bronze Age still survive, and Cornwall's wealth of prehistoric monuments, including stone circles as old as Stonehenge, is the greatest in mainland Britain.

Derelict mine engine houses can be seen throughout the Cornish landscape from Land's End to Gunnislake. These are witnesses to a time when the hills echoed to the din of an industry which drove the industrial revolution, and once dominated the tin and copper markets of the world.

The Cornish Flag

The Cornish flag is called a "St Piran", after the Cornish Patron Saint (also the Patron Saint of Tinners or Tin Miners). His feast day is March 5th.

The Black and White St Piran's Cross flags are seen everywhere in Cornwall, and are a potent symbol of Cornwall's distinct identity as a Duchy (and not a county of England).

As well as the flag for the Saint of Cornish Tin miners, today it is recognised as the flag of the nation of Cornwall itself.

The Cornish Language

The Cornish language developed from the British and Breton languages as a distinct language by the 10th Century.

By 1362 the English tongue had become predominant for matters of state but Cornish was still the language of the people. In the 15th Century Miracle Plays were produced to teach them of the church.  Cornish was declining, and the Reformation and the introduction of the English Prayer Book was a serious blow. By the 18th century it had become a subject for antiquarian study and Cornish was extinct as vernacular speech by 1800, although remnants were passed down through families.

Cornish Mining

The origins of tin production in Cornwall are so ancient that they are undocumented. Classical writers make reference to Cornwall as a source of tin. As early as the 1st century BC Diodorus Siculus wrote of tin streaming and lode mining taking place.

After the Romans left Britain there are few records of the industry, although its long establishment is mentioned in King Johnís charter to tinners in 1201. Through the medieval period, technical improvements continued, particularly with the smelting, dressing and crushing processes. The need to go underground tested the ingenuity of the Cornish and they responded accordingly. A water-stamps (to crush ore) was set up in Wendron in 1493. By the reign of Elizabeth I, there were important tin mines in west Cornwall, and the Truro and St. Austell areas.

Copper mining became more important than tin between the late 17th and the middle of the 19th century. By the late 18th century there were mines up to 300 feet deep. One may imagine the candle-lit labour needed to reach and work at these depths.

During the 200 years after the early 1700s there were hundreds of mines established in Cornwall.

There are now no mines working, but the evidence of their existence is everywhere. The derelict engine houses and ancillary buildings remain. They are now a source of pride and growing interest for later generations.

 

Page last modified: 8th April 2004   

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