fish wife

Culture of Cornwall

The culture of Corwall shares much with the culture of the United Kingdom, but has some distinct customs and traditions. Cornwall, a county of England, has cultural differences distinct from the culture of England which further reinforce the people of Cornwall's historical claim of being different from other English counties- a complicated matter considering its status also as a Duchy.. These cultural differences are central to the Cornish self-government movement, which advocates greater devolution for Cornwall either in the form of a Cornish Assembly, similar to that of Scotland, Wales or London or total independence from England.

As Cornwall is home of one of the living Celtic languages, it is recognised as one of the six modern 'Celtic nations' by the Celtic Congress and the Celtic League. The Cornish people were also recognised by the government on the last (2001) national census with their own ethnic code of '06'. Many Celtic-derived traditions were dying out in the early 20th century but have more recently increased in popularity.


Cornwall has a rich and vibrant folk music tradition which has survived into the present.

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

Cornish Celtic music is a relatively large phenomenon given the size of the region. A recent tally found over 100 bands playing mostly or entirely Cornish folk music. Traditional dancing (Cornish dance) is associated with the music. These dance events are either Troyls, (a dance night more similar to a ceilidh) or Nozow looan, (a dance night more similar to a Breton fest noz).

Aphex Twin is a Cornish based electronic music project, though he was born of Welsh parents in Ireland.


There is a long tradition of processional dance and music in Cornwall. The best known tradition is the Helston Furry. The term 'furry' is used generally to describe such a dance or associated tune. These bands have been referred to as 'crowders and horners' and generally have a motley mix of instruments with folk instruments such as the fiddle, bagpipe or crowdy crawn mixed up with brass, reed and anything that can be carried.

Padstow 'Obby 'Oss festival takes place on 1st of May, the feast of Beltane to Celtic People.

Golowan festival in Penzance, which was revived in 1991, was part of a much wider tradition of midsummer festivals where bonfires were lit on hilltops on Midsummer's Eve. The tradition of midsummer bonfires continues, albeit to a lesser extent than when fires could be seen on every hilltop, throughout Cornwall.

Lowender Perran is held at end of October in Perranporth. This is a gathering of musicians & dancers from all the Celtic nations.

Historically Cornwall has had close links with Brittany and this is reflected in the music. The Cornish and Breton languages were mutually intelligible in Tudor times and there were many Bretons living in Cornwall before the Prayer Book Rebellion. Myths, saints, dances and tunes are often shared with Brittany. It has been noted that the Breton duchy flag is the exact inverse of the Cornish flag, whether there is a reason for this is unknown. Breton flags are popular in Cornwall and are often seen alongside the Cornish flag on car bumpers and at musical events. This link continues today with Cornish-Breton festivals such as 'AberFest' in Falmouth (Aberfal) and the twinning of Cornish and Breton towns.

The Gorseth Kernow (or gorsedh), which was set up in 1928, is similar to the Welsh Gorsedd, and indeed was formed by the Welsh gorsedh at the request of Henry Jenner. The Cornish Gorsedh promotes the arts and the Cornish language through competitions at the open gorseth. The 2008 open Gorseth ceremony will be held in Looe.


The Cornish language is a celtic language related to Breton and Welsh, being a P-Celtic language; the Cornish language was the language of Cornwall before English. The language went into decline following the introduction of the English Book of Common Prayer and by around 1800 had ceased to be used as a community language, (see main article for further discussion.)

After 1800 researchers began to study the language from remaining isolated speakers and in 1904 Henry Jenner published 'A Handbook in the Cornish Language' signifying the revival proper. Although less than 1% of Cornwall's population speak the language and 'mother tongue' speakers are in their hundreds rather than thousands, the language continues to play a significant part in the culture of Cornwall.

Many events will use Cornish, in short phrases, openings, greetings or names. There is a healthy tradition of music in the language, which can be enjoyed by non speakers. The vast majority of place names in Cornwall are derived from the language, and most people in Cornwall know a few words or phrases like, ironically, 'kernow bys vyken!' ('Cornwall forever!). Many Cornish houses, businesses, children, pets and boats are named in the language, thus it has use as a 'official community language' and any speaker will likely often be asked to provide translations. A sign of this role is that two of Cornwall's five MPs swore their oaths to the Queen in Cornish.


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

Cornish clotted cream is a popular topping on splits and on scones. Opinion varies as to whether or not the cream should be spread on before or after the jam. Clotted cream is often served as thunder and lightning (with syrup on bread.)

There are also many types of beers brewed in Cornwall including a stout and there is some small scale production of cider and wine.


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 people from Devon and Cornwall.

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). 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 was disestablished in Wales to form the Church in Wales in 1920 and in Ireland to form the Church of Ireland in 1869.

Sports and games

Cornwall has its own unique form of wrestling related to Breton wrestling. This has recently encouraged tournaments between the two nations.

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 Major and St Ives only.

Helston born boxer Bob Fitzsimmons (May 26, 1863 - October 22, 1917), who moved to New Zealand as a child, was the first ever boxer to become Heavyweight, Light-Heavyweight and Middleweight World Champion.

Rugby union Rugby union has a large following in Cornwall. The followers of the county side are dubbed Trelawny's Army. In 1999 Cornwall made the County Championships finals, played at Twickenham Stadium, with Cornwall beating Gloucestershire to win the cup.

Cornish rugby has produced many fine rugby players who have played at international level. Such players as Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman won 2003 Rugby World Cup winners medals with England, Brian 'Stack' Stevens (England and British Lions), Graham Dawe (England), along with Andy Reed who has represented Scotland and the British Lions, and many others.

Also, the Cornish rugby team can boast an Olympic silver medal. In 1908, they won the County Championship for the first time, and the prize was to represent Great Britain at rugby in the 1908 Olympic Games. They lost to Australia 32-3 in the final, and to this day remain the only county side to represent Great Britain at rugby in the Olympics, since rugby is currently no longer an Olympic sport. (See Rugby union at the 1908 Summer Olympics for more details and the teams).

Football and Cricket are played in most villages and towns.

Due to its large coastline, various maritime sports are popular in Cornwall, notably sailing, surfing and gig rowing. International events are frequently held in Cornwall. Cornwall will host the Inter Celtic Watersports Festival in 2006 and the Isles of Scilly hosts the World Pilot Gig Championships every year.

In 2004 the Cornwall Commonwealth Games Association was formed to send a Cornish national team to the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne. The application was rejected by the Commonwealth Games Federation, but the campaign is continuing as Cornwall is the only home Celtic nation not permitted to participate in the Games.

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.

Football The Cornish Football Association was founded in 1889. In 2007, Truro City became the first Cornish team to play at Wembley, where they won the FA Vase. In 1966, Cornishman Mike Trebilcock scored two goals for Everton in the FA Cup Final. John Gilbert Jack Cock DCM MM (14 November 1893 - 19 April 1966) was a Cornish footballer who played for various English club sides as a striker. He also had the distinction of being the first Cornishman to play, and score, for the England national team. He was a decorated World War I soldier, and an actor. Chris Morris represented the Republic of Ireland at the 1990 World Cup & the 1988 European Championships. In 1901 Cornish miners founded the first football team in Mexico, Club de Futbol Pachuca. Originally, they practised only as a pastime during their free time they had while working at the mines. From 1917 to 1920, Pachuca was champion of the league under Cornish born coach Alfred Crowle.

Cornish literature

The earliest Cornish literature is in the Cornish language, Cornwall produced a substantial amount of passion plays during the Middle Ages. Many are still extant, and provide valuable information about the Cornish language. These were performed in round 'plen a gwary' outside theatres.

There is much traditional folklore in Cornwall, often tales of giants, mermaids, piskies or the 'pobel vean' (little people.) These are still surprisingly popular today, with many events hosting a 'droll teller' to tell the stories. Such myths and stories have found much publishing success, particularly for children's books.

Writing in the Cornish dialect has generally been overshadowed by the Cornish language. However poems and short stories have been published, often with a typically Cornish humour.

Cornish World, a colour magazine produced in Cornwall and covering all aspects of Cornish life has proved popular with the descendants of Cornish emigrants as well as Cornish residents. It includes a column in the Cornish language.

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

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.

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 The Poldark Novels by Winston Graham, and for the television series based on those books.

Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch from the series of fantasy novels The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper, are set in Cornwall.

Cornish art

Cornwall has produced and inspired many artists. John Opie was the first Cornish-born artist of note and JMW Turner visited in 1811. A number of artists settled in the Newlyn area in the 1880s, following the building of the Great Western Railway, and they went to form the Newlyn School.

Sickert and Whistler both visited St Ives at the end of the 19th century, and the internationally famous studio potter, Bernard Leach set up his pottery in the town in 1920 St. Ives. In 1928 Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood visited the town and met Alfred Wallis the naive painter, native to St Ives, who was to become an important influence on a generation of British artists: particularly those who were members of the Seven and Five Society.

At the outbreak of the second world war Nicholson came to live in St Ives with his wife Barbara Hepworth; staying initially with the philosopher and writer Adrian Stokes (critic) and his wife Margaret Mellis. Naum Gabo also joined them there as well as artists who at the time were at an earlier stage in their careers: John Wells, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham,Terry Frost and Bryan Wynter. Other artists of international repute joined the colony later: notably Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton and Sandra Blow.

There are still a lot of artists in Cornwall many associated with the Newlyn Society of Artists. Artists led projects like PALP and artsurgery have also been important in the 21st century.

Cornwall has a dedicated online art journal called

Celtic art is found in Cornwall, often in the form of Celtic crosses. Cornwall boasts the highest density of traditional 'celtic crosses' of any nation. In modern times many crosses were erected as war memorials and to celebrate events such as the millennium.

Cornish film

Numerous films, short and long, have been made in Cornwall. The Cornish film industry is well supported by organisations such as war-rag. The Celtic Film Festival allows entries from Cornish film makers and was held in Falmouth in 2006. Also the Goel fylm Kernow/Cornwall Film Festival is held once a year and supports Cornish film making in either language.

Goel fylm Kernow hosts workshops, screenings and the "govynn kernewek" competition in which applicants present their idea for a film in the Cornish language and win money, material and knowledge support to make it. Films made due to this award include "Kernow's Kick Ass Kung-Fu Kweens", a kung-fu film in Cornish.

The only feature length film in the Cornish language is 'Hwerow Hweg', filmed alongside an English version, but due to several unusual decisions it wasn't as popular as hoped. However there are a great many short films in the language.

However many film-makers working solely in English will refer to themselves as Cornish film makers. Their films often make use of Cornish themes, landscape and way of life. Certainly the concept of a Cornish film industry exists, the term 'Oggywood' has been coined (from oggy meaning pasty and Hollywood.)

Traditional dress

The "traditional dress" of Cornwall includes for women bal maiden's or fish wife's costume which included the wearing of bonnet known as a "gook" (which were particular to a region or community), aprons and woolen shawls. For men fishermen's smocks, Guernsey sweaters (known as worsted-frocks in Cornwall) and long cut shirts .

The adoption of the Cornish kilt has recently become popular, and these kilts are available in various Cornish tartans or plain black. The first reference to a "Cornish" kilt is from 1903 when the Cornish delegate to the Celtic Congress, convening at Caernarvon, L Duncombe-Jewell, appeared in a in a woad blue kilt, to impress upon the delegeates the Celtic character of Cornwall .Black kilts are projected by some as the traditional version of the garment, some claiming that the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry wore black kilts on occasions in the 19th Century this may have been similar to the Irish saffron kilt. The most common kilt used in Cornwall is a pleated Scottish-style with a leather, Duchy of Cornwall shield-style sporran.

The Cornish national tartan was designed by E.E Morton Nance in 1963 using colours traditionally associated with Cornwall. Fragments of tartan were found in Penwith.

Cornish studies

The Institute of Cornish Studies, established in 1970, moved to the new Combined Universities in Cornwall Campus at Tremough, Penryn in October 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 self published two books to date. Breaking the Chains and Our Future is History both are polemical reexaminations of Cornish history and identity, not historical works.

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 Symbols

Saint Piran's Flag, a white cross on a black background is often seen in Cornwall. The Duchy of Cornwall shield of 15 gold bezants on a black field is also used. Because of these two symbols black, white and gold are considered colours symbolic of Cornwall.

The chough (in Cornish = palores) is also used as a symbol of Cornwall. In Cornish poetry the chough is used to symbolise the spirit of Cornwall. Also there is a Cornish belief that King Arthur lives in the form of a chough. "Chough" was also used as a nickname for Cornish people.

An anvil is sometimes used to symbolise Cornish nationalism, particularly in its more extreme forms. This is a reference to 'Michael An Gof' , 'the smith', a leader of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497.

Fish, tin and copper together are used as they show the 'traditional' three main industries of Cornwall. Tin has a special place in the Cornish culture, the 'stannary parliament' and 'Cornish pennies' are a testament to the former power of the Cornish tin industry. Cornish tin is highly prized for jewellery, often of mine engines or celtic designs.

Although Cornwall has no official flower many people favour the Cornish heath (Erica vagans). In recent years daffodils have been popular on the annual Saint Piran's day march on Perran sands although they are donated by a local daffodil grower and it is already considered to be the National flower of Wales.

See also

External links


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