The Little Book of Cornwall

The Little Book of Cornwall

by John Van der Kiste


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Did you know cornwall has the longest coastline of any English county. A quarry at Carclaze was used as the location for filming Dr. Who in the 1970s. D.H. Lawrence and his German wife were forced to leave the county in the First World War under the Defence of the Realm Act. A compendium of fascinating information about Cornwall past and present, this book contains a plethora of entertaining facts about the county’s famous and occasionally infamous men and women, its towns and countryside, history, natural history, literary, artistic and sporting achievements, agriculture, transport, industry, and royal visits. A reference book and a quirky guide, this can be dipped into time and time again to reveal something new about the people, the heritage, the secrets and the enduring fascination of the county. A remarkably engaging little book, this is essential reading for visitors and locals alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752480954
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 06/01/2013
Series: Little Book of
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

John Van der Kiste has written over 30 books, including royal and historical biographies, local history, true crime, music and a novel. He has also written articles and reviewed books for national and local journals and was a consultant for the BBC TV documentary The King, the Kaiser and the Tsar (2003). He lives in Devon, and his hobbies include music, walking on Dartmoor, and art.

Read an Excerpt

The Little Book of Cornwall

By John Van der Kiste

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 John Van der Kiste
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9269-8




The Duchy of Cornwall is an aggregation of estates vested in the eldest son of the sovereign or, in the absence of a son, lying dormant in the crown. Apart from the interregnum during the commonwealth after the execution of Charles I, the Duchy has existed since 1337 when it was created by Edward III for his eldest son Edward, 'the Black Prince'. According to a translation of the Great Charter of that year, the king's son was 'Duke of Cornwall and heir to the Kingdom of England'.

Before this date there were Earls of Cornwall, the first being Robert of Mortain, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, and after the king, at that time the largest landowner in England. Early in the twelfth century Reginald, one of the illegitimate sons of Henry I, assumed the title of earl, but after Stephen ascended the throne in 1135 he brought an army into Cornwall and awarded the title to Count Alan of Brittany. When Henry II came to the throne in 1154 he confirmed Reginald as earl. Others who were made earl in subsequent years included Richard of Cornwall, also called King of the Romans, brother of Henry III; Henry's son Edmund; Edward II's notorious 'favourite', Piers Gaveston; and after his murder, Edward's second son, John of Eltham.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made two cruises around the coast of the West Country and visited Mount Edgcumbe together in the 1840s. Tremayne Quay near Helford was built for a visit by the queen, but unfortunately she did not come because it was raining.

Queen Victoria's eldest son the Prince of Wales (and of course Duke of Cornwall), later King Edward VII, was present at the consecration ceremony for Truro Cathedral (see here) in November 1887.


According to the twelfth-century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) in about 1135–8, King Arthur, a hero of the late fifth and early sixth century, was said to have been conceived at Tintagel. Uther Pendragon, a fifth-century King of Britain, went to war against Gorlois, King of Cornwall, to capture his wife Igraine with whom he had fallen in love. Merlin the wizard changed Uther's appearance so that he resembled Gorlois and enabled him to enter Tintagel, where he slept with Igraine – and Arthur was born as a result. However, despite claims made elsewhere to the contrary, Monmouth does not suggest that Arthur was born in the town or had any further connection with the area.

Mark of Cornwall, also early sixth century, was mentioned in Arthurian legend as the uncle of Tristan and husband of Iseult, who had an adulterous affair with Tristan. He was a contemporary of Salomon, another Cornish warrior prince.

Salomon of Cornwall was a contemporary figure of whom nothing else appears to be known. Some of these figures, who may or may not be purely legendary, were probably only rulers over very small localised areas of the county. Ricatus, who ruled in the tenth century, is one whose name is known only from inscriptions on surviving carved stone memorial crosses.

Dungarth, also known variously as Donyarth, Dumnorth, Dumgarth, or Doniert, was said to have been drowned in 875 in the River Fowey, and is commemorated on an inscription on King Doniert's Stone, a ninth-century cross shaft which stands in St Cleer parish.

Cadoc, or Condor, was said by the fifteenth-century historian William of Worcester to be a survivor of the Cornish royal line and descendant of Dungarth at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, and appointed 1st Earl of Cornwall by William the Conqueror. In turn he was believed to have been an ancestor of Thomas Flamank, the Bodmin lawyer executed in 1497 (see here).

Teudar, who may have been a contemporary of King Arthur, was a notorious heathen said to be responsible for the martyrdom of St Gwinear and possibly other Christians who were later sanctified.


Barons Edgcumbe, later Earls of Mount Edgcumbe

Sir Piers Edgcumbe of Cotehele (1477–1539) acquired the Mount Edgcumbe estate through marriage in the early sixteenth century. One of his descendants, Richard Edgcumbe (1680–1758), Paymaster-General of Ireland and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was created Baron Edgcumbe in 1742. On his death the title passed to his eldest son, another Richard (1716–61), Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, and in turn to his younger brother George (1720–95), an Admiral and former Treasurer of the Household. In 1781 George was created Viscount Mount Edgcumbe and Valletort, and in 1789 1st Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. The 8th Earl, Robert Charles Edgcumbe (1939–), succeeded in 1982, and the heir apparent to the earldom uses the courtesy title of Viscount Valletort.

St Aubyn Baronets, Barons St Levan

There have been two baronetcies created for members of the St Aubyn family. The St Aubyn Baronetcy, of Clowance, was created in 1671 for John St Aubyn (1645–87). All five baronets were named John, all became members of parliament, and the title became extinct on the death of the 5th Baronet in 1839.

The St Aubyn Baronetcy, of St Michael's Mount, was created in 1866 for Edward St Aubyn (1799–1872), the illegitimate son of Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet of Clowance (1758–1839), on whose death the baronetcy of Clowance had become extinct. Sir Edward's son John, who succeeded him on his death, was created 1st Baron St Levan in 1887. The 4th Baron, John Francis Arthur St Aubyn (1919–), succeeded in 1978.

Earls of Godolphin

Earl of Godolphin was a title created in 1706 for Sidney Godolphin, 1st Baron Godolphin (1645–1712), Lord High Treasurer who was also created Viscount Rialton. He had been created baron in 1684. On his death the titles passed to his only child Francis (1688–1766). Francis married Henrietta, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough, but their only son, William Godolphin, predeceased his parents and died without issue in 1731. The 2nd Earl was created Baron Godolphin of Helston in 1735, with remainder, in default of male issue of his own, to the male issue of his deceased uncle Henry Godolphin, Dean of St Paul's. On his death the Godolphin earldom, the Rialton viscounty, and the Godolphin barony of 1684 became extinct; but the Godolphin barony of 1735 passed to his cousin Francis (1707–85), becoming extinct on his death. There was a third creation, as Baron Godolphin, of Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire in 1832, which became extinct in 1964. The ancestral seat of the family in Cornwall was Godolphin House, near Helston.


Since the early nineteenth century, the Liberals (now the Liberal Democrats) have not infrequently held the majority of parliamentary seats in Cornwall, with the Liberal Unionists or Conservatives in second place and Labour only winning one seat in General Elections between 1945 and 1966, and again in 1997 and 2001, when the party performed particularly well nationally. In the elections of 1906, January 1910, 1923 and 1929, all five county seats were won by the Liberals, although in 1950, 1951, 1955 and 1959 they failed to win even one, with the Conservatives taking four and Labour the remaining one. In 2005 all seats went to the Liberal Democrats. For the subsequent election in 2010, an alteration in constituency boundaries resulted in the county being divided into six seats instead of five, with the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives each winning three.

Bodmin holds the records for the smallest parliamentary majorities in the county. In the January 1910 election, Cecil Alfred Grenfell (Liberal) retained the seat with a majority of 50, but after he stood down Sir Reginald Pole-Carew (Liberal Unionist) won it at the subsequent General Election of December 1910 with a similarly narrow majority of 41. In February 1974 Robert Hicks (Conservative) lost by only nine votes to Paul Tyler (Liberal), but regained it at the next General Election seven months later with a margin of 665. Tyler went on to represent North Cornwall as a Liberal Democrat from 1987 until he stood down in 2001.


Sir John Eliot (1592–1632), MP for his birthplace of St Germans from 1614, was an outspoken critic of King Charles I and his policies. He often spoke in the House of Commons against what he regarded as illegal taxation and insufficient enforcement of laws against Roman Catholics, was imprisoned on three separate occasions and died of consumption while in captivity in the Tower of London.

Leonard Courtney, later Baron Courtney of Penwith (1832–1918), Liberal MP for Liskeard from 1876, was for a time a member of Gladstone's administration, but helped to defeat the Home Rule for Ireland Bill in 1885. He later became a Liberal Unionist, but distanced himself from his colleagues after regular disagreements with other members and the leadership on policies which led to the Boer War, and left parliament in 1900.

Tom Horabin (1896–1956), Liberal and then Labour MP for North Cornwall from 1939 to 1950, became Liberal Chief Whip in 1945. He resigned from the party a year later as he believed they were becoming almost indistinguishable in their policies from the Conservatives, and took the Labour whip, but stood down from parliament three years later before a General Election in which he would almost certainly have been heavily defeated.

David Mudd (1933–), Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne from 1970 to 1992, was a well-known newspaper and local TV journalist before being elected to parliament, and the author of several titles on the county's history. A frequent rebel against party policies where he considered they did not benefit Cornish people or industry, he ended his career as an Independent Conservative about a year before standing down.

David Penhaligon (1944–86), Liberal MP for Truro from 1974 to 1986, served a term as Liberal Party President. Much-respected and admired by members and voters from all parties, he was regarded as a potential party leader and would probably have been chosen thus had it not been for his untimely death in a road accident.

Sebastian Coe (1956–), Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne from 1992 to 1997, had already enjoyed a successful career as an athlete before entering politics (see here).


At least five prime ministers have had some association with the county.

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), remembered as the victorious commander at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and who subsequently became Tory prime minister from 1828 to 1830 and again briefly in 1834, is buried in a tomb at St Paul's Cathedral made from pink granite taken from the quarry at Luxulyan.

Sir Anthony Eden, later Lord Avon (1897–1977), Conservative prime minister from 1955 to 1957, spent some time convalescing in the county in December 1957 after a period of ill health which had led to his resignation from office. He and his wife rented Morval House near Looe for a short period, spending Christmas there prior to returning to London.

Harold Wilson, later Baron Wilson of Rievaulx (1916–95), Labour Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976, was Yorkshire born and bred, and sat for constituencies in Lancashire, but evidently had a soft spot for Cornwall. He joined the Labour Party at Liskeard during the Second World War, and his father Herbert lived for some time in his latter years at Biscovey. During his time in parliament Harold had holiday homes successively at Perranporth and the Isles of Scilly. Although he died in London, he was laid to rest in the grounds of St Mary's Church, Isles of Scilly.

Margaret Thatcher, later Baroness Thatcher (1925–), Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990, also spent regular holidays in Cornwall, particularly in the Constantine Bay area, during her years of office. In May 1983 she made the first public appearance of her second General Election campaign as party leader, according to a correspondent from The Times, by 'fondling a newly dead lobster in Cornwall' on the north coast.

David Cameron (1966–), Conservative prime minister since 2010, was on holiday with his wife Samantha and their family in Cornwall during August 2010 while she was expecting their fourth child. The baby, a daughter, was born at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro, and named Florence Rose Endellion, the last after the village of St Endellion.


From medieval times, Bodmin, Helston, Launceston, Liskeard, Lostwithiel and Truro had all been continuously represented in parliament. Fifteen further boroughs were added between 1553 and 1584. At the time of the Great Reform Act in 1832, Cornwall had twenty boroughs which between them elected forty members of parliament, in addition to two county members. Another borough, Grampound, had also elected two MPs until 1821, when it was disenfranchised by Act of Parliament because of widespread bribery, its voters claiming that they received 300 guineas each for their votes. Until then, the county therefore returned forty-four MPs, only one fewer than the whole of Scotland. Rotten boroughs were communities too small to justify separate representation, many also being pocket boroughs, controlled by a patron effectively able to nominate members unopposed.

Rotten boroughs abolished in 1832

East Looe
St Germans
West Looe

Boroughs retaining the right to elect members in 1832

Penryn, renamed Penryn and Falmouth
St Ives


Mebyon Kernow (MK), meaning 'Sons of Cornwall', is a left-of-centre political party leading a campaign for self-government of the county through the establishment of a legislative assembly. It was founded by Helena Charles, a cultural activist and poet, in January 1951. She led the party for the first four years, and in 1953 she won the St Day seat on Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council with 77.6 per cent of the vote, under the slogan 'A fair deal for the Cornish'. Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives since 1997, was formerly a member of MK and in 2005 he became the first Cornish MP to swear his oath of allegiance to the queen in Cornish. The party is represented on Cornwall County Council, and again in 2005 became the largest political group on Camborne town council after a by-election, though it has yet to win its first seat at Westminster or in the European Parliament.

The Cornish National Party (CNP), which also campaigns for Cornish independence, was founded in 1975 by historian James Whetter, a former MK member who had stood twice for Westminster under his old party's colours. It ceased to exist in 2005 but reformed four years later.


Cornwall's legal right to its own parliament has existed for several centuries. This was confirmed and strengthened by the Charter of Pardon in 1508, which added to its rights that of veto over acts, statutes, and laws passed by the Westminster government. These were granted in perpetuity and cannot be lawfully rescinded. Cornwall's right to its own sovereign parliament and the powers it possesses under the Charter of Pardon, were confirmed as valid in British law in 1977 by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Elwyn-Jones.

In British law no officer or agent of the Crown, which includes both Westminster and the Anglican Church, can legally set foot upon Cornish soil without the express and joint permissions of the Duke of Cornwall and Cornwall's Stannary Parliament. In the Cornish Foreshore Case, an arbitration case held between 1854 and 1858 to resolve a formal dispute between the British Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall over the ownership of the foreshore of the county of Cornwall, officers of the Duchy successfully argued that it enjoyed many of the rights and prerogatives of a county palatine and that, while the Duke of Cornwall was not granted royal jurisdiction, he was considered to be a quasi-sovereign lord within the Duchy of Cornwall. This was interpreted as meaning that the duke, not the British monarch, was in fact the head of state.

Until the mid-sixteenth century, most maps showed Cornwall as a separate territory from England. At his coronation in 1509, Henry VIII listed England and Cornwall separately in the list of his realms which formed part of his address. Cornwall was not a party to the Act of Union, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form Great Britain in 1707.


Excerpted from The Little Book of Cornwall by John Van der Kiste. Copyright © 2013 John Van der Kiste. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 9

1 Royal & Political Cornwall 11

2 Artists, Architects, Musicians & Actors 21

3 Literature & Learning 35

4 Science & Invention 43

5 Crime & Punishment 47

6 Town, Countryside & Environmental 71

7 Transport, Industry & Population 109

8 Religion, Wars & Folklore 132

9 Sporting Cornwall 171

10 Cornwall Miscellany 178

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