Punctuated with megaliths, Cornwall’s great, stretching history is clear for the eye to see. England’s tranquil, South-Western coastal haven has not always been the idyllic retreat for a charming escape from the city.
Hunter-gatherers roamed Cornwall’s green uplands from as early as 10,000 years ago, and archaeological finds reveal a rich tapestry of tales ever since.
Situated in a detached corner of the South-West coastline, Cornwall has a strong tradition of independence. Prior to the Roman invasion, Cornwall was predominantly the territory of the Dumnonii tribe, who harboured cooperative relationships with neighbouring tribes in Wales to the North, Brittany to the East, and Southern Ireland across the Irish Sea to the West.
This period of relative peace, however, was to be interrupted by the Middle Ages. Wessex took forceful control of Cornwall and, in 1337, the Duchy of Cornwall was established – a title that remains in use to this day; held by the heir to the British throne.
Tudor rule was an uncomfortable experience for proud Cornish citizens, who resented the increasing centralised control exercised by the English monarch – the Scots were soon to get their first taste of London-rule, but let’s not forget Cornwall’s struggle for independence outdates that of Scotland by several hundred years.
Most famously, Cornwall’s men took up arms in the Cornish Rebellion of 1497, taking the battle with the Kingdom of England to the King’s doorstep in the Battle of Deptford Bridge. Interestingly the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Cornish insurgents was the rising war taxes imposed by King Henry VIII to finance his bid to control Scotland.
Cornwall’s resentment of the King’s war taxes led to it becoming the natural home for one Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the English throne, who adopted Cornwall as his home in his efforts to usurp the King and take the crown for himself.
Pendennis Castle, a tough artillery fort at the mouth of the Fal Estuary (it’s how Falmouth gets its name), stands testament to Cornwall’s military history. Erected by Henry VIII between 1540 and 1542, the castle was commissioned in the English Civil War and saw service again as recently as World War Two, this time defending against a foreign enemy approaching by sea.
Nearby, Bodmin Jail was selected as the hiding place of the crown jewels during the Second World War, and is equally noted for its chequered past. For just shy of two centuries, Bodmin locked up prisoners of war and was the site of 55 public hangings – the last of which was as recent as 1909.
The Industrial Revolution brought new opportunities for the local economy and mining became an important Cornish industry. Particular emphasis was placed on tin mining, and the Geevor Tin Mine Museum stands on the site of the largest preserved mine site in Britain. A fascinating exploration of Cornwall’s not-so-distant economic boom.
For a moment of breath-taking culture, get tickets for a show at the Minack Theatre – one of the world’s most famous outdoor theatres. Visited by over 150,000 people a year, this outdoor amphitheatre backs onto the foaming, teal ocean waters – a truly special experience.
Cornwall may be a little out of the way on the train line, but it sure knows how to stay in the centre of the fray.