Cornwall

CORNWALL, a maritime county, bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the English Channel, and on the east by Devonshire. It extends from 49° 57' 30" to 50° 55' 30" (N. Lat.) and from 4° 10' to 5° 44' (W. Lon.), and contains 1327 square miles, or 849,280 statute acres: within its limits are 65,574 inhabited houses, 4962 uninhabited, and 926 in the course of erection; and the population amounts to 341,279, of whom 164,757 are males, and 176,522 females. The part of Britain including this county and a portion of Devonshire, from its shape was called by its ancient British inhabitants Kernou, or, as it is written by the Welsh, Kerniw, signifying "the horn," which word was Latinized to Carnubia or Cornubia; and when the Saxons gave the name of Weales to the Britons, they distinguished those who had retired into Kernou, or Cornubia, by that of Cornweales, and their country was thus called Cornuwall, or Cornwall, that is, "Cornish Wales." At the time of the Roman Conquest, the northern part was inhabited by the Cimbri, the eastern by the Danmonii, and the remaining portion by the Carnabii, of whom the Danmonii had subdued the two other tribes, and taken possession of their territories; but on the completion of the Roman Conquest, the whole became included in the great province of Britannia Prima. During the aggressions of the Saxons, various acts of hostility occurred between them and the Cornish Britons, and the latter were obliged to invoke the assistance of the Danes, who arrived on this coast in 806. King Egbert, nevertheless, overran the whole territory; and the Britons were at length finally reduced by Athelstan, prior to which time they had occupied a great part of Devonshire, and inhabited Exeter in common with the Saxons.

Cornwall is within the diocese of Exeter, and province of Canterbury; and forms, with three parishes in Devonshire, an archdeaconry, comprising the deaneries of East, Kerrier, Penwith, Powder, Pyder, Trigg-Major, Trigg-Minor, and West, and containing 203 parishes: the Scilly Islands are also in the archdeaconry of Cornwall. The office of rural dean, which in most parts of the kingdom has become nearly nominal, is here an efficient office; the rural deans are appointed annually, perform regular visitations to every church within their deaneries, and report the state of each at the archdeacon's visitations. For civil purposes the county is divided into the hundreds of East, Kerrier, Lesnewth, Penwith, Powder, Pyder, Stratton, Trigg, and West. It contains the borough and market towns of Bodmin, Falmouth, Helston, Launceston, Liskeard, Penryn, St. Ives, and Truro; the following market-towns, also ancient boroughs, but deprived of their privilege of sending representatives to parliament by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, viz., Bossiney, Callington, Camelford, East Looe, Fowey, Lostwithiel, St. Mawes, Saltash, and Tregoney; four decayed boroughs having no markets, deprived in like manner, viz., Newport, St. Germans, St. Michael, and West Looe; and twelve market-towns which are not boroughs, viz., Camborne, Grampound, Marazion, Padstow, Penzance, Polperro, Redruth, St. Agnes, St. Austell, St. Columb, Stratton, and Wadebridge. Of the above towns, twelve are sea-ports, viz., Falmouth, Fowey, Looe, Marazion, Padstow, Penryn, Penzance, Polperro, St. Agnes, St. Ives, Truro, and Wadebridge; besides which, there are the smaller ports of Boscastle, Bude, Charlestown, Gweek, Hayle, Helford, Mevagissey, New Quay, Porth, Port-Isaac, Portleven, Portreath or Basset's Cove, and Trevannance. By the act above named the county was divided into two portions, called the Eastern and the Western divisions, each sending two representatives to parliament: the boroughs Bodmin and Truro continue to return two members each, as also does Penryn, in conjunction with Falmouth, which, prior to the passing of the act, enjoyed no share in the representation: Helston, Launceston, Liskeard, and St. Ives, each now return only one. Cornwall is included in the Western circuit: the spring and summer assizes, and the quarter-sessions, are held at Bodmin, where stand the county gaol and house of correction; and the Easter quarter-sessions at Truro.

Cornwall is a royal duchy, settled by act of parliament on the eldest son of the sovereign; and its immediate government is vested in the duke, who has his chancellor, attorney-general, solicitor-general, and other officers, and his court of exchequer, with the appointment of sheriffs, &c. The important concerns of the tin-mines are under a separate jurisdiction, the tin-miners being, by ancient privilege confirmed by Edward III., exempt from all other civil jurisdiction than that of the Stannary Courts, except in cases affecting land, life, or limb. At the head of this jurisdiction is the lord-warden of the stannaries, under whom is the vice-warden, whose court, held generally once a month, is a court of equity for all matters relating to the tin-mines and trade, from which no writ of error lies to the courts at Westminster, though there is an appeal to the lord-warden, and from him to the duke and his council. Issues are frequently directed by the vice-warden to be tried in the stannary courts, which are held at the end of every three weeks (except in the stannary of Foymore, in which there is scarcely any business for the court), before the steward of each stannary and a jury, for determining on all civil actions arising within the stannaries, which have reference to the tin-mines; the decision of each of these courts is subject to an appeal to the vice-warden, and from him to the superior authorities. Henry VII., on confirming their ancient privileges, decreed that no new laws affecting the miners should be enacted by the duke and his council, without the consent of twenty-four persons, called stannators, six being chosen out of each of the four stannaries, or mining districts, of Foymore, Blackmore, Tywarnhaile, and Penwith and Kerrier. The stannators for Foymore are chosen by the corporation of Lostwithiel, those for Blackmore by the corporation of Launceston, those for Tywarnhaile by the corporation of Truro, and those for Penwith and Kerrier by the corporation of Helston; on assembling they elect a speaker, and their meeting is called a stannary parliament. The parliaments have been convened occasionally by the lord-warden, as the circumstances of the times have required new laws, or the revision of the old; the last met at Truro, in 1752, and continued by adjournments until Sept. 11th, 1753. The stannary prison is at Lostwithiel, where the ancient records of the stannaries were kept previously to the parliamentary war, when they were burnt.

Nearly the whole of the county is remarkable for the inequality of its surface. A large portion consists of uncultivated moors, abounding with tors composed of immense masses of granite, and extending from near Blisland, on the west, to near Northill on the east, and from near Davidstow, on the north, to the vicinity of St. Neot's on the south, about twelve miles in length and ten in breadth. The high grounds, through which the great roads chiefly pass, present a dreary aspect, especially in the mining district, where the surface has in many places been greatly disfigured by the stream-works of successive ages; but in several parts there is a pleasing diversity of hill and dale, and some of the valleys are richly varied and beautifully picturesque. The most agreeable scenery is found near the southern coast, and along the course of the Tamar; Falmouth bay and Mount's bay are considered equal in beauty to any recesses on the English coast. So salubrious is the climate, that Cornwall has long been celebrated for the longevity of its inhabitants; and the southern coast, especially towards the Land's End, is, on account of the superior mildness of the air, much resorted to by invalids in the winter season. The prevailing soils are, the black gravelly, the shelfy or slaty, and various loams, differing in colour, texture, and degree of fertility. The labours of the farmer are entirely engaged in tillage, to the exclusion of the dairy, one-third of the cultivated lands being constantly under arable crops. The corn crops usually cultivated are wheat, barley, and oats, including the naked oat, called in Cornwall pillis or pilez, a word signifying "bald." The green and root crops consists principally of turnips, ruta baga, potatoes, in some places the flat-pole or drum-head cabbage, and yellow clover, trefoil, and rye-grass, the last here called eaver. The dry, light, friable and porous soils of Cornwall, and its moist and mild climate, are particularly favourable to the growth of potatoes, which have here been cultivated to a great extent longer than in any other parts of the kingdom; in the vicinity of Penzance the land produces two crops in the year, and an acre has been known to yield 300 bushels of the early kidneypotatoes at the first crop, and 600 bushels of applepotatoes at the second: a large quantity is sent to London, Plymouth, and Portsmouth. The natural meadows are comparatively of small extent, and lie scattered throughout the county; the only pasture lands consist of the wastes, and of the fields of artificial grasses. Many of the valleys are well wooded, particularly in the south-eastern part of the county, and in the vicinity of Lostwithiel and Bodmin; and there are extensive plantations at Tregothnan, Clowance, Tehidy, Port Eliot, Carclew, Trelowarren, Boconnock, Heligan, &c.: the principal landowners having of late years directed their attention to planting, chiefly in elevated situations, the face of the country, in the course of twenty or thirty years, will present extensive woodland scenery. Nearly a fourth part of the surface, from 150,000 to 200,000 acres, consists of uninclosed moors, downs, and crofts, as the waste lands are here generally called.

Cornwall has been celebrated for the produce of its mines from a remote period of antiquity. Strabo, Herodotus, and other ancient writers relate that the Phœnicians, and after them the Greeks and the Romans, traded for tin to Cornwall and the Scilly Islands, under the name of the islands Cassiterides, from a very early period; and Diodorus Siculus, who wrote in the reign of Augustus, gives a particular account of the manner in which the tin-ore was dug and prepared by the Britons. At what time the coinage of the tin procured here was established is uncertain, but it was practised so early as the reign of King John. In that of Edward I. it was first ordered, for better securing the payment of the duty to the earl, that all tin should be brought to certain places appointed for that purpose, to be weighed and stamped, or, as it is usually termed, coined; and that no tin should be sold until the stamp had been affixed. The term coinage, by which this process has always been designated, appears to have been derived from cutting off a coign, or corner of each block, to ascertain its purity. The average annual quantity raised from these mines in the years 1799, 1800, and 1801, was 16,820 blocks, each weighing about 3¼ cwt.; in 1811, the quantity produced was only 14,698 blocks, but in 1824, it had increased to 28,310, and in 1831 it was 25,155, the average of the eight years from 1824 to 1831 inclusive being 26,647 blocks. The mineral rights of tin in the duchy manors were sold, about 35 years ago, for a term of years. The tin-ore has always been smelted in the county, at first in blast-furnaces, the buildings for which were called "blowing-houses;" but reverberatory furnaces being introduced early in the last century, the ore has since been smelted in them with pit-coal from South Wales, the produce being called "common tin." The blowing-houses are now used for smelting the diluvial or stream tin, in which charcoal alone is employed; and the produce is called "grain tin," being of purer quality, and bearing a higher price than the common kind. The Copper mines were not extensively worked until the close of the 17th century, since which the quantity of ore raised has been gradually increasing: in 1824, 110,000 tons of ore were obtained, producing 8417 tons of copper, of the value of £743,253; in 1826, 128,459 of ore, producing 10,450 of copper, of the value of £755,358; in the year ending June, 1831, 146,502 of ore, producing 12,218 of copper, of the value of £817,740; and in 1837, 140,753 of ore, producing 10,823 of copper, of the value of £908,613. The produce of the Lead mines is inconsiderable, and the only mine from which silver is extracted is in the parish of Calstock. The various mines employ a fourth of the entire population, and the wages paid from the copper-mines alone, exceed half a million annually; the steam-engines employed at the mines annually consume 80,000 tons of coal.

Much use is made of the various kinds of stone found in the county; and the Cornish slate is a considerable article of commerce. Of this, the principal quarries are those on the southern coast, those between Liskeard and the Tamar, those in the parishes of Padstow and Tintagel, and the celebrated quarry of Delabole, or Dennybal, in the parish of St. Teath, the produce of which is held in the highest esteem, and is shipped in large quantities from Port Isaac, about five miles distant, both coastwise and to the continent: the quartz crystals found in this quarry are of great brilliancy. There is a large quantity of stone suitable for building in various parts of the county; it is principally taken from the porphyry dykes, or elvan courses, which traverse both the granite and slate strata; the granite, or moor-stone, which abounds on the surface of the moors, has of late years been exported for the erection of bridges and other public buildings. Steatite, or soap rock, of a fine soft texture, is found imbedded in the serpentine, near the Lizard, and is the most curious of all the earthy substances found in Cornwall; it is of various colours, but the pure white is most esteemed for the porcelain manufacture, for the use of which much of it is exported. An abundance of felspar-clay, resulting from the decomposition of granite, is obtained in the parishes of Roche, St. Stephen, and St. Denis; and is likewise shipped, chiefly at the neighbouring ports of Charlestown and Pentuan, for the manufacture of china and fine earthenware. A yellow sandy clay, which, from its resisting intense heat, is called fire-clay, found near Lelant, is sent to Wales, for laying the bottoms of copper furnaces. In the parish of St. Keverne is a yellow clay used to make moulds for casting metals; and near Liskeard is found a clay of a slaty nature, but of a soapy texture, which has fertilizing properties. Among the Cornish ornamental stones may be enumerated its serpentine or porphyry, its marbles, talc, stalactites, and the asbestos and small gems: its fossils are of great variety, many of them beautiful in colour, and some clear and transparent, from which they have obtained the name of Cornish diamonds.

The abundance of Fish on the coast constitutes an important source of trade. The most esteemed species for the table, such as the turbot, dory, piper, sole, red mullet, whiting, &c., are plentiful; but the most important of the fisheries are those of mackerel, herrings, and pilchards, particularly of the last, which are peculiar to this coast, the opposite coast of Britanny, and the south of Ireland. After supplying the inhabitants with their winter stock, the great mass of pilchards are salted, the oil is then pressed out of them, and they are packed in hogsheads for exportation, principally to the ports of Italy. The chief stations of the pilchard-fisheries are Fowey, Looe, Mevagissey, St. Mawes, the coves of the Lizard, and in Mount's bay, on the south coast; and St. Ives and New Quay, on the north coast. About 21,000 hogsheads are annually produced; 2000 tons of mackerel are also taken. Oysters are found in great abundance in the creeks of the Hel, and exported to the Medway, where they are laid down to fatten for the London market.

There are few branches of Manufacture, except such as relate to the smelting and preparation of the metals. The manufacture of carpets is carried on at Truro, and coarse woollen-cloths are made at Truro and Perran-Arworthal; there are iron-foundries at Perran-Wharf and Hale, and manufactories for gunpowder at Kennall Vale, in the parish of St. Stythians, and at Cosawes, in that of St. Gluvias. With regard to the state of the Harbours, the mouths of nearly all the tide rivers on the north coast have been almost choked with sand cast up by the surge, or drifted in by the north-westerly winds. The principal rivers are, the Tamar, which forms, from the sea up to its source (excepting only for the space of about three miles) the boundary between this county and Devonshire, and is navigable as high as New Quay, about 24 miles above Plymouth; the Lynher or Lyner, which becomes navigable at Noddetor or Notter Bridge, and spreads into the Lynher creek, four miles below which it falls into the Tamar; the Tide, or Tidi, which becomes navigable two miles above St. Germans creek, which forms a junction with the Lynher creek; the East Looe river, which is navigable up to Sand-place; the Duloe, a tributary of the East Looe, and navigable up to Trelawnwear; the Fawy, which becomes navigable, at high water, at Lostwithiel, three miles below which it joins the Leryn creek, and forms a wide and deep haven, falling into the sea below Fowey; the Fal, which about a mile below Tregoney spreads into a wide channel, and soon afterwards opens into the broad expanse of Falmouth harbour, through which it empties itself into the sea, being navigable in all its creeks; the Hel, which at high water becomes navigable at Gweek, and, being joined in the latter part of its course, by several small creeks, forms Helford haven, within a mile below which it falls into the sea, through an estuary about a mile broad; the Heyl, which at St. Erth spreads into the estuary of Hayle, the latter about two miles further opening into St. Ives' bay; the Alan or Camel, which is navigable up to Polbrock; and the Seaton.

A canal was constructed from Bude harbour to Thornbury, in the county of Devon, by a company formed in 1819. It has divers branches: from Red Post a branch, nineteen miles in length, extends down the western bank of the Tamar to Druxton Bridge, about three miles north of Launceston; and from Burmsdon there is a branch, nearly a mile and a half in length, up the west bank of the Tamar to Moreton Mill, where it receives a feeder from a reservoir on Langford Moor. In 1825, an act was obtained for the construction of the Liskeard and Looe canal, which commences at Tarras Pill, and terminates at Moorswater, being five miles and seven furlongs in length, and having twentyfive locks: there is a branch, about a mile in length, to Sand-place. In 1824, an act was obtained for making a railway from Redruth to Point Quay, in the parish of St. Feock, with several branches; also for restoring, improving, and maintaining the navigation of Restrongett-creek. The Redruth and Chacewater railway, commencing at the town of Redruth, proceeds in an eastern direction to Nangiles, where it is joined by a branch from the mines near Scorrier Hall. The Hayle railway, chiefly for the conveyance of minerals from that place to Redruth, with a branch to Portreath, joins the Redruth and Chacewater railway; it has been bought by the West Cornwall Railway Company, and will form part of their line from Truro to Penzance. The Bodmin and Wadebridge railway, for the conveyance of minerals and passengers, was opened in 1834: the line is 12 miles in length.

Cornwall abounds with rude monuments of its aboriginal inhabitants, much resembling those found in Ireland, Wales, and North Britain, consisting of large unwrought stones placed erect, either singly or in circles, or with others laid across, and of tumuli of stones or earth: the numerous circles of erect stones are generally termed Dawns-mên, "the stone dance." There are also two circular inclosures of stone, or earth, one at St. Just near the Land's End, and the other at Peranzabuloe, within which are rows of seats, having formed amphitheatres, originally designed for the exhibition of various sports, and where, in later times, the Cornish plays were acted: these are called "rounds," or plan an quare, "the place of sport." Tumuli are to be seen in all parts of the county. Another kind of rude stone monument, most probably sepulchral, occurs in many places, viz., the cromlech, which consists of a large flat stone laid horizontally upon several others fixed upright in the ground, and which is provincially called the "quoit," or the "giant's quoit." Celts have been found here more abundantly than in any other part of the kingdom. Several artificial caves, or subterranean passages have been discovered, consisting of long galleries extending in various directions, formed of upright stones with others laid across. In 1749, a great number of gold coins, believed to be British, was found in the middle of the ridge of Carnbrê Hill. In several parts of the county may be seen rude stones of granite, with inscriptions, supposed to be ancient British, and some of them coeval with the time of the Romans. The Roman antiquities consist mostly of coins, which of late years have been discovered in abundance in the western part of the county; and of spear-heads, swords, and other weapons of mixed metal, which have frequently been found in the ancient mines and stream-works. The situation of any of the Roman stations has not been ascertained. Ancient roads, or fragments of them, are visible in various parts of the county: one of these, believed to be British, traverses the hills, with barrows at intervals along its line, from the Land's End towards Stratton and the north of Cornwall, passing near the great British station of Carnbrê. Two Roman roads enter the county from Devonshire, one of which was a continuation of the great road from Dorchester and Exeter; the other appears to have led from Torrington and the northern part of Devonshire towards Stratton. Camps and earthworks are particularly numerous, the greater part of them being nearly round or oval. In many places along the coast a single vallum runs across from the edge of one cliff to that of another, with a ditch on the land side. There are considerable remains of a vallum called the "Giant's Hedge," which appears to have been originally about seven miles and a half in length, extending in an irregular line from the river Looe, a little above the town of West Looe, to Leryn.

Before the Reformation, there were about twenty religious establishments, including two alien houses, and one commandery of the Knights Hospitallers; there were also eleven colleges and seven hospitals: but the monastic remains are few, and, excepting those of St. Germans Priory, not remarkable. Small chapels, or oratories, erected over wells or springs to which extraordinary properties have been attributed, abound in most parts of the county, the greater part of them however in ruins; and throughout the whole of it are ancient stone crosses, not only in the churchyards, but on the moors, and in other solitary situations. There are also, particularly in the narrowest parts of the county, from St. Michael's Mount to the Land's End, remains of several rude circular buildings on the summits of hills, of very remote antiquity, and still denominated Castles; together with several cliff castles, formed by stone walls running across necks of land from one cliff to another on the sea-coast. Of more regular fortresses the principal remains are those at Launceston, Carnbrê, Tintagel, Trematon, and Restormel, all of high antiquity, and the first believed to be of British origin. The most perfect specimen of ancient domestic architecture is Cothele House, built in the reign of Henry VII. Many others of the houses of the landed proprietors are also fine old family mansions, of very antique structure, though some of them have been altered, enlarged, and modernised. Notwithstanding the abundance and variety of the mineral strata, there are few springs possessing mineral properties. The Cornish men were formerly much addicted to sports and pastimes, especially to the miracle play, wrestling, and hurling; the practice of wrestling still prevails. Cornwall, as before noticed, gives the title of Duke to the eldest son of the sovereign.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

Navigation

Preface
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z