Cornwall's Celtic Culture
A Land Apart?
Several different cultures and peoples make Cornwall what it is today. There are traces of the Neolithic Beaker People and the Megalith builders of 2000 B.C, with dolmen, burial chambers, and mênhirs (standing stones) found especially on the Isles Of Scilly,Penwith in West Cornwall and on Bodmin Moor in East Cornwall. The human remains in these tombs were usually found kneeling or sitting with their knees up to their chins. Later Bronze Age cultures began the custom of single burial and cremation that continues today. Very many of these ancient relics have been destroyed over time and by mining activity, but a brief visit to these sites should fulfil all but the most ardent of researchers. The main sites being Boscawen-ûn (Nine Maidens); Boleigh (Merry Maidens and The Pipers); Carn Glûze (Ballowall Barrow); Pendeen Vau; The Blind Fiddler at Sancreed; Chûn Quoit; Mulfra; and Mên-an-Tol (Holed Stone). Other notable sites are The Hurlers (on Bodmin Moor); Trethevy Quoit (near Liskeard); Carn Euny near Sancreed; Tremenheer (St. Keverne) and the Stripple Stones and Trippet Stones of St. Breward.
Around about 750 B.C. the culture evolved from working with Bronze to working with Iron. The Iron Age had begun. This evolution into new ways of working was formerly known as 'Celtic Culture'. Their whole way of life began to change, compared to the scattered Bronze Age residents, the Iron Age tribes had a highly organised structure, they were civilised and well trained in battle. They set about fortifying their hilltop settlements with ditches and ringed earth ramparts. Some of these Iron Age hill forts can still be seen at Castle-an-Dinas (near St. Columb); Trencrom (Hayle); Castle Canyke (Bodmin); Chûn Castle (Pendeen) and Carn Brea overlooking present-day Redruth. The most impressive however lies near Dorchester in Dorset and is the huge 20 acre site of Maiden Castle - home of the Durotriges Celts until 43AD.
Cliff castles were also constructed on the coast with the some of the most accessible at Rumps Point (Polzeath); Trevelgue (Newquay); Kelsey Head (Holywell Bay); Gurnard's Head (Zennor); Carrick Lûz (Coverack); Kenidjack Castle (Cape Cornwall); Treryn Dinas (Porthcurno); Maen Castle (Land's End) and Dodman Point (St. Austell). More photographs..
In fact, it is thought that the classic cliff castle at Rumps Point is so similar to those in Armorica, Brittany that it may have been built by refugees from the great sea battle of Morbihan Bay between the Romans and the Veneti in 56 BC. The Celts also introduced the idea of special areas dedicated to the burial of their dead - in fact these were Iron Age cemeteries. Left largely untouched by the Romans until their departure in c. 410 A.D., Cornwall retained the majority of this Celtic influence for almost the next 1000 years. When the Jutes; Angles and Saxons invaded from across the North Sea in about 450 A.D. and established 7 states: Kent (Jutes); Northumbria; Mercia; East Anglia (Angles); Wessex; Sussex and Essex (Saxons), the Celts (Ancient Britons) were squeezed into the extremities of the island of Britain. This relocation of the Celts only strengthened their language and culture in these lands. The Dumnonii and Cerniw became Devon and Cornwall, the 'strangers' (Saxon - wealhas) formed Wales, with other tribes forming Scotland and Armorica (present-day Brittany). Cornwall was, in fact, the last part of Britain to surrender to the Saxons in 838 AD.
There are eleven main metalliferous areas in Cornwall. A section dedicated to each area has been set up to complement the successful World Heritage Site Bid of 14th July 2006. Cornwall in Focus are currently visiting these areas taking photographs and researching information in order to set up a comprehensive Mining Database for each district. See the Mining section for more details.
To quote the old adage 'Where there's a hole in the ground, you'll find a Cornishman at the bottom'. I am sure that there are many people exploring this site that will have at least one Cornish Ancestor. The great exodus of skilled miners in the mid to late nineteenth century to all corners of the globe caused by the fall in copper and tin prices has ensured that there are thousands of people with Cornish ancestors. Check out our Family Tree page for helpful links and information.
The ancient Celtic language of Cornwall was reportedly last spoken by Dolly Pentreath of Mousehole who died in 1777. There is also however, a tombstone at Zennor churchyard to John Davey of Boswednack (1812-1891), 'the last to possess any traditional considerable knowledge of the Cornish Language'. He sang traditional songs and could converse quite fluently. Why did it die out? While Cornwall remained largely untouched by the outside world the language remained intact. Some historians point to the failed 'Cornish Rebellion of 1497' - led by Michael Joseph 'An Gof' (the Smith) and Thomas Flamank - and the 'Prayer Book Rebellion' of 1549 as two major turning point in the demise of Cornish. For more information on the ancient Cornish Language as well as key words, links and phrases, please see our Cornish Language page.
Myths & Legends
Everywhere has its legends and myths - some are more believable than others. Here are a selection of some of my favourite Cornish Myths and Legends.