History

Cornwall’s story begins when people reoccupy this land after the ice age, maybe as far back as the 10th millennia. The naturally acidic soil explains why we have no small finds and the first evidence we have are the chambered tombs that date to about the third or fourth millennia BC. These chambered tombs have also been found in Ireland, Wales and Brittany indicating that we may share a culture.

At the beginning of the Bronze Age (about 2200BC), we find that new ideas start to occur in Cornwall, possibly influenced bt our trading partners. Cornwall had already extracted tin by streaming and also worked copper by open cast mining and then smelting down the ore for export. The current belief is that the ore was taken to Brittany and then overland to southern ports where it could easily be distributed along the Mediterranean.  Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper and became the metal that was used for the manufacture of tools and weapons. Workers began to produce jewellery and other decorative items which displayed some development in skill.  Increased prosperity may have provided the time required to perform community projects not related to survival such as the building of stone circles and standing stones.

By the Iron Age (750 BC), Cornwall was an organised tribal society. The people spoke a language known as Brythonic which they shared with the Welsh and Bretons. Cornish died out as a spoken language by 1800 but has undergone a revival in recent years. The Romans were here but had less of an impact than they did elsewhere, possibly as a result of connections through the existing tin trade. It is unclear when the church was established in Cornwall but Celtic Christianity spread from Ireland and Scotland into England and Brittany in about the middle of the 9th Century. When the Normans arrived in England the River Tamar became a boundary and Cornwall became a District.  In 1201 the tin workers obtained a charter from King John which gave them privileges if they paid the Crown a special tax. There were four areas of jurisdiction known as ‘Stannaries’ which sent representatives to the Stannary Parliament in Launceston. Tin ore would be smelted at the mine and then again at the Stannary town to provide the best possible quality for Tax assay.

In 1349 the Black Death came to Cornwall across the sea. The pestilence returned in 1352 where Bodmin and Truro almost lost half their populations.  During the Mediaeval period tin had been mixed with lead to produce Pewter, commonly used for plate and cups, and was much in demand. In 1497 Henry VII imposed taxes on the Cornish tin miners so he could make war on the Scots and so started the Cornish rebellion. The Cornish marched on London but were beaten at the battle of Deptford Bridge which is marked by a plaque on the wall of Greenwich Park.  The Cornish rose up again in 1549 in the Prayer Book Rebellion which led to possibly twenty per cent of the Cornish population dying. The Protestant Book of Common Prayer was introduced at a time when most of Cornwall was Catholic, and the book, in English, when most spoke Cornish. The Civil War of 1642 to 1649 saw Cornwall largely supporting the Royalist cause as its Stannary rights and privileges were closely linked with the Duchy and they saw the King as their protector.

By 1740 the deep mining of Copper had been significantly improved by the manufacture of new pumping equipment to keep the mines dry. By the beginning of the 19th Century Cornwall was the largest producer of Copper in the world and had developed into refining and smelting the ore itself although a large amount was sent via Hayle and Portreath to the big smelter at Swansea. Charles and John Wesley arrived in Cornwall in 1743 and found a receptive audience for their message of Methodism. Originally intended to change the attitudes within the Church of England, it ended up as being a church in its own right.  Methodism had a great influence on the people of Cornwall in many ways. The church could see the ruin on the poor folk caused by alcohol and temperance movements began to spring up. The church, which encouraged self-improvement, was a great supporter of The Cornish Diaspora as it saw migration as a positive move.

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