Desired by some, perhaps many, the decision to put the Cornish in the Council of Europe national minority scheme is nevertheless at this time largely a party political gimmick. It owes much to Liberal Democrat election anxieties. In practice nothing significant will change.

Those who confidently see themselves as Cornish will rightly continue confidently to do so and cheerfully celebrate their identity. They have known all along they are Cornish. Those who think that unconvincing will still think it. The reconstructed Cornish language will continue to be admired but spoken fluently by next to nobody. The distinctive Cornish culture will continue to be happily celebrated and claims for uniqueness will continue to bewilder those who see distinctive cultures everywhere in England and wince at Darkie Day while they celebrate well dressing and the Lambton Worm and street dancing. Cornish place names will continue to be celebrated and in the rest of England so will every thorp and by and thwaite and law. The claims for a distinct ethnic/racial group will continue to struggle with our commonality, the knowledge that we are all migrants from Africa, and qualms about making racial markers. In short, we shall all continue to rub along with one another.

The people of Cornwall, however they see their identity, still won’t vote nationalist in any numbers. The arguments against a nationalist and separatist assembly still remain.

There are assurances – from politicians – that there will be no additional money involved. However, it will be interesting to see whether there are over time calls upon British taxpayers for funds for promoting a thousand and one things that will no doubt be called identity heritage.

What matters most in Cornwall
Cornwall is still a county of England. The everyday issues that affect the lives, happiness, and prosperity of people are still here. The framework convention for the protection of national minorities will not grow the Cornwall economy; will not build more much needed affordable housing for locals and provide all-year-round jobs with decent pay; will not make up for the cuts in council tax support and housing benefit; will not lessen deprivation or erase the need for food banks. It is on these we who are here, Cornish and English and British and whatever, should focus relentlessly.


15 April 2014

Read this story: ” ‘Get back to the jungle where you belong’: My racist abuse growing up in Cornwall, by Hollywood star Thandie Newton.”

Let us hang our heads in shame at the past. Oh dear, a wretched story from Thandie Newton of her experience in Penzance as a child, sometime in the late seventies and early eighties, I think. Hopefully attitudes have changed though the comments on the story relate happy and unhappy experiences.

Perhaps Penzance town council should belatedly deplore the past racism in the town and find a way to honour her.

The West Briton and the Cornishman have the story too.

And there’s this from 1995.

…and the English, French, sharks, and cabbages

On 14 February 1990 Voyager I, then 3.7 billion miles away from Earth and travelling away from our solar system, turned its camera around and took a photograph of our planets, including a dot, a pale blue dot. Earth.

As Carl Sagan said, for every human who has ever lived that dot in the vastness has been our common home.

Everyone should read or hear Sagan’s commentary on our pale blue dot: look here.

And the origins of the Cornish and the rest…?

All the atoms that make us come from stars that exploded and scattered their components billions of years ago or, in the case of our hydrogen atoms, were formed shortly after the Big Bang. We are starstuff, stardust. That is our origin, that is the origin of the Cornish (and every person and thing on Earth).

As I have said before and before: we are all cousins – and cousins to all the other animals and to plants and rocks. We have a common origin.

Earth is a small place in the vastness of space and Cornwall itself is one small nook of the dot.

SAGAN Carl Cosmos (1980) television series, Pale blue dot (1995)

KRAUSS Lawrence A universe from nothing (2009, 2012)

We are here: the pale blue dot

And here’s an account of the photographing of Earth as a dot

I recently read about an oddity of the monitoring by Cornwall Council of people’s identities. Alex Folkes, a Libdem unitary councillor, has pointed out that a form used to apply for housing and council tax benefits put Cornish/gipsy/traveller in the same identity tick box. The council is sensibly now changing that and giving the Cornish a separate box.

Folkes challenged the absence of a separate tick box for Cornish identity because he thinks a purpose of the monitoring form should be to discover whether the identity make up of the applicants matches or deviates from the “balance of the community as a whole,” the council then trying to put any mismatch right. That is a reasonable point. Additionally, he writes about the ‘sensitivities that Cornish people sometimes feel about their identities’ and that it is ‘offensive’ for all of them to put Cornish people and travellers and gipsies in what he rightly calls a ‘bucket category’. If we are to have such monitoring then the Cornish should have a tick box of their own.

Whatever you do, don’t mention the English
I do have doubts about the usefulness of this sort of monitoring at local and national level; additional to the practical difficulties, underpinning it there is a hotchpotch of components, a mix of colour and geography in an incoherent way, the imprisonment of people in a single identity group, the random inclusion and exclusion of groups, and the assumption that this aspect of a person is of especial importance for their relationship with service provision and use. However, let me go along with it for the moment.

First, I wish to point out that there is no tick box at all on the application form for people in Cornwall who see themselves as English, a majority of those here according to the 2011 census. They are presumably in the box for White British which looks to me like a bucket category and perhaps we can talk also about offensiveness and the indifference to English sensitivities. In the 2011 census the nationality question showed that 59 percent of the people in Cornwall described themselves and their children as solely English, with another 10 percent saying English combined with another identity; the figures for solely British were 15 percent; and for solely Cornish a written-in 10 percent. Those figures make the absence of an English tickbox bizarre.

Second, there is a further oddity. Recent Cornwall Council consultation forms I have seen had several identity tick boxes for respondents. If I recall rightly, there was reasonably a separate one for Cornish but none specifically for English. There was another bucket category ‘White (for example, British, Scottish)’ which seems an extraordinary way of inviting English people here to identify themselves.

The official vanishing of the English people in Cornwall, by far the largest single specific group in Cornwall, is an issue to be explored. Perhaps Cornwall Council will think about amending all its identity monitoring to include English?

Cornwall Council forms ask about ethnic background. The 2011 census asked separate questions on ethnicity and nationality; I am not convinced that the distinction is sharply clear and I have used identity as a catch-all term. Additionally, the census authorities have released the write-in data for Cornish under the nationality question but not under the ethnicity question; write-in Cornish ethnic data will eventually be available as a commissioned release, ie paid for. Census data has been released for English as a nationality but the ethnicity tick box was for an undifferentiated category English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British and that data includes Cornish. I find official identity data a muddle.

UPDATE 31 December 2012 The published detailed ethnic data table CT0010EW, with write-in responses, does not list Cornish. In Cornwall 95.8 percent of the people are identified in the undifferentiated group English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British.

ORIGINAL POST 11 December 2012
The Office for national statistics (ONS) has published the national identity data from the 2011 census. The figures are in Table KS202EW here.

There are several combinations of national identity of course but the main figures of interest for Cornwall (the unitary authority area) are:

English-only national identity: 59.3 percent of the people of Cornwall, 315 525 people
English and British: 7.0 percent
English and other combinations: 3.2 percent
Total English/English combined: 69.4 percent, 369 581 people

Cornish-only national identity: 9.9 percent, 52 793 people
Cornish and British: 1.0 percent
Cornish and English/Welsh/Scottish/N Irish/British: 2.9 percent
Total Cornish/Cornish combined: 13.8 percent, 73 220 people.
(The second and third Cornish groups are mutually exclusive)

British-only national identity: 15.3 percent, 81 631 people
British and any other combination: 9.2 percent

In numbers the largest census national identities in Cornwall are: English only, British only, English combined, Cornish only, British combined, Cornish combined.
END of original post


10 December 2012

Twenty years ago I stood in an unprepossessing street behind Liverpool Street station in London. I knew I was probably only a few yards away from the site of the Elizabethan theatre, the Curtain, where the first performances of Romeo and Juliet and Henry V were thought to have taken place.

This summer developers came across the very site of that Romeo theatre. And this autumn the British Museum has had an exhibition about Shakespeare’s world and that included the play about Thomas More in which Shakespeare probably had a hand – indeed, the play in Harleian manuscript 7368 may contain the most extensive example of Shakespeare’s own handwriting that we have.

The price of herring and the strangers’ case
These matters lead me to my point. The exhibition reminded me that the More play contains a scene, probably by Shakespeare, that I think resonates today in Britain. In May 1517 there is a riot in London against aliens, incomers, migrants, what you will, and the play includes this. The rioters complain in the play that these “audacious strangers” and “outlandish fugitives” will push up prices – a herring will cost a groat, butter will be elevenpence a pound – and gain more privileges than the natives. The aliens’ houses are to be fired.

Against these arguments More puts the telling “strangers’ case”. Against the “mountainish inhumanity” of the English rioters, he paints an affecting picture of the aliens and goes on to argue that the desire of the rioters to expel the aliens and their riotous disrespect for law and order will work against them as in violent anarchy “other ruffians” will, in a striking metaphor, “shark on you”. If they find themselves strangers in a foreign land the natives there would, as they themselves wish to do now, “whet their detested knives against your throats, spurn you like dogs”. Do unto others, I think, and love you the stranger.

No one in Britain today wishes to fire the aliens’ houses or whet knives against their throats, though I think I there is spurning sometimes, but perhaps before we talk, legitimately and candidly, about “audacious strangers” – if you prick them, do they not bleed – we should read and reflect on More’s speech.

Edward Hall’s Chronicle is here. The account of discontent begins at page 586.

The Malone Society 1911 edition of the play is here. The riot and More scene is at pages 69-76. A more easily read transcript is here.

There is a modern account of the riot here: ‘Evil May Day: re-examining the race riot of 1517’ by Graham NOBLE.

“If you prick us”: Shylock in 1.1 of The merchant of Venice.

“John Cranmer Cambridge aged 23, a clerk in the London County Council who was drowned near Ostend whilst saving the life of a stranger and a foreigner, August 8 1901” Plaque on the Watts Memorial, Postman’s Park, London


24 October 2012

If only Defoe had known when he wrote his satire The true-born Englishman. Not only pipid frogs and neanderthal people; I now happily learn that my blood group A is found in me and monkeys and it has been there in us from a common genetic source over millions of years. It would have apoplexed Huxley’s bishop.

See: Laure SEGUREL and others ‘The ABO blood group is a trans-species polymorphism in primates’ in PNAS 22 October 2012

[PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. An abstract of the research report is free on the website; the full article is readable only on payment at present.]

Frogs and neanderthals can be found through yesterday’s post. The encounter between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford, was on 30 June 1860.

From time to time I have put up posts which discuss findings in the origins of humans and our ways. In the posts I argue that we all have much more in common than our differences, which are often constructed, and remind us of our journey from our undistinguished origins in primeval slime and our cousins on the road; and urge us to acknowledge the common experiences and common ancestry of people across Britain and the world; and indeed our common relationship to other creatures.

Yes, even constructed differences between groups are real, but I think that in the long story of humans contemporary differences are fundamentally shallow. Overblown claims of Cornish singular distinctiveness seem to be based on a foreshortened view of human history and a disregard of the vast commonalities.

In this post in April this year I noted Maria Pala’s comment about work in archeogenetics: “It helps us to revaluate the perception of our identity. We are highly focussed on identifying ourselves as Italians, British or whatever, but by analysing DNA we discover that originally, not such a long time ago, we came from a common source.”

Now, following on this post about interbreeding among homo sapiens sapiens and neanderthals, an article in PLOS Genetics reports research that suggests the interbreeding took place probably as recently as 35 000 years ago. People calling themselves Cornish and people calling themselves English have neanderthal genes and neanderthal avital grandmothers.

Read the report from PLOS Genetics 4 October 2012 ‘The date of interbreeding between neandertals and modern humans’ by Sriram Sankararaman and others.

Note this from the research: “the last gene flow from Neandertals (or their relatives) into Europeans likely occurred 37,000–86,000 years before the present (BP), and most likely 47,000–65,000 years ago”

Earlier posts
English and Cornish have same milk gene 10 March 2007

English and Cornish are sisters under the skin 20 July 2007

Blue-eyed Cornish and English are brothers 31 January 2008

Atomising people 12 September 2008

Cornwall 5460 years ago 31 January 2010

The first Cornishman 1 May 2010

The Cornishman, the Englishman, and the frog 2 May 2010

A wondrous mixture 8 May 2010

To see oursels as ithers see us 17 May 2010

Puny boundaries 19 May 2010

A walrus, a mouse, and a man went into a bar 18 July 2010

A common source for the English and Cornish 14 May 2012

We are immigrants, settlers, incomers, all of us. We are not the originals, the indigenous. Whatever ethnic or national labels we give ourselves, others were here before us and ours. I explored this last year in the post Indigenous and have previously mentioned the Ancient Human Ocupation of Britain (AHOB) project.

Now have a look at this report in Science. The article costs but the brief abstract is free to read. There are also longer free online account here and here.

The report is another look at what happened to the Neanderthals. We homo sapiens sapiens migrated into Europe about 40 000 years ago. Looking at Perigord in southwest France, the report suggests that our species overwhelmed by numbers, along with cultural and technological advantages, the Neanderthals already here.

Indigeneity, a political construct, did not begin in Britain with a relatively recent Celtic-speaking people; that does not look far enough back. There were humans in Britain about 800 000 years ago at Happisburg in Norfolk. Inconstant settlement in our country has a long, long history with humans coming and going as circumstances changed. The last human occupation began about 12 000 years ago.

We are newcomers, all of us, and largely here by specific conquest. The predecessors as an identifiable group are gone, extinct or absorbed into us or massacred by our ancestors.

Hmm. I’m not sure the title of this post delivered what some might have expected.

‘Tenfold population increase in western Europe at the neandertal-to-modern human transition’ by Paul MELLARS and Jennifer C FRENCH in Science 29 July 2011

Where do the Cornish come from? 22 June 2011

There are two spellings in English of Neanderthal/Neandertal

EDIT: the reference to added 30 July 2011 and to For what they were, we are added 10 August 2011.


16 March 2011

The photographs of the celebrations of St Piran’s day, 5 March, fill the local newspapers. In fine weather children danced and pranced in the streets, probably organised by their schools but very clearly enjoying themselves. People played cheery music, sang, bedecked themselves, and marched with flags.

This was street patriotism everyone can be happy about, the sort of festive celebration you find all over Britain and the world though you can overdo the marching purposefully with flags.

It is a happy circumstance that Piran is lost in the fog of history and indeed may never have existed. We can ignore the fantastical nonsenses told about him. It is best to take most saints with a pinch of salt: the instincts of the Reformation Protestants were right about this. He is a peg on which to hang this day; belief in him is not required.

I have discussed before the disconnection between being Cornish and being a nationalist. St Piran’s day demonstrated it convincingly. Many people here enjoy being Cornish, are happy to be Cornish, confident in their Cornishness; celebrate it; if asked to choose one only descriptor may very well call themselves Cornish and put it on the flawed censuses; and think Cornwall special, though aware of ubiquitous uniqueness; but do not desire politics here to be a nationalist re-enactment of the middle ages. The vast majority of people in Cornwall, by whatever nationality and ethnicity they call themselves, think the most important things in their lives are the everyday experiences around home, family, work, friends, neighbourhood, and health, as do people in the rest of England.

As for nationalists, they make their case, speak and write freely, demonstrate freely, learn and speak and write Cornish if they wish, fight elections freely. Nationalism presents what I see as the Ptolemaic model of Cornwall with its constitutional positions and its particular interpretation of history – and political nationalism and separatism sink like a millstone. People in Cornwall can indeed distinguish between being Cornish and being a nationalist; the former does not necessarily imply the latter.