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Boscawen-Un stone circle looking north
Ruin of Cornish tin mine
The culture of Cornwall forms part of the culture of the United Kingdom, but has some distinct customs, traditions and peculiarities. Cornwallmarker, a county of Englandmarker, a duchy and a Celtic nation of itself, has a history steeped in a strong Celtic tradition. The Cornish language is one of the Celtic languages, while the Cornish people have been recognised as modern Celts.


The Cornish language is a Celtic language related to Breton and Welsh, being a P-Celtic language; the Cornish language was the language of Cornwall before English. The language went into decline following the introduction of the English Book of Common Prayer (in 1549) and by around 1800 had ceased to be used as a community language, (see main article for further discussion.)

After 1800 researchers began to study the language from remaining isolated speakers and in 1904 Henry Jenner published A Handbook in the Cornish Language thus starting the revival proper. Although less than 1 % of Cornwall's population speak the language and 'mother tongue' speakers are in their hundreds rather than thousands, the language continues to play a significant part in the culture of Cornwall.

Many events will use Cornish, in short phrases, openings, greetings or names. There is a healthy tradition of music in the language, which can be enjoyed by non speakers. The vast majority of place names in Cornwall are derived from the language, and most people in Cornwall know a few words or phrases like, ironically, 'Kernow bys vyken!' ('Cornwall forever!). Many Cornish houses, businesses, children, pets and boats are named in the language, thus it has use as a 'official community language' and any speaker will likely often be asked to provide translations. A sign of this role is that two of Cornwall's five MPs swore their oaths to the Queen in Cornish.

Cornish literature and folklore

See also Cornish folklore

The earliest Cornish literature is in the Cornish language, Cornwall produced a substantial number of passion plays during the Middle Ages. Many are still extant, and provide valuable information about the Cornish language: they were performed in round 'plen a gwary' open air theatres.

There is much traditional folklore in Cornwall, often tales of giants, mermaids, piskies or the 'pobel vean' (little people.) These are still surprisingly popular today, with many events hosting a 'droll teller' to tell the stories: such myths and stories have found much publishing success, particularly in children's books.

Writing in the Cornish dialect has generally been overshadowed by the Cornish language. However poems and short stories have been published, often with a typically Cornish humour. Some Cornish newspapers have featured a column written in Cornish dialect.

Cornish World, a colour magazine produced in Cornwall and covering all aspects of Cornish life has proved popular with the descendants of Cornish emigrants as well as Cornish residents. It includes a column in the Cornish language.

Notable Cornish writers include Arthur Quiller-Couch, alias "Q", Jack Clemo, deaf-blind poet, and D. M. Thomas, novelist and poet.


The late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman was famously fond of Cornwall and it featured prominently in his poetry. He is buried in the churchyard at St Enodoc's Church, Trebetherickmarker.Charles Causley was born in Launceston and is perhaps the best known of Cornish poets. The Scottish poet W. S. Graham lived in West Cornwall from 1944 until his death in 1986.

The poet Laurence Binyon wrote For the Fallen (first published in 1914) while sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and The Rumps and a stone plaque was erected in 2001 to commemorate the fact. The plaque bears the inscription For The Fallen Composed on these cliffs 1914 The plaque also bears the fourth stanza (sometimes referred to as 'The Ode') of the poem:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them


Daphne du Maurier lived in Fowey, Cornwall and many of her novels had Cornish settings, including Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman's Creek, My Cousin Rachel, and The House on the Strand. She is also noted for writing Vanishing Cornwall. Cornwall provided the inspiration for The Birds, one of her terrifying series of short stories, made famous as a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Devil's Foot featuring Sherlock Holmes is set in Cornwall.

Medieval Cornwall is also the setting of the trilogy by Monica Furlong, Wise Child, Juniper, and Colman, as well as part of Charles Kingsley's Hereward the Wake.

Winston Graham's series Poldark (and the television series derived from it), Kate Tremayne's Adam Loveday series, and Greenwitch, and Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn are all set in Cornwall. Writing under the pseudonym of Alexander Kent, Douglas Reeman sets parts of his Richard Bolitho and Adam Bolitho series in the Cornwall of the late 18th and the early 19th centuries, particularly in Falmouthmarker.

Hammond Innes' novel, The Killer Mine; has a Cornish setting.

Charles de Lint, writer of many modern and urban fairy tales, set his novel The Little Country in the village of Mouseholemarker in Cornwall.

Chapters 24 and 25 of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows take place in Cornwall (the Harry Potter story at Shell Cottage, which is on the beach outside the fictional village of Tinworth in Cornwall).

Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch from the series of fantasy novels The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper, are set in Cornwall.

Cornwall is featured heavily in the beginning of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley as the home of Igraine, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. The castlemarker at Tintagel has been said to be the birthplace of King Arthur

Novelists resident in Cornwall:- Highly respected spy author John le Carré lives and writes in Cornwall. The Nobel-prizewinning novelist William Golding was born in St Columb Minormarker in 1911, and returned to live near Truromarker from 1985 until his death in 1993. D. H. Lawrence spent a short time living in Cornwall.

Drama and other literary works

Cornwall produced a substantial number of passion plays such as the Ordinalia during the Middle Ages. Many are still extant, and provide valuable information about the Cornish language. Other notable plays include Beunans Meriasek and Beunans Ke, the only two surviving plays written in any of Britain's vernacular tongues that take a saint's life as their subject.Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch author of many novels and works of literary criticism lived in Fowey: his novels are mainly set in Cornwall. Prolific writer Colin Wilson, best known for his debut work The Outsider (1956) and for The Mind Parasites (1967), lives in Gorran Havenmarker, a little village on the southern Cornish coast, not far from Mevagisseymarker and St Austellmarker. A. L. Rowse, the historian, was born near St. Austell.

Thomas Hardy's drama The Queen of Cornwall (1923) is a version of the Tristan story; the second act of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde takes place in Cornwall, as do Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas The Pirates of Penzance and Ruddigore. A level of Tomb Raider: Legend, a game dealing with Arthurian Legend, takes place in Cornwall at a tacky museum above King Arthur's tomb.

The theatre company Kneehigh Theatre is active in Cornwall. Amateur theatre groups exist in many villages and the Minack Theatremarker is well-known.

The fairy tale Jack the Giant Killer takes place in Cornwall.


See also List of Cornish saints
St German's priory church, St Germans
Traditionally, the Cornish have been nonconformists in religion. Celtic Christianity was a feature of Cornwall and many Cornish saints are commemorated in legends, churches and placenames.

In contrast to the the situation in Wales, the churches failed to produce a translation of the Bible into the local language, and this has been seen by some as a crucial factor in the demise of the language. The Bible was translated into Cornish in 2002. In 1549, the Prayer Book Rebellion caused the deaths of thousands of people from Devon and Cornwall.

The Methodism of John Wesley also proved to be very popular with the working classes in Cornwall in the 18th century. Methodist chapels became important social centres, with male voice choirs and other church-affiliated groups playing a central role in the social lives of working class Cornishmen. Methodism still plays a large part in the religious life of Cornwall today, although Cornwall has shared in the post-World War II decline in British religious feeling.

Recent developments

Renewed interest in Celtic Christianity

In the late 20th century and early 21st century there has been a renewed interest in the older forms of Christianity in Cornwall. Cowethas Peran Sans, the Fellowship of St Piran, is one such group promoting Celtic Christianity. The group was founded by Andrew Phillips and membership is open to baptised Christians in good standing in their local community who support the aims of the group.

The aims of the group are these:
To understand and embody the spirituality of the Celtic Saints
To share this spirituality with others
To use Cornwall’s ancient Christian holy places again in worship
To promote Cornwall as a place of Christian spiritual pilgrimage
To promote the use of the Cornish language in prayer and worship

Fry an Spyrys

In 2003, a campaign group was formed called Fry an Spyrys (free the spirit in Cornish). It is dedicated to disestablishing the Church of England in Cornwall and to forming an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion - a Church of Cornwall. Its chairman is Dr Garry Tregidga of the Institute of Cornish Studies. The Anglican Church was disestablished in Wales to form the Church in Wales in 1920 and in Ireland to form the Church of Ireland in 1869.

Cornish symbols

Saint Piran's Flag, a white cross on a black background is often seen in Cornwallmarker. The Duchy of Cornwall shield of 15 gold bezants on a black field is also used. Because of these two symbols black, white and gold are considered colours symbolic of Cornwallmarker.

The chough (in Cornish = palores) is also used as a symbol of Cornwall. In Cornish poetry the chough is used to symbolise the spirit of Cornwall. Also there is a Cornish belief that King Arthur lives in the form of a chough. "Chough" was also used as a nickname for Cornish people.

An anvil is sometimes used to symbolise Cornish nationalism, particularly in its more extreme forms. This is a reference to 'Michael An Gof', 'the smith', one of two leaders of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497.

Fish, tin and copper together are used as they show the 'traditional' three main industries of Cornwall. Tin has a special place in the Cornish culture, the 'Stannary Parliament' and 'Cornish pennies' are a testament to the former power of the Cornish tin industry. Cornish tin is highly prized for jewellery, often of mine engines or celtic designs.

Although Cornwall has no official flower many people favour the Cornish heath (Erica vagans). In recent years daffodils have been popular on the annual Saint Piran's day march on Perran sands although they are donated by a local daffodil grower and it is already considered to be the National flower of Walesmarker.

Cornish studies

The Institute of Cornish Studies, established in 1970, moved to the new Combined Universities in Cornwall Campus at Tremough, Penrynmarker in October 2004: the institute is a branch of the University of Exetermarker. A detailed overview of literature is provided by Alan M. Kent's The Literature of Cornwall: it covers everything from medieval mystery plays to more recent literary works that draw on the Cornish landscape.

The historian Philip Payton, professor at Exeter University's department of Cornish studies, has written Cornwall: a History as well as editing the Cornish studies series. Mark Stoyle, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Southamptonmarker, asks ‘Are the Cornish English?’ in his book West Britons, a work on Cornish history exploring the nature of Cornishness in the early modern period. John Angarrack of the human rights organisation Cornwall 2000 has self-published two books to date, Breaking the Chains and Our Future is History: both are polemical reexaminations of Cornish history and identity, not historical works.

The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies is a group of societies of those interested in Cornwall's past which has published a number of books.

Cornish art

See also List of Cornish artists, architects and craftspeople
Cornish people#Culture#Visual arts

Cornwall has produced and inspired many artists. John Opie was the first Cornish-born artist of note and J. M. W. Turner visited in 1811. A number of artists settled in the Newlyn area in the 1880s, following the building of the Great Western Railway, and they went to form the Newlyn School.

Sickert and Whistler both visited St Ives at the end of the 19th century, and the internationally famous studio potter, Bernard Leach set up his pottery in the town in 1920 St. Ivesmarker. In 1928 Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood visited the town and met Alfred Wallis the naive painter, native to St Ives, who was to become an important influence on a generation of British artists: particularly those who were members of the Seven and Five Society.

At the outbreak of World War II Nicholson came to live in St Ives with his wife Barbara Hepworth; staying initially with the philosopher and writer Adrian Stokes and his wife Margaret Mellis. Naum Gabo also joined them there as well as artists who at the time were at an earlier stage in their careers: John Wells, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham,Terry Frost and Bryan Wynter. Other artists of international repute joined the colony later: notably Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton and Sandra Blow.

There are still a lot of artists in Cornwall many associated with the Newlyn Society of Artists. Artists led projects like PALP and artsurgery have also been important in the 21st century.

Cornwall has a dedicated online art journal called

Celtic art is found in Cornwall, often in the form of Celtic crosses. Cornwall boasts the highest density of traditional 'celtic crosses' of any nation. In modern times many crosses were erected as war memorials and to celebrate events such as the millennium.


Church of St Morwenna, Morwenstow
The church architecture of Cornwall and Devon typically differs from that of the rest of southern England: most medieval churches in the larger parishes were rebuilt in the later medieval period with one or two aisles and a western tower, the aisles being the same width as the nave and the piers of the arcades being of one of a few standard types. Wagon roofs often survive in these churches. The typical tower is of three stages, often with buttresses set back from the angles.

Churches of the Decorated period are relatively rare, as are those with spires. There are very few churches from the 17th and 18th centuries. There is a distinctive type of Norman font in many Cornish churches which is sometimes called the Altarnun type. The style of carving in benchends is also recognisably Cornish.


Lanner Band Room
Cornwall has a rich and vibrant folk music tradition which has survived into the present.

Cornish players are regular participants in inter-Celtic festivals, and Cornwall itself has several lively inter-Celtic festivals such as Perranporthmarker's folk festival, Lowender Peran.

Cornish Celtic music is a relatively large phenomenon given the size of the region. A recent tally found over 100 bands playing mostly or entirely Cornish folk music. Traditional dancing (Cornish dance) is associated with the music. These dance events are either Troyls, (a dance night more similar to a ceilidh) or Nozow looan, (a dance night more similar to a Breton fest noz).

Aphex Twin is a Cornish based electronic music project, though he was born of Welshmarker parents in Irelandmarker.

Lanner and District Silver Band is a Cornish Brass band based in Lannermarker, Cornwallmarker, United Kingdommarker, and well-known for its concerts. There are many other brass and silver bands in Cornwall, particularly in the former mining areas: St Dennismarker is a notable example.


Celebrating Saint Piran's Day
There is a long tradition of processional dance and music in Cornwall. The best known tradition is the Helston Furry. The term 'furry' is used generally to describe such a dance or associated tune. These bands have been referred to as 'crowders and horners' and generally have a motley mix of instruments with folk instruments such as the fiddle, bagpipe or crowdy crawn mixed up with brass, reed and anything that can be carried.

Padstowmarker 'Obby 'Oss festival takes place on 1st of May, the feast of Beltane to Celtic people.

Golowan festival in Penzancemarker, which was revived in 1991, was part of a much wider tradition of midsummer festivals where bonfires were lit on hilltops on Midsummer's Eve. The tradition of midsummer bonfires continues, albeit to a lesser extent than when fires could be seen on every hilltop, throughout Cornwall.

Lowender Perran is held at end of October in Perranporthmarker. This is a gathering of musicians & dancers from all the Celtic nations.

Historically Cornwall has had close links with Brittany and this is reflected in the music. The Cornish and Breton languages were mutually intelligible in Tudor times and there were many Bretons living in Cornwall before the Prayer Book Rebellion. Myths, saints, dances and tunes are often shared with Brittany. It has been noted that the Breton duchy flag is the exact inverse of the Cornish flag, whether there is a reason for this is unknown. Breton flags are popular in Cornwall and are often seen alongside the Cornish flag on car bumpers and at musical events. This link continues today with Cornish-Breton festivals such as 'AberFest' in Falmouthmarker (Aberfal) and the twinning of Cornish and Breton towns.

The Gorseth Kernow (or gorsedh), which was set up in 1928, is similar to the Welsh Gorsedd, and indeed was formed by the Welsh Gorsedd at the request of Henry Jenner. The Cornish Gorseth promotes the arts and the Cornish language through competitions at the open gorseth.


A Cornish pasty (See also Rugby football below)
For more information: see Cuisine of Devon and Cornwall

Cornwall is famous for its pasties (a type of pie often containing meat), but saffron buns, Cornish Heavy Cake, Cornish fairings (biscuit), Cornish fudge and Cornish ice cream are also common.

Cornish clotted cream is a popular topping on splits and on scones. Opinion varies as to whether or not the cream should be spread on before or after the jam. Clotted cream is often served as thunder and lightning (with syrup on bread.)

There are also many types of beers brewed in Cornwall including a stout and there is some small scale production of cider and wine.

Sports and games

Outdoor sports and games

See Sport in Cornwall

Indoor games

Euchre is a popular card game in Cornwall, it is normally a game for four players consisting of two teams. Its origins are unclear but some claim it is a Cornish game. There are several leagues in Cornwall at present. Whist and pub quizzes are also popular in many villages.

Cornish film

Numerous films, short and long, have been made in Cornwall. The Cornish film industry is well supported by organisations such as War-rag (War-rag = 'ahead' in Cornish). The Celtic Film Festival allows entries from Cornish film makers and was held in Falmouthmarker in 2006. Also the Goel Fylm Kernow/Cornwall Film Festival is held once a year and supports Cornish film making in either language.

Goel Fylm Kernow hosts workshops, screenings and the "govynn kernewek" competition in which applicants present their idea for a film in the Cornish language and win money, material and knowledge support to make it. Films made due to this award include "Kernow's Kick Ass Kung-Fu Kweens", a kung-fu film in Cornish.

The only feature-length film in the Cornish language is 'Hwerow Hweg', filmed alongside an English version, but due to several unusual decisions it wasn't as popular as hoped. However there are a great many short films in the language.

However many film-makers working solely in English will refer to themselves as Cornish film makers. Their films often make use of Cornish themes, landscape and way of life. Certainly the concept of a Cornish film industry exists, the term 'Oggywood' has been coined (from oggy meaning pasty and Hollywood.)

Traditional dress

Lady of Cornwall and flower girls at the 2007 Gorseth (Penzance)
The "traditional dress" of Cornwall for women is a bal maiden's or fishwife's costume which included the wearing of a bonnet known as a "gook" (which were peculiar to a region or community), aprons and woollen shawls. For men fishermen's smocks, Guernseymarker sweaters (known as worsted-frocks in Cornwall) and long cut shirts are worn. The adoption of the Cornish kilt has recently become popular, and these kilts are available in various Cornish tartans or plain black. The first reference to a "Cornish" kilt is from 1903 when the Cornish delegate to the Celtic Congress, convening at Caernarvon, L.C.R. Duncombe-Jewell, appeared in a in a woad blue kilt, to impress upon the delegates the Celtic character of Cornwall. Black kilts are proposed by some as the traditional version of the garment, some claiming that the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry wore black kilts on occasions in the 19th century. (this may have been similar to the Irish saffron kilt). The most common kilt used in Cornwall is pleated Scottish-style with a leather, Duchy of Cornwall shield-style, sporran.

The Cornish national tartan was designed by E. E Morton Nance in 1963 using colours traditionally associated with Cornwall. Fragments of tartan have been found in Penwithmarker. See also Cornish kilts and tartans

See also

Bal maidens at work, showing traditional dress


  1. Fry an Spyrys
  2. Wheatley, Reginald F. "The architecture of the Cornish parish church" in: Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Blackford; pp. 225-234, 4 plates
  3. Pevsner, Nikolaus (1970) Buildings of England: Cornwall; 2nd edition revised by Enid Radcliffe; Harmondsworth: Penguin ISBN 0-300-09589-9 ' pp. 18-20
  4. Lowender Peran
  5. Cornish Gorseth
  6. *
  7. * Koch, John T. (2005) Celtic Culture: a Historical Encyclopedia
  • Baker, Denys Val (1973) The Timeless Land: the creative spirit in Cornwall. Bath: Adams & Dart
  • Paynter, William H. & Semmens, J. (2008) The Cornish Witch-finder: The Witchery, Ghosts, Charms and Folklore of Cornwall. Federation of Old Cornwall Societies.
  • Sedding, Edmund H. (1909) Norman Architecture in Cornwall: a handbook to old ecclesiastical architecture; with over 160 plates. London: Ward & Co.

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