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The Hidden Side Of Cornwall: Terrorists, Poverty & Darkie Day

by Sophie Thomsett
6 December 2013 28 Comments

From ‘Darkie Day’ to the Cornish Liberation Army and the problem with Emmets – why Cornwall’s not the tranquil dream it’s imagined to be...

Welcome To Cornwall bilingual sign

Last week when sorting through some boxes of old stuff I came across the garish yellow spine of Kernow Bys Vyken! (Cornwall For Ever!), a book I’d long forgotten I owned. I say ‘owned’ but in fact it was given to me, along with every other Cornish child aged 8-18 at the turn of the millennium, its 248 glossy pages bound together and circulated in the hope of instilling some pride into the county’s progeny. Handing children a manifesto on why their region is great is more than a bit weird, don’t you think? Nice try mateys, but no amount of articles on geology, tin mining and pilchards could change my perspective. The fact is, I grew up in one bizarre ol’ place.

Part of the reason why Cornwall Heritage Trust felt the need to fork out on shiny propaganda is simple: the big toe of England is the butt of a never-ending joke. Jibes about inbreeding are so relentless that in 2010 the Cornish branch of the Celtic League campaigned for it to be made illegal for the media to mock the Cornish on grounds of our restricted gene-pool. In other words, they wanted it to become a racist offence to call a Cornishman an ‘inbred’. The proposal fell on its arse on the grounds that the Cornish don’t technically exist as a race, but a better reason would have been sheer outlandish hypocrisy. Cornwall crying for help on grounds of racial discrimination is beyond hilarious. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been at home and heard the Welsh referred to as ‘bloody sheep shaggers’. Then there’s Padstow’s spuriously titled ‘Darkie Day’ in which locals walk through the streets blacked-up singing traditional minstrel songs (I wish I was joking).  Darkie Day’s origins are unknown (it may just be a case of innocent pagan guising)  and in recent years it’s been re-branded ‘Mummer’s Day’ to reduce offence, but that doesn’t change the fact that each year on Boxing Day and New Year’s Cornishmen can be heard bellowing out old songs including lines about ‘where the good niggers go’. Basically, my county’s so white it’s highly probable Nick Griffin’s wank bank consists entirely of Cornwall holiday brochures.

From the outside looking in, those of us who hail from south of the Tamar Bridge must seem like a bunch of backwards nutters. We’re home to innumerable pagan freaks – invariably called things like Luna or Aurora – selling magic crystals, aura cleansing, animal healing and paranormal investigation, who talk of ‘disembodied spirits’ and ‘the world beyond our physical plane’ as if they were as real and commonplace as shoelaces or tea bags. We’ve seen a popular campaign for bilingual street signs in English and Cornish, despite the fact that Dolly Pentreath, the last person to be born with Kernewek (Cornish) as their mother tongue, died in 1777. Then there’s the Cornish independence movement, spearheaded in the ‘80s by moronic militant group An Gof, whose campaign of terror got as far as starting a fire in a hairdressers in Penzance after mistaking it for a branch of Bristol and West building society, and setting a bingo hall ablaze in Redruth (nice one geniuses – like stopping a few grannies from getting their blue rinses done and blowing their pensions down the bingo every Thursday night is going to start a revolution). Meanwhile An Gof’s modern successors, The Cornish Liberation Army, are best known as the bunch of tosspots who threatened to burn down Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow and attack Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen in Newquay, (a venture set up to help disadvantaged young locals start a career in catering). They also demanded that all English flags in Cornwall be destroyed on account of being a ‘hated and oppressive [...] blood banner.’ Bloomin’ heck it’s the Cross of St. George, not a swastika.

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If the CLA ever get their way and manage to blow up the Tamar bridge, blockade our roads with farmers armed with pitchforks and pyramids of burning sheep and attempt to run an economy off of clotted cream and pasties, within 6 months we’ll be licking Kelly’s ice cream tubs for scraps of nutrients and selling our children to rich Devonians. Because the thing is, jokes and extremists aside, Cornwall is in trouble. It may possess some of the most stunning landscapes in the entire country, but it’s also blighted by poverty, and you can’t eat the view. Mining, fishing and agriculture are all close to death with little chance of being revived and wages are far below the national average, with employment sparse and often seasonal.  It’s the only county in England poor enough to qualify for EU funding and according to figures for the Department for Communities and Local Government, it has the highest level of rough sleepers anywhere in England outside of London. Still, spurred on by cretins like Kirstie Allsop,  in recent years outsiders with money pouring out of every orifice have been snapping up ‘holiday homes’ to be left empty 11 months of the year, gutting communities and making the disparity between house prices and local wages more and more ridiculous. If the Cornish are hostile towards Emmets (our wee-bit pejorative name for tourists, deriving from an old word for ants) it’s because they have a habit of peering into local estate agents, gushing about “how lovely it would be to have a place down by the sea”, without thinking for a second that when local houses become second homes young local families are forced to live in damp, overpriced flats where the only chance of a ‘sea view’ is if they stick a poster of a wave up on the living room wall.

If you didn’t know any of this, chances are it’s because Cornwall has little political clout.  Labour has no presence in rural areas and most Tories only feel comfortable in the countryside if they’re dressed in tweed pointing a shotgun – I doubt many know that their party’s current dream of regional public sector wages and a withdrawal from the EU could potentially crucify my region. So yes, Cornwall can be strange and backwards, and yes its people can be hostile to outsiders, but it’s often a hard place to live and it’s only getting harder, so please don’t ask why.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Skin Ed 12:07 pm, 16-Jul-2012

Hi to all the Cornish reading this. Gimme six!

Skin Ed 12:15 pm, 16-Jul-2012

Joking aside, as someone unfortunate enough to be able to see this bleak and desolate place from his bedroom window, this is a good article, especially your points on wages and house prices. Quick question though, if we stopped being such massive net contributers to the EU, wouldn't there be more money in the pot for a Cornish regional development agency? Charity beginning at home for once. Just asking...

The Baron 1:57 pm, 16-Jul-2012

I've never been to Cornwall, but I gave this article 5 stars solely because you referred to Kirstie Allsop as an idiot - If there's one thing I cannot stand it's that bingo-winged pig in knickers.

South 9:31 am, 17-Jul-2012

I know what you mean, I grew up in Cornwall too. You forgot to mention that it's mostly pissing down with rain. Oh what a hard life. Still love it though. Good article.

South 9:45 am, 17-Jul-2012

Part II. The racism in Cornwall is often due to utter ignorance rather than malice. Getting funny looks is why friends from London won't visit. Darkie day doesn't help obvioulsy. At the same time, one thing that is over-looked is that Cornwall is also very cosmopolitan for somehwere so rural and geographically isolated. The tourists help mix it up in the summer, bringing Northern sophistication down from Manchester and Liverpool. Even the second home owners in their BMWs add something to the mix. Imagine how the Cornish would be left to their own. And there's a huge remittance economy with people working up in London, or wherever, during the week. The yokel local is a bit a false construct that Cornish play up to for laughs and for sympathy.

yawe tourist 8:41 pm, 17-Jul-2012

who actually chooses to publish lame azz articles in sabotage times these days? Whoever it is, please fuk off on ur banking career.

The Baron 1:01 am, 18-Jul-2012

^Rubberwrist^

Lucy 4:56 pm, 18-Jul-2012

Hilarious article, but also bang on across the board. The racism of the Cornish is unbelievable, but the economic problems are very very real. It's basically surviving on EU handouts with little to show for it but a few more shiny buildings and faster internet access if you can afford to pay for it.

Benno 2:11 pm, 24-Jul-2012

Funny article. Not Cornish myself but visited a few times (for work mainly) and have come across astonishing racism every time, usually within 10 minutes of arriving ("where you from?" "Manchester" "couldnt live there, full of n****ers" etc etc). Not saying everyone is that way inclined but thats my overriding impression of the place. And the CLA are a bunch of clowns. Pretty place though.

alice 9:53 pm, 7-Aug-2012

This is ridiculous, Cornwall is a beautiful place and many people visit every year, some even returning annually bringing their children and later their grandchildren. It's a place where a family of all generations can holiday and enjoy, surely that says alot about the atmosphere. I've lived in Cornwall my whole life and only since moving to a large city up country, to continue my studies at university, can i say that i've truely begun to appreciate Cornwall.

Steviex 10:34 pm, 9-Oct-2012

Boring Boring Boring article. Fact is white, black, green whatever, if your not from Cornwall your all emmits....Its a stunning county, mut be as it has the biggest rise in population out of any county in the UK, if people dislike it so much why do people want to move here? The racism in Cornwall is no more and in fact I think less so than most places I have visited.....people, get a life, if you don't like don't come.....simple

Chris Jones 6:58 pm, 14-Oct-2012

What an ignorant bigoted article. Not even clever or funny...sigh

Philip R Hosking 1:49 pm, 9-Jan-2013

For anyone a more interested in learning a about one of Europes Celtic languages and a less interested in hack blogs then please visit the website of Maga - The Cornish Language Partnership: http://www.magakernow.org.uk/ When ever a people denies a state sponsored and supported national identity and assumes its own historical identity them polemics and attacks from state-nationalists, the far right and the establishment always follow. In this light articles such as the above come as no surprise. An Republeger Kernow: http://thecornishrepublican.blogspot.com/

SBW 8:18 am, 18-Apr-2013

I hadn't heard the expression 'Wank Bank' in years. It deserves to be brought to wider public attention. Good work.

Russ 1:23 pm, 18-Apr-2013

Don't talk to me about Cornwall ...

Huw 11:38 am, 19-Apr-2013

As far as the majority of the world sees it, the cross of St. George is more offensive than a swastika.

John mittchell 2:07 pm, 24-Apr-2013

Sophie as a journalist of many years I should congratulate you for your article.It would seem you could have a glowing future working for the Daily Mail or Express.

shaun 10:06 pm, 4-Oct-2013

What an utter load of bullshit.. Not even funny if it was written without any malice, which it clearly was. The author knows nothing it seems about Cornwall and the majority of it's population, history or customs. She sounds like an English nationalist to me, the worst kind of bigot there is, and a hell of a lot more prejudice than your average honest Cornish person. Of course it's easy to home in on some of the more extremist kinds of home-grown nationalist movements in Cornwall, while ignoring all of the progressive organisations campaigning for Cornwall's future, but then i guess in England you have UKIP setting the standard for English nationalism, which is the piss poorest and most racist one of them all unfortunately.

Rabbi Kernow 2:14 pm, 5-Oct-2013

I do find the flag of St. George more offensive than the swastika and my mums side of the family are jewish. That's because I know the history behind its offensiveness, which the author of this terrible piece of journalism obviously doesn't.

Jonny 9:14 pm, 6-Oct-2013

In my experience the people slagging off the Welsh have all been English. Born in Cornwall English, one minute they claim to be Cornish because they were "born here", the next minute they are spouting their racist filth at anyone who isn't English. Go figure.

katy 2:22 am, 10-Nov-2013

Well it isn't just me then that feels like this. I moved to Cornwall to look after my poorly mum 9 years ago she passed away very quickly sadly. However I spent most of my childhood coming here on holiday from devon and like most of my family I so wanted to live here. In my life I have lived mainly in cities all around the country, Liverpool, Plymouth, Hull, Chester, Nottingham and when I eventually moved to St Ives I thought I'd won the lottery. I love the place but by god I hate it now too. I've never in my life lived in a more backward thinking racist place in my entire life. Yup living the Cornish dream....? Wake up people there's more to life than this? More than beautiful landscapes when the heart and core of a place is ugly? Like an airbrushed model...scrape the surface and it's poor ..at best average...........so sorry to pooh pooh the Cornish dream....so many better places to see and live....you may ask why don't I leave? I'm stuck...got no idea where to go with my little beautiful girl..have no roots no family so my daughter and I stay here...we are better off than many many people in this world and I am grateful x

Tim 5:43 pm, 4-Feb-2014

What a wonderful example of why the Cornish dislike England. This is among the most ignorant and bigoted articles relating to Cornwall I've come across (and I've seen what the Mail thinks of us) True she's accurate on the poverty and that we've been pushed by Westminster to the point of food banks and EU handouts, but she completely ignores why we have no love for England. Any student of Cornish history will know that for the last nearly 500 years, England has persecuted the Cornish people, stamping out our culture and our language whilst forcing their own down our throats. so yes, the St. George cross IS highly offensive to Cornish people, because it symbolises to us our oppression by the English. Although I'm not so militant as the former An Gof movement or the CLA, I personally look forward to the day we can go the way of Scotland and finally be rid of England's foul influence.

Ann Muller 7:42 pm, 7-Feb-2014

I advise Sophie Thomsett to read 'The Killing of Cornwall' by Kevin Cahill. In my opinion the so called nationalist terrorists, CLA and An Gof , were 'agent provocateurs' . I am a member and associated with many Cornish groups and none of us had a clue who were involved in these ,so called, organisations!!?? A bit odd don't you think with the gossip network we have here. The word 'emmit' is an old old-English word for ant!!! So it must be a word first coined by an incomer from the south east of Britain. If you have no love of your gift 'Kernow bys Vikken' please let me send moneys to cover the post as I'd love to buy it for my grand daughter. By the way my family never use the word 'emmit' . In Gunwalloe, where I was brought up one used to hear the word 'grockle ' sometimes used to describe strangers. Grockle is Cornish for theif. Perhaps this was because in times gone by a stranger would ,more than likely ,be a theif.

col 12:32 am, 13-Feb-2014

keep your views to yourself!!!! they aren't wanted here and neither are you!!

craig 2:26 pm, 24-Apr-2014

first off darkie day's origin is unknown there are alot of different stories of where it comes from , i'm cornish i have lived here my whole life, the wages here are crap yet because of people buying second/holiday homes ( which they are allowed to do if they have the money ) the house prices have risen far more than the average wages . Cornwall lacks affordable houses as property developers would much rather build a house to sell for 400k than 200k etc, The racism thing is semi true,you get it everywhere over the UK , you're on crack if you think your local area is perfect. As for holiday makers ... cornwall needs the money that comes from tourism, so yes we put up with the fact you can't drive on country roads where there's no white lines , yes we put up with the summer traffic jams and the fact you keep feeding the effing seaguls ! people come back here year after year so it can't be that bad , i'd rather live here with C.C.R ( cornish casual racism ) and our deep lying traditions and fresh sea air than in a city , surrounded by smog , over crowded towns and A-holes .. Don't like it don't come simple as that

Will 1:40 pm, 30-Apr-2014

"those of us who hail from south of the Tamar Bridge" South? You must be a mermaid, maid. Or lost your compass.

Willowbel 1:03 pm, 18-Jul-2014

The biggest racist of them all are the ones who think that Cornish are not even a race. Shows your ignorance on the subject. Cornish are a race they have a culture and a language. It may not be widely spoken but it is making a slow comeback. My ancestors were Cornishman that came out to South Australia. And worked on the opal mines It's people like you who make me feel as if I'm unwanted and as if I should be ashamed. Because of my heritage, Your treatment as such is no different to how indigenous Australians are treated.

Claire Neave 12:52 pm, 9-Oct-2014

Don't think the issue of second-home ownership, pushing up prices for locals is just a Cornish problem. I'm from the Cotswolds originally, and had to move out of the area in order to find somewhere affordable to live. Funnily enough though, I haven't become an English-hating Cotswolder pushing for independent status....

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