A history of cornwall online - through its objects


Ancient arrowheads and tin stamps: an alternative history of Cornwall.

  • Along Shore Fishermen

    Along Shore Fishermen

    Charles Napier Hemy painted this picture in 1890 from sketches made on his floating studio off St Anthony Lighthouse. Hemy lived the last half of his working life in Falmouth and became a celebrated marine artist. He enlivened his pictures with a splash of colour - in this case the red hat.

    Visit Falmouth Art Gallery

  • Fisherwoman on a Beach

    Fisherwoman on a Beach

    The artist Stanhope Forbes was a founder of the Newlyn School of painting, which changed the course of British art. This important study is an early preparatory work leading to his iconic painting, 'Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach' of 1885.

    Visit Penlee House Gallery and Museum

  • Rashleigh's Mineral Collection

    Rashleigh's Mineral Collection

    Cornwall's rich and diverse mineral wealth attracted many mineral collectors. One of the most significant collections belonged to Philip Rashleigh of Menabilly near Fowey. He started to collect minerals in the 1760s and continued until his death in 1811.

    Visit Royal Cornwall Museum

  • Obby Oss

    Obby Oss

    May Day festivities in Padstow are one of Cornwall's most famous and enduring folk customs, celebrating the arrival of summer. There are now two horses or 'osses' in the celebrations, one red and one blue. This oss was used from 1948 until 1975.

    Visit Padstow Museum

  • Spratt's Diary

    Spratt's Diary

    Once the 'Nerve Centre of the Empire', Porthcurno Telegraph Station connected Britain to the rest of the world through 150,000 miles of underwater telegraph cables. George Spratt, Assistant Superintendent, kept this fascinating diary from 1870 until 1900.

    Visit PK Porthcurno

  • Trengrouse's Rocket

    Trengrouse's Rocket

    Inspired by witnessing the wreck of HMS Anson in 1807, Helston man Henry Trengrouse's design saved the lives of many thousands of people. A rocket carrying a strong rope was fired between the cliffs and the wrecked ship and brought ashore the crew and passengers on a chair.

    Visit Museum of Cornish Life, Helston

  • Cork Model

    Cork Model

    St Michael's Mount is a Cornish icon. It has been an abbey, a fortress and, for 350 years, the family home of the St Aubyns. Henry Lee was the butler on St Michael's Mount for 49 years and made this model in the 1930s. It is carved from champagne corks and took almost 3 years to complete.

    Visit St Michaels Mount

  • Ellen MacArthur's food

    Ellen MacArthur's food

    Falmouth has a place in history for being the first or last port for ships and adventuring sailors. In 2005 over 8000 people welcomed home Ellen MacArthur after a record breaking 71-day around-the world solo voyage. Dame Ellen had dried food to last well beyond the 71 days; this one is for day 74.

    Visit National Maritime Museum Cornwall

  • Stoping drill

    Stoping drill

    Stoping drills were used in extracting ore-bearing rock from mines all over Cornwall. Made in Camborne by the Cornish engineering firm Holman's, this 'silver stoper' was used at Geevor in the 1970s and 80s. It was lighter than others and had an extendable leg for extra height.

    Visit Geevor Tin Mine

You might think Cornish history is all about Bishop Trelawny and Camborne Hill, or that Cornwall’s greatest contribution to humanity is the pasty, but its heritage and culture are much richer than that.

The Cornish landscape is a treasure box of unique geology, which has yielded an astonishing mineral wealth, the most famous of which is tin, traded since the Bronze Age. Mining and Cornwall are inseparable.

Cornwall’s 433 mile (697 km) coastline has fostered its long relationship and identity with the sea. Its skilled and hardworking fishing communities, ancient and modern, were more familiar with boats than carts.

The windswept moors, springs, wooded river valleys, and jagged fields punctuated with great granite cairns, have been worked and shaped since the Neolithic by Cornish farmers.

Although distant from the centre of power and wealth in London, people have made great journeys to and from Cornwall for pilgrimage, work and discovery. Cornish people have fought in wars near to home and far away.

Many of its creative people and institutions have become household names the world over, from Belling to Stanhope Forbes. Magical St Michael’s Mount and the Cornish language are icons of Cornwall’s distinctive identity.

A History of Cornwall through its Objects gives you an alternative view of the Duchy’s outstanding heritage. From the most ancient to the most the recent, and from the bizarre to the exquisite, these objects tell unique stories of tragedy and inspiration, curiosity and wonder that represent Cornwall and Cornishness at home and at work.

Enjoy a glimpse of its beliefs and customs, delve into the history of Cornish towns, or learn some sporting trivia for that pub quiz. Impress friends with your knowledge of Cornish inventions and meet the artists who shaped perceptions of Cornwall, then and now.