Do the surnames Warren, Warne and Wearne have a shared origin?

It’s generally assumed the surnames Warren and Warne have different origins. The surname dictionaries state that Warren is either from a placename in Normandy or a name for someone living near or working in a game park. Warne is supposed to be from a placename in Devon. The same sources tell us Wearne is a spelling variant of Warne, although some Cornish language enthusiasts claim it (and even Warne) comes from the Cornish word gwern, for alder trees or an alder swamp.

In my The Surnames of Cornwall I plumped for another possibility, suggesting that all of these surnames may originally have stemmed from the first name Waryn. There’s only one problem with this, however. Waren/Waryn/Warin only appeared as a first name in ten parishes in Cornwall in the tax lists of the 1520s/40s, with half of those in just one parish -Wendron – and most of the rest in neighbouring parishes. Undaunted, I note that David Postles in The Surnames of Devon states that Waren was a ‘less usual’ first name in the 1300s, but one that nonetheless gave rise to one of the more common surnames of early sixteenth century Devon – Waren or Warren. Others have claimed that the first name Waren/Waryn may have been transferred from the surname, although this seems unlikely given its early incidence in Devon.

What does the early geography of these names in Cornwall tell us, if anything? In the tax lists of the 1520s/40s we find three parishes with Warne, six with Waren, two with Waryn and three others with both Waren and Waryn. There were no examples of either Warren or Wearne in these lists. Here are the maps for all incidences of each spelling in the parish registers of the 1500s. Do they help us unravel these names? What do you think?

The Dolcoath mine disaster of 1893

On September 20th 1893 a party of timbermen were working more than 900 yards (or 800 metres) below the surface in one of the deepest parts of Dolcoath Mine strengthening a stull at the 412 fathom level. A stull was a framework of large timbers set up above and/or across a stope, a worked -out area. This was done either to support the rock, in this case granite, or to hold waste rocks or ‘deads’. This particular stull was found in a massive stope, resulting in a cavity reported as being 35 to 40 yards by 10 yards and extending in height for up to 20 yards. Above this were tons of waste rock in the worked out tin lode, one of the richest in Cornwall.

The stull at the 412 level

The Barrier Miner, a newspaper at Broken Hill, New South Wales, carried the story.

About one o’ clock a mass of rock many tons in weight fell away at one of the deepest levels of the mine, known as the 412 New East, so that the men buried alive there are only just short of half a mile from the surface. It is stated that the piece of rock in question looked only suspiciously stable and that it was deemed it advisable to replace it. [In fact, what was being renewed or strengthened were the stull timbers as one was bent and concerns had been raised. New timbers, about 24 feet long and 18 inches square, were being added to the existing stull.] Steps were taken to secure this end … A pare of men, nine in number, went down to see to the matter, and while they were performing the duty allotted to them the ground gave way, the rock fell and they were buried, being shut off from  all communciation with their fellows, as it afterwards transpired, by many fathoms of debris. Their names are Thomas Pollard, Charles White, Richard James, J.H. Jennings, W.J. Osborne, Fred Harvey, J. Davies, J. Adams.

It took rescuers almost three weeks before they could retrieve the last of the bodies.

Challenging negative stereotypes of Cornwall and its people

Believe it or not, the Cornish can occasionally be the butt of stereotypes. We’re ‘slow’, ‘backward’ or ‘living in the past’. Sometimes we collude with these, for example through the use of dreckly, turning the stereotype back onto its users in an ironic and postmodernist way. This is good for a laugh but some of the stories told about Cornwall have a more seriously negative effect. They help lock us into a peripheral and marginal status in relation to a centre that‘s perceived as more ‘dynamic’ and ‘innovative’.

How can we best challenge such negative discourses? A recent academic article by Joanie Willett offers one possibility. She argues that if the general public were made more aware of how the Cornish economy was actually performing and the skills gaps that exist, they could generate a new more positive and exciting narrative that might challenge older, demeaning myths (and newer ones).

As it is, according to this article, we’re stuck in a time warp where fishing, farming and mining are the only things ‘Cornish boys [sic] can do’. Blissfully unaware of the Cornish digital technology firms, creative industries and niche food producers who are blazing a path to post-industrial and post-carbon fuelled prosperity, the Cornish public persists in comforting and nostalgic memories of days long past. This helps reproduce the delusion that the only activity in Cornwall is tourism. If only we were more aware of the skills gaps.

This argument is interesting but is it too cynical to wonder if reversing negative stereotypes of Cornwall and the Cornish demands a little more than an informed knowledge of the local economy? Moreover, digital technologies, Cornish Camembert and the like aside, to some the Cornish economy looks more like a Ponzi scheme, driven by speculative housebuilding aided and abetted by central and local government. Estate agents then flog the extra houses as holiday homes or entice a new population duped into thinking Cornwall is a ‘lifestyle’.

To increase knowledge of the Cornish economy we first have to come to some sort of consensus as to what that economy involves. Is it zero hours contracts, low pay and a growing precariat? Or is it the gleaming new sectors breathlessly flourished and drooled over in planning documents? And what about the major employment sectors, which are actually healthcare and education? Or it might just possibly be all of these.

For a more detailed summary of this article see here.

Silas Hocking: a Cornish record-breaker

This week sees the anniversary of the death of Silas Hocking in 1935. Largely forgotten now, Silas was the first writer in the world to sell over a million copies of a novel. This was his second book, Her Benny, published in 1879. It was a sentimental tale of child poverty and rags to riches in Liverpool, an example of evangelical fiction aimed primarily at children. Silas, a United Methodist Free Church Minister, based this work on his experiences in the 1870s in Liverpool, where he had arrived from Cornwall, via south Wales and Lincolnshire.

Born in 1850 in the parish of St Stephen in Brannel, Silas went on to publish another 99 novels after Her Benny. This prodigious output was matched by his younger brother Joseph, who wrote an equal number of books, while his sister Salome added another nine to the family’s total.

Forget Jane Austen, Dickens or Hardy. In working class homes, the Hockings were the popular novelists of the Edwardian years. It was their books that were most likely to be found in Cornish homes in the early 1900s. Too overtly moralistic and sermonising for modern tastes, the siblings’ books rapidly fell out of fashion after the 1930s. While millions were printed, millions were later pulped.

For more on the lives of Silas, Joseph and Salome Hocking the book to read is Alan Kent’s Pulp Methodism (2002).

Legend, history and selfies at Tintagel

In its marketing strategy for Tintagel English Heritage decided to emphasise its legendary aspects and links to the Arthurian myth. The only problem with this was that there were actually no physical objects at the site on which they could anchor the legends. So they installed some in the shape of the statue of the anonymous knight and the carving of Merlin’s face.

Merlin returns

A recent academic article by Laura Hodson has evaluated what expectations people bring with them to Tintagel and how they react to the place in the light of those. It did this by subjecting to analysis just under 400 reviews on TripAdvisor in 2018. Of course, this might well tell us more about the kind of person who completes a TripAdvisor review rather than be representative of visitors to Tintagel.

Around a half of the reviews made no reference to legend or history. They either had no expectations at all or came for the scenery or for personal and family reasons. Reviews focused on the extortionate price charged by English Heritage for entry and the difficulty of climbing up the steps to castle and island. This has now been solved by English Heritage’s post-modern bridge. All we need now is a lift.

Reactions of those reviewers who made some reference to legendary or historical expectations was more polarised. Contrary to what might be expected however, it was some of the reviews with historical references where imaginations were sparked, not those attracted by legend. For the latter (around a fifth of the total) did not lose themselves in the swirling mists of legend as they stalked dreamily around the Island at Tintagel. Instead they were largely content to take a quick selfie next to the knight, usually assumed wrongly to be Arthur himself. The statue has apparently done nothing to change a shallow and superficial visitor experience.

Given this, maybe English Heritage should focus on the fascinating early history and archaeology of the site rather than play around with elusive legendary connections. Having failed to provide any perceived educational benefits its continued (mis-)management of this site must surely come into question. Perhaps the Duchy of Cornwall, which owns the place, should now do the decent thing and transfer its management from English Heritage to a Cornish-run body aware of its proper significance.

An extended critical review of this article can be found here.

Contextualising Poldark: cottage conditions

The last TV series may have veered sharply off the rails. However, re-reading the early novels of Winston Graham’s Poldark saga is a reminder of how he wove his plot around some not inaccurate historical observations.

Cornwall was a place of major change in the Poldark years from 1783 to 1820. High pressure steam engines and deep copper mining heralded an economic revolution. Proliferating Methodist chapels and two mass revivals cemented a religious revolution. Growing dissatisfaction with ‘old corruption’ and boroughmongers hinted at a political revolution. The decline of some traditional pastimes and moralistic attacks on idle pursuits was evidence of a social revolution.

Meanwhile, an ongoing war between smuggling gangs and revenue men simmered in the background, crowds periodically erupted into food rioting, wrestling tournaments attracted large numbers, upper class men regularly drank themselves under the table.

I now have first drafts finished for six of the nine chapters of my ‘Insider’s Guide to Poldark’s Cornwall’. Since the last update at the beginning of August I’ve added chapters on The Sea and The Crowd. Here’s a flavour from Chapter 2: The Cottage.

At the end of our period Clement Carlyon, a Truro doctor, memorably described the cottages of the mining districts: ‘wretchedly built and damp and dirty in the extreme. At their doors may be seen the usual mud-pools, which in winter overflow and render the approach to these inconvenient, whilst in summer these semi-fluid accumulations of putrid slime continue to exhale offensive and deleterious miasmata from their dark green surfaces’. This wasn’t just the case in the mining districts …

Three more chapters to write and then some major revisions and additions to make.

Housing at Bude in 1880

‘A hideous and wicked country’: travellers on Cornwall

We all know Cornwall is a picturesque place. In fact, although it is viewed as such now, it wasn’t always seen in that light. The countless images of Cornwall’s cliffs and coastline that are produced and circulated by visitors and locals alike these days would have come as a surprise to the travellers of the early 1800s. They saw its landscape as ‘dreary’ and ‘deformed’. It lacked the essential attributes of fashionable picturesqueness – trees and inland water in the right proportions.

Picturesque Cornwall

Much has been written over the past couple of decades about changing attitudes to Cornish landscapes and the rise of the notion of a picturesque Cornwall. A recent article by Tim Hannigan provides another contribution to this growing academic literature. He details the familiar story of the move towards constructing a ‘different’, non-metropolitan ‘other’, an exotic place of escape and mystery. This imagery, later avidly adopted and then reinforced by twentieth century tourist marketing, is described through the analysis of texts from 1809 to 1907.

Hannigan’s article also adds a more novel reflection on the response of a native writer to outsider travel writing. Instead of seeing native attitudes and travellers’ accounts as necessarily opposites, he suggests there may be a degree of enjoyment in reading accounts of oneself and one’s place as ‘exotic’ or ‘different’. Such ‘auto-exoticization’ implies a degree of collusion between outsiders’ accounts and the reactions to those accounts by insiders, a useful insight.

(For an extended critical review of this article see here.)