A history of cornwall online - through its objects
Where the heart is
This blue and white china cup and saucer was one of the first made of Cornish china clay, between 1768 and 1780. These early experimental pieces were very important in the creation of English porcelain. Alongside tourism, china clay is still a major Cornish industry.
Bronze cooking pots were practical household items and traded over long distances. Made in Somerset, this rare pot dates from the 1690s. It is exactly the sort of object that a rich Marazion merchant would have owned.
This type of glass wine bottle is well known in Cornwall. Dating from the late 18th century, it has the crest of the Tremayne family and would have been stored on its side to prevent the wine becoming 'corked'. The Tremaynes were Victorian garden pioneers.
This Georgian mirror is one of a pair that still hangs in its original place at Trewithen House and dates from the early 18th century. It once reflected the colourful lives of the fashionable Hawkins family of Trewithen.
For hundreds of years, slate has been quarried at Delabole and exported around the world. As well as being used on roofs, slate was used for other items including rolling pins and in the production of 78 RPM records. The quarry is still the main local employer.
Estate Workers in a Kitchen
In the 19th century, estate workers and domestic servants were a significant workforce on the large estates in Cornwall but were seldom shown in paintings. Noted artist Nicholas Condy painted many pictures of Mount Edgumbe estate, including this one and another of the servants, around 1840.
Cloam or earthenware ovens were a standard fitting for many kitchen fireplaces in Cornwall until the 1930s. At the Old Post Office in Tintagel, the cloam oven is now being fired up again and used to bake cakes and bread.
In the late 17th century Godolphin was the largest house in Cornwall. This 1690 Dutch tile is from one of their 48 fireplaces and features the dolphin from the family coat of arms. The Godolphins made their fortune from tin mining and clearly enjoyed the fashions of the day.
The tiny fisherman or miner’s cottage characterises stereotypes of the Cornish home.
While granite has been the main building material of Cornish houses for centuries, the slate roofs which are a common sight today, are a relatively recent addition, eventually replacing less expensive thatch towards the end of the 19th century.
Before the development of the Cornish range, open fires burning turf and furze (gorse) were the main source of heat and cooking facilities. A cloam oven built into the wall of a chimney was used to bake bread. Most cooking vessels were made of pottery and nestled in embers, but more expensive bronze or iron cooking pots on tripod legs were used by wealthier homeowners.
Cornwall’s rich and landowning families furnished their homes with things that showed off their wealth and influence. Keeping cellars of expensive wines was a way for a family to invest its money and show its largesse. Until the early 20th century mirrors were not a common household possession. Before this time, large mirrors in ornate gilt frames, were the preserve of aristocratic homeowners such as the Hawkins of Trewithen House near Grampound.
The Godolphins of Godolphin House near Helston, Cornwall’s most powerful family in the 17th century, decorated their huge house with the latest fashions such as the newly developed tin-glazed Dutch Delft tiles.
The desire for delicate, white ceramics for the home drove the development of Cornish porcelain in the late 18th century. In 1768, William Cookworthy was granted a patent for “making porcelain from Moorstone, Growan and Growan Clay.” As demand for this exquisite material grew, so did Cornwall’s china clay industry.
Many of the stately and country manors of Cornwall’s rich and famous are now open as historic house visitor attractions where each room and object on display tells the story of generations of past inhabitants. Some also tell the story of the staff that worked on their estates, such as the mid-16th century Mount Edgcumbe on the Rame Peninsula.