A history of cornwall online - through its objects


A hard-won occupation

  • Ox Shoes

    Ox Shoes

    Oxen were the main beast of burden on Cornish farms from medieval times until the 1850s, when they were replaced by horses and tractors. This pair of ox shoes was found at Tregaire Farm in the parish of Gerrans. Unlike horseshoes, ox shoes were made in two pieces.

    Visit Gerrans Parish Heritage and Information Centre

  • Dock Dung

    Dock Dung

    Horse dung from the streets around Devonport Dock was much sought after by Cornish farmers and used as fertiliser in the fields around Saltash and Calstock until 1913. Swept up with the manure were items such as beads, broken china, marbles, clay pipe ends, coins, buttons and children's toys.

    Visit Saltash Heritage

  • Cider Mill

    Cider Mill

    Cider was once the staple drink of Cornish farm workers and apple orchards were far more common than they are today. This apple mill and horse round came from Pill Farm at Lostwithiel and produced 315 gallons of cider per hour.

  • Quernstones


    Over four thousand years ago, quernstones were used for grinding corn and other grains and were a vital part of a Cornish Bronze Age kitchen. These three quernstones come from the parish of Zennor - the stone would have been sourced from the cove below.


By fish, tin and copper you will know a Cornishman (or woman), they say. But agriculture has provided the most steady and long-term wealth to Cornwall.

The hands of its farmers since theBronze Ageperiod have shaped our intricate field systems and put food on our table.

Cornwall’s river valleys are less well known than its coast. They have for many centuries been vital to the dispersed settlements living inland. For millennia our rivers provided power for water mills to grind grains such as barley and wheat into flour.

Orchards are another feature of the Cornish landscape that is seldom seen today. As well as grinding grain for flour, mills were used to work giant apple presses to make cider. Cider had been the staple drink of Cornish labourers since the Middle Ages, and craft cider has recently enjoyed a renaissance.

Animals were not just reared on Cornish farms for their meat and milk, but were also used as beasts of burden. Before the adoption of horse-drawn tractors in the mid 19th century, oxen pulled heavy ploughs to prepare and harvest the fields.

Before the advent of the motorcar, horse dung was a familiar sight on our streets. This manure, like the seaweed that washed onto beaches, was a valuable and natural fertiliser which was collected and used by Cornish farmers to cultivate their crops.