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CORNWALL, a maritime county in the extreme south-west of England: bounded on the north-north-east by Devon, -on all other sides, by the sea. It is divided from Devon chiefly by the river Tamar; and washed, along the north-west coast, by the Bristol Channel, - along the south-east coast, by the English Channel. Its form is cornuted or horn-shaped; extending south-westward from a base at the boundary with Devon to a point at Lands-End. Its breadth, at the boundary with Devon, is 43 miles; its average breadth, over the 17 miles next Lands-End, is about 5½ miles; its average breadth elsewhere, is about 20 miles; its length, from the middle of the boundary with Devon, along the centre, to Lands-End, is 78 miles; its circuit, including sinuosities, is about 265 miles; and its area, which includes some near islets and the Scilly Islands, is 873, 600 acres. A ridge of bare rugged hills, with one summit 1, 368 feet high, and several others nearly as high, extends along all the centre; bleak moors lie among the hills and spread down from their sides; mounds of drifted sand, in some instances several hundred feet high, occupy considerable space along the north-west coast; and only very fertile valleys and bottoms, together with pieces of exceedingly romantic scenery, redeem the entire county from one general aspect of dreariness and desert. The chief rivers are the Tamar, the Lynher, the Looe, the Fowey, the Camel, and the Fal. Rocks of millstone grit form a tract in the extreme north, toward the boundary with Devon; rocks of carboniferous limestone and shale form a belt immediately south of that tract; rocks of old red sand-stone form the greater part of the county, all southward and south-westward of that belt; rocks of granite and intrusive felspathic trap form four large tracts and many small ones amid the old red sandstone region or contiguous to it; and rocks of greenstone, basalt, and other traps, with serpentine, form a considerable tract around the Lizard. Tin and copper ores are worked in about 200 mines, with a capital of about £2, 500, 000, by upwards of 50, 000 hands; the tin ores producing about 5, 000 tons a year, and the copper ores about 10, 000 tons. Lead ore, China stone, soap rock, slate, and building-stone also are largely worked; and zinc, arsenic, cobalt, bismuth, and many other minerals are found.
The soils are generally light, often largely mixed with gravel; yet show considerable variety, and range from sterility on the moors to fertility in the valleys; and they may be classified into three kinds, the gritty and black, the shelvy and slaty, and the clayey and reddish. About 115, 000 acres are waste; and the rest of the area is variously pasture, meadow, and arable land. Much moisture, both in frequent mists and frequent rains, characterizes the climate; but this is favorable to agriculture, in consequence of the lightness of the soils, especially as few days pass without alternations of sunshine; and it does not produce a much greater aggregate of water throughout the year than in most other English counties. Agriculture has undergone great improvement; yet, being secondary here to mining, is not so improved as amongst most entirely agricultural populations. Farms are small; and are usually let from 7 to 21 years, or on leases of three lives. Lime, shell-sand, sea-weed and pilchards are largely used as manures. Wheat, barley, and potatoes give good yield; and hops have been tried. Cattle and sheep are chiefly a cross between native breeds and the breeds of Devon; goats abound; and mules are reared for walking the hills. A few woolens are manufactured for home use. Extensive fisheries, of various kinds, are carried on; and about 21,000 hogsheads of pilchards, chiefly for exportation, are annually obtained. A great commerce exists in the export of minerals, and in the import of articles required for the mines and the fisheries. A railway for general traffic, coming in from the South Devonshire at Plymouth, enters the county at Saltash, and traverses it 76½ miles to Penzance; and railways for mineral traffic go from Blisland and Bodmin to Wadebridge, from Roche to St. Blazey, from St. Austell to Pentewan, and from Perranarworthal, Redruth, and Camhorne, to St. Ives bay, with branches to Pontreath and Godolphin. Canals go from Bude to Launceston and from St. Cleer and Liskeard to St. Looe. Main lines of road traverse the county lengthways, as far as to Penzance; and connecting lines go across the moors. The county contains 203 parishes, parts of 3 other parishes, and 2 extra-parochial places; and is distributed primarily into two divisions, East and West, for parliamentary representation, and secondarily into the boroughs of Bodmin, Falmouth, Helston, Launceston, Liskeard, Penryn, Penzance, St. Ives, and Truro, the Scilly Islands, and the hundreds of East, West, Kerrier, Lesnewth, Penwith, Powder, Pyder, Stratton, and Trigg. The registration county makes some interchange of territory with Devon, receiving more than it gives; comprises 881, 496 acres; and is divided into the districts of Stratton, Camelford, Launceston, St. Germains, Liskeard, Bodmin, St. Columb, St. Austell, Truro, Falmouth, Helston, Redruth, Penzance, and Scilly Islands. The towns, or what rank as such, are exceedingly numerous; and about 28 are market towns; but some of these, and most of the others, are merely small villages. Some of the seats are Mount-Edgecumbe, Godolphin, Port-Elliot, Werrington, Tregothnan, Trefusis, Tehidy, Glynn, Pencarrow, Trelawney, Carclew, Haldon, Prideaux, Trengwainton, Trelowarren, Trewinnard, Whitford, Boskenna, Carhayes, Carynes, Harlyn, Helston, Heligan, Harewood, Coldrinnick, Clowance, Menabilly, Pendarves, Llanhydrock, Morval, Penrose, Restormel, St. Minver, Pentilly, Tregehan, Trelaske, Treneere, Trewarthenick, and Tre. withian. Real property in 1815, £922, 259; in 1843, £1, 353, 261: in 1851, £1, 349, 959; in 1860, £1, 417, 048, -of which £313, 459 were in mines, £11, 914 in quarries, £1, 384 in iron-works, £23, 056 in railways, and £650 in canals. The metalliferous territories of Cornwall and Dartmoor were constituted by Edward III, a peculiar appanage of the eldest son of the English monarch, under the name of the Duchy of Cornwall. The revenue from them arose mainly out of tin dues till 1838; was then commuted into a tax on the net annual produce, as averaged over ten years; and amounts now, after deducting expenses, to about £38, 000.
The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant, 35 deputy-lieutenants, and about 125 magistrates. It is in the western judicial circuit, and the western military district; and it constitutes an archdeaconry in the diocese of Exeter. The assizes and the quarter sessions are held at Bodmin. The county jail is at Bodmin, and borough jails are at Falmouth, Penzance, and Helston. The police force, in 1862, comprised 192 men for the county at large at a cost of £15, 770, and 46 for the boroughs of Bodmin, Falmouth, Helston, Launceston, Liskeard, Penryn, Penzance, St. Ives, and Truro, at a cost of £1, 416. The crimes committed in the county at large were 254; in the nine police boroughs, 54. The persons apprehended for these crimes, in the county at large, were 240; in the nine boroughs, 56. The depredators and suspected persons in the county at large were 510; in the nine boroughs, 180. The houses of bad character in the county at large were 48; in the nine boroughs, 33. The county at large, and each of twenty-one boroughs, formerly sent two members to parliament, making a total of forty-four members; but most of the boroughs were either disfranchised or reduced by the Reform bill. The eastern and western divisions now send each two members; the boroughs of Truro and Penryn with Falmouth, send each two; and the boroughs of Bodmin, Helston, Launceston, Liskeard, and St. Ives, send each one; making a total of thirteen members. Electors of the eastern division in 1868 were 5,781 and of the western division, 4,615. The poor-rates of the registration county in 1862 were £113,118. Marriages in 1860, 2,790, -of which 662 were not according to the rites of the Established church; births, 12,282, -of which 669 were illegitimate; deaths, 7,425, -of which 2,778 were at ages under 5 years, and 247 were at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years from 1851-60 were 28,416; births, 122,663; deaths, 73,367. The places of worship in the county proper in 1851 were 265 of the Church of England, with 95,155 sittings; 37 of Independents, with 8,739 s.; 25 of Baptists, with 5,392 s.; 12 of Quakers, with 2,465 s.; 2 of Unitarians, with 200 s.; 412 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 95,061 s.; 3 of New Connexion Methodists, with 1,550 s.; 38 of Primitive Methodists, with 7,416 s.; 93 of the Wesleyan Association, with 16,296 s.; 6 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 880 s.; 182 of Bible Christians, with 25, 763 s.; 3 of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, with 964 s.; 6 of Brethren, with 668 s.; 10 of isolated congregations, with 875 s.; 1 of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, with 260 s.; 7 of Roman Catholics, with 1,131 s.; and 2 of Jews, with 96 s. The schools were 258 public day schools, with 18,982 scholars; 816 private day schools, with 19,622 s.; 635 Sunday schools, with 58,005 s.; and 22 evening schools for adults, with 287 s. Population in 1801, 192,281; in 1821, 261,045; in 1841, 342,159; in 1861, 369,390; Inhabited houses, 72,954; uninhabited, 3,451 and buildings, 462.
Cornwall was the Cassiterides or "tin islands" of the Phœnicians and the Greeks. It was inhabited, previous to the Roman conquest, by the Carnubii, the Cimbri, and the Damnonii; was included by the Romans in their province of Britannia Prima; became, with Dartmoor, in 446, a separate kingdom, under Vortigern; was over-run by the Saxons under Egbert in 813, under Alfred in 892, under Athelstane in 927: was annexed by Athel-stane, in 938, to the kingdom of Wessex; was ravaged by the Danes in 977-81; assumed more fixity and quietness under the English crown than most other counties, prior to its erection into a duchy in 1333; has ever since maintained the same quiet character; and was the last scene of triumphant display by Charles and his cavaliers. The language of its ancient people was a variety of the Celtic, akin to the Welsh, the Gaelic, and the Breton; was used in the pulpit so late as 1678; continued, till a few generations ago, to be generally spoken; and has left traces in the speech of the preset inhabitants. The title of Earl of Cornwall was held by Robert de Mortain who came from Normandy with the Conqueror, by Reginald de Dunstanville, by John Plantagenet, by Richard Fitz-Count, by Richard, King of the Romans, and by John of Eltham; and that of Duke of Cornwall was created for the Black Prince, and has ever since belonged to the eldest son of the British sovereign. Ancient British antiquties, of great variety, some of them Druidical, and many highly interesting, are very numerous. Castles which belonged to the old Earls are at Launcester, Lostwithiel, Trematon, and Restormel; and other castles of the middle ages are at Pengerswick, St. Michael's Mount, and many other places. Twenty monasteries, a preceptory of the Knights-Hospitallers, eleven colleges, and seven hospitals were in Cornwall before the Reformation; but the only monastic remains of any note are at St. Germains, Rialton, and St. Roche. Interesting ancient churches are at Probus, Truro, Bodmin, St. Neots, St. Germains, and Duloe.
John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72)
The local landscape
Cornwall, in the far west of England, cuts down from Devon on its coast like a large piece of cake, sloping from north to south. The spine of the county - the watershed - is in the north, with the principal rivers - the Tamar and the Fowey, the Fal and the Helford - running to the south coast. Within the county's boundaries, there is a wealth of contrast. The north coast comprises a series of magnificent cliffs and headlands, backed by a high plateau of good agricultural land. The south coast is softer and greener, with tidal estuaries providing an abundance of bird life, the exception being the rugged Lizard peninsula, almost entirely surrounded by sea, who's exposed position results in it taking a severe battering from the Atlantic in winter. Inland, the scenery is again full of contrast - the barren, somewhat desolate landscape of the mining areas very different to the wild, boggy Bodmin Moor.Local Towns and Villages
BODMIN: Officially the county capital (the assizes were there) and the largest town in the Middle Ages. St Petroc's Church, the largest in the county, had a spire until lightning removed it in 1699.
BUDE: A popular holiday resort with a magnificent cliffy coastline. Head for the Summerleaze beach, which is so wide that when the tide is out a sea-water swimming pool is created near the cliffs.
FALMOUTH: A wonderful natural harbor and an attractive town, as well as being a good jumping off point for exploring the county's splendors.
FOWEY: Quintessential Cornish port and worth a stroll around at any time of the year. The 15-century church of St Fimbarrus is at the centre of the town.
LAUNCESTON: County capital until 1838 crowned on a hill with castle ruins and good trout rivers nearby.
LOSTWITHIEL: Built to a medieval grid plan and with interesting old buildings, such as the 13th-century parish church spire, sloping down to the Fowey.
MOUSEHOLE: Picture postcard port (pronounced 'Mouzell') with an almost all-embracing granite breakwater. Once pilchards were fished, now mackerel. In 1595, a squadron of Spanish galleons appeared off the village and 200 soldiers landed here and burnt the port and pillaged. On a lighter note Nicola Bayley's The Mousehole Cat is a delightful children's tale and animated film based on the port.
NEWLYN: Busy fishing port and with shark-fishing trips available.
PADSTOW: Picturesque holiday town with Atlantic rollers providing good surfing. Narrow mainly unspoiled streets converge on a semi-circle of buildings round the quay.
PENZANCE: A seaside town with splendid views across Mounts Bay to St Michael's Mount.
REDRUTH: Famous back in the 1850s as a copper-producing town. The simple granite mine-buildings scattered through the town bear a passing resemblance to the Methodist chapels in the area. John Wesley was known to preach in these parts.
ST AUSTELL: Centre of the Cornish Riviera and with a number of impressive buildings, such as the Italianate Town Hall.
ST IVES: Colorful stone cottages, twisting narrow lanes, fine sandy beaches and picture-postcard prettiness attract both artists and tourists.
ST JUST-IN-PENWITH: Victorian town with best concentration of abandoned mining engine-houses in Cornwall creating a strange and evocative landscape.
ST NEOT: Is one of Bodmin Moor's prettiest villages with a 15-century church containing some of the most impressive stained glass windows in the country.
SALTASH: Seen from Devon across the Tamar this port once resembled a medieval town with grey and white houses one above the other on the hillside; now it is more a suburb of Plymouth, but that does not detract from the impressive Royal Albert Bridge spanning the river at a height of 100 feet. This was the minimum height set down by the Admiralty to Isambard Brunel. His triumph, completed in 1859, is 2,240 feet long and has 19 arches. It is best viewed from the quay where you can compare it with the road bridge. The town is far older than Plymouth. Saltash was a borough town when Plymouth was a furzy down. It was incorporated in the 12th century.
TINTAGEL: Holiday town with Arthurian attractions including the ruins of Tintagel castle dating from c.1145 with bracing coastal views.
Source: Camelot International
Previous to the establishment of Registration Districts, Cornwall was divided into Hundreds, and many records refer to that structure even today. The Hundreds were East, Kerrier, Lesnewth, Penwith, Powder, Pydar, Trigg, and West. It benefits researchers to know in which Hundred the parish in which they're interested resided.
This article in Wikipedia outlines the Hundreds and lists parishes.