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Cornwall’s ancient and modern history
Cornwall is a rural and maritime county with a population of about half a million. It is has an area of 354,920 hectares and is the second largest county in the region in terms of area but has the lowest population density.

Cornwall has an estimated 697 kilometres of coastline, including the lower reaches of the main estuaries, the longest of any English county. The sea forms the northern, southern and western boundaries. To the east, Cornwall’s border with Devon is formed by the River Tamar, which forms a physical and cultural divide with the rest of Great Britain, for all but 18 km of its length. The Isles of Scilly lie 45 km off Land’s End.

Its geographical position has meant that Cornwall has remained, until recent times, one of the more remote and isolated parts of Britain. The nearest major centre outside the county, Plymouth, is 125km from Penzance, while Bristol, the regional centre, is 290km from Penzance and London is 450km away.

The distance between the north and south coasts varies from 72km at the eastern boundary to as little as 8km at the western end of the county between Hayle and Marazion. In length the county measures a maximum of 132km between Lands End and the north-eastern boundary at Morwenstow.

Cornwall provided a haven for the Celtic culture that was driven out of lowland England by the Romans and Saxons, and which continued largely untouched in the far west until the Norman occupation in the 11th Century. Throughout the Middle Ages, Cornwall was peripheral to the main events of British history, although that did not stop numerous uprisings and rebellions by the unruly populace.

However, during the English Civil War, the county was a major centre of activity, with the staunchly Royalist Cornish proving a formidable force. The expansion of the mining industry during the 18th Century led to both economic and population growth and Cornwall began to play a more integrated part in the affairs of the nation. However, it was only with the coming of the railway, towards the end of the 19th Century, that Cornwall’s isolation really ended.

Because of its isolated position, Cornwall has maintained much of its own identity in traditions and culture. It also possesses distinctive physical features in its peninsular form, long indented coastline, granite moorlands and temperate climate. These characteristics have influenced both the natural and socio-economic development of the county.

Despite a past history of mining, over a century of growth as a holiday area and some more recent development of manufacturing industry, Cornwall remains essentially rural in character. Much of the countryside and the varied coastline is of high landscape value, and many towns and villages retain an attractive and relatively unspoilt appearance.

The uplands and much of the coastline, due to the climate and location of the County, have considerable importance as wildlife habitats, and there are also a large number of relatively undisturbed sites of great interest to the archaeologist and historian.

Cornwall contains a wide scatter of small towns and villages, reflecting an economy hitherto largely dependent on farming, fishing and widespread metalliferous mining, and difficulties of terrain and communications which did not favour the growth of urban centres. Only 31 per cent, or just under one third of the population live in towns of over 10,000 inhabitants, compared with four-fifths in England and Wales.

There are nine such towns: Penzance, Camborne, Redruth (the latter two jointly with intervening communities comprise the largest urbanised area in Cornwall), Falmouth, Truro, Newquay, St.Austell (which has the biggest local catchment area of any Cornish town), Bodmin and Saltash.

All but the last two lie in the centre and west of the county, reflecting the distribution of past development in the mining, manufacturing and tourist industries.

The population density of the four western districts ranges from 202 to 185 persons per sq km. In the eastern part of Cornwall the density is further reduced, with the figure for North Cornwall being only 68 persons per sq km.

Truro has developed as a sub-regional centre since the 1970s, especially in terms of administration, shopping and office-based employment, meaning that commuting from the rural areas around Truro and other towns in Cornwall has increased significantly.

A little over a fifth of the population live in rural areas and smaller settlements of less than 1000. A further fifth live in villages of between 1000 and 2000 and just over a quarter live in the larger villages and smaller towns with populations between 2000 and 10,000.


Click here for Cornish Towns, here for Myths and Legends and here for Cornish History.

Coming soon, the Cornish Accommodation Directory......

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