Cornwall on march as its economy goes west

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The Independent Online
Cornwall is on the march. Decrying centuries of "oppression" by their English overlords, thousands of Cornish people will set out for London this weekend on a mass demonstration of their "difference" from the rest of Britain.

One of the poorest regions in the British Isles, the county has watched as the demise of its fishing fleet followed the collapse of its tin-mining industry, and its people have seized on the 500th anniversary of a bloody Cornish rebellion to make an expression of "national" pride.

Half a millennium ago it was the imposition of an English tax, levied to fight a war on Scotland, that led 15,000 Cornish rebels to march on London. The 1497 rebellion ended with 2,000 Cornishmen being slaughtered by Henry VII's army at Blackheath, on the south-eastern fringe of the capital.

Among the marchers this weekend will be Victor Angove, a 42-year-old robotics technician from Milwaukee, who leads a large contingent of Cornish- Americans taking part in the event. Mr Angove is a direct descendant of Michael Joseph An Gof, the leader of the 1497 rebellion. For his actions, his ancestor was drawn through the streets of London, from the Tower to Tyburn, before being hung, drawn and quartered.

Arriving in Britain, Mr Angove said: "To me it's amazing that the people of Cornwall are still celebrating this event 500 years later. I'm extremely proud to be related to a folk hero."

Over the next month, the 320-mile An Gof march will be retraced, including a re-enactment of a skirmish which took place at Guildford, Surrey.

The arrival of the marchers in London will precede a celebration of Cornish identity, with the capital hosting Cornish trade shows and cultural performances. There will be a commemorative service in the Tower of London followed by a procession to Marble Arch.

The march is a focal point for a resurgence in Cornish identity which has seen a revival in the region's culture. Bilingual road signs have been put up, and many local cars carry a "Kernow" (Cornwall) stickers. It is a form of nationalism which has emerged in other parts of Europe in a process dubbed the "Balkanisation" of the Continent.

The mood has spread to Cornish youth which has adopted surfing as its "national" sport and adapted the yellow Cornish tartan as a fashion item.

Even the Bible is being translated into Cornish for the first time. While the Welsh and even the Manx have had their versions for many centuries, the Cornish await the completion of a project being undertaken by a team of 13 volunteers who are translating from ancient Greek.

Graham Sandercock, chairman of the Cornish Languages Board, said: "This should have been done centuries ago ... The demise of Cornish is ... partly attributed to the lack of a Bible."

Cornwall even has its own nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall), which regards Plymouth, the nearest large city, as part of a foreign country. Mebyon Kernow (MK) fielded a record four candidates in the May election, but the party fared badly as voters preferred to back the Liberal Democrats for their strong pro-Cornish stance.

Nevertheless, Loveday Jenkin, an MK councillor, said the election had demonstrated a clear Celtic voting pattern: "Look at Cornwall, Wales and Scotland," she said. "None of those areas has a Conservative MP."

Judy Locy, of the Cornish American Heritage Society, said Cornish consciousness in the US was "growing every day". Cornish marches are to be held in a dozen American cities. "It has been like opening up a whole new world," she said.

For proud Cornishmen like Andrew George, the newly elected Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, and former member of MK, the march is a unique opportunity to state Cornwall's case to the world.

"It's time for Cornwall to stand up for itself," he said. "We are poor, we have high unemployment and the lowest wages in the country, and we are going to start fighting back."