Obituaries: Peter Pool

Ann Trevenen Jenkin
Sunday 26 May 1996 23:02 BST

Peter Pool was a passionate devotee of the Cornish language, whose revival has been such a spectacular feature of 20th-century Cornwall. Only Hebrew and possibly modern Manx have seen such a dramatic rise in interest.

Pool was one of an active Cornish group following the early pioneers who set up the Old Cornwall Societies and the Cornish Gorsedd (the assembly promoting the cultural identity of Cornwall) in the 1920s. Born in 1933, when the revival of Cornish was still being treated with some suspicion or derision, as a young academic he espoused the cause of Cornish with enthusiasm. In 1996, Cornish is now taught as a GCSE subject, is accredited by the Institute of Linguists, and studied by hundreds of students in Cornwall, Europe, and by emigrant Cornish and others round the world.

School in Penzance and Brickwall, Kent, was followed by a Law degree at Keble College, Oxford, and further law training in London. There Pool joined the London Cornish Association, learnt Cornish by correspondence with Robert Morton Nance, the second Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd, and became proficient, teaching others, and in 1958 producing his book Cornish for Beginners.

In the 1950s, he returned to his beloved Cornwall, first practising as a lawyer in Bodmin and then setting up his own business in Penzance. At the same time, he became immersed in Cornish activities, becoming a Language Bard in 1955, with the bardic name of Gwas Galva, servant of Galver. He served on the Council of the Cornish Gorsedd, and became a respected archaeologist, taking part in many digs. He was elected FSA for his research, some of it with Professor Charles Thomas, first director of the Institute for Cornish Studies, an academic body set up by Exeter University and Cornwall County Council to further local research. With Thomas, he wrote The Antiquities of West Penwith (1954), an unrivalled guide to west Cornwall. Pool was a research fellow in History at the institute for some years and also helped to establish the Cornish Language Board and was its first secretary.

Numerous books followed. The first was The Typography of the Penheleg Manuscript (1959) - a manuscript written in the 16th century by John Penheleg, Head Bailiff of the Arundells of Lanherne of the Hundred of Penwith at their Manor of Connerton. (It was found under a butcher's bed in St Buryan.) Other books were Reminiscences of Penzance by William Boase, which he edited, and in 1986 a definitive life of Dr William Borlase, the 18th- century antiquary.

In 1965, Pool married Audrey Humphris, a Celtic/Cornish enthusiast, and moved to a new house at Zennor, a small parish on the north coast of Cornwall, home of many writers from D.H. Lawrence to Virginia Woolf, an unspoilt area which he made his spiritual home. A plaque on the wall records John Davey, one of the last speakers of traditional Cornish.

Windswept and exposed, Zennor epitomised Peter Pool's Cornwall. He immersed himself in its history and became an authority on the parish, publishing The Life of Henry Quick (1963), the peasant poet of Zennor, and editing The Diary of James Stephens (1977), a Zennor farmer, which was one of the first Cornish books to deal with agricultural life in the last century. After moving back to Penzance, he researched and published The History of the Town and Borough of Penzance in 1974, and in 1988 was made an Honorary Freeman for his services to the town.

Peter Pool was more than Cornish language expert, historian, archaeologist and lawyer. For many years he served the Cornish community as director of Pools Engineering Hayle, the family firm, as Chairman and Librarian of the Penzance Library, Vice-President of the Celtic Congress, President of Penzance Old Cornwall Society, legal adviser to many organisations. From 1974 to 1976 he was President of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, an academic body based on the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, and as editor of its journal was twice awarded the Henwood Medal for research.

Pool was trenchant in his opinions, and one of his last booklets was The Second Death of Cornish (1995), where he attacked others who believed that Unified Cornish, the language as formulated in the 1920s by Robert Morton Nance, needed drastic and sweeping changes. It was a strong plea for careful and considered research first. While some did not agree with his stance, most have respected his scholarship. He was a founder member of Agan Tavas ("Our Tongue"), an organisation promoting Unified Cornish.

Peter Pool is buried in the little stony churchyard at Zennor, the heart of his beloved Cornwall, near the grave of Robert Morton Nance and under the shadow of Carn Galver, from which he took his bardic name.

Peter Aubrey Seymour Pool, historian, archaeologist, lawyer: born 16 March 1933; married 1965 Audrey Humphris; died Hayle, Cornwall 18 May 1996.

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