A History of Cornwall in 100 Objects
What comes to mind when you think of Cornwall? Sandy beaches? Fishing? Rick Stein? That’s the popular image: sleepy fishing villages and crowded beaches. But how about soap? Did you know that Mr Pears of Pears soap came from Mevagissey in Cornwall? Or astronomy? John Couch Adams, jointly credited with the discovery of the planet Neptune, came from around Launceston, near Dartmoor. Or peace? I bet you didn’t know that Alfred Nobel, he of the Peace Prize fame, once owned an explosives factory at Perranporth.
Me neither. But now we do thanks to a fantastic project underway in Cornwall that is bringing these stories together from museums across the county. Mary Godwin from Cornwall Museums explains what they’re doing:
Throughout 2011, Museums right across Cornwall, from the Atlantic coast to the Tamar, are telling ‘A History of Cornwall in 100 Objects’ - a project inspired by HOTW - and these objects are now being posted onto the History of the World website.
The project is being run by the Museum Development Officer team who are based at the Royal Cornwall Museum, in Truro. The selection process has involved museums of all sizes – of which there are over 60 in the county - from tiny volunteer-run museums to major high-profile organisations. The aim is to get local people and visitors alike to see these unique objects and learn more about Cornwall’s history.
There has been some heated debate along the way and the final choice has not been without controversy, but it has certainly generated a lot of interest and brought to light some wonderful, unexpected and quintessentially Cornish objects.
One of those 100 objects is a surfboard from Perranzabuloe Museum at Perranporth. Bellyboard surfing became popular at Perranporth soon after the end of World War I when George Tamlyn and William Saunders returned from the western front. There they had met South African surfers and decided to bring the sport to Cornwall.
The local coffin maker and builder, Tom Tremewan knocked up surf boards at 2 shillings a time. The first boards were flat and made from two pieces of tongue-and-groove deal screwed to three wooden cross pieces.
Old floorboards and nails were used, to keep costs down and additional supplies were sometimes brought to Perranporth on the top of the local bus. Hundreds of surf boards were made each year at Tremewans in Perranporth. Better types of boards, with curved ends, evolved over time, at a higher price of course.
Another very Cornish and very strange object is the Padstow Obby Oss which can be seen in the town’s volunteer-run museum. Padstow is not only famous for Rick Stein’s cooking but also for one of Cornwall's most famous and enduring May Day folk customs. The Obby Oss looks very much like an African mask – it’s very similar to that of the Duck Dancers of New Guinea.
Over the coming year the 100 objects project will be used to generate media and community interest in museums and Cornwall’s unique heritage.
It’s great to see the museums in Cornwall joining together to do this. Perhaps, I’ll make it down there next year to hunt down some of the objects – I particularly like the look of Elliot's shop. In the meantime, you can look through all 100 Cornwall objects here, including Trengrouse's Rocket, Gorsedd robes and Alfred Nobel’s stool.