‘Book Review – ‘The Maritime History of Cornwall’ by David Jenkins

By David Jenkins, published October 2020


There are some books which are a delight to hold, and to behold, even before one delves into their pages – and this is one of them. A pleasingly chunky volume, the front of the dust jacket features Joseph Southall’s The Three Masted Schooner, his limpid and evocative 1919 marine landscape of a sailing vessel at Fowey which sums up so many of the themes covered within, such as maritime trade, coastal communities, and Cornwall’s later promotion as a holiday destination. A well-chosen and effective pictorial overture!

The three editors, all of whom are distinguished historians with strong West Country connections, have divided this long- awaited history into five parts: ‘Window to a Wider World’ – early and medieval Cornwall; ‘The Age of Turbulence’ – maritime disorder in Tudor and Stuart Cornwall; ‘A Time for War and Trade’ – Cornwall in the eighteenth century; ‘Global Reach and Industrial Prowess’ – Cornwall in the nineteenth century and ‘Inventing the Cornish Riviera’ – from twentieth to twenty-first-century Cornwall. Each part is prefaced by an admirable joint essay by the editors, a collection of which would in itself constitute a fine concise maritime history of the county.

But in an important work such as this on what is arguably the most ‘maritime’ county in the British Isles, it is vital that certain significant aspects of Cornwall’s maritime history are given detailed treatment – and this is certainly the case in this volume. In all there are 24 specialist essays on subjects ranging from the creation of Cornwall’s present coastline in the Mesolithic period to maritime tourism and recreation in the present age. The essays are quite short, but the editors doubtless had the overall length of what is already a substantial tome in mind. Moreover it is impossible in a review to do full justice to so many varied contributions, and what follows will inevitably reflect what catches your reviewer’s imagination, hopefully without overly detracting from the overall coverage …

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Filed under: Location | Atlantic | Tudors | Prehistory | English Civil War | English Channel
Subjects include: Archaeology | Miscellaneous | Pirates, Corsairs & Privateers | Strategy & Diplomacy

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