“Historic site consent process unfit for purpose” says Grand Bard

Speaking at the Proclamation Ceremony announcing St Keverne as the site of the 2016 Open Gorsedh, the newly installed Grand Bard Telynor an Weryn (Dr Merv Davey) evoked one of the spirits of the place, to slam treatment of the Heritage of Cornwall by UK government and goverment endorsed and supported bodies.

merv_davey_telynor_an_weryn“A little over 500 years ago Michael Joseph of St Keverne lead a Cornish host against one of the most powerful institutions in Europe, the English Crown. He was armed with little more than the tools of his trade.  His was a protest against the poor treatment of the Cornish. His fate was medieval and barbaric but his memory continues to fuel the Cornish Spirit to the present day.

The 21st century is a very different world from that of Michael Joseph and in a very different way we also find ourselves at loggerheads with a large and powerful institution. Today it is our culture and heritage which is under threat but unlike Michael Joseph we have the use of some powerful democratic tools: The Cornish language, Kernewek, was formally recognised by European Charter in 2002; the Cornish were given National Minority Status under the European Framework Convention in 2014; and the Devolution Deal of 2015 includes a clear commitment to cherish and promote our precious Cornish Heritage.

Under these recognitions and agreements Government departments and public bodies are required to take Cornwall’s views into account when making decisions about our heritage.  As the debate around the commercialisation of Tintagel unfolds in the press and social media we find that these commitments have not been translated into action.  Now is the time to sharpen these tools and use them to bring these organisations to task in meeting this commitment.

In 2015 English Heritage was split into two organisations: Historic England – a government agency responsible for monitoring and protecting Scheduled Ancient Monuments, such as Tintagel; and English Heritage- a public charitable body, with a license to manage heritage sites including Tintagel for seven years (until 2023). It was provided with a grant of £80m for this period. Both organisations nevertheless remain publicly accountable with a responsibility to recognise Cornwall’s distinct heritage.

Before any work can take place at Scheduled Ancient Monument sites a special Consent must be obtained and, yes you’ve guessed it, English Heritage sought, and was given consent, from Historic England for outdoor on-site interpretation of Tintagel. Unlike Cornwall Council’s planning system, this process took place behind closed doors. The views of Cornish people and institutions were not sought. They treated ‘local’ as Tintagel itself – despite the fact that archaeology shows Tintagel to have been the seat of Cornish kings and a key trading port in the first millennium.

The processes by which these permissions are given for the development of heritage sites are undemocratic and unfit for purpose.

Furthermore the mighty cliffs of Tintagel are also “Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS)” and designated as SSSIs ( Site of Special Scientific Interest).They tell the story of the very formation of our land and the heart of our Cornish landscape. This recognition of geological sites is as important as Scheduled Ancient Monument Status. They are another aspect of the heritage that makes Cornwall special. But there is no evidence of wide consultation taking place here as part of the process either.

To be fair, English Heritage must be commended for the way they have promoted the Cornish Language on their sites. The archaeological interpretations at Tintagel do contribute to our understanding of the prosperous early Cornish kingdoms with their extensive Mediterranean trade links.  But the Cornish tradition of King Arthur is not that of Tennyson. Our tradition is that he will rise again and help us build anew the Celtic Nation of Cornwall.  

Cornish identity is not on the agenda of English Heritage and I fear that when interpretation is translated into promotion it will be commercially driven by Disney type images of knights and wizards. We will not be seeing the Cornish language, Ancient Cornish Kingdoms or any recognition as a Celtic Nation.  

The Ancient Monument Consent process is flawed and English Heritage neither understands nor embraces the spirit of Cornish National Minority status. Gorsedh Kernow calls on the Government to transfer ownership of these iconic sites and the Consents that protect them to Cornwall when the franchise is due for renewal in 2023

Gorsedh Kernow welcomes the establishment of the Heritage Kernow Board as set out by the Devolution Deal. We call for this to be representative of Cornish organisations across the entire range of our heritage and to work towards Cornwall’s full ownership of our heritage assets”.

Dr Merv Davey
Telynor an Weryn

Grand Bard of Gorsedh Kernow

St Keverne 16 April 2016