Levant and Kernow: 100 Years On

From Planet 235

by Garry Tregidga

Garry Tregidga reflects on the centenary of the Levant mining disaster as a starting point for wider discussion of Cornwall’s fluctuating cultural, economic and political fortunes over the last century. What does the future hold after Brexit?

On 20th October 1919 the close-knit community of St Just in west Cornwall was confronted by a terrible tin mining disaster at the nearby Levant Mine. During a shift change the mine’s man engine carrying possibly up to 150 workers broke, leading to the death of 31 individuals and with many injured. Sadly, at least 5 of those killed had survived the conflict of the First World War only to lose their lives just a few months after Versailles.1 These tragic events will be commemorated this coming October in an event entitled Levant 100 that intends to look as well at the wider story of Cornwall (Celtic name Kernow) over the past century.2 Remembering the past is a natural process for any family, community or nation. Victoria Jenner highlights the way in which the Levant mining disaster can also be seen as a wider ‘turning point for Cornish identity’ since it took place against the background of socio-economic collapse.3 Questions were asked at the time about how far the long-term decline of the Cornish mining industry since its initial collapse back in the late nineteenth century had led to compromises over safety conditions. The inter-war period witnessed the further disintegration of Cornwall’s fragile industrial base, and scholars like Philip Payton have written extensively about this process in a centre-periphery framework linked to political centralisation at London.4 However, what does the legacy of Levant signify in a broader framework relating to contemporary Cornwall?

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