the g7 summit
With the 2021 G7 Summit arriving at Carbis Bay from 11th to 13th June, we explore the history between Cornwall and the nations it will be welcoming. From hidden assassins to ice cream pioneers, here are five Cornish connections with our friends in Italy.
Porthcurno Beach, a strip of sand so pretty and serene that the British military once resorted to arming it with flamethrowers to ward off intruders. Well, perhaps also because of what lay beneath the ocean; telegraph cabling, stretched across the world to the far reaches of the British Empire, had turned Porthcurno into one of the most important telegraph stations in the world.
But long before the military spied threats from abroad, the Eastern Telegraph Company that operated the site had grown wary of a man from Bologna who was threatening to undermine their incredible feats of technology with incredible feats of his own. Rather than going under the waves, he was making waves over it; Guglielmo Marconi was pioneering radio waves, and he was doing this right under their noses.
The young Italian had set up station in Poldhu, visible from Porthcurno, and he was managing to send Morse code to Canada without any of the nuisances of undersea cabling. Concerned, the Eastern Telegraph Company erected a 170-foot tower on the cliffs of Porthcurno for spying on his work, intercepting communications and even sabotaging Marconi’s public demonstrations by interrupting the signal with rude messages for the unsuspecting observers.
Undeterred, Marconi continued to advance his technology and would earn a Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of radio. The two rivals would eventually agree to be merged, putting their squabbles aside to jointly focus on connecting an increasingly smaller world. Today, PK Museum pays tribute to the Porthcurno team and their plucky Italian neighbour, offering demonstrations of the technologies without any rude interruptions.
The Dethroned Assassin
“Here lyeth the body of Theodoro Paleologus of Pesaro in Italye, descended from ye imperyail lyne of ye last Christian Emperors of Greece.” The brass tombstone with its royal insignia are expected fare for a man of such stature, but what is far less expected is finding his burial within the quiet hamlet of Landulph, three miles from Saltash. But, then again, Theodoro Paleologus never did live by the rules.
Descended from Constantine XI, the final emperor of the Byzantine Empire – itself the surviving remnants of the Roman Empire that had long since collapsed in Western Europe – Paleologus would have likely had a legitimate claim to the throne had his family not been forced to flee in the wake of an Ottoman invasion.
st mawes castle
The Dethroned Assassin
Instead, the would-be king was born and raised in Italy – perhaps poorly raised, given that he would narrowly avoid the death penalty and be exiled for murder. Never one to lay down easily, Paleologus would forge an unlikely career as an assassin for some of the most brutal lords of Britain. Known as an exceptional horseman, he would traverse the continent in search of work and would eventually worm his way back into favour in Italy. The ageing assassin would then accept an invitation from a rich squire to settle down in Cornwall, by which time he would presumably have been quite happy for some peace and quiet.
In the 19th Century, Greek representatives would visit Cornwall to try and locate descendants with which to re-establish the Byzantine throne. They found no trace, but probably received a number of confused looks from the local Cornishmen.
st mawes castle
the song of pope
When the season of Lent ruled meat off the menu for the Catholics of Italy, Cornish fisherman would happily traverse the sea to fill the coastal markets with nourishment. Cornish salted pilchards, or ‘salacche Inglesi’, would become a booming trade for more than 450 years; the salting would preserve them well without any cooling, and the fish would make for a hearty dinner with pasta and polenta.
the song of pope
At its peak, the fishermen of St Ives were reeling in a thousand tonnes of pilchards in a single night with the majority exported to Italy. While trading became rocky during Napoleon’s reign upon the seas – leading to hardship in Cornish harbours – it was declining demand that would finally wither the salted pilchard market in the 21st Century, with Italy the only remaining export destination. While many products have now been tweaked and renamed as ‘Cornish Sardines’, the ‘pilchard’ name of years past will live on in a traditional song about its Catholic fanbase: “Here’s a health to the Pope,
And may he repent,
And lengthen by six months
The term of his Lent.
It’s always declared
Betwixt the two poles,
There’s nothing like pilchards
For saving of souls!
The Cornish ice cream, blended with Cornwall’s trademark clotted cream for a thick and velvety treat. But while this frozen delight of our farms continues to win over the nation, there remains an overlooked flavour of Italian to its history.
With his home country at the heart of Europe’s growing fascination with ice cream, Joseph Staffieri would arrive from Italy with his mind set upon a business in St Austell. Established in 1890, the fish-and-chips-and-ice-cream trade would prove popular, with Staffieri later passing the business onto his son-in-law, Lazero Calicchia.
moomaid of zennor
While ‘Calicchia’ and ‘Staffieri’ are fantastically Italian names, the family would soon deem it fit to rename both themselves and their business; they would be the Kelly family, and their business would be Kelly’s. From horse and cart to ice cream vans and supermarket shelves, Kelly’s of Cornwall has grown to become the sixth-largest ice cream producer in the UK, championing both the Cornish language and the Cornish style of ice cream.
Just to add a flake to this ice cream story: Antonio Bertolucci, a craftsman from Lucca, arrived in Truro for the commissioning of the grand mosaic floor in Truro Cathedral that can still be seen today. What he presumed would be a temporary stint on these shores would turn into a lifelong stay, falling in love with a Cornish girl and settling down. The locals, meanwhile, fell in love with him; Bertolucci’s ice cream was seen as the best around.
moomaid of zennor
As with most of Europe, Cornwall felt the beauty and destruction of the Italian toga craze known as the Roman Empire. However, Roman remains in Cornwall are far fewer than what might be expected further north, challenging Roman enthusiasts to try and piece Cornwall into the Roman jigsaw. Many suggest that Cornwall may have been akin to their Celtic neighbours in Wales and Scotland where the Romans traded peacefully, building forts as outposts but never populating the land or exerting any overall control over the Celts. But perhaps there is more to be found.
If you are on the hunt for the elusive Romans, there are forts at Nanstallon, near Restormel Castle and at Calstock. With the latter, the fort finding has been recently joined by the uncovering of a Roman road in 2019, with more excavations expected in 2021. Elsewhere, there is a Roman villa at Magor and inscribed stones on the grounds of Breage Church, Tintagel Church and St Hilary’s Church.
The Romans, brave as they were, never took the Cornish out of Cornwall.