“The man who does not read good books has no advantages over the man who can’t read them.” Samuel Clemens alias Mark Twain
About a hundred paces down the hill from Redruth railway station is the Cornwall Centre /Kresenn Kernow, and in the Cornwall Centre is the Cornish Studies Library (CSL), and in the Cornish Studies Library is the Cornish Book Collection. If you’re interested in Cornish Literature, and want to find it, the best place would probably be in the biggest collection of Cornish books anywhere, which this is.
Around 40,000 books and pamphlets are held at the CSL.
In the spirit of gathering up the fragments ere they’re lost, the CSL contains material (books and journals) on a supremely broad cross-section of topics. The wide ranging collection covers all subjects from mining to modern art and family history to mining. All aspects of Cornish life are included and the criteria are simply the Cornish connection. There are sure to be gems of inspiration and of study among these for the student of Cornish literature. Four notable collections which form part of the Cornish Book Collection include those of Dr J Hambley Rowe, appointed one of the first bards of the Gorseth Kernow (Tolzeath) in 1928 (collection acquired and bequeathed by E Hambly), also of Ashley Rowe (bardic name Menhyryon in 1933), also the industrial papers of A K H Jenkin (bardic name Lef Stenoryon in 1928) and those of the Cornish Methodist Historical Association Library. These collections were acquired by the then Camborne and Redruth Urban District Council Library Service and were the first building blocks of the Cornish Studies Library which was established in 1974 at Redruth Library. Since then the Library has continued to grow and new titles are being added all the time, especially since the Library’s move to the Cornwall Centre in 2001. Of particular interest to readers of Cornish Literature blog, however, are likely to be the extremely well-stocked shelves of fiction, poetry and biography.
Literary works conveniently accessible in the Cornish Book Collection include fiction by, amongst a host of others, Mark Guy Pearse, Daphne du Maurier, Winston Graham and the playwright, Nick Darke. Poetry includes collected work of John Harris, through to Alan Kent, Bert Biscoe, Les Merton and Pol Hodge among others. Note that some rare and relatively ancient original documents (not usually considered literature per se), such as the William Scawen manuscript (rather than the published works held by the CSL), are held by the Cornwall Record Office, whose public access is currently in Truro.
Because the CSL is a reference library, not a lending library, it’s not possible to borrow a book and take it home with you. On the other hand, you can be guaranteed to find, to hand, any of the stored books of a particular Cornish author or topic. Not all of the books in the Cornish Book Collection have loan-able counterparts circulating in the normal library system, but about 80% of them do, so, once you find a book of interest, the chances are that you’ll be able to arrange a convenient loan via your local library.
All titles in the CSL can be found through the standard Cornwall library catalogue system. On the shelves, fiction is in alphabetic order of author, thus easier to browse than strict Dewey (which imposes chronological categories). A crucial part of the CSL’s service is to curate non-fiction publications, including mineralogical and social studies,along with comprehensive microfilm of Cornish newspapers and other periodicals as well as census sheets – these are also well organised and accessible.
Please click here for directions to the Cornwall Centre, which contains the Cornish Studies Library. Opening hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10am-5pm, Wednesday closed, Saturday 10am-1pm. The building is itself quite historic – over a century old and faced in characteristic granite, for long on a mixed-use site, as now, and renovated, after one of Redruth’s innumerable fires, in a secure setting as the Cornwall Centre/Kresenn Kernow in 2001 . As mentioned, it’s very close indeed to frequent rail and bus links; adequate and non-extortionate parking is nearby, as are the town’s market, art installations, shops and cafés, for relaxation when taking a break from browsing or studying.
Way back in Lee’s founding post for the Cornish Literature blog, the reader was invited to consider the ghosts of Cornish literature past, in a kind of quo vadis for Cornish literature’s future: we are forced to consider what’s gone before to figure out where we go from here. The CSL helps us to do just that. You’ll find the trajectory of modern Cornish literature traced out at the CSL, for recollection and inspiration.