The Slate Figures of Cornwall

What should we know beyond our own memory without history? A.L. Rowse finds much local history in the series of fine slate-carved monuments that, wherever slate is quarried, enrich so many Cornish churches.

Apart of the charm and richness of the past is in the great local diversity of its arts and crafts. If one looks at a modern town there is not so much difference whether one is in Coventry or Rotterdam, Plymouth or Marseilles, or Cleveland, Ohio. Modern architecture, if it has any style at all, has an international idiom.

In earlier centuries, building and its allied arts rose directly out of their soil: in East Anglia, where there was little stone, fine red brick; in the eastern Midlands the splendid stone of Barnack and Ketton; in Somerset the snuff-coloured Ham Hill stone, in Dorset the silvery-grey of chalky stone, in Devon red sandstone, in Cornwall granite and slate.

Slate monuments with figures carved on them are a speciality of Cornwall, practically unique. Even so they are to be found mostly in the east and north of the county, where the slate lay—in particular, the famous Delabole quarry, with its beautiful blue slate. There are a few such monuments in West Devon, an outlier of the area; and on the eastern rim of Penwith in West Cornwall, where there is an outcrop of slate.

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