Wednesday, 6 January 2021

70th ANNIVERSARY FOR MEBYON KERNOW


Today marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall. As the present leader of MK, I would like to mark the occasion by writing about the earliest days of the organisation.

The inaugural meeting took place at the Oates Temperance Hotel in Redruth on Saturday 6th January 1951. There were thirteen people present and a further six sent apologies. Among the founder members, there were four future Grand Bards of Gorsedh Kernow (Ernest George Retallack Hooper, Ann Trevenen Jenkin, Richard Garfield Jenkin and George Pawley White) and Charles Thomas, who went on to become the Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter.

Helena Charles was elected MK’s first leader. A remarkable woman, she had been born in Calcutta of Cornish parents and spent much of her life in voluntary work. She had worked in the slums of Bermondsey in the 1930s, she served with the London Ambulance Service during the Second Word War and she was well-known for her selfless work on behalf of Jewish refugees during the war and in the immediate post-war period. She served on Camborne-Redruth Urban District Council and, following a trip to Venice in 1964, she founded a charity to care for the large number of stray cats in the Italian city.

This formal launch of Mebyon Kernow followed the 1950 International Celtic Congress, held in Truro, which brought together many like-minded people from the various Celtic nations, and proved to be the catalyst that forged a new movement.

In MK’s original aims, there was a strong focus on Cornish identity and culture, and the need to “further the acceptance of the idea of the Celtic character of Cornwall, one of the six Celtic nations.” But it was also openly political with a commitment to “study local conditions and attempt to remedy any that may be prejudicial to the best interests of Cornwall” while, by September 1951, it was pushing Cornwall’s “right to self-government in domestic affairs in a federated United Kingdom.”

Mebyon Kernow certainly launched a wide range of initiatives in its earliest years. These included campaigns for a Cornish Assembly, a Cornish University and a Cornish Industrial Board or Development Agency; support for traditional Cornish industries and opposition to railway closures. But it was essentially a pressure group, which meant that activists in other political parties could also be members of MK. Such members included Conservative MP David Mudd and Liberal MPs Peter Bessell and John Pardoe.

Mebyon Kernow continues to campaign for Cornwall, and I am most grateful to those foresighted individuals who, seven decades ago, decided a Cornish political organisation was needed.

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