A tribute to James Whetter

This morning I heard the news of James Whetter’s death. This sad event shouldn’t be allowed to pass without notice, or recognition of James’ lifelong work for Cornwall.

After his acrimonious departure from MK in the mid-197s, James and his CNP gradually drifted off into a quiet backwater of Cornish politics, becoming a less strident Cornish version of Ukip. However, this shouldn’t obscure the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s he was an inspiration to many of the younger generation of Cornish activists. His vigorous editorship of Cornish Nation introduced many of us to the importance of Celtic solidarity and an electoral presence for Cornish nationalism, as well as warning starkly for the future for Cornwall if its colonisation was allowed to continue unabated. (His warnings have unfortunately proved to be all too accurate.)

James combined a deep love and knowledge of his homeland with historical research. His Cornwall in the 17th century; an economic history of Kernow, published in 1974, raised eyebrows at the time among the stuffier English academic establishment, with its explicit use of the word Kernow. Mentioning Kernow at that time, like waving St Piran’s flag, was viewed in some quarters as deeply offensive and subversive. But for others of us, this forthright claim to nationhood was an intrepid example to follow.

James was a key figure in restoring the place of Glasney College in Cornish history

Once MK was behind him, James focused on history rather than politics. He regularly churned out The Cornish Banner every month. Beginning as a political(ish) magazine, this became an eclectic and sometimes eccentric mix of historical and other pieces. Yet it attracted contributions from a range of Cornish writers and often containing fascinating snippets and insights. Not the least of those appeared in his own contributions.

The Cornish Banner was supplemented by a string of other publications. His History of Falmouth remains the standard work on that town for example. That was joined by books on local history and Cornish people, from the thirteenth to the twentieth centuries, from the Bodrugans to the Bassets. Most were self-published. Although sometimes tricky to read, with the tiny font tending to disappear into the gutter of the book, they were, nonetheless, valuable additions to Cornish scholarship and essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in Cornwall’s past.

Charles Thomas, Dick Gendall and now James. These losses hot on the heels of the passing of Cornish academics John Rowe, John Rule, A.L.Rowse and Ron Perry in recent decades. Their generation is rapidly leaving us. Who will take their place?

6 thoughts on “A tribute to James Whetter

  1. My deepest sympathy goes out to Jame’s family and friends. I first met James in 1984 when I became a member of CNP and it was his book Cornish Essays that got me interested in Kernow, her identity and politics when I was 17. I stayed with James on coccasions at his house in Gorran and helped out with his farm, projects and CNP business in the mid 80’s. He published a few items of mine in the Cornish Banner especially when I was serving in the Gulf War of 1991. I became subscriptions secretary of the CNP in 1995 and helped get some new members for CNP, but James was focusing more on his projects and the Roseland Institute more than CNP and politics. In 2001 I realised CNP were more of a pressure group than a political entity and resigned. James concentrated on his books and projects and produced some very fascinating reading about Cornish gentry, historical landmarks and places. James did a lot for Kernow in those early years politically as well as literally and even though he was not everyone’s cup of tea, he made people sit up and learn the truth and history of Kernow. He will be sadly missed, the true Cornishman he was.

  2. Perhaps the batton is yours to carry. There needs to be some way to inspire the younger generation to take on the mantle for the future Cornishmen & women. Should such be found I anticipate there would be a mentor within you.

  3. Joined CNP in the 70’s – enjoyed the company of James at many meetings – I contacted James a few years ago to see if he would like to re – introduce the CNP, James was of no mind to do so.
    I have now crossed the floor and am a Conservative District Councillor, but still think like a CNP member.
    RIP James

  4. Every-time I emailed James I received an in-depth response offering me new ideas and insights as to where to take research further. As you state in your post he provided so much to Cornish history. But what is to become of The Cornish Banner?

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