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.
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?