Private Issues – The Cornish Stannary Parliament

Peter Symes

The series under scrutiny in this article are three issues by the Cornish Stannary Parliament in Great Britain. The issues of the Stannary Parliament are unashamedly promoting Cornwall, where the remnants of an independent people are trying to maintain their identity. Part of their promotional activities has been to identify the collecting fraternity and sell their banknote issues to those who collect private issues, as well as to individuals who just wish to help the causes that the Stannary Parliament promote. What is surprising about these notes, is that there have been so few issues over such a long period of time.

            The Cornish Stannary Parliament is an ancient organization dating from the mists of early British history. Closely linked to the mining of tin, which was undertaken for centuries in Cornwall and Devon, the stannaries are embodied in a number of historical laws.

            The word ‘stannary’ comes from ‘stannum’, the Latin word for tin—although it has been suggested that the Latin word was actually derived from a Cornish word. For over three-thousand years tin has been mined in Cornwall and during the Middle Ages the tin mining industry became so important that the tin miners were granted special privileges. These privileges, which the tin miners claimed by ancient tradition, were confirmed by King Edward III. Under royal privilege the people of Cornwall were granted the right to run their own courts, which had jurisdiction over all matters affecting the miners except where matters of land, life or limb were involved. The Charter of Pardon in 1508 not only confirmed the previous privileges granted to the Cornish, but confirmed them in perpetuity and extended their powers to include the power of veto over acts and statutes made at Westminster.

            There are four stannaries – Foymore, Blackmore, Tywarnhaile, and Penwith and Kerrier. Six Stannators are elected from each of the stannaries and they become the Stannary Parliament. During the history of the stannaries, the Parliament was convened infrequently and usually at the behest of the Lord Warden, who supervises the stannaries, along with the vice-warden of the stannaries. Legal matters concerning the stannaries were set before a stannary court, with each stannary responsible for its own court. Appeals from the courts could be made to the Lord Warden who had the power to pass them to the Duke of Cornwall. The Duke may rule on matters, but rulings by the stannary courts were independent to any powers held at Westminster.

            Within the Stannaries of Cornwall and Devon there were a number of stannary, or coinage, towns. These towns were Lostwithiel, Helston, Truro, Liskeard and Ashburton. They were termed ‘coinage’ towns, because this was where the tin came to be taxed and tested for quality, or ‘coined’ in an earlier meaning of the word. Lostwithiel was formerly the capital of the Duchy of Cornwall and the remains of the thirteenth century stannary offices are still extant in the town.

            In the eighteenth century the Stannary Parliament fell into decline. Although the decline parallelled the decline of the tin-mining industry, it is claimed by some people that decline was due to the then Duke of Cornwall filling the Parliament with his non-Cornish cronies, so that the institution fell moribund. Because of the remaining, but largely latent, powers of the Stannary Parliament, there has been a reluctance by the British to acknowledge the continued existence of the institution.

            However, the Stannary Parliament has been revived by Cornish nationalists and currently remains active, promoting the interests of Cornish culture and heritage. Supporters of the stannaries claim, not unreasonably, that although the stannary courts and parliament were embodied in the activities of the tin miners, they were in fact the incarnation of ancient Celtic traditions of the Cornish people. As the Cornish try to keep alive their ancient culture, the traditions of the stannaries become an important focus and in fact the authority of the Parliament has recently been tested within the British legal system and found to be solid.

            The first issue of notes considered to be by the Cornish Stannary Parliament was made in 1974. Issued by the ‘Cornish National Fund’, there is an apparent shyness to directly implicate the Stannary Parliament in the issue of these notes. Indeed, it is possible that there was not such a tight nexus between the two organizations as might be expected, although it is probable. The Cornish National Fund was established with the objective of raising revenue to aid it in a campaign for the restitution of Cornwall’s legal right to partially govern itself and to raise appreciation within Cornwall of the aims of the Stannary Parliament.

            The banknotes of the 1974 issue consisted of the denominations 5 shillings, 10 shillings, 1 pound and 5 pounds. The 5-shilling note has two shields on the front of the note, one of which carries the colours of the flag of St. Piran, who is the patron saint of tin miners. St. Piran was an Irish monk who ministered the Cornish people around the fifth century. His banner is a white cross on a black background. The colours of this banner have been adopted as the flag of Cornwall for many years, and a flag of this colour was purportedly carried in the battle of Agincourt by the Cornish contingent. The Cornish text on the front of the 5-shilling note can be translated as: ‘The National Fund of Cornwall promises to pay the bearer one day after sight the amount of five shillings.’

            The use of the ‘sight’ clause circumvents a legal restriction for issuers of banknotes in England and Wales. Under the Bank Notes Act of 1826, it is illegal to issue a ‘demand’ note for an amount less than 5 pounds, so the 5-shilling, 10-shilling and 1-pound notes issued by the Fund are ‘sight notes’.

            The 10-shilling note carries a drawing of the cross of St. Piran on the front of the note and the 1-pound note bears the seal of the Stannary Parliament. Both notes have Cornish text that is the same as the 5-shilling note, except that the value stated is altered for each denomination.

            The 5-pound note has a picture of the old Benedictine monastery (now a private residence) on St. Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall. The Cornish text on this denomination is distinctive in that it states: ‘The National Fund of Cornwall promises to pay the bearer the amount of five pounds on demand.’ As the note is for 5 pounds, under the Bank Notes Act of 1826 it can be payable on demand.

            The back of each note is virtually the same. Each note carries the same illustration of Restormal Castle in the stannary town of Lostwithiel. In the top left are the initials ‘AKK’ for ‘Arghow Kenethlek Kernow’, which translates as ‘Cornish National Fund’. The initials of the English name, ‘CNF’, appear the lower right. At the bottom left of the note is the promissory clause in English. The change in wording of this clause for each value is the only difference for the back of each denomination.

            Dated 1974, the notes are designed by Brian Hambley, who was the Lord Protector of the Parliament at that time. However, very little is known about their issue. It is not known if they were sold at a premium, nor how many of the notes were issued. The issued notes were presumably numbered by hand on their front. The notes illustrated here are remainders.

            In 1985 the Cornish Stannary Parliament issued notes of two denominations – 50 pence and 1 pound. The notes are once again ‘sight notes’, in that they are payable at one day’s notice. In what appears to have been a fund-raising exercise, the Cornish Stannary Parliament printed and sold their notes at a premium, with the notes being sold as a matched pair.

            The front of each note bears a seal of the Parliament at the left, below which is the denomination of the note. The 1-pound note displays ‘£1’ but the half pound note has ‘50 dynar’. Most of the note is dominated by text in the Cornish language. A translation of the text on the front of the notes reads (for the 50-dynar note): ‘The Stannary Parliament of Cornwall promises to the bearer one day after sight the amount of half a pound.’ To the lower centre-left is ‘Cambron 1985’. ‘Cambron’ translates as ‘Camborne’ and Camborne Hill is relevant to the subject on the back of the notes (see below). The notes are signed by the ‘Arghanser’ or ‘Treasurer’.

            The back of each note carries images of Richard Trevithick and an early railway steam locomotive. Above the locomotive is a banner, which names and dates the steam engine as ‘Pen-y-darren Locomotive – 1804’. A card, which accompanied the issue, explains the significance of Tevithick and his engine. The card reads:

Richard Trevithick (1771–1833)

Cornish Pioneer of the Locomotive on Road and Rail.

Beginning with models in 1797, Trevithick succeeded in producing a steam Road Locomotive, which, on Christmas Eve, 1801, made its celebrated ascent of Camborne Hill, hauling a party of seven or eight enthusiasts, hanging on as best they could. A sketch dated 1803, of a Trevithick design for a Railway Locomotive, led to the building of the Pen-y-Darran Engine, which on 21st February, 1804, hauled the world’s first steam train.

In 1805 an improved design was built, with a single horizontal cylinder, 9 inch x 36 inch stroke, and was probably the first engine with flanged wheels.

In 1808 came “Catch me who can.” Weighing 8 tons, it is said to have reached 12 m.p.h. on a circular track in London.

            Below the engine on the back of the 50-pence note, in small text, is the following clause: ‘This Promissory Note drawn by the Cornish Stannary Parliament Promises to Pay the Bearer One Day after the sight the sum of 50p Sterling.’ (The 1-pound note differs in its clause only by nominating its value.)

            In 2000 the Cornish Stannary Parliament prepared another banknote issue, this time in the denomination of 500 Dynars. The choice of name for the currency is intriguing. While the 1985 issue equates ‘dynar’ for ‘pence’, i.e. the ‘hanter puns’ (half pound) equalled ‘50 dynar’ (50 pence), the 2000 issue does not indicate ‘five pounds’ (pymp puns) as might be expected, but limits it to a multiple of ‘dynar’ or ‘pence’. According to the web-site (now defunct) that sold the 500-dynar notes, the word ‘dynar’ is found in a thirteenth-century Cornish play in the line ‘dhodh a dela pymp cans dyner’, which translates as ‘he was owed five hundred dyner’. Of course, the dyner, dinar or denarius is an element of the pre-decimal currency of Britain and is represented by the ‘d’ in ‘£.s.d.’

            The publicity for this issue, again on the web-site, states that the 500-dynar note commemorates the 200-year anniversary of Richard Trevithick’s steam car climbing Camborne Hill on Christmas Eve 1801. Thus the link between the Stannary Parliament and Cornwall’s engineering hero is maintained in this issue. While Richard Trevethick is depicted on the back of the notes, he hardly dominates the note.

            The front of the note carries a depiction of Saint Piran (Peran Sans), carrying his banner and standing before a stone cross. The cross, on which the illustration is based, stands close by the ruins of Saint Piran’s second church in the sand dunes north of Perranporth. The note is issued by the ‘Tresorva Kenethlek Kernow’ or the ‘National Treasury of Cornwall’. The text on the front of the note is different to the text used on previous issues of the Stannary Parliament, although the translation is approximately the same. The Cornish text translates as ‘The National Treasury of Cornwall promises to pay to the bearer on sight of this the sum of five hundred dynar’. The notes are signed by Stephen Treseder, the Speaker of the Stannary Parliament. Below his signature is the Cornish text which translates as: ‘Chairman, Redruth, Cornwall, 2000’. The seal of the Cornish Stannary Parliament appears in the bottom right.

            The back of the note carries two illustrations. The first is, as mentioned earlier, a portrait of Richard Trevethick with one of his engines. Below the portrait is his name and the following text in Cornish: ‘True inventor of the motor car and locomotive’. According to the designer of the note, Craig Weatherhill, this description of Trevethick was ‘a snipe at the Sterling £5 note which commemorated Stephenson whose machines were 25 years AFTER Trevethick’s’. The second illustration is of ‘Dyndagel’ or ‘Tintagel’, an ancient settlement in Cornwall. While dominated by the ruins of a Norman castle, the site contains the remains of a seasonal or ceremonial seat of the ancient Kings of Dumnonia, which was occupied from approximately 400 to 700AD. Within Cornwall, local tradition has always associated the site with the ancient Kings of Cornwall. Although it has been suggested by some people that King Arthur was born at Tintagel, this would appear to be a fantasy. The word ‘Tintagel’ is probably a corruption of the Norman-French ‘tente d’agel’ which means ‘stronghold of the devil’. Below the illustration of ‘Dyndagel’ on the note is the following text in Cornish: ‘Court of the Kings of Cornwall, called Durocornovio (fortress of the Cornish) c.700AD’.

            Standing between the two illustrations, perched on the word ‘pymp’, is a Cornish Chough, a member of the crow family. This bird has been associated with Cornwall for centuries and it is sometimes used as an heraldic device. The Cornish Chough was formerly plentiful in Devon and Cornwall, but it can no longer be found on the southern coast of England. The remaining habitats of the birds are the coast of West Wales, the Isle of Man and some of the Scottish islands. While the Cornish Chough can no longer be found in Cornwall, it remains an important historic symbol of the area and, because of its significance, there are efforts being made to re-introduce it to the Cornish cliffs.

            As well as repeating ‘National Treasury of Cornwall’ in Cornish on the back of the note, the additional Cornish text ‘Ertach Kernow’ is written at the bottom of the note. This translates as ‘Cornish Heritage’ and it is placed there to counter the claim that the items depicted on the note are part of ‘English’ heritage. Both the front and back of the note carry a claim to copyright by the Cornish Stannary Parliament. A single serial number appears on the back of the note, in the format ‘CSP000000K’. The ‘CSP’ represents ‘Cornish Stannary Parliament’ and the ‘K’ represents ‘Kernow’, which is the Cornish word for ‘Cornwall’.

            The note issues of the Cornish Stannary Parliament, spreading across a period of more than a quarter of a century, have been openly marketed in efforts to raise funds. It is unknown whether anyone has actually presented the notes for payment. There is no sunset clause on the notes, so presumably the liability of the Stannary Parliament remains outstanding for all issued notes. However, as the notes were sold for fund-raising, it is unlikely that anyone will ever present the notes for payment.

            What makes these notes particularly interesting to collect is that they do not appear to have received wide publicity over the years and the numbers sold have probably been quite low. It is also possible that there have been other issues of the Stannary Parliament that are not documented here. They are note issues about which very little is known, but remain an intriguing target for collectors of private banknote issues.

This article was completed in June 2002
© Peter Symes