When researching a new work, you collect bits of trivia until eventually they click into a structure. I think this chapter is the one which draws Hunt’s work together for roleplayers. I can’t detail it here, more research is required, but this is the chapter about Lyonesse, and for us, Lyonesse is the low hanging fruit that makes the rest of this material simple to use and integrate.

Time for a quote from Hunt:

“A region of extreme fertility, we are told, once linked the Scilly Islands with Western Cornwall. A people, known as the Silures, inhabited this tract,_ which ahs been called Lyonesse, or sometimes Lethowsow ,- who were remarkable for their industry and piety. No less than 140 churches stood over that region, which is now a waste of waters; and the rocks called the Seven Stones are said to marl the place of a large city. Even tradition is silent on the character of this great cataclysm.”

The Saxon Chronicle says that Lyonesse was inundated on the 11th of November 1099. That’s well within two Hermetic generations. It might also explain why there is no covenant in Cornwall, despite it being an interesting site (once it has been detailed to make it so). The covenant at this end of Great Britain was on the main part of Lyonesse, and has vanished.

Latin writers call this land, either entire or merely the largest island, Siluria. That’s a perfect covenant name. Strabo says that Silura is divided from the rest of Britian by a narrow channel with fierce currents. It is accompanied by nine smaller islands which his people seek for trade. He calls these the Tin Islands (“Casseriterides”). William of Worcester (who died around 1482) recorded that there was land from “the eastern shore of Mount’s Bay to the northwestern rock of Scilly”with the exception of a narrow strait between Longships and Land’s End.

A note on names: there’s no good etymology for Lyonesse. The Cornish name may be Lethowsow, or that may, like the English “Seven Stones” refer to the remnant rocks of Scilly. The Cornish name for the places within the stones is Tregva (“dwelling”) and is said to be the site of the major city that was lost when Siluria was inundated.

The Grey Rock in the Wood

Saint Michael’s Mount used to be a hill surrounded by a forest, which was later developed, at least partially. It’s name in Cornish is still Karrek Loos yn Koos, which Hunt says is the white rock in the wood”, but more modern sources seem to say “grey rock in the wood”. The land used to extend six miles south of the the Mount, to a line from “Clement’s Isle to Cudden Rock” according to Hunt. For modern players, that’s Mousehole to Cudden Point.  Cudden Point’s interesting to us, because there’s lost treasure there, sought by children at extreme low tides. Sometimes they even find it, although that may just be faeries starting their games. Time for some more Hunt:

“Amongst other things, an especial search is made for a silver table, which was lost by a very wealthy lord, by some said to be the old Lord Pengerswick, who enriched himself by grinding down the poor. On one occasion, when the calmness of summer, the clearness of the skies, and the tranquillity of the waters invited the luxurious to the enjoyments of the sea, this magnate, with a party of gay and thoughtless friends, was floating in a beautiful boat lazily with the tide, and feasting from numerous luxuries spread on a silver table. Suddenly no one lived to tell the cause the boat sank in the calm, transparent waters ; and, long after the event, the fishermen would tell of sounds of revelry heard from beneath the waters, and some have said they have seen these wicked ones still seated around the silver table.” This may be an Infernal aura or regio.

Hunt notes that the main anchorage in Mount Bay is called a “Gwavas Lake”. Folkloristically it was a lake, but the sea has eaten into the land so far that it is now aggregated to the ocean. There is a forest of beech trees visible under the water, which sweeps under the water from Gawas to the Mount. Beech nuts can be collected on the shore after rough tides, at at neap tides, visitors may cut wood from the beech trees.  In the real world, there is the remnant of a forest under the bay, which has been investigated by archaeological digs. The beech nuts may be a vis source.

The City of Langarrow or Langona

Time for a long quote from Hunt:

“We cannot say how many years since, but once there stood on the northern shores of Cornwall, extending over all that country between the Gannell and Perranporth, a large city called Langarrow or Langona. The sand-hills which now extend over this part of the coast cover that great city, and the memory of the sad and sudden catastrophe still lingers among the peasantry. So settled is tradition, that no other time than 900 years since is ever mentioned as the period at which Langarrow was buried.” Hunt was writing in 1908, so that would be 1008, if taken literally. “This city in its prime is said to have been the largest in England, and to have had seven churches, which were alike remarkable for their beauty and their size. The inhabitants were wealthy, and according to received accounts, they drew their wealth from a large tract of level land, thickly wooded in some parts, and highly cultivated in others from the sea, which was overflowing with fish of all kinds and from mines, which yielded them abundance of tin and lead. To this remote city, in those days, criminals were transported from other parts of Britain. They were made to work in the mines on the coast, in constructing a new harbour in the Gannell, and clearing it of sand, so that ships of large burden could in those days sail far inland. Numerous curious excavations in the rocks, on either side of this estuary, are still pointed out as being evidences of the works of the convicts. This portion of the population of Langarrow were not allowed to dwell within the city. The :convicts and their families had to construct huts or dig caves on the wild moors of this unsheltered northern shore, and to this day evidences of their existence are found under the sand, in heaps of wood-ashes, amidst which are discovered considerable quantities of mussel and cockle shells, which we may suppose was their principal food…For a long period this city flourished in its prime, and its inhabitants were in the enjoyment of every luxury which industry could obtain or wealth could purchase. Sin, in many of its worst forms, was however present amongst the people. The convicts sent to Langarrow were of the vilest. They were long kept widely separated ; but use breeds familiarity, and gradually the more designing of the convicts persuaded their masters to employ them within the city. The result of this was, after a few years, an amalgamation of the two classes of the population. The daughters of Langarrow were married to the criminals, and thus crime became the familiar spirit of the place. The progress of this may have been slow the result was, however, sure ; and eventually, when vice was dominant, and the whole population sunk in sensual pleasures, the anger of the Lord fell upon them. A storm of unusual violence arose, and continued blowing, without intermitting its violence for one moment, for three days and nights. In that period the hills of blown sand, extending, with few intervals, from Crantock to Perran were formed, burying the city, its churches, and its inhabitants in a common grave. To the present time those sand-hills stand a monument of God’s wrath ; and in several places we certainly find considerable quantities of bleached human bones, which are to many strong evidence of the correctness of tradition. Crantock was, according to tradition, once a trading town, and it then had a religious house, with a dean and nine prebends. The Gannell filling up ruined the town. This must have happened when Langarrow was destroyed. On Gwithian Sands the remains of what is supposed to have been a church has been discovered, and according to Hals and Gilbert, a similar tradition exists here of a buried town.”

Other lost territory

Many other areas are marked as being stolen by the sea, in local lore. Hunt records the tradtion that “from Rame-head to the two Looes very fertile valleys are stated to have extended at least a league southwards, over a tract now covered with sea”. On a smaller level the Black Rock in Falmouth Harbour used to be a tidal island.

Two towns, Lelant and Pillackm near Hayle, were both covered in a single night. Lelant was the mother church of St Ives, which argues it once had a substantial population.

The land around the Chapel Rock at Perran-Porth has been washed away, but the Lord allow pilgrimages to it to continue. It’s possible to walk, dry foot, to the island at eleven o’clock, despite the sea clearly being in the way. It’s a mystery, or a Divine regio, if you’re a magus.

Other story hooks

There’s a myth that is encoded in the coat of arms of the Trevilian family of Cornwall. It’s “gules a horse argent, from a less wavy argent, and azure, issuing out of a sea proper”. Their ancestor fled the encroaching floodwaters on his horse, landing on the Cornish coast.  That makes the family one point of inquiry into the nature of the disaster.

Hunt works through a digression in this chapter on the Padstow hobby horse, which locals “ride” into the sea each year. He suggests it is linked to the Padstow mermaid, or the horse that bought someone safely from Lyonesse. He also suggest the miner’s sayings that there is “a horse in the lode” (a valueless stone in the tin ore) and “Black Jack rides a good horse” (tin ore often indicates the presence of copper ore) may be related. Then he tries to rope in the water horse myth, in the vaguest of ways. These are weak links, but that’s fine for gaming. The riding of the horse into the sea may be a way of stopping more land being taken by a faerie power.

Far later, Hunt notes that a sister of a vicar received a vision in which she was told to prepare a potion and pour it into the waters, so that the land would rise, and the people be reanimated from an unaging, magical sleep. Her technique of faith failed her, and the land did not rise. Maybe the magi might arrange the ritual better?

Lyonesse is the home of Tristran, of the Round Table.  There’s a heap of material there, which we’ll need to circle back to mine when we discuss Arthur in later weeks.

Is this where the slekies or merryfolk come from: not a faerie race, but a group of transformed humans?  Might it be possible to live among them? Could a whole kingdom still be there, walled off in Arcadia or by simple magic?

Near Tregva, Cornish fishermen often catch artefacts in their nets. The oddest mentioned in Hunt are windows. He is unclear, but if he means glass windows, then that argues for supernatural manufacture: flat glass windows are not known in period. Flag this as a contested vis source, at least.

Why aren’t people more worried about the loss of Lyonesse? 140 parishes isn’t a small country: it’s about a quarter the population of Kent, the richest county in England in 1220. The loss of a city, and therefore a bishop, seems to have slipped the mind of Mythic Europeans in a most distressing way. Is this tidying up by the Order after they sank the whole place during the Schism? Is this God, or the faeries?  Does this forgetting make it difficult to research, or even remember, the folklore of Lyonesse?

Saint Michael appeared on the rock in 495. People make pilgrimages to the Kader Migell: a stone seat he left there, that is difficult to reach. Sitting on the chair is the traditional end of pilgrimage to the Mount. When Saint Keyna visited the mount she sat on the chair and gave it the same power as her well: whichever of a set of newlyweds uses it first will have the power in the marriage.

The forest of trees under Mount Bay is, in the real world, just a remnant, but in Mythic Europe, particularly at certain times, might it not be a full and verdant woodland? What, or who, might dwell therein?

Langarrow may have been destroyed by the Lord, but it is inundated, suspiciously, slightly before the formal declaration of the Renunciation of Diedne, in an area where the druids were, presumably, strong. This dating assumes that exactly 900 years have passed: but a slightly rounding in folklore places this event during the active phase of the war.




2 replies on “Cornwall: The Lost Cities

    1. I do plan to collect it. I don’t think it’ll be in Sub Rosa, though. The formats are very different. At this pace it’ll take a while to get through Hunt. 8)


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