How Cornwall creamed off tourism

January 17, 1997

Images of the "Cornish Riviera" which are still popular today stem from a railway advertising campaign of almost a century ago, according to Staffordshire University geography lecturer Chris Thomas.

Mr Thomas said that after a railway bridge at Saltash provided a physical link between Cornwall and an industrialising Britain, the railway companies went on to provide a metaphorical span, presenting notions of Cornwall, which endured to this day, as a land of romance and traditional values in a changing world. And he suggested that research into tourist spots by social and cultural geographers should expand to cover the railways, since they transported not only tourists, but also ideas.

"The Great Western Railway invented new ways of seeing Cornwall," he said. The coinage of the term Cornish Riviera emerged from a 1904 competition to name a new train, and was used by the railway company in posters and jigsaws, which it sold by the thousand at cost price to promote railway travel. But the posters were popular not because the public had an intrinsic interest in railways but because the poster art was aesthetically pleasing.

One poster from 1907 challenged the attraction of holidays abroad by favourably comparing Cornwall with Italy under the slogan "See Your Own Country First". At a time when classical tours were still popular, the poster capitalised on the classical theme by describing Italy as "known to the Greeks as the western land", and Cornwall as "known to the Romans as the western land".

"The climate is sold again and again, mild in winter and temperate in summer, since people believed they should avoid extremes of temperature to have good health," said Mr Thomas. "This very powerful construction of Cornwall is still in advertising."

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