In Search of An Gof: Cornish Extremism, 1980-1990, and Beyond

Introductory Post

Reading time: 10 minutes

Giew Mine, Cripplesease, nr Ludgvan, 1986. By John Luxton

I remember, at the time, giving some thought to what this slogan was supposed to mean, or signify. Free Cornwall: from what, or whom? Is Cornwall, and by extension the Cornish, imprisoned, or enslaved? And, more ambiguously, who the hell is “An Gof”? Are they the person to free Cornwall? Are they an organisation, more than one person? And, seeing as I’m Cornish, isn’t therefore An Gof’s incitement – to free Cornwall, thus freeing myself – something I ought to be endorsing too?

Problem was, Camborne’s elusive, shadowy An Gof never did manage to free Cornwall. All he, or she, or they, seemed to do, was daub brickwork with their emancipating mantra, and my interest waned. A few years later, when I was working (seasonally, of course) in a factory, a colleague confessed in the smokers’ room to knowing one of the An Gof graffiti artists. This workmate then proceeded to fill me in on the details of the genuine Michael Joseph An Gof (Cornish: “the smith”) and his rebellion. An Gof, he told me, had been a Cornish freedom fighter, and his pals had taken the name to represent their own, rather less mature, desires. Occasionally turning the “A” of An Gof into the symbol for anarchy had, they reckoned, given their calling card an extra dimension of revolutionary fervour. (I remember drawing on my fag and nodding sagely.)

But how serious was all this? I also recalled being warned, as a child, about glass in the sand when playing on Portreath beach, and that the same people doing the graffiti were probably responsible for that stunt as well. But was this the act of some bona fide revolutionaries? How is a gashed foot going to “free” anyone? A friend from Camborne described the glass on the beach as “f**king stupid”, and I’m inclined to agree.

I’m currently looking into the “An Gof” attacks of the 1980s. If anyone has recollection of, or connection with, the below events, please get in touch. Many thanks

  1. The bombing of St Austell courthouse, 1980
  2. The bombing of a Penzance hairdresser, 1981
  3. Beacon Village Hall fire, 1984
  4. Zodiac Bingo Hall fire, Redruth, 1984
  5. Glass on Portreath Beach, 1984

Some of the comments I received were less than favourable:

I can tell you now that most of this is urban myth. And how strange that at a time when so many of us are working so hard to protect Cornwall, someone finds it necessary to drag up this utter rubbish again. Is there an agenda here?


It is interesting that the minute the Cornish movement starts becoming visible…there is this rake up of an anglo-myth of Cornish terrorism. If it isn’t an agenda, then it is at best poor timing.

And again, the alleged An Gof attacks were dismissed as:

…fantasy. The myth of Cornish terrorism rises every time the Cornish get up off our knees. It is tiring at best, and deliberate smears at worst.

So, not only am I anti-Cornish in writing this post, I might be a raving Marxist too. Oh – and I’ve bad timing as well. At best, this is laughable; at worst, it’s insulting.

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