Writer: Andy Milligan
Oliver Udy

Song of Insworke

Of Wingletang, of Trevalyor, of Inisworke I sing
Once Instworh, treasured land of Condura and Joan
Treason-forfeit to Champernowne and Trevillian
When trade was made across the Hamoaze
Till time took the worth from Tredour and Treneere
Now on reddened roads folk walk in slow remembrance
Houses and streets pay homage to fabled names
Of Wingletang, of Trevalyor, of Inisworke they sing

Insworke lies just south-west of Plymouth across the Tamar in the Rame Peninsula. The peninsula is relatively inaccessible and has escaped much of the tourist development of the rest of the region. So it is known as the forgotten corner of Cornwall. 

Insworke is now a suburban extension of the small town of Millbrook, with neat semi-detached houses and bungalows among the original cottages. Delivery vans jostle with tractors along its roads. But it once had its own identity as a significant estate. Its original name, Intsworh or Inis-worth, means “an island of worth, price or value”. Such past worth can be judged by the number of Cornish families who coveted it over the centuries. It passed from Roman kings to Cornish earls, eventually being forfeited due to treason by the Norman earl, William of Cornwall. Thereafter it passed down the line of English monarchs from Henry I to Henry VII and beyond, often to their illegitimate children. 

Once Insworke would have been an integral part of maritime Plymouth. It’s only a short row across the Hamoaze (the stretch of the Tamar flowing down to Plymouth Sound) from what is now Devonport Dockyard or Mount Wise. Young lovers would have rowed across St John’s Lake to go courting. Maybe cows grazed the pastures and milk churns were rowed across to what is now Royal William Yard to be put on board vessels or made into cheese.

Today much of that past is hidden or hard to find. The chapel, which features in fancy Gothic script on OS maps, is inaccessible, apparently in the process of being converted into more suburb. No footpaths allow you to ramble through places where you might gaze across the Tamar to the city with which this hamlet once traded, though you can still see the fine view of the Mount Edgcumbe ridge.

Perhaps it was the advent of the car that changed Insworke, when roads replaced the river crossing and trade started to bypass the settlement. Perhaps the silting and flooding of the estuary over time further diminished its importance.

Yet something of its past remains visible, something deeply rooted in the place. The road markings here are pink rather than white, caused by the red soil deposited by the tractors turning in and out of the fields. That rich red soil has defined the Rame Peninsula for centuries. 

And then there are the names. The Cornish language has a musical sound and so do the names of Cornish families and places. Indeed, singing is an important part of Cornish identity. Twenty thousand Cornishmen sang for Trelawny; fishermen and chapel choirs still tour the pubs and churches and the Rame Male Voice choir rehearses every Wednesday in nearby Kingsand. Walking through the hamlet, old Cornish names sing out on street signs and houses: Trevaylor, Treneere, Tredour, Anville, Olcoge and my favourite, Wingletang. Perhaps in the stories we can imagine behind those names, we can conjure up too the hidden history and forgotten identity of Insworke.

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