Thursday, February 3, 2011

Malcolm's comment on Cornish railways

Old Cornish tin-mine pumping station (Wikipedia, Tim Corsler)
Malcolm made a perceptive comment about why distance to market seemed to matter much more down in the 'toe' of Cornwall than in the lusher pastures of Somerset, well to the east. He thought this might have something to do with railways. This is interesting, because railways did develop early on in Cornwall, but mostly for the freighting of minerals, especially tin. The steam engine started off in Cornwall to pump water out of mines. The Cornish railway system was purely local though, and didn't get connected up with the rest of the system until the 1850s. What is interesting about Cornwall, and which Malcolm's comment made me think about, was the amount of food rioting that went on among the tin-miners. As the linked text notes, the rioters were isolated groups of non-local non-farmers who suffered when food prices went up. This isn't just history: we're seeing the same thing these last few weeks in Tunisia and Eqypt. Underlying the protests are concerns about high food prices, caused by stock-piling, poor harvests (possibly climate-change driven though this is risky speculation) and the large amount of food production being converted into ethanol (primarily in the US). There is an article here from the British Daily Telegraph about the world being one poor harvest away from chaos. History does repeat itself, and only fools don't learn from the past.

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