You are here:

The GWR’s role in the invention of the Cornish Riviera: Distinction, Serendipity and Endurance

Recorded on the 8 February 2024

Speaker: Alexander Popple (Independent)

This seminar examines the history of the Cornish Riviera as a railway marketing exercise and a place identity with a particular focus on the years 1900-1939.

The Riviera “brand” was not invented by the Great Western Railway, but the railway’s adoption and vigorous promotion of it after 1904 added momentum that has made it a defining and enduring motif of Cornwall.

Yet as this research shows, it was untypical among railway marketing campaigns, encompassing both rail service and a strongly characterized destination that represents not a specific place, but an imagined geography and a co-opted cultural idea. Notwithstanding the heavy and sustained investment of reputation and resource the railway made in it, management only vaguely conceptualized the business rationale. It depended on the actions and ideas of local businesses, authorities, artists and others outside its control who had a notably ambiguous reaction to the way it portrayed a partial and caricatured view of a place and people. This presentation will suggest that the way these elements coalesced into a vision that remains potent and compellingly resonant down to the present day offers insights into pre-nationalisation railway business practices and local place marketing and that detailed examination of individual marketing campaigns could be a way to unlock greater understanding of the culture and management of transport organisations. 

Alexander Popple graduated from the University of York’s Railway Studies MA programme in 2022. The Cornish Riviera was his dissertation subject and he continues to research it, whenever his other commitments allow. His interests include transport history and its intersections with engineering, culture, and business practices. He works as a Digital Services Manager for a manufacturing company.

Transport & Mobility HistoryTransport & Mobility History

The GWR’s role in the invention of the Cornish Riviera: Distinction, Serendipity and Endurance