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Pronounced /stæˈneɪtə(r)/Help with pronunciation

Stannator is a fascinating word with a very long history in Devon and Cornwall, particularly in Plympton, a town near Plymouth in Devon. These days, it’s the title given to the mayor, but that’s a recent innovation to mark the ancient link of the town with tin mining. (The word is from Latin stannum, tin, which also supplies the metal’s chemical symbol, Sn.)

Tin mining in medieval times was so vital an industry that by royal charter those in the industry in Devon and Cornwall were governed by a stannary parliament, which had the power to pass laws binding on the tin miners — administered by stannary courts — and also provide them with some independence from laws passed by the national parliament at Westminster. Stannators were the elected representatives to the parliament.

The parliaments, or convocations, of tinners for Devon, were held on a high rock in Dartmoor, called Crockern Torr, where stood a table and seats, the whole being hewn out of the granite surface, without any neighbouring building or protection from the weather. The stannators of the stannaries of Devon who composed these parliaments, were elected by the mayors, or other chief magistrates, of the four coinage towns, Chagford, Ashburton, Plympton, and Tavistock.

The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1839. The coinage towns had that name because they were the places at which refined tin was weighed and tested for quality, a process called coining; it was given that name because the assay consisted of striking off a corner, called a coin, the same word as both our modern monetary coin and the architectural quoin, from the French word for a corner or wedge. Other accounts record that the stannators later found an inn in Tavistock more comfortable.

The courts were abolished in 1896 but the parliament was never formally done away with (although the Cornish stannary parliament last met in 1752) and attempts have been made from the 1970s to resurrect its powers, principally with the hope of regaining independence from Parliament.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 21 Feb 2009; Last updated 03 Jul 2010