Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Cornish Bunch or Bush

Cornish Bunch or Bush

Two withy hoops are fastened  together at right angles. These are covered with holly and ivy. A red candle is placed at the base and an apple is secured to hang down above it. These were hung from the ceiling on Winter Solstice eve, where just before midnight, the red candle was very carefully lit.  Then those assembled would form a ring underneath the bush, and perform a dance to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

From: The Old Cornwall Christmas Anthology

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Historic accounts of the Obby Oss in West Penwith

The three accounts below form the basis for our understanding of the West Penwith mid-winter mast style Obby Oss.

"Here was burned a mesquita (Paul church) in which there was a horse carved in wood and greatly embellished, serving as an idol worshipped by the people" (Log of Capt. Carlos de Amezola, 1595)

"Another amusement is called 'The Corn-market' where there is also there is a master who has an assistant called Spy-the-Market; another essential character is old Penglaze who has a blackened face and a staff in his hand, and a person girded round with a horse's hide, or what is supposed to be such, to serve as his horse; they are placed towards the back of the market.
The other players each have some even price appropriated to them for names, as Twopence, Sixpence, Twelvepence, etc. The master then calls 'Spy-the-master', to which the man replies, 'Ay, sirrah.' The master the asks the price of corn. The man names some price that is borne by one of the players as, for instance, 'Twopence'. The master then holds the same conversation with Twopence as he had with his man, and so on till some mistake is made by any of the party not answering to his name, when the unlucky offender is to be sealed, which constitutes the principal amusement of the game. The master than goes up to the delinquent and, taking up his foot, says: 'Here is my seal, where is old Penglaze's seal?' and gives him a blow on the foot. Old Penglaze then comes in on his horse which winces and capers about grotesquely. He is told that a fine colt needs shoeing, for which he says that his full reward is a full gallon of moonlight besides all other customs for shoeing in that market. The shoe of the 'colt' is than taken off and Penglaze gives him one or two hard blows on the sole of the foot, after which he rides off again, his horse capering more than ever and sometimes throwing the old gentleman off." (Sandys: "Cornish Carols Ancient and Modern", 1833, in respect of West Cornwall)

Above: The Walmer hooden oss from Kent. Taken in 1907, this may be similar in style to the accound that William Sandys gives of the Penzance Oss.

"A well-known character amongst them, about 50 years ago, was the hobby-horse, represented by a man carrying a piece of wood in the form of a horse's head and neck, with some contrivance for opening and shutting the mouth with a loud snapping noise, the performer being so covered with a horse-cloth or hide of a horse as to resemble the animal whose curvetings, biting and other motions he imitated." (R. Edmonds, "The Land's End District", 1862, re. the Christmas to Twelve-Tide geese (guise) dancers).

With thanks to Craig Weatherhill for bringing the texts together.

Above: The modern Cornish mast-beast style of Oss, still very much associated with mid-winter traditions across Cornwall

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Darley Oak

The Darley Oak near Linkinhorne, suggested to be at least 1,000 years old may recall some of this ‘supernatural’ reverence. Local folk tradition gives magical healing properties to the tree. It is said that any wish made by it will come true, and the trees acorns are said to be used as lucky charms, particularly giving luck to pregnant women. In particular anyone who passes through the hollow of the tree and then encircles the trunk will be granted any wish or desire. The tree was first documented as a tree of great antiquity in the 18th century, and has been seen as a natural curiosity for generations. The present farmhouse was built in 1733; but the tree was revered well before this time. In William Harvey’s 1727 book on the parish of Linkinhorne, it is stated that the hollow in the trunk was capable of housing small pleasure parties. The custom of holding tea parties in the Oak’s hollow trunk was continued well into the 1980s by the Hoare family, who purchased the farm in 1919.

...snippet taken from my forthcoming book: 'From Granite to Sea ~ The Folklore of Bodmin Moor and East Cornwall' to be published by Troy Books, winter/spring 2018. Art © Paul Atlas-Saunders, words © Alex Langstone.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Lundy Hole and the Devil

Nicholas Roscarrock recorded the following folklore from the remote and rugged peninsula between Wadebridge and Port Isaac. It concerns St Menefrida, patron of St Minver church and was first recorded during the early 17th century. 

One fine day, whilst Menefrida was combing her hair by her ancient chapel and holy well at Tredrizzick, she was rudely confronted by the Devil, who appeared from the deep shadows of the local woods. She was so distressed by his astonishing apparition, that she threw her comb at him, striking the fiend with such force that he flew through the air and plunged into the ground at Topalundy, on the nearby coast. This created the great hole, now known as Lundy Hole, sited high on the clifftop above Lundy Cove, Polzeath. 

It is interesting to note that Roscarrock lived nearby at St Endellion, so one must assume this was an established folktale in his day.

Above left: Lundy Hole. Above: Lundy Cove.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

John Harris gets piskey-led by Bucca on Bolenowe Carn

"Another incident I cannot forget. I could not have been then more than four or five years ' old. I left my mother’s door, and by some contrivance got over the stile at the end of the house leading into the meadow. Here I played among the daisies and clover for some time, pulling off the great heads of the ox—eye, and collecting moss-cups and ivy-leaves from the hedges. So intent was I on my botanical selection, that I noticed not the sinking sun, or the rising moon, until the falling twilight warned me it was time to return to the house. But this was not so easy as leaving it. Round and round I walked, still getting more bewildered and farther into the gloom. Then I sat down on a rock by the side of the path in the Water Field, shut my eyes and sobbed. Over me were the broad heavens, studded with stars, and around me the stillness and the solemness of night. My parents, alarmed at my absence, sought for me with many fears; and when they found me, I was sitting upon this mossy boulder, sobbing forth at intervals, “There is nobody here but I and the buckaw. ” The buckaw was a supposed pixey that haunted the neighbourhood."

extracted from My Autobiography by John Harris. With thanks to Andy Norfolk.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Encounter at Dolcoath Mine by John Harris

We entered the blacksmith’s shed by the door I have mentioned, which fronted the high road, and had just finished changing our dress, when we heard a tremendous racket outside. We ran to the door, and there was a little horseman on a night-black nag, galloping furiously in front of the smithy.

In a moment the horse was checked, and back came the rash rider again, sweeping by like the wind. But instead of continuing on the carriage road, the smoking steed dashed over the heaps of rubbish behind the shed, where a horse had never been known to have gone before. Round, and round, and round the shed it rushed at a frantic pace, each time faster than before. as if the weird animal had wings. I could see no whip in the rider’s hand, or bridle-rein—no saddle-stirrup or spur, neither could I discover any face to the horseman. The mystic horse then dashed by us so near that the wind it stirred rushed in our faces. On it went in the very direction of our home, over the road we walked.
The smithy stood in a mineral valley known as Bottom Hill, and its sides were very steep, so that it was no easy task to go up them. The carriage road wound along its side, running on a considerable length until it reached the top. There was, however, a footpath for passengers almost in a direct line from the lowest part of the valley to the very edge of the hill. At the distance of every few yards there were flights of steps, so as to surmount it more easily. But a horse to go up that way would be almost like scaling a cliff. What was our surprise, then, when this hazardous horseman, but a few feet in advance of us, dashed right up over these steps! As he leaped from level to level, and from stone to stone, the black horse seemed standing upright on its hind legs. No sound was heard, no ' crack of whip, no breathing of the jaded beast, but all was still as death.

Of course, the wild horse and its wilder rider reached the high-road on the top of the valley long before we did, though we paced on considerably faster than we were wont. I felt no fear, and hardly expected to see it again, but had resolved that, should it make its appearance, to call out boldly and ask what it wanted. Exactly as we reached the last step of the footpath, which would land us on the main road, there was the black horse and its sooty rider coming full tilt in our faces! I had an opportunity, for a second, to examine the horseman; for by this time the moon had risen, and the light was tolerably good. He seemed as black as ink, armless and legless, and no bigger than a farmer’s watchdog. He was bent forward upon the horse’s neck, so that he was almost double. I could see no face or features of any kind—no whip, or bridle, or saddle-girth. But down he came sweeping like a storm-wave. We stepped quickly aside, and I shouted “Good night!” but there was no reply, no recognition of our presence, or murmur of any kind. On went the black horse galloping into the midnight—on, on! For several minutes we heard the animal’s hoofs rattling and ringing upon the road towards Tuckingmill; and then all was silent, and we saw it no more. What it was I have never discovered to this day—but it was no ghost.

extracted from My Autobiography by John Harris