Cul­ture

Few peo­ple spend time in Corn­wall with­out go­ing to a fes­ti­val - and the Duchy has plenty on of­fer, writes his­to­rian Alan M Kent in his new book The Fes­ti­vals of Corn­wall: Rit­ual, Re­vival, Re-in­ven­tion

Cornwall Life - - INSIDE -

Corn­wall’s fes­ti­val fi­esta

Most peo­ple in Corn­wall will know about Flora Day at Hel­ston, the May Day Obby Oss cel­e­bra­tions at Pad­stow and even the Golowan Fes­ti­val at Pen­zance. But who knows the Bod­min Rid­ing, the Black Prince Flower Boat Pro­ces­sion or the Marham­church Rev­els?

In his com­pen­dious The Fes­ti­vals of Corn­wall, au­thor

Alan M. Kent reck­ons the Cor­nish cel­e­brate more fes­ti­vals than any other western Euro­pean peo­ple. We are, he says a per­ma­nent ‘fes­tive’ state – and ev­ery day of the Cor­nish cal­en­dar is cir­cled with danc­ing, dress­ing up and drink­ing. And with so many rea­sons to be cheer­ful or re­flec­tive, pi­ous or sport­ing, he says to be Cor­nish is also a yearn­ing to be re­bel­lious – at least for some of the time. And it’s at fes­ti­val time that the com­mu­nity turns ‘topsy-turvy’, when daily rou­tine is sus­pended and com­mu­nal rev­els pre­vail.

Where did so many of our fes­ti­vals be­gin, and why? Nav­i­gat­ing a path through folk­lore and his­tor­i­cal half-truths, Alan Kent paints a vivid and en­ter­tain­ing pic­ture of Pa­gan­ism and Christianity at work, how the two came to co-ex­ist and how, over aeons Christianity mostly tri­umphed. That mul­ti­tude of Cor­nish saints? They once were lo­calised Pa­gan deities Chris­tianised in the early Mid­dle Ages and who had their own feast days. Mid­sum­mer Bon­fires?

‘We are in a per­ma­nent fes­tive state: ev­ery day of the Cor­nish cal­en­dar is cir­cled with danc­ing, dress­ing up and drink­ing.’

Pa­gan. Cry­ing of the Neck har­vest cer­e­mony? Pa­gan. And then there’s Method­ism and the Methodists who gate-crashed the more ine­bri­ate of the fes­tiv­i­ties and stopped all the fun. Or did they? The au­thor ar­gues that the Methodist move­ment, rather than ky­bosh­ing tra­di­tional ac­tiv­ity did lit­tle more than ab­sorb and adapt the Cor­nish fes­ti­val scene. Method­ism added its own dates to the cal­en­dar too, cre­at­ing new fes­ti­vals such as Tea Treats and Chapel An­niver­saries – in it’s own a fas­ci­nat­ing sub-plot of fes­tive Corn­wall’s big­ger story.

The county’s once favourite sport, hurl­ing, in­tro­duced by the Nor­mans, was so much a part of the Cor­nish iden­tity that Cor­nish­men played a game in Lon­don (imag­ine the trav­el­ling!) in front of Oliver Cromwell, hop­ing to con­vince the Lord Pro­tec­tor that it was nei­ther ‘silly’ nor ‘un­godly’. He was no more con­vinced than the Methodists 200 years later and yet the game sur­vives; in St Ives where he (rarely she) who holds the ball at midday is the win­ner of five shillings. Did you know that the ball is most likely a sym­bol of fer­til­ity? Kent’s re­search also sug­gests a com­monly-held be­lief that he who first caught the ball would turn mad. In con­trast to the rough and tum­ble of vi­o­lent games nine­teenth cen­tury Method­ism in­tro­duced Tea Treats. In 1835 in Mor­vah the day com­prised of chil­dren walk­ing hand in hand up a lo­cal hill to sing a hymn (Lord how thy Won­ders are Dis­played) and fin­ish­ing with tea and cake – or ‘revel bun’ – served by the church el­ders.

For those of us who are proud to say we are Cor­nish (or adopted Cor­nish) The Fes­ti­vals of Corn­wall hits a happy note, de­scrib­ing how lost over time, many of our fes­ti­vals have reap­peared and been rein­vented as our com­mu­ni­ties wake up to their value, not just as tourist at­trac­tions but as a day or two when or­di­nary life can be put aside to dress up and dance, sing and make mu­sic and make up with the neigh­bours. As Kent says, some of our favourite fes­ti­vals – Cor­nish Gorsedd, Tom Baw­cock’s Eve at Mouse­hole and Lafrowda Day at St Just-in-Pen­with – our re­cent re­vivals to add to a new gen­er­a­tion cel­e­brat­ing surf­ing and new mu­sic and in their own way pre­serv­ing a time­less need to en­joy life. As the book says, with­out rev­elry and cel­e­bra­tion life would be very dull.

The Fes­ti­vals of Corn­wall: Rit­ual Re­vival Re-in­ven­tion

Dr Alan M. Kent, £25

Red­cliffe Press red­clif­fe­press.co.uk

LEFT: The Man En­gine the largest me­chan­i­cal pup­pet ever to be built in Bri­tain at his full height of ten me­tres on Lemon Quay Truro.© Cor­nish Pic­ture Li­brary / Kevin Brit­land

RIGHT: Close up of the BlueOss & Teaser per­form­ing dur­ing Obby Oss MayDay cel­e­bra­tions Pad­stow© Paul Watts/ Cor­nish Pic­ture Li­brary

BE­LOW: Close up of The Prin­ci­pal Dance in Church Street on Flora Day in Hel­ston © Paul Watts/ Cor­nish Pic­ture Li­brary

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