Cornish Christmas Traditions
Cornish Carols - A Tradition For The World
6. St Ives
The Carol Choir is a tradition at Down-long,(the harbour area) St Ives, on Christmas Eve.and the poem comes from John Barber's book of poems "Cousin Jack ashore and afloat"
We joined the Fore Street carol choir.
The night was crisp and clear,
We started off at Virgin Street
With Cully's "Hellesveor."
'Andsome it was and no mistake,
The great base deep and rich,
The altos and the tenors too
Were good and true to pitch.
One dear old chap there standing by
Said, "Well I must confess,
"OTiz like an organ, iss it ez,
A horgan, nothing less."
We worked the Digey, through Love Lane,
It still continued dry,
Did Bunker's Hill and Bailey's Lane,
Then on to Chy-an-Chy.
Past Doble's Wall, on up Dick's Hill,
Still singing clear and sweet,
Turned right at top for Island Square,
Next stop Teetotal Street.
Our voices now were rather hoarse,
The clarinet gone flat,
So all agreed to do Carn Crows
And leavešn go at that.
CHRISTMAS AT ST IVES in 1861.
"On Christmas-day the mayor, aldermen, and councillors walk in procession to church from the house of the mayor for the time being. The church is, as we have before remarked, gaily decked with evergreens. Two or three days after the singers make a call 'for something for singing,' the proceeds, which are pretty handsome, being spent in a substantial supper for the choir.
"But of the 'guise-dancing,' which has found a last retreat at St Ives,--this is the only town in the country where the old Cornish Christmas revelry is kept up with spirit. The guise-dancing time is the twelve nights after Christmas, i.e., from Christmas-day to Twelfth-day. Guise-dancing at St Ives is no more nor less than a pantomimic representation or bal masque on an extensive scale, the performers outnumbering the audience, who in this case take their stand at the corners of the streets, which are but badly lighted with gas, and rendered still more dismal of late years by the closing of the tradesmen's shops after sunset during this season, on account of the noise and uproar occasioned, the town being literally given up to a lawless mob, who go about yelling and hooting in an unearthly manner, in a tone between a screech and a howl, so as to render their voices as undistinguishable as their buffoon-looking dresses. Here a Chinese is exhibiting 'vite mishe' and 'Dutch dops;' there a turbaned Indian asks you if you 'vant a silver vatch.' A little further on you meet with a Highlander with 'dops to cure the gout.' The home-impoverishing packman, or duffer, has also his representative, urging to be allowed just to leave 'a common low-price dress at an uncommon high price, and a quarter of his 6s. sloe-leaves of the best quality.' Faithless swains not infrequently get served out by the friends of the discarded one at this time, whilst every little peccadillo meets with a just rebuke and exposure. About eighteen years ago, a party of youngsters, to give more variety to the sports, constructed a few nice representations of elephants, horses, and--start not gentle reader--lifelike facsimiles of that proverbially stupid brute, the ass. For several seasons it was quite a treat to witness the antics of the self-constituted elephants, horses, and asses, in the thoroughfares of this little town. On the whole, the character of the guise-dancing has degenerated very much this last twenty years. It was formerly the custom for parties to get up a little play, and go from house to house to recite their droll oddities, and levy contributions on their hearers in the form of cake or plum-pudding. Wassailing, as far as I can learn, never obtained much in this neighbourhood. Old Father Christmas and bold King George were favourite characters. It is not uncommon to see a most odiously-disguised person with a bedroom utensil, asking the blushing bystanders if there is 'any need of me.' Some of the dresses are, indeed, very smart, and even costly; but for the most part they consist of old clothes, arranged in the oddest manner, even frightfully ugly. It is dangerous for children, and aged or infirm persons, to venture out after dark, as the roughs generally are armed with a sweeping-rush or a shillalagh. The uproar at times is so tremendous as to be only equalled in a 'rale Irish row.' As may be anticipated, these annual diversions have a very demoralising influence on the young, on account of the licentious nature of the conversation indulged in, though we really wonder that there are not many more instances of annoyance and insult than now take place, when we consider that but for such times as Christmas and St Ives feast, the inhabitants have no place of amusement, recreation, or public instruction; there being no library, reading-room, institution, literary or scientific, or evening class; and unless there is one at the National School room, not a night school or even a working-men's institution is in the town.
"We should not omit that one of the old customs still observed is the giving apprentices three clear holidays (not including Sunday) after Christmas-day, though we hear of attempts being made to lessen this treat to the youngsters. If we don't wish success to these efforts, we do desire those should succeed who will endeavour to impart to our rising population a thorough contempt for guise-dancing and all such unmeaning buffoonery. There is one thing which must not be overlooked--viz., the few drunken brawls that occur at such times. Cases of drunkenness certainly occur, but these are far below the average of towns of its size, the population being in 1861 (parliamentary limits) 10,354."--St lves: Correspondent.
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