Cornwall Christmas Traditions
Carols - A Tradition For The World
The Old Market House
The Bustle of a
We cannot think of the
old market-house without remembering the animated scene around it of a
market-day. On the higher side, at the corn-market steps, opposite the
"Golden Lion," the jolly farmers and their buxom wives would be seen
arriving, seated each on two or more sacks of grain, with a basket of butter and
eggs on the arm of the dame, and probably a basket of poultry on that of her
lord. The crowing, squalling, laughing, and scolding showed a sound heart and
lungs, and that the old folks were neither ashamed nor afraid to be seen to do
their own work; and the appetizing steam which ascended through the open kitchen
window of the cozy hostel, at the foot of the stairs, told them, as well as the
screeching, lard-labouring roasting-jack, as plainly as jack could speak, that
plenty of good substantial fare would soon be ready for their equally
substantial appetites. There is no mistake about it,—there was less nonsense
about the people then than now. At that time the ladies of the squires,
merchants, and farmers, did their own marketing,—aye, and often such dames as
Mesdames Noye, Trezillian, Ustick, and Fender, in the west country, and others
of equal rank in town, would ride to the mill on the sacks of corn and bolt the
meal themselves. The sturdy butchers—to be seen in the meat-market then—were
mostly occupiers of the land near the town, and often cultivated many of the
farms of Madron. The crooks with which the transverse bars (between the stalls
and overhead in all parts of the house) were armed, sometimes caught in the
ladies’ towering head-dresses.
Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, 
Montol is the Cornish word for the
Midwinter Solstice according to Edward Lhuyd in his 1700 MSS Vocabulary.
translates Montol as "balance". To the organisers of the festival at
interpretations are important: firstly the Montol festival is a balance to the
ever popular Golowan festival, secondly it is also the celebration of the
Cornish Midwinter and revival of its ancient customs.
Montol at the Lands End
|1. Belerion, that name so bold,
sounding around these rocks so old;
the tribe their torches held up high,
waiting a sign from Gods in the sky
Then thunder rolled and lightning flashed,
a force so strong it made them gasp.
Would Merlin appear from beneath the sea,
bringing his message - oh sweet harmony?
||2. Then suddenly - still -
the sea became,
someone whispered the wizards name.
The land held by winters grip so strong,
A grip they could break by using song.
These Celtic folk who had always been,
seen as crafty killing machines,
were truly minstrels, with voices strong,
conducted by Merlin with his wand.
||3. The first cord sounded it was so deep,
the earth it trembled, rocks seemed to creak.
The song was almost as old as man
and told how winter and spring began;
told of a battle on Pendarves Moor,
when mortal fought God to even the score.
The picture was painted by choir so sweet,
basses and altos made them weep.
4. They told how Llwyd fought to keep
his Winter's grip on the Earth so deep.
How he stole the Sun so nothing grew;
accepted a challenge because he knew
that no mortal on Earth could him defeat,
he'd strike and knock him off his feet.
Taking up axe and sword he strode
onto the battlefield so bold.
||5. Once more Merlin his wand did wave
and lighting forked out o'er the waves.
The tenors then took up the sound,
it was like bird song all around.
They told how Manawydan so bold,
swore a promise to uphold
to rescue the Sun that was the quest
and how in battle he'd done his best.
||6. Backwards and forwards the battle waged,
first bass and altos sang a phrase
Then words so quiet it did seem
that tenors were beaten, on their knees.
But through it all they told the quest,
how good beat evil in the test.
How one last thrust of the sword
had meant that Llwyd ruled no more.
7. The voices swelled
on Belerion's cliffs,
bass and alto - tenors
a last crescendo sent
o'er the waves.
The mighty sun god
they did praise.
as dawn spread out
beams from the east;
putting down wand,
Merlin said "Let's Feast".
Another year had
they'd won the battle
for the sun.
celebrations in Penzance –
9th to 21st DECEMBER 2011
This Winter Solstice event is 5
years old and involves the revival of recorded traditions in Cornwall but in
particular, West Penwith. It originated as an idea to have an event in PZ to
‘balance’ with the Midsummer’s Golowan Festival.
Reflecting the ‘death’ and
‘rebirth’ of the sun, Rivers of Fire are created, lantern-lit processions
from different areas of the town, meeting at the highest point, Lescudjack
Hillfort, an ancient fortress site. Here, the community gathers to watch The
Lord of Misrule light the beacon, fireplay, dancing, drumming and the magical,
mischievous Turkey Rhubarb Band. The site is lit by natural light from
numerous lanterns and torches, crafted in the previous week at community
All return to Chapel Street in
one ‘River of Fire’ where the guising, music, acrobatics, singing and
mayhem begins, masked and dressed in tattered or ‘mock posh’ attire, as
recorded in the history books. Later, another band-led torch lit procession
begins from the top of Chapel Street, leading to a lower beacon behind the
Barbican for community dancing, music and the Chalking of the Mock ceremony.
Visually spectacular, you will
not be sorry if you pay a visit to Penzance on this mid winter night. Make a
mask, dress up (or down!) and come along!
Montol 2011 Schedule of Events
(as at 14/11/11)
Friday 9th December, 8pm
Montol Fund Raising Ceilidh at
the Magpies Football Club. Penzance. Callers and folk group 'Smash The
Window'. Entry £5
Thursday 15th December. From
Guising Tour of a Mummer's Play
around the pubs of Penzance.
Saturday 17th December. 10am to
Exchange Gallery Penzance.
Community Lantern/Mask Making Workshops. FREE!
Sunday 18th December. 7.30pm
St Mary's Church Penzance. Montol
Carol Concert. A rare chance to sing these Cornish Carols and watch a Cornish
Tuesday 20th December from
The Pirate Inn. Alverton. Another
chance to watch the Guise Mummer's Play during our regular Folk Night.
Wednesday 21st December. Montol
Rivers of Fire Lantern Procession
leaves St John's Hall Penzance. Other 'Rivers' from various areas around the
Lescudjack Hillfort Performance
including the Lighting of the Beacon by the Lord of Misrule, fire-play,
drumming, dancing and the Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band. Procession returns to
8pm to 10pm.
Chapel Street Party. Guising,
music, plays, fire/circus acts, Cornish dance and festive food stalls.
Torchlit Procession led by the
Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band from New Street to the car park between PZ Gallery
and the Barbican. There, another Beacon will be lit, the 'Mock' will be
'Chalked' and more dancing will commence!!