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Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss May Day celebrations



You’ll be able to take the lady out of Padstow, however not Padstow out of the lady, as I found just lately when listening to a recording of the ‘Obby ‘Oss Might Day celebrations and was unexpectedly ambushed by a tidal wave of nostalgia.

I grew up close to Padstow – “Padsta” because it’s identified to locals – traditionally Petrocstow, the city of St Petroc or Patrick – and extra just lately, mortifyingly, “Padstein”, reflecting the Rick Stein take-over of the city.  The Might Day celebrations had been the spotlight of the yr.  Even many many years in the past the city was awash with guests on 1 Might and I believe that the crowds are virtually unendurable now that Padstow has developed from a small fishing city on the north coast of Cornwall to the connoisseur centre of the West Nation.

Within the Sixties and 70s it was a magical place to be younger. Though most individuals nonetheless earned their dwelling from farming and fishing, tourism was rising quickly, and summer time seasonal jobs had been simple to search out. Our pack of native youngsters referred scornfully to summer time guests as “grockles” or “emmets” however had been solely too happy to flirt with the rich public-school youngsters who sailed throughout the Camel Estuary from Rock or caught the common ferry to spend the day in Padstow.  

Generally scuffles would get away between locals and guests who had been ingesting within the harbourside pubs all night.  I used to be as soon as thrown into the harbour by a drunken youth outraged by the slogan on my tee-shirt – “UDI for Cornwall” – a Common Declaration of Independence that I believed extremely subtle, unaware of the darker connections with Ian Smith, and his breakaway regime in Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe.  

A unique place when the vacationers go away

Within the winter, when the crowds of vacationers left, the city closed in upon itself.  Storms battering the seashores and excessive cliffs of the north Cornish coast had been a reminder of the excessive value that native fishermen typically paid for his or her lifestyle. The native RNLI workplace on the harbourside had a map of the coast displayed in its window, coated with a number of colored pins, each one representing a wreck. Navigating the shifting sands and highly effective currents of the Camel Estuary remained difficult even for essentially the most skilled sailors and fishermen, and plenty of ships had foundered on the Doom Bar on the entrance to Padstow harbour previously. 

Native legend had it that the Doom Bar was inflicted in town by a wonderful mermaid whose advances had been spurned by an area fisherman. Livid, she cursed the city and vowed that it ought to by no means prosper. In a single day, the sandy hump of the Doom Bar appeared, blocking the big fishing fleets that had beforehand visited Padstow with their catch, and the prosperity of the city declined.  The mermaid lives on in a carving on the tip of an historical picket pew in St Petroc’s church.

With the primary indicators of spring got here excited anticipation of Might Day, the ritual so distinctive to the city, and so pricey to Padstownians that even within the trenches of the First World Battle, every time one Padstow man met one other on 1 Might, they celebrated by singing the Might Day track collectively.  

The red 'obby 'oss captures a passing maiden during the Padstow May Day festival. Photo credit: S.G. Bailey on Wikimedia Commons.
A ritual distinctive to the city: the pink ‘obby ‘oss captures a passing maiden throughout the Padstow Might Day pageant. Photograph credit score: S.G. Bailey on Wikimedia Commons.

Previous and current historical past

The origins of the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss are obscure.  The primary recorded point out of the celebrations dates again to the early 19th century, however many declare that the determine of the ‘Oss and his “Teazer” have hyperlinks to historical pagan fertility rites.  Legend had it that if a younger Padstow maiden discovered herself captured underneath the pitch-black cover of the dancing ‘Oss she could be with baby throughout the yr.

Newer historical past is actually mirrored in a few of the verses of the Padstow Might Day track, with a poignant reminder of the losses that conflict has inflicted on the youth of the city over the centuries:

“The place are the younger males that right here now ought to dance,
For summer time is acome unto day,
Some they’re in England some they’re in France,
Within the merry morning of Might.”

However lots of the references are splendidly obscure.  Who, I at all times puzzled, was Aunt Ursula Birdhood, and what had occurred to her outdated ewe that they each ought to be embedded within the sluggish dying verse of the Might Day track? 

“O! the place is St. George,
O!, the place is he O,
He’s out in his lengthy boat on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite and down falls the lark O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood she had an outdated ewe
And she or he died in her personal Park O”.

The beat of the drums echo down the years

Padstow Might Day really begins on the final hour of yesterday, when teams of singers accumulate beneath the home windows of native worthies to sing the Night time Tune, soliciting beer and cash:

“And provides to us a cup of ale the merrier we will sing,
Within the merry morning of Might.”

Adjustments being made to the mask of the red 'Oss in Padstow, Cornwall. Photo credit: 
Nomis Elaws on Wikimedia Commons.
The shouts of the gang echo from previous celebrations. Changes being made to the masks of the pink ‘Oss in Padstow, Cornwall. Photograph credit score:
Nomis Elaws on Wikimedia Commons.

On the morning of 1 Might, the total processions situation forth from their respective properties, led by bands of accordions and drums, with the ‘Obby ‘Oss and his Teazer dancing, wheeling and circling amongst them. The Victorians, outraged by the wildness and drunkenness of the celebrations, established a rival to the unique pink ‘Oss within the type of a Temperance Motion blue ‘Oss, and to this present day the 2 rivals nonetheless dance the streets of Padstow and solely meet on the maypole on the finish of the day.

And so, with the beat of the drums and the shouts of the gang, “’Oss, ‘Oss, wee ‘Oss!” echoing from previous Padstow celebrations, I want you a really joyful Might Day in 2024.  

“Now fare you properly and bid you all good cheer,
For summer time is acome unto day,
We name no extra unto your own home earlier than one other yr,
Within the merry morning of Might.”

The Blue ‘Oss Emerges on Might Day morning:

“‘Oss, ‘Oss, Wee ‘Oss”:

The Blue ‘Oss Farewell:

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