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PADSTOW HOBBY HORSE May 1st 1914
Between 1 and 3 am parties of men visit the chief houses of the neighbourhood and sing the May Song with or without an accompaniment of drum, concertina etc.. About 11 am the chief "pairs" as they are called make their appearance and make wend
their way to Troter a neighbouring village, afterwards returning to Padstow where for the rest of the day they perform up and down the streets.
About five or six additional sets of performers perambulate the streets during the day most all but one of them consisting of boys. A pole covered with furze gozse and other wild flowers was erected in front of Cross House at the top of the main street.
Each party consisted of a hobby horse, an attendant wit ha club a drummer, a concertina of accordion or euphonium player, and several men dressed in sailor or other costume wearing women's hats decorated with flowers and feathers. The hobby horse consists of a wooden hoop about six feet in diameter covered with black canvas and decorated with ribbons round the edge,
a curtain of the black canvas, about four feet in depth, hanging from the edge of the hoop to the ground, thus hiding the rider.
The latter puts his head through a hole in the hoop canvas immediately in front of the centre and wears upon his head a high
conical hat of the same black material rudely painted with garish colours and white paint, to which is attached a mask of black canvas, similarly painted completely hiding the performer form view. The rider passes his arms through ropes stretched on the inside of the hoop canvas and grasps the hoop with his hands and when he dances he lowers or raises the front of the hoop almost to a vertical
position or lowers it to wither side. A horse's head carved in wood stretches out from the circumference of the hoop immediately in front of the occupant, the lower jaw of the mouth being set on a hinge and attached to the occupant by a string so that it can be made to snap. At the back of the hoop a small tail of horse hair is attached. The attendant with a club ( a wooden stick about two feet
long on the point of which is hinged a circular disc, three or four inches in diaeter, of black canvas, painted like the mask)
dances in front of the horse always facing him, while the instruments play and the crowd sing the May Song. The steps etc. are improvized and consist of various forms of back step, hockle back and swing steps etc., the club man every now and again passing by the side of the horse and then facing him repeating his dance on the other side. The dancing is quite attractive and is performed by both horse and club man with great dexterity. Money is collected form the crowd by the attendants during the performance.
Performances of this kind by the several hobby horses continue all day in the crowded streets, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Every now and again the horse will chase some one in the crowd, usually a young girl, and try to embrace her, a touch of the horse being accounted lucky. A spirit of simple and unself-conscious enjoyment pervades horse attendants and crowd alike, all of
whom get all the fun they can out of the annual festival. I saw no horse play or vulgarity of any kind and very little drunkenness although a large amount of beer was consumed during the day. The chief "pairs" consisted of veterans who had danced annually for very many year. There was only one other adult set and they were known as the "Ragabites" being temperance people. The whole town
was en fete and the ships in the harbour decorated with bunting: but the shops were not closed.
I made enquires of Mr Lobb and Mr Eddyvane, both of them old men, and found the ceremony had altered very little in the last fifty years or so. A procession however, consisting of couples, male and female arm in arm, the latter dressed in white headed by the hobby horse and his attendants, used to start from the Golden Lion (where a supper had been held the night before) about noon and perambulated all the chief streets for about two or three hours, all singing the May Song. This has now been discontinued.
for some years. The raising of the Maypole used too, to be a more important affair. The May-pit as it was called was dug nightly for several weeks before May Day and the Maypole consisted of two spars lashed together and was forty or fifty feet high. Gulls' eggs were placed upon it as well as flowers, the eggs being gathered from an island called Newlan a mile or so from the entrance of the harbour.
The singers follow more or less accurately the words of the printed song. The verses beginning, " Arise up Mr. --" were sung in the early morning serenades. the last stanza "Now Fare you well" was sung at the conclusion of the return visit paid by the horse in the day time to those houses that had been visited the previous night. The verses "Where is St George", "Where are the French Dogs" and "Up flies the kite" were sung to a different tune (2921) and very slowly and solemnly almost like a dirge. The first of these was interpolated at varying intervals during every performance, probably whenever the horse was getting tired and wanting a rest. The horse sank down, the
club man knelt in fornt with his club resting on the horse's head and after a momentary pause, the verse was sung, the horse and attendant rising up quickly at its conclusion and re continuing the dance as before (No. 2920) to the words "With the merry ring". The words "Summer is a come unto day" are no doubt a corruption of "Summer is icumen today"
In the smoking room of Prideaux Place there is a broadside by Docton, Printer and Bookbinder, Padstow the words of which follow the modern printed form very closely ( the alterations being shown by the red ink corrections. At the head of the broadside there is a woodcut (coloured) depicting a performance of the hobby horse before a house thus:
1 2 5 7 8 9 10
[1 = drummer
3 man in high hat dancing
4 man firing a pistol
5 hobby horse
7 women in bonnet dancing
8 and 9 man and women facing each other dancing
10 man firing pistol
A DESCRIPTION OF THE "HORSE",
AND AN ACCOUNT OF THE ANNUAL MAY DAY CELEBRATION, WITH SONGS.
WILLIAMS & SON,
Market Square, PADSTOW,