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May day Page

PADSTOW HARBOUR, CORNWALL, UK

MAY DAY CELEBRATIONS IN PADSTOW

 

The Red 'Obby oss'.

            Maypole in the square with both Blue & Red 'Obby Oss'            Musical accompaniment for dancing and singing.

 

 

May Day is the most important day of the year in Padstow when this small fishing town celebrates its famous local legend.

The origins of the ' Obby Oss' is shrouded in the mists of time but the most popular story is that in the 15th century the male population of the town went off to fight the French leaving the women to defend the town and harbour. This turned out to be exactly what was needed as an enemy fleet was sighted in the estuary of the river Camel in which Padstow is situated on the North Cornish coast, The women decided that as the could not expect to prevent a landing by force of arms other methods should be employed. They dressed up as black horses, and when the invaders came in sight of the shore they saw that it was lined with what appeared to be black demons and fled in terror. In their elation at preventing the enemy from landing they celebrated by dancing round the Maypole, and from that day on, according to legend, festivities have always taken place in Padstow on the first of May.

The 'Mayers' still wear the traditional dress, although nowadays this is usually a white top and trousers in place of the dress for the women, a defining red or blue ribbon is worn according to which 'Oss' is supported, flowers are used as decoration and it is traditional to wear garlands and posies of bluebells and cowslips, collections are made from the crowd during the parade around the town, blues collect for charity whilst reds collect to cover the cost of staging the event and 'refreshing' the 'Mayers' etc.

Preparations start several days beforehand and the town is decked out with coloured bunting and all convenient points such as doorways, lampposts and rainwater pipes are decorated with branches of Sycamore, a Maypole is erected in the square and decorated with flowers, flags and bunting. On the eve of Mayday at 11-45 pm outside 'The Golden Lion' pub, which is the 'home' of the old 'Oss' people gather to await the chimes of midnight, as the chimes ring out the singers launch into the 'Morning Song' a great atmosphere develops as the singing develops without any musical accompaniment.

In the morning people have been gathering in the town to witness the celebrations, the children take the first show with their own 'Oss' which they take on a short parade and take it down to the waters edge in the harbour to 'drink'.

The celebration begin in earnest when the blue 'Oss' emerges from the 'Institute' at 10 am and the street procession starts led by the musicians, (drums, accordions, and tambourines) and dancers, an hour later the old 'Oss' emerges from 'The Golden Lion' pub and begins his parade around the town never once crossing the path of the other Oss. As the Oss prances around the town accompanied by its entourage of Mayers all singing the May Song to the beat of the drums, and the tuneful accordions and tambourines it is tormented by the 'Teaser' in a form of a joust, when a pause in the singing etc is reached, the 'Teaser' places a staff on the Oss's canvas and it sinks to the ground. Then the verse beginning' O where is St George' arouses a solemn mood in the crowd until a sudden drum beat raises the Oss and all the crowd around it back to joyous life.

The two Oss's continue their separate paths around the town with the Oss taking many 'favors' from the young women and girls en route as it makes its way eventually to the maypole in the evening, everyone joins in with the triumphant singing and dancing , no doubt well fueled by ale from the local pubs until midnight and beyond.

 

AT THE START OF THE DAY THE CHILDREN'S 'OBBY OSS' IS LED TO DRINK IN THE HARBOUR

 

DANCING IN THE STREET

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