These are transcriptions with notes and remarks in italics and occasional square brackets to clarify dates. It is a work in progress and we have many more articles to transcribe. The references can be used to trace the originals via the British Newspaper Archive or microfilms at Kresen Kernow in Redruth, Cornwall.
We have used asterisks where some original (and today, utterly unacceptable) language was used, leaving the first letter so that the reader may understand what has been omitted. We do not wish to include these words on our website.
If you use these transcriptions in any publication, article or online we would be grateful for an acknowledgement and or link to cornishtrad.com.
Royal Cornwall Gazette – Saturday 14 January 1804
To the Editor of the Royal Cornwall GazetteSir,It is the wish of several of your subscribers, that you would favour them, in an appendix to the poetry in your Gazette of the 24th December, with the best account you can collect of the origin and particulates of the ancient custom of GEESE or GUIZE DANCING, with the ceremonial used on the occasion; …Yours AMICUS CORNUBIENSIS. Helston, January 3, 1804.___
The earliest tracers we can find of the celebration of Christmas, is to be met with the Roman history; where we are told, that in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (A.D. 284) the Christians in Nicomedia, where he then held his court, had assembled together on Christmas Day, for the purpose of commemorating the birth of our blessed Savour. (1) The Emperor, being informated of the nature of their meeting, ordered the doors of the church in which they had assembled, to be fastened, and fire to be set to the building. His orders were obeyed, and the Christians were thus destroyed. This customary celebration, however, was, under some of the later Emperors, permitted; and from thence it gradually spread over Europe. (2)
At this season of the year, it was a very old custom in England to act, what they termed, Miracle Plays; so called, because the subject of the play was taken from Scripture. Some of these, (and of Cornish origin too) are now to be met with in the Cotton Library, in the British Museum. But as these plays were performed in the churches, by the priests, who derived emolument from them, they were soon rivalled by the laity, who choosing subjects for their plays of a quite different description, soon caused the monks to perform to nothing but the church walls; in consequence of which they presented petitions against those profane plays. However, the laity continued to act; and out of those plays grew the disguisements and mumming; and from them, every such species of amusement which we read of, as having been in vogue in those early times, originated. The English, says Polydore Vergil, (De Berum Invent. lib. 5. cap. 2.) have always been remarkable for celebrating the Christmas with plays, masques, and magnificent spectacles, together with games at dice and dancing; nothing of which, he adds, was customary with others nations. The Christmas Prince, of Lord of Misrule, (3) he informs us, was a character almost entirely confined to this island.
We must not, therefore, suppose that which, in Cornwall, is called guise-dance is of Cornish origin; (4–references Carew on guary miracle plays as peculiar to Cornwall) but as having been common to Britain; and that, from our almost insular situation in this country, (and consequently comparative little intercourses with the rest of the kingdom) the original old custom has been longer continued. Wharton in his History of English Poetry (vol. 1 p. 238) traces back Christmas plays(ludi) to the reign of Edward the Third A.D. 1348, which plays were exhibited at his court in those holidays. But from the little indication of novelty, which appears in the order for the preparations which were then to be made for them, we may, I think, conclude that they were of still greater antiquity. Hollinshed and Hall (the latter of whom gives an account of two very superb ones in the time of Henry the Eighth) both make mention of those Christmas plays. Leland (Collect. Vol. iii. Append. P. 236) says, “This Christmas, (an. 4. Hen. VII. A.D. 1489.) I saw no disguiseings at court, and right few playes; but there was an Abbot of Misrule that made much sport, and did righte well his office.” Stow (in his Survey of London p. 79.) also says, that wherever the King resided at Christmas, there was appointed a Lord of Misrule. He adds, that every great man, whether in or dice or not, had such a person at that season, and that this Lord of Misrule continued, with unbounded sway, from All-hallow eve until the day after the feast of the Purification; “in which space there were fine and subtle disguisings, masks and mummeries.” Philip Stubs, in his Anatomie of Abuses, printed A.D. 1595, says, that the King of Misrule was annually chosen in every parish; that this chief then elected several others to be his companions; that they all then dressed themselves out with scarfs, ribbands, &c. and tied handkerchiefs round their waists and laid them over their shoulders. In Blomfield’s Hist. of Norfolk, vol. I. P. 3 we read that, “one rode through the street (in Norwich) having his horse trapped with ten foyle, and other nyse disgysynges, crowned as KING OF CHRISTMAS, in token that the season should end with the twelve moneths of the year; and afore hym went yche month dysgysd as the season required.” Many sorts of games which were prohibited by the statutes, were suffered during Christmas; as were also disguisements and mum Inga. Mr. Brand (in his Additions to Bourne’s Antiq. Vulg.) says, that, at Christmas the fool plough is drawn about by several young men dressed in white shirts, and decorated with ribbands, swords, &c. They have also music with them, and one or two of the company clad in a very strange dress. The Bessy In the habit of an old woman, and the fool almost covered with skins, and a large cap on his head. This last (with the omission of the old woman and the plough) certainly approaches near our guise-dancing. The fool serves the purpose of our OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS, and the others in shirts, ribbands, &c. act the same parts as St. GEORGE, &c. (5–Sebastian Brant, in his“Ship of Fools” 1588 says that they (the disguisers) painted their faces, or rubbed them over with soot. Just so do our Cornish guise dancers.)
Heath, is [sic] his account of the Scilly Islands, (London 1750, page 123) says, that it was a custom of late years, during Christmas, for “the young people to exercise a sort of gallantry called goose dancing, when the maidens are dressed up for young men, and the young men for maidens; thus disguised they visit their neighbours in companies, where they dance, and make jokes upon what has happened in the Island; when every one is humorously told their own without offence being taken. By this sort of sport, according to yearly custom and toleration there is a spirit of wit and drollery kept up among the people. When the music and dancing is done, they are treated with liquor, and then they go to the next house of entertainment.”—Here, it is presumed, that Heath supposed that the name of the dance was vulgarly pronounced, and therefore chose to spell it goose instead of guise.
Among the lower class of people in the eastern part of Cornwall, and all through Devon and Somerset, the plural of goose is pronounced geeze. Bourne, in his “Vulgar Antiquities” (chap. xvi.) mentions a custom very similar to that of the Scilly Islands, practised in the North in the Christmas. He says, that they changed “the clothes between the men and the women; who, when dressed in each other’s habits, go from one neighbour’s house to another and partake of their Christmas cheer, and make merry with them in disguise, by dancing and singing and such like merriments.”
Borlase, speaking of Cornish sacred plays, vol. 2 p. 299, thus continues: “some taint remains of the came custom, I have often seen in the west of Cornwall during the Christmas season, when at the family feasts of Gentlemen, the Christmas plays were admitted, and some of the most learned among the vulgar (after leave obtained) entered in disguise, and before the gentry, who were properly seated, person acted characters, and carried on miserable dialogues on Scripture subjects. When their memory could go no farther, they filled up the rest of the entertainment with more puerile representations; the combat of puppets, the final victory of the hero of the drama, and the death of his antagonist.”
From this mass of evidence it will be seen that the Christmas plays of this county were not peculiar to it, but that, as some had their Fool Plough, their Lord of Misrule, &c. &c. so we had our Old Father Christmas, with the English patron Saint George and his companions; but in the very same dresses as used in the Fool Plough.
Royal Cornwall Gazette – Saturday 1 January 1836
In the island of Scilly, at this season, the young people exercise a kind of gallantry, called “goose-dancing,” when the maidens are caressed up for young men, and the young men for maidens. Thus disguised they visit their neighbours in companies, where they dance and are joeose [sic] upon what has happened in the island; by which sport, according to yearly custom and toleration, there is a spirit of wit and drollery kept up among the people. When the music and dancing cease, they regale themselves, and proceed to the next house of entertainment.
[Paraphrases Robert Heath’s 1750 A History of the Islands of Scilly]
Royal Cornwall Gazette – Friday 13 February 1846
Specimens of Cornish Provincial Dialect collected and arranged by Uncle Jan Trenoodle [William Sandys] with an Antiquarian Friend. London, Smith, 1846.
Includes an extract from a dialect piece called “An account of a Christmas Play” but it is difficult to read.
Royal Cornwall Gazette, Friday 18 September 1846, page 1
Extract from lecture by Richard Edmonds published in full by the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society.
The guise dancers (the same as the guisards of Scotland) may be seen in the streets of Penzance in the evenings from Christmas Day to twelfth day, going to and from the houses wherein they are permitted to perform, attired in fantastic costume and variously disguised. A well-known character amongst them, about thirty years ago [~1816], was the ‘hobbyhorse,’ or person carrying a piece of wood carved into the form of the head and neck of a horse, with some contrivance for opening and shutting the mouth with a loud snapping noise, the performer being so covered with a horse cloth, or hide of a horse, as to resemble the animal, whose curvettings, biting, and other motions he imitated. Some of these ‘guise dancers’ occasionally masked themselves with the heads, horns, and skins of bullocks, a practice not entirely discontinued.
[article continues – read it in full]
Belfast Morning News – Saturday 28 December 1861
On Christmas eve, at Ramsgate and in the Isle of Thanet, the young men, grotesquely habited, come “a hodening”–i.e. carrying a dead horse’s head upon a pole four feet long, and snapping the jaws of the hoden or horse together by pulling a string, while their mates ring hand-bells and sing carols. The “goosey (i.e. disguised) dancers” still gambol, and sing, and beg for presents in Cornwall, and the old women go “a-gooding” by asking for a measure of meal to make their pudding. On Christmas-eve the toast of the “mock,” or log on the fire, is drunk with all the honours, and the lads of the village perform the story of St. George, one of the old miracle plays, in the largest room in the inn, and sing hymns on Christmas morning. It is at least a more seemly proceeding than the mediaeval procession of the asses in Rouen Cathedral. It is curious to observe that in the beginning of the present century St. George gave place to George III in a cocked hat, and waving a broad sword, while the dragon was supplanted by Napoleon, into whose eyes the fool blew flour, and rapped the mock Emperor’s shoulder with a bladder attached to his stick.
(extract from Once a Week)
The Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 14 January 1863, page 2, column 6
Account of an assault heard at the Penzance Borough Petty Sessions held at the “Townhall”, Monday Jan 12th 1863. Charles Phillips, of Ludgvan, miner, charged William Fox, landlord of the “Fifteen Balls,” Penzance, with an assault. A rare mention of guise dancing in Penzance.
Mr Fox called William James, who said: — I am a boot and shoemaker : this night week I look a pair of boots to defendant’s house as soon as I left my work, which I am sure was about 9 o’clock : there was guise dancing at defendant’s house, but all very quiet and comfortable : with the exception of a minute or two (during which time he server a customer) defendant was never out of my sight.
Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 28 January 1863, page 3, column 6
Wonderful story – perhaps part fiction – of the types of mischief guise dancers got up to in St Ives in the early 1860s. Note the mention of guise dancers singing the Old Hundredth.
Serving Him Out: An Incident of the Guise Dancing at St Ives
On Friday evening the 9th inst. a party of guise-dancers entered a beer shop at St Ives and obtained an interview with the landlord, whom they well plied with drink until his eyes blinked like two revolving lights and his dizzy head manifested unmistakable signs of a desire to change places with his lower extremities. In this unenviable state (which by the bye is better described than felt, we should think) four of the strongest of the party took the somnolent landlord by the arms and legs and ere could he say ‘What doest thou?’ spirited him into the open street, where a goodly number (as if by magic) started into the middle of the road and formed a procession singing the Old Hundredth with a more than mournful twang, and away they marched towards the beach (the house is situated near the sea side) landlord and all. Some one at intervals gave short sentences from the Burial Service. As may be expected, the sudden and by no means welcome termination of a good day’s business roused into fury all the drink be-clouded and drink-debased energies of the poor fellow, but all his imprecations were met with the remark ‘Prepare, Evil! prepare; thy time is short indeed.’ His struggles and cries were all in vain and in a short time the edge of the water was reached. And now as the sobered man heard the rippling of the waves, he seem to fear the result, and made a superhuman effort to free himself, but alas! the hands that held him were too strong and whilst he was cursing his tormentors and invoking vengeance on their devoted heads he was borne out into the tide, whilst one, with a fine nasal accent, pronounced aloud, ‘We now commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ ; if no one else will have him, the d—l must,’ and down they threw their burthen (wretches that they were) and scampered off, leaving their victim to scramble ashore as best he might. Fortunately the only effect produced in the landlord is a determination to hate guise dancers in general with a perfect hatred. Who the delinquents are is a mystery.
Royal Cornwall Gazette – Friday 06 January 1865
Guise Dancing. – The old custom of Guise dancing has again commenced at St. Ives.
Pall Mall Gazette – May 26 1874, page 12, column 2
Here the author seems to suggest that Guise Dancing was becoming somewhat lost from its original meaning, and becoming more like a minstrel show. A rare mention of actual tune names played by guise dancers. Some of this, thankfully, is completely inappropriate today.
It is a poor exchange to have got, instead of a play like this, with St George and Father Christmas, and the hobby horse and Mak the jester, and all the crew whom, in the northern midlands, they call “mummers,” a bad copy of negro entertainment; yet this is what the West Cornish guise-dancers have come to. “Get away, black man,” and “Ladies, won’t you marry?” and “Angelina Baker,” have superseded the Christmas “guise,” just as the preachings and revivals have taken the place of the mystery-plays like the strange story of St Merisek, lately translated by Mr. Whitely Stokes.
The Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 12 January 1876
An attempt to ban guise dancing at St Ives, and how the participants tried to evade the ban.
Things in general at St. Ives, by Argus
A custom (it can scarcely be called time-honoured, although it existed for many years) has recently been revised in our borough,– scarcely to our credit. I refer to the practice of persons walking about in disguise, commonly called “guise-dancing.” Notices have, as usual, been issued, prohibiting it, but, to evade this they have left off their masks and blackened their faces instead. The distinction is a very nice one, but we are inclined to think that any habit that renders a person difficult of recognition is a disguise. Doubtless the authorities will take this view of it, and put down a custom that is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
Royal Cornwall Gazette – Friday 04 January 1878
Guise dancing in Helston
The monotony of Helston life was relieved a few nights past with strains of music from the Sevorgan prize band, troupes of n***** minstrels, waits, and guise dancers.
Cornishman – Thursday 12 September 1878, page 3, column 4
OLD PENZANCE CUSTOMS. —Two or three customs have died out since 1825, and notably the guise-dancing at Christmas. This lasted every evening from Christmas to Twelfth Day. The performers, if I may use the word, tried to dress in such a way as to deceive if possible their friends or acquaintances ; they walked about the town and into the houses of those they knew, but they often abused the liberty accorded them by making horrid noises and trying to frighten the people. Guise-dancing is now prohibited by the authorities, and so also is the acting of the old Cornish play of “St George and the Dragon,” which was generally performed in the public-houses at Christmas.
Cornishman – Thursday 30 January 1879
Mill Stories. Supplementary to Hallantine By Old Celt (William Bottrell)
A Poor Tinner’s Feast
“Now, any one with a grain of gumption may see,” said the old miller’s wife, “how Jenefer made up her story out of this old ‘bam,’ just like the actors in a guise-dance changing parts. And the parson do say that our drolls and guise-dances are hundreds of years old, and worth preserving.”—Bottrell would have been keen to promote the ancient roots of guise dancing. Interesting here to note that he refers to guise dancing as a play.
Cornishman – Thursday 08 May 1879, page 6, column 4
Useful article from 1879 on May customs. Contains the following on guise dancing:
Cornish Customs in May
Helston, too, on the ways to the Lizard, is a quaint old town; just the place for an old custom like the “furry dance” to be kept up in. The Cornish “guise-dancers” are not (as some guide-books say) “something distictly Celtic;” they are just the old morris-dancers, who have disappeared elsewhere; and the “furry day” is not, as some fond local antiquaries would persuade themselves, a Druidical observance, or a ceremony bequeathed by the Romans to a district with which, by the way, they had less to do than with most parts of the island, but simply the old English “Maying” kept up in this remote corner of the land. Polwhele speaks of a Penryn “furry day” on the 3rd May ; and the Padstow “furry” on May-day, with its hobby-horse and its song about the French invasion, is still kept up after a fashion. But the 8th of May at Helston is still the “furry-day” par excellence. There the celebration is not left to children nor to “lewd fellows of the baser sort;” but high and low, rich and poor, join together just as they are supposed to have done together in “merrie England in the olden time.” Helston, in fact, is a bit of old England preserved by accident of its position, lying as it does off the main roads and having no trade by land or sea.
Article continues to describe the activities of “Furry Day” in Helston in 1879. The author describes the region as “West Wales” – “Don’t, therefore, leave West Wales without stopping at Helston and taking a round of the Lizard country”.
Graphic – Saturday 25 October 1879, page 406, column 2
Extract from longer article, with note on contemporary guise dancing, and use of term “guisers” but this term is the author’s and there is no evidence it was used by St Just locals to describe themselves.
Cornish Miracle Plays
Plays, however, were acted somehow in that now restored St Just plain, and in similar “rounds” at Perran and Redruth. All that is left of such exhibitions is the guise-dancing, which in Cornwall supplies the place of the Midland mumming. Worse still, at St. Just the guisers have of late given up the old dragon-play, with St. George, and the Doctor, and Saladin, &c., and become a mere band of n****** minstrels — a sad falling off, indeed.
Cornishman – Thursday 25 December 1879
The Town Clerk has issued a placard cautioning all persons against appearing in disguise, or misbehaving themselves or obstructing the thoroughfare during the approaching Christmas. Some years ago the “Guise Dancers,” as they were called, were in full swing and caused some amusement to the inhabitants generally ; but, some five or six years ago, the play of the dancers became so rough as to cause complaints to be made to the Mayor, who thought it necessary to prohibit the appearance of any person in disguise. Hence the placard, which is posted every year.
Cornishman – Thursday 08 January 1880, page 4, column 6
On Thursday (New Year’s Day) the members of the Church choir assembled in the National schoolroom and, in company with several of the gentry and friends of the Church, partook of a very excellent repast. After tea there was a good time spent singing, which in its turn gave place to amusements, conducted mainly by the young ladies and gentlemen who were present. After which a party of Guise-Dancers (Mummers,) who came seeking admission, were allowed to come in and go through their performances, thereby contributing to the seasonable enjoyment of the evening. The whole of the proceedings were brought to a close by a Christmas-tree in which, if there did not grow, there was at least found a present for every member of the choir, who went home much gratified with the evening’s diversions, which will be repeated annually.
Cornishman – Thursday 21 July 1881, page 8, column 2
A chance mention of guise dancing in Penzance in 1881, where Courtenay had suggested that it had disappeared by this time. Extract from a long column on the Petty Sessions.
Penzance Petty Sessions
Mary Nicholls, of Taraveor-terrace, saw the parties together on Market-jew-terrace one evening in December. —Mr Dale said the evidence at the last Court as insufficient, and it certainly had not been strengthened to-day. A doubtful story of dressing-up in a coat and a hat at guise-dancing time and of a chance chat on the Terrace could never be held to provide the paternity if a child born on the 8th of May.
Cornishman – Thursday 12 January 1882, page 4, column 5
Merry Making.— Not for a very long time has there been such a lot of youngsters as were here on Saturday night. Guise-dancers and carol-singers from Ludgvan and youths from Perranuthnoe, Marazion, Relubbus, St Hilary, and Goldsithney. Singing in opposition was kept up until a late hour, when two policemen quieted the revellers.
Cornishman – Thursday 12 January 1882
An entertaining, and probably fictional, story about guise dancing:
WHICH WERE THE WORST—THE OLD MEN OR THE YOUNGSTERS ?
A “lark’ was carried on in guise-dancing season in a village on the road between Helston and Penzance, at which place two old men reside together—the one a bachelor and the other widower. Two roguish youths, suspecting elderly propensities, obtained female attire, and presented themselves, as two sparkling and winsome damsels, at the village inn where the dear old souls were having a drop of New Year’s beer. The supposed buxom young women made known that they were benighted their road to Penzance and would glad to shelter under any decent roof. An offer of such shelter was made by the old men and, after some coyness and reluctance, was accepted and, after a short while, the four of them repaired to the habitation of the old men. As those lived together without a housekeeper no seasonable cake was in the cupboard. Nevertheless some meat was cooked, two of the best broccoli the garden (which ought to have grown a month longer) were cut, and a hearty supper was made,— not without many a joke and laugh, and occasional reference to the delicate question of “stowing away” for the night. The girls busied themselves in clearing away the supper-things and bustled about from room to room, when suddenly a loud exclamation came from one of the old knights hospitaller; the secret was divulged ; and a row ensued. The cry raised was “Chuck them out—the blackguards! Get the thrashel for them,” &c. One of them kept an old thrashing-flail on the rack downstairs. The scene can better be imagined than described. Suffice it to say the two youths, now changed from modest maidens into pugnacious males, for a long time bid the old men defiance, with the cry “Chuck them out,” followed roars of laughter. The following evening, the inn, the old men were dreadfully bored the cry “Chuck them out!” which saying, no doubt, will last for some time.
Cornishman – Thursday 20 December 1883, page 7, column 2
Similar wording to the Belfast Morning News 28 December 1861. From the story “Christmas: its customs and observances” by “E. W. C.”. Page 7, column 2.
The hodering, which used to take place every year at Ramsgate ; the old Cornish Christmas revelry, known as “guise-dancing,” which was once kept up with such spirit in various parts of the county ; and other customs and observances have since become, happily or unhappily, extinct.
Cornishman – Thursday 17 January 1884, page 5, column 1
Column also talks about women’s suffrage.
Guise Dancing. —The numerous parties with dark faces, in n***** and other costumes, to be seen about St. Ives, during the evenings of the past fortnight, show that this practice has (for a time at least) been revived. One satisfactory feature in the renewal of this (not too agreeable) custom is that good order is generally observed.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 13 January 1887, page 5, column 4
FANTASTIC YOUNGSTERS. — The streets of St. Ives during the past week remind one of the descriptions given of the Roman carnival. Bands of young people, in fantastic costumes, have paraded them for hours, the processions sometimes being headed by a musical instrument, and followed by crowds of boys and girls yelling and hooting in a disgraceful manner. During Christmastide notices were issued by the Mayor forbidding persons to appear in the streets in disguise, but this seems to have been withdrawn as no attempt has been made by the authorities to stop the proceedings. Guise dancing prevailed largely some years ago, and at present it bids fair soon to resume its old proportions.
Cornishman – Thursday 09 February 1888, page 4, column 3
Cornish Folk Lore — The Rev. J. F. Lemon writes to The West of England Magazine:—
- ‘Who kills a robin or a wren
- Will never prosper boys or men.’
This runs in the vernacular:—
- ‘Strub a robin or a wran
- Never prosper boy nor man.’
To ‘strub’ a bird’s nest is the usual expression. A ‘wren’ is always a ‘wran’. In the guise-dancings I have seen Saint George had become King George. On the ‘bold Turkish Snipe’ (sic) being wounded the inquiry is made
- ’Is there uther doctar to be found
- To cure the deep and deadly wound?’
On the doctor presenting himself, he is asked, as a test of his ability:— ‘How fur can ay cypher?’ One seldom hears of cyphering now, meaning arithmetic, but it used to be the constant expression. A boy was sent to school to ‘learn to cypher’.
Cornishman – Thursday 05 January 1888, page 5, column 6
Additional District News
Several n***** troupes (guise-dancers) are ‘on tour’ at St Just, but those who were ‘out’ last week must practise and improve ere we can praise them.
Royal Cornwall Gazette – Thursday 16 January 1890
One of Q’s Cornish dialect fantasies. He manages to conveniently include just about every custom from across Cornwall.
MID-WINTER IN CORNWALL
In the heart of a country-bred youth, London, though he inhabit her for many years, holds but a stepmother’s place; and less than one that, if he chance to have passed his boyhood by the sea.
For me, if it be night, and my way lie , through Piccadilly westward, I always take the left-hand pavement, for then the dark bollow of the Green Park, with the line of 1 gas-lit streets beyond, becomes a little land-11 locked harbour in the west country that I know; and Piccadilly itself is a narrow, crazy ropewalk, having honester pitfalls. Only in winter one’s yearning is not to be fobbed off thus. It is then that the sea calls to her lover with the clearest voice. Last August, when others swarmed about her, he made shift to conjure up the joys of , ground-swell by driving up and down the Strand in a hansom ; but towards Christmas, her face is for his understanding.
As I leave the night-mail and broken dreams to step out at the little railway station, nine miles lie between me and the coast, and a good six months between me and Paddington. For here the morning air is soft as old Burgundy, and as stealthily intoxicating; the road ahead (for rain fell last night) & dazzling silver where the sun strikes across; the sky, one turquoise. Across it, far away, lies a dark irregular streak, in shape like a dragon. It is & flock of starlings (” Tintagel men,” my driver calls them). High aloft a host of plovers take the sunlight on their white breasts; while the yellow-hammer, the blue-tit, the wren, dart to and fro along the hedges that are blazing with gorse and quick with life. In the brake the adder is sunning himself (if you can catch and kill him on New Year’s Day, the word goes that you will triumph over all your enemies), and the frogs are spawning in the pool to our left. Roses hang under the cottager’s thatch, and the fuchsia trees are in flower by his gate. The red-robin is in bloom, the periwinkle, the daisy, and here and there a colony of violets. For here, under the breath of the Gulf Stream, nature’s rest is neither long nor deep, and this corner of our island is earlier than Naples in catching the New Year’s life.
A smart phaeton and pair come dashing round the corner and past us. My driver says it is the new doctor’s carriage. So here, too, is change. The old doctor-rest his soul : drove & grey mare in a ramshackle four-wheel, and the equipage belonged not to him only, but to all men who wanted “a lift.” I have met him tramping afoot, his nose buried in an old Petronius (he had his foibles), while behind, at a walk, followed his vehicle, with a paralytic beside the groom, and a jaundiced woman, and & cripple perched on the back seat. I remark that the doctor’s trade is prospering. “Iss,” says the driver, “their harvest don’t vary: an’ I reckon they takes their reas’nable joy therein, like the Mayor o’ Falmouth, that thanked God when the town jail was enlarged.” He goes on to tell of other changes in the old village. There is a new curate (“a surpassing man, that abases hissel’ at the high names”), and a new schoolmistress (“a tongue-tight poor crittur, that talks London.”) And the parish-clerk has & new set of teeth an’ carries hissel’ high, havin’ £15 atween his two jaws. As I said to ‘n- ‘You must excoose my plain speech, but they’ve a-broadened your mouth, Simon Hockin, and I liked ‘eebetter as you was before. But,’ says he, I can chow!'” And Pretty Tommy has “ gone around land “-this is the saddest change, for it means that Pretty Tommy is dead. He was a little dapper man, with a face like a withered apple, and used to blow the ” serpent” in the church choir. Nor is there any to take his place. The type is almost as extinct as the old Christmas“ Geesy-dancing” (or Guise-dancing to be precise) that I last witnessed from a perch on Pretty Tommy’s shoulder, while he superintended the combat between St. George and the Turkish knight. And when the Paynim’s corpse was at length carried out by the hobby-horse, it was he who delivered the final tag :
- “Hashes to hashes, dust to dust.
- If Tom Pearce won’t have’n, Aunt Molly must.”
which lines are a riddle to me even now. It was Tommy, too, that went round with the hat, saying “Gentlemen and ladies, our sport is nearly ended: Come pay to the hat, it his highly commended.” And it was Tommy, prince of “nut-brown mirth” and “russet wit,” that led the wassailers on Twelfth Night, saying
- “A jolly wassel bowl,
- A wassel o’ good ale…”
You may find the song, or something like it, in Brand’s “Popular Antiquities ; ” but nowadays its place has been taken by a ruder chant
- “Missus and Maister, Wassail doth begin
- Come, open your doors, an’ let us come in…”
which Tommy despised. He was a character, in fact, as the following anecdote proves. At the first General Election after the Ballot Act, Tommy, who had saved money and purchased a small property, found himself in the polling booth with a scrap of paper before him. He read the instructions twice over, scratched his head, and found an inspiration. Seizing the pen, he wrote across his voting paper, “Can’t stay to chuse. Got my living to get,” and walked forth, & happy man. Now the ques tion of living no longer concerns him. I asked the driver how it happened. “Rhoomatics,” he answers. “He’d ‘a’ been dro’ the battery twice ”
Visions of Tommy as & Balaklava hero are checked by a quick guess that the galvanic battery is meant.
“But the world’s wit cudn’cure’n. So one day, a-sittin’ in his corner, he says, says he, Lord bless my soul!’ an’ dies.” It is hard to believe him dead while so much remains unaltered. The pool in the hollow below us smiles as it did on that winter morn ing when I shot my first snipe there. For we are near bome now, and now there is no bush, no stone, but has a part in one’s memory.
At the top of the drive we pass a troop of old women. They are “going a-gooding” down to the house, where a bowl full of coppers is waiting for them. The drive itself was lined with pale blue hydrangeas-8 sheet of colour under the dark evergreens. And then we turn the corner, and the sea is before us, sunny and still, with a light haze veiling the Dodman, six miles away. A few yards further, and almost at the cliff’s edge, lies home.
The house stands right over the sea. Sitting in the low panelled dining-room, you look through the conservatory and see the blue water framed in masses of geranium and yellow chrysanthemums. A leng mirror, cleverly con trived, gives you the same view when you tura your head. You are eating and listening and full of well-being. To-morrow’s pudding has to be stirred (from left to right, mind you !) and is only waiting for you. And you will have to mix the punch to-night, and hand round cider and saffron-cake to the n******, and the Band of Hope children, and the fife and-drummers, in the big kitchen. And you are to lead out the cook when they play “The Dashing White Serjeant”—you cannot have forgotten that dance, of all others! And there are four dances in prospect. Oue is twelve miles away, but nobody minds that: and another is given by certain artists staying down in the village, who have taken & sail-loft for the purpose-such a splendid notion! And, by the way, do you admire the decorations? Don’t ask about the holly: there is not a red berry to be had this year for love or money.
The ashen faggot has long since roared to ashes. The yule log-or mock-lit religiously, and before all the people standing,* from a portion of last year’s fire, is now but & charred stick when you seek your bedroom. Up the drive the carollers are singing Kirke White’s “Star of Bethlehem,” to be followed in & minute or two by ” The first good joy our Mary had.” You are hot, for dancing with the cook means exercise, and smile as you remember the small farmer who rebuked his partner for “hangin’ so hard back in the breechin’.” You throw open the window. Outside the sea is twinkling under the young moon. With every few seconds comes & spark of light for down on the horizon. It is the Eddystone, and you feel that it is flashing for you. For you, too, is the waves’ murmur on the beaches below, and for you the words of the carol ringing high above them on the crisp air :
Good people all in peace abide, We bring you joy this Christmastide; To-day is born in Bethlehem A son of royal David’s stem; Then sing and rest you satisfied Sing man, sing-sing Nowell! ” Q. (in The Speaker).
Cornishman – Thursday 01 January 1891, page 5
Christmas at St Just
The season of good-cheer has once more passed among the little community of St Just. On the whole the festivities have been kept up with as much vigour as ever. There was a very good market on Wednesday. The following day (25th ) there was the usual rendering of instrumental and vocal music by the two volunteer bands, and the choirs of the various chapels. At the Free-church chapel a selection of Christmas carols was given in the evening by the chapel choir (under Mr Henry Watters) and a collection was made for the singers.
The weather was cold but seasonable but only the old and the delicate young ones complained. On Monday evening the town was paraded by several parties of ‘guise-dancers’ and the bands could be heard discoursing sweet music.
The rowdyism in the streets, of which we complained last year, was certainly not less on the nights of Wednesday and Thursday ; and the carol-singing in the open-air, with one or two exceptions, was of a very low order.
(This probably refers to guise-dancing. In previous years the bad singing has been in connection with it.)
Cornubian and Redruth Times – Friday 01 January 1892
This author reacts to a piece in a “London contemporary” about Christmas customs in Cornwall. He is rather indignant to think that these old customs still took place. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary regarding the continuation of guise dancing, even in much later newspapers. The author probably lives in an area where guise dancing has never taken place and has never been exposed to it – and one of those people who think that because they’ve not seem something happen it can’t possibly be so.
Notes and Comments By “Drus.”
A writer in a London contemporary gives an account of the Chistmas Customs in Cornish Villages ; but he must have quoted very ancient authors, for few of the things he mentions are practised now-a-days. The cleaning of houses, wearing best clothing, and eating rich cakes and pies is not more a custom in this county at Christmas than in other parts of England. Nor are “guise-dancing,” lighting Yule logs with pieces of last year’s logs, and “going a gooding.” The latter is simply a form of begging for a Christmas-box, a common practice everywhere. But where in Cornwall are extra bits of dough stuck on Christmas cakes? Where is is considered unlucky to eat Christmas cake before Christmas Eve or after Twelfth Night? Where do parishioners form in procession, walk around the village, visit all the orchards, and, selecting one tree to represent all the rest, salute it ceremoniously and sprinkle it with cider, in order to render the orchard fruitful next year? How easily Londonders are crammed!
In some respects Cornwall is ahead of other parts of England. Even our miners fare better than those in other places of the country.
Cornishman – Thursday 22 September 1892
Dialect piece. Extract from “New Cornish Stories” by W. Herbert Thomas, The Tolscadlum Club Lectures
No 21 – Jabez Letcher on “Oursels”
Our Flora dance through Helston streets es another queer institution; and the ‘guise’ dancers out to St Just an other parts Christmas time es interestin ; an our rugged scenery and stretches ave moorland where the golden gorse an the pink heather an the green ferns do graw up amond the grey rocks, caant be matched an where. (Loud applause.)
Cornishman – Thursday 12 January 1893, page 5, column 6
Music Soothes Not The Savage Beast
Samuel James Brooken charged Samuel Ley, of Sheffield with assaulting him on 27th December, and pleaded not guilty.—Mr. E. Boase defended. —Mr Brooken said he is a labourer. The offence occurred at the King’s arms, Paul. —Ley said when he has the cold shoulder shewn him he know it, but he is a better man than witness who was a d— rogue. He proved this by throwing a glass at him, cutting him, and spoiling his collar. Paul band was out that day and witness with them. He was sober as when testifying. —Cross-examined— When I came into the room he hung down his head. —Until that time they spoke when they met. —Mr. Boase— Aren’t you a defendant in an affiliation case in which his sister-in-law is complainant? —Yes, but he tried to kill me, and he should have allowed the law to take its course. Stephen James Thomas put me home. I did not say it was all my own fault. I never made any row, and was not exasperating him for two hours. —W. H. Harvey said he saw the glass thrown at complainant. Next minute the latter was running in blood. Witness is a member of Paul band ; defendant said the two men were quarrelling when he went into the public house. Just light shots were flying about. The glass broke as it struck the mouth of the complainant who did not strike Ley. William Murley heard Ley say to his brother-in-law on Dec. 3rd that he would make a row with Brooken as soon as he met him in a public-house. —Mr Boase admitted a technical assault. He was greatly provoked and human nature caused him to act illegally. —S. J. Thomas said Brooken said ‘Ley was trying to make out that Paul band were guise-dancers’ this he denied. Two guise-dancers came in and got mixed up with Paul band. Brooken kept on talking about this for two hours, and, when Ley refused to shake hands with him, told him to do something else. On the way home Brooken said the drink did it, and he would not drink any more. Brooken had a drink at Ley’s expense. —John Searle said they were having a bit of jollification. A bit of a darkey party came in, and Brooken said Ley compared Paul band to guise-dance. Brooken was bit ‘boozey,’ and went in and out of the house picking a quarrel. Witness heard Ley say they should speak to Brooken about his sister’s affair. If it was not for witness Mrs. Levitt’s head would not have been cut. —Alfred Nicholas corroborated. —The Chairman said they fined defendant 2s 6d, each side to pay their own costs. —Brooken asked to have Ley bound over to keep the peace. —Mr Tonkin — The evidence showed you provoked him, otherwise the glass would not have been thrown.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 06 January 1898, page 8, column 2
A spirited letter from an anonymous author who lives on High Street describing the scene of guise dancing in full flow. It also shows us that there was a vote by the Corporation to allow guise dancing that year.
“GUISE DANCING,” — “High Street” writes: — St Ives streets at night are a perfect pandemonium. Parties of men, boys and girls parade the thoroughfare dressed in all sorts of outrageous and fantastic disguises. These are invariably followed by a noisy throng, singing, screaming, and shouting — some of the “musical” instruments used being concertinas, tin pans, flutina and bones, “May horns,” &c., &c. The noise and hub-bub sometimes is hideous in the extreme, and the language used at intervals is not very choice. One night there was a conflict between two of the parties, which nearly ended in a fight — on this occasion the air was full of oaths and foul language. I should like to be allowed to make a suggestion, viz., that the members of the Town Council who advocate this sort of thing (more especially those who have children) should take apartments in High-street for a night or two during the guise-dancing festivities. I think that the tables would be turned, and instead of these disgraceful proceedings being permitted by a majority of seven votes to three they would be entirely prohibited. I heard of a case a few evenings ago where a little girl, who was being taken home by her brother (not much older than herself) was persistently followed by a boy with a blackened face, and the child was so frightened that she took refuge in a shop, and there she stayed for awhile crying and sobbing as if her heart would break. How would those who countenance this sort of thing like a child of theirs to be in a similar position? With reference to the language in our streets I am glad to hear that in at least one place of worship on a Sunday the preacher’s voice was raised against it. Would there be more remonstrances — not only from the pulpit, but at every street corner, and more especially in the home. If this mild protest should meet the eyes of the “powers that be,” I trust some notice will be taken of it, for the police can do nothing in the matter whilst proceedings are sanctioned by a majority of the Corporation.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 13 January 1898, page 8, column 3
GOOD-BYE TO GUISE DANCING. — St. Ives on Friday night had “a gay old time.” In the morning the town was placarded with the announcement that a carnival would take place in the evening. Those taking part in the proceedings assembled on the Island, where a procession was formed, and headed by several torch bearers and the St Ives Town Band, marched through the streets and on to the Terrace, back again, and up the Stennack, returning through the town. Conspicuous in the procession were the Fire Brigade on their engine, drawn by four horses — the members bearing torches; Naval Reserve men (in uniform) — a fine lot of young fellows ; the lifeboat crew in cork jackets and red caps ; two fishing boats with men, nets and fish in them ; the football team in their jerseys and caps ; Messrs Veal and Son’s car with liberal specimens of St. Ives kippers and bloaters ; Messrs. England and Son’s (net manufacturers) car ; a hair-dresser’s shop — the ”patient” being lathered with a lime brush and shaved with a wooden razor ; another waggon with washerwomen and several articles hung up to dry ; also a party sitting at a table having a game of whist ; and yet another whose car was labelled in large letters “Off to Klondyke.” These vehicles, some of which were illuminated with Chinese lanterns, were interspersed with quite a large number of grotesque and gaily dressed figures on horses and donkeys. There were also prettily decorated bicycles, darky parties, &c. Many hundreds of persons turned out to witness this novel procession, the streets being lined from the Quay to the Terrace. This will form a fitting termination to the guise-dancing, which has been going on for the past fortnight, the Mayor having issued a notice that no masquerading or dressing in disguise in the public streets will be permitted after the 7th inst.
Cornishman – Thursday 13 January 1898, page 4, column 5
Presumably black-and-white minstrel style songs and dancing
Gulval Folk were aroused every night this week by an up-to-date guise-dance party, in the form of seven n******, who gave the inhabitants a few hours’ merriment and good hearty laughter while they heard the comic songs and saw the dancing. Well, while some of them looked at the guise-dancers they forgot about the bad broccoli returns and only with the New-year’s makers to come to their houses again.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 05 January 1899, page 8, column 2
Guise Dancing. — The old custom of dressing in disguise and parading the streets of the borough is now in full swing at St Ives. All sorts of fantastic dresses are requisitioned, and crowds of onlookers enjoy the “fun of the fair.”
Cornishman – Thursday 12 January 1899, page 7, column 3
Guise Dancing is in full swing at St Ives and one-and-all seem to enjoy the old-fashioned pastime.
Cornishman – Thursday 03 January 1901, p. 4
New Year at Marazion
The closing scenes of the old year were made bright at Marazion on Monday night, by the promenading of the streets by some parties of guise-dancers, who wore such peculiar attire that they could not be recognised. They created a great amount of fun by their antics. The entertainers were kindly received at the various courses they favoured with a call.
Monday night being not only the last of the year, but also of the century, the Rev. J.F. Lemon conducted a very impressive service in the evening at All Saints’ church, Marazion. This is a new feature in connection with the Church services at Marion, but was, never-the-less, highly appreciated by the goodly number who were present.
Watch-night service was conducted in the Wesleyan chapel, by the Rev. F. Barber: a large number attended. The solemn and impressive minutes which elapsed as the old year went out and the new year and century came in, will long be remembered by most who were present.
At the U.M.F. chapel there was also a watch-night service, conducted by the Rev. W.C. Harraway, and the attendance was quite in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion.
The Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 09 January 1901, page 5, column 1
Wonderful commentary on the ‘quality’ of guise dancing in St Just.
Our St. Just correspondent writes: Whatever the new century may have in store for us in the future, it has already brought a revival of the guise dance in St. Just. This, like all other things to which we have been accustomed, shows signs of change, the general “get up” being very much more respectable, perhaps we ought to say “artistic,” than in former times. Time was when only a few of those who dressed up made a passable appearance; the ordinary mummer arranging himself in any old clothes that might be at hand. Burnt cork had not come in, and faces were blackened with soot from the old open chimney. That character appears to be as scarce as the great buzzard in this century, and if you are willing to open the door to visitors, you will entertain, or be entertained by ladies and gentlemen in the height of fashion, whose song and dance will be such as the children may remember with pleasure instead of being under the necessity of covering their heads to prevent repetition of the hideous sights of the older times. The old guise dance and the barley cake are both gone we hope never to return.
Cornishman – Thursday 10 January 1901, page 7, column 6
Guise-dancers have been making merry at Newlyn since New-year’s-day, and have created a good deal of amusement by their antics.
The Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 01 January 1902, page 4, column 8
“Guise-dancing” commenced at St. Ives on Monday night.
Cornishman – Thursday 21 August 1902, page 4, column 7
Recollections from the actor Sir Henry Irving written in 1902 when he would have been 64. These memories would have been from the 1840s.
Sir Henry Irving and HalsetownThe Great Actor’s Impressions
A long paragraph of memories of growing up in Halsetown in the 19th century. In 1902 Irving”These legends and fairy stories have remained with me but vaguely – I was too young ; but I remember the ‘guise-dancing,’ when the villagers went about in masks, entering houses, and frightening the children.”
Cornishman – Thursday 16 January 1902, page 3, column 5
Guise-Dancing has been in full swing at St. Ives during the past week. Old and young thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Cornishman – Thursday 3 April 1902, p. 7
A charm for Blood with Signs and Tokensby Lyonesse
Extract from a short story.
“Why, sake’s alive, he ought by this time to be one of the richest men in the place instead of going around dressed up like a guise-dance, with a face like a owl, looking out of a ivy bush. If he can’t ‘work out his own redemption,’ as Katty Louie said, and settle down like you there, I don’t see the black bag has helped him any. He’s always working ashore, and according to your account, had good luck fishing. Then what on earth does he do with his money?”
Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 27 December 1902 Mummers and Guise Dancers
From an article entitled “Quaint Christmas Customs”, mentioning the play of St George and the Dragon, and referring to”mummers known as guisards, guise or even goosey dancers, once so common, still linger on in country districts…”
Article links these practices to pagan time, and mentions a “sun-god who would in due course once more renew the face of the earth”.
The Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 31 December 1902, page 4, column 8
The ancient custom of “guise dancing” commenced at St. Ives on Monday night.
Cornishman – Thursday 01 January 1903, page 5
The 1750 Robert Hunt reference, still in use 153 years later)
GUISE DANCING – The curious custom of guise dancing is preserved at St Ives, the time for the dancing being from Christmas day to Twelfth-day. In the Islands of Scilly it used to be a very popular form of amusement among young people at this time of year. The maidens dressed as young men and the young men as maidens, and thus disguised they visited their neighbours in companies, making jokes on what had happened in the preceeding twelve months. Much the same sort of thing one formed a conspicious feature in the New Year’s amusements throughout Scotland.
The Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 07 January 1903
Guise dancing isn’t always tolerated, and a rare mention of the term “guisers” which tended to be used to describe guise dancers, who never, as far as the evidence suggests, called themselves this.
Lelant Notes by “Marcus”
The “Guise dancers and hunters” have been numerous in our midst during the week. The hoary old custom seems to have revived a little during the last few years. But, alas! its followers have fallen on bad times, at least some of them. I hear that some of our “Guisers” during the week, got roughly handled for being a bit too intrusive, and several rushed to their homes “guiseless,” feeling a little sorer and warmer than when they sallied forth, believing after all that the days of guise-dancers are past.
Cornishman – Thursday 08 January 1903, page 2, column 4
Guise Dancing at Hayle, has been practised by the youngsters, and in some cases by grown up persons, and some of the attires have been very neat.
Cornishman – Thursday 15 January 1903, page 5, column 7
“Guise-dancing” was stopped at St Ives on Tuesday week. It seems a pity to shorten the period, when everybody were behaving themselves in a most seemly and comely manner.
Cornishman – Thursday 19 February 1903, column 3
The London Cornish Association
Mr. J. P. Sambles lectured at the Freemasons’ Tavern, Great Queen Street, W. C., on Thursday evening, February 5, before the largest meeting it as been our good fortune to be present at. The lecturer took for his subject “Our Old Town, and Celebrities, During the Late Sixties,” and his paper, now grave, now gay, and couched in vigourous and dignified English was followed throughout with the liveliest interest, frequently manifested by the applause of its hearers. After the lecture, a vote of thanks was proposed by the Rev. Canon Gilbert Higgins, and carried by acclamation. A representation (in full costume) was then given of the old Cornish guise dancing. Characters : Father Christmas, Mr. Peter Pengelly ; St. George, Mr. R. St. Keverne ; Turkish Knight, Mr. T. Tregaskis ; The Doctor, Mr. Billy Bray ; The Drsgon, Mr. Dick Trevithick ; Princess Sabra, Miss Dolly Pentreath. The costumes were artistically designed, and the burlesque capitally executed. Chairman, Professor Penberthy, R.V.C. At the piano, Mr Ralph Norris, who favoured the company with a fine old ballad. Mr. W. Gilbert, hon. secretary, who brought out this successful entertainment, received a hearty vote of thanks, proposed by Mr. Ralph Norris, and seconded by Mr. G. Symons.
Royal Cornwall Gazette – Thursday 07 January 1904, page 6 column 4
In the correspondence section Rev W S Lach-Szyrma wrote in a letter on Christmas customs:
- Are “guise dancers” only little boys and girls? Till lately at Newlyn our fishermen used often to join in the guise dance! I know some of their Methodist comrades blamed them for doing so, but many of the “guise dancers” were full grown men. The word is derived, I think, from Norman-French “deguiser”.
Cornishman – Thursday 07 January 1904, column 4
The quaint and picturesque old custom of guise-dancing, which for the past year or two has not been carried on to so great an extent as formerly, has this year, with the whole fleet of boats at home during the Christmas season, been joined by large numbers of townsfolk, both young and middle-aged, who have thoroughly enjoyed the music, dancing, singing, and merry-making with which it is accompanied. A party of 10 of these guise-dancers — the finest seen for very many years — in capital costumes, visited many homes in the town, and afterwards walked to Mousehole to call on a few friends there. Many Christmas mummers have also paid us a visit from Mousehole. This ancient custom, though unaccompanied by the metrical play that at one time formed part of these proceedings, is still largely patronised in the district, and shows no sign of falling into disuse, and will probably continue to be practised for very many years to come.
(Page number not visible on scan)
Cornishman – Thursday 24 November 1904
Refers to guise dancing in the 1850s. Extract from: Penzance 50 Years Ago By the Rev. R. Malone, some time vicar of St Paul, Penzance.
From the “Western Morning News”
Several old customs at Penzance have died out, and are unknown to the present generation. Amongst these I will mention the procession of fire on Midsummer-eve. Tar barrels were lit up in the centre of the principle streets, and young men waved torches of fire in long procession. I do not know the reason of this custom. Some persons think it is derived from the heathen worship of fire. At all events it was a striking sight, both on shore and in the bay – for all the Newlyn fishing boats were lit up and the sea sparkled with light. It was hazardous on this night to be in the streets, for the object of the torch bearers was to burn the clothes. There was another custom on Christmas-eve. Young men dressed themselves in grotesque costumes and came about nine p.m. to the houses of the chief inhabitants ; they were called “guise dancers,” and they sang and danced and demanded largesse. I think there was more feasting and fun in those days, but far less consideration of the great event celebrated.
Cornishman – Thursday 05 January 1905, page 2, column 2
Newlyn News and Notes
Guise-dancing, the quaint old custom, once prevalent to a far greater extent than at present is just now in full swing at Newlyn, and nightly parties perambulate the town, some in costumes fearfully and wonderfully made, others dressed in fashions long obsolete or original lines that are decidedly quaint and curious. Music and dancing are also indulged in, and considerable amusement is created. The old custom, swept aside in many places in the West, is still vigorous in Newlyn, and with almost the whole of the fishermen at home fishing this Christmas, and many natives home on visits from foreign lands – who, by the way, are keener than anyone at the game after long absences – it has been carried on with greater zest and vigour than for many years.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 12 January 1905
Banning of guise dancing in St Ives
“Guise Dancing” in St. Ives streets has been stopped “by order of the Watch Committee.”
Cornishman – Thursday 16 February 1905, column 5
Long piece about drunkenness. One paragraph relates to guise dancing:
St Ives Brewster Sessions – A Decrease in Drunkenness
Mr. Tremayne (Western Hotel) remarked that in reference to the singing complained of, it took place during the week that the guise dancing was being carried on. —Supt. Banfield remarked that it had no reference to the week that guise dancing was on, it was what had occurred during the year. —Mr Tremayne remarked that it was allowed. —Supt. Banfield said he should do his best to discourage it; and he knew that while guise dancing was going on it was an exceptional week.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 16 February 1905
Also covered in the Cornish Telegraph, useful when considering the historical prohibition/bans on guise dancing. Corroborates the description of the police assistance to the Cock Robin Choir in the Ted Gundry interview:
Mr J. H. Tremayne, of the Western Hotel, mentioned that the guise-dancing at Christmas time, and said that he understood at that time little extra liberties were allowed. —The Inspector replied that he was not referring to that week at all. That was an exceptional time, and on all special occasions the police made a little allowance.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 11 January 1906, page 4, column 5
If an extension was granted, is guise dancing being firmly regulated by the council by this time?
The wet weather has greatly interfered with the “guise-dancers” this year and Twelfth-night arrived without much jollification being indulged in. A short extension of time, however, was granted and on Monday night the young people enjoyed themselves to their hearts’ content. In addition to the usual costumes the words “Vote for Pilditch,” and “Vote for Cory” appeared on the backs of some of the “guisers”.
Cornubian and Redruth Times – Saturday 12 May 1906
Here, Robert Hunt’s description of guise dancing from Popular Romances of the West of England (vol II, p 182) is reprinted with no context in the newspaper. —Christmas at St. Ives.”The Guise Dancing”” We doubt if there is a spot in ‘merrie England’ where Christmas receives so hearty a welcome, and is ‘made so much of’ as in the old-fashioned ‘ancient borough of St. Ives.’ It is often said that ‘extremeties meet,” but as well might we expect the extremeties of Britain – John ‘o Groat’s and Cape Cornwall – to meet, as that the frolic-loving descendents of Albion will ever intimate the cold, mountain-nurtured Caledonians in their observance of Christmas time. For months previous to the merry-making time, preparations are made for the approaching ‘carnival.’ Never were the real ‘carnivals,’ ushered in with the greater festivities at Rome or Venice, in the zenith of their glory, than is observed here at Christmas. Were many of the denizens of our large towns and villages to see the making up of the scores of ‘sugar-loaf,’ ‘three-cocked,’ and indescribable-shaped hats, caps, bonnets, bloomer skirts, leggings, jackets, &c., numberless et ceteras of the most grotesque and pantomimic character, colour, and shape, which goes on in October and November, they would imagine there was to be a bal masque on a large scale, or a pantomime in a theatre of metropolitan proportions.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 10 January 1907
During the past few nights “guise-dancing” has been kept up with much spirit at St. Ives and a large number of people have assembled in the streets to watch this old custom.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 17 January 1907, page 4, column 8
The “guise-dancers” had the end of their nightly fun on Friday night — postponed for a twelve month!
The Cornubian – December 26 1907, page 3, column 2
A Cornish Christmas in Olden Times – The Guise Dancing a Hundred Years Ago
A hundred years ago there was not a spot in “merrie England” where Christmas received so hearty a welcome, and was made so much of, as in the old-fashioned “antient borough of beloved St. Ives.”<snip to column 2>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 Corolets Christmas revelry is kept up with great 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 or less than a pantomimic representation or bal masque on an extensive scale, the performers outnumbering the audience, who in this case take their
[illegibleparagraphs follow – need to seek alternative]
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 02 January 1908, page 4, column 6
Guise dancing is still happening spontaneously, and has to be regulated:
Extract from “Christmas at St. Ives”
The old custom of guise dancing, which the Mayor was asked to confine to a week instead of the usual fortnight, commenced on Monday, and will be continued until Twelfth Night.
Cornishman – Thursday 09 January 1908, page 2, column 4
Owing to the prevalence of east-south-easterly gales, all fishing operation have been suspended for more than a week.
The fishing boat Edgar put to sea early on Tuesday morning, the weather having moderated a little but only landed a half-hundred of herrings.
Most of the crabbers are busily engaged making pots for the coming lobster season.
Though the weather was inclement, large numbers were present at the usual watch night service in the Wesleyan chapel. The preacher was the Rev. G. D. Mason, who based his remarks on Deuteronomy viii. 2, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee.”
The old custom of guise dancing is still indulged in during the Christmas, and this year an unusually large number of the younger folks have been paying visit is to several houses in the village.
During the twelve months ended December 31 the district nurse had under her charge 90 patients, and paid 2,281 visits, which speaks volumes for the amount of work accomplished by her.
We are pleased to find on inquiry that the Captain Edward Downing, who was knocked overboard from the Sweet Home when entering Newlyn Harbour is again able to attend his duties as usual.
Cornishman – Thursday 16 January 1908, page 8, column 2
Newlyn Notes and News
“Guise dancing” shows no sign of falling into decay in this district. The old custom was kept up last week in Newlyn with much glee and jollity, several parties “dressing up” and going the rounds with music and song to the enjoyment of themselves and spectators.
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 16 January 1908, page 5, column 6
The old custom of guise-dancing was discontinued on Friday last. Quite a new feature this year (or shall we say an old feature revived) was a band of over twenty performers. The “music” was not of the highest order, but it was certainly very popular and attracted a large crowd of interesting spectators — “old men and maidens, young men and children.”
Article then goes on to a lengthy quote from Robert Hunt’s Popular Romances.
Cornubian and Redruth Times – Thursday 23 January 1908
In this piece, guise dancing is recognised as mumming. It proves that guise dancing was still a living tradition in Newlyn.
Guise Dancing at Newlyn
“Guise-dancing” shows no sign of falling into disuse at Newlyn. The old custom in the fortnight succeeding Christmas has been vigourously maintained as even in the town and neighbourhood. The costumes ranged from the highly artistic to the ludicrous, some of the productions being fearfully and wonderfully made. Quite a number of parties have participated in “guise dancing” this year, and with the usual music and dancing, they have had quite an enjoyable time making their rounds in Newlyn and Mousehole. Up to a century ago romantic plays formed an important part of the proceedings of these Western mummers.
Oxford Times – Saturday 08 February 1908, page 10, column 2
A rare first-hand account of a visitor to St Ives who had no idea what was going on at first. Also a note that at this time Cornish identity – separate to England – was alive and well in 1908. The bold text is ours for emphasis.
The evening on which I arrived in the Cornish fishing town was a memorable one. It might have been supposed that the Oxford Pageant had somehow broken loose, gone & little mad, and lost itself in the narrow ways of St. Ives. The streets were crowded, one could hardly move along them without jostling other people, and in and out of the crowd, running, laughing, shouting, singing and dancing a kind of Carmagnole, were the “Guise Dancers,” the maddest kind of carnival that can be imagined. From the pink hand-bills pasted about the town, headed “Guise Dancers.” I gathered that the thing was a recognised amusement of the town, and that this particular night of January was the last of a merry fortnight, on which anyone might wear a disguise in the streets without being in danger of arrest. Men dressed like girls, and girls in Rimsy tarlatan and artificial flowers whirled arm-in-arm through the crowd, stopping now and then to accost some unhappy stranger with a jest, at which all would roar with laughter. It was a queer sight, and will always be part of my first memory of St. Ives. That was to be corrected later by many others, both beautiful and sad, but this nightmare like arrival in a darkness full of noise and people pressing upon one keeps its place as an early picture.
In one of the narrow, grey houses my friend had found me temporary quarters. In twilight the place looked more like a London slum than anything else, but panning through a narrow passage, and up a stair leading directly out of the kitchen, you are at once in a big room with windows looking straight down into the sea and on to the rocks which form the foundation of the houses. Above this room is a big bedroom, which shakes in the wind and trembles when the waves roar, so that it is more easy to imagine oneself in a cabin than in a bedroom. Quarters such as these cost in winter about 9s, a week, a price which includes fires, lights, attendance and boot-cleaning. Your food, if you will for the time renounce meat and put quantities of Cornish cream into your menu instead, may come to 7s per week, so it will be seen that anyone who cannot stand the Oxford damp in winter may easily afford a sojourn at St. Ives. The climate is mild, moist, and extraordinarily equable. I suppose that to many people the fact that the place faces east would be a drawback in the winter months, and down on the sea-margin one certainly misses the sun after his early morning visit is over; higher on the hill the houses enjoy sunshine nearly all day, but to get the right feeling of St. Ives one ought to live beside its fisher folk and its gulls.
The gulls really deserve a chapter to themselves, so much are they part of the beauty of the place. All day long they are no less busy than the people under whose protection they live. They chatter ceaselessly as they hunt the rocks over for food, pushing and fighting for anything thrown to them as they come into this more intimate relation with men. But there are other times when they are stately and beautiful spirits, salling in companies above the bay with majestic and wonderful evolutions. For hours in rough weather they will ride thus over the cliff, sailing down the wind with hardly any perceptible movement of the wings, then turning, come up against a driving gale with equal dignity and magnificent strength. Sunny afternoons find them having gull parties in the sea, riding at ease in a calm, and making a huge circle round some special visitor, listening with evident relish to a stranger’s tale. The visitor is usually from the Scilly isles, a fiercer, larger fellow then the habitues of St. Ives, whom he condescends to visit in calm weather, going off again to his islands when storm threatens. Sometimes wild geese will stop on their way seaward and have talk with the gulls, persuading them to keep horribly Iate hours, talking far into the night, as you may hear it you are lying awake in one of the shaking wooden houses. But perhaps the most beautiful vision of the gulls is to be found at sunset in the harbour. Thither they neem to repair for last look round before settling down on the sea for the night. They are curious finish and decoration to the boats which happen to be in habour at the time, for on every point of vantage a gull is solemnly sitting. Each mast has its Napoleonic little figure at the extreme top, each yard-arm of the sails supports them, every bowsprit, and the wide edges of the boat herself. It is the hour for meditation. Here is no screaming, fighting crowd: motionless and sentinel they sit there, staring out at the oncoming of night. It is hard to believe they are the same birds you enticed to your window in the morning with fragments of biscuit. It is only by getting them thus at close quarters you can see what really lovely creatures they are, with their delicate and fine colouring almost as dainty as a wood-pigeon’s. Their rose-tinted feet, their plumage of finest shades of dorelike grey and white, and the yellow of their bills make them vie in beauty with many an admired land bird. It is impossible to think or speak of St. Ives without talking of the gulls, so much so that modern poetess has had the whimsical notion that St. Ives herself is possibly only a gull in disguise, settled there on the rocks, attracting and repelling her old playfellows who crowd about her, waiting for the day when she will rejoin them in her proper shape. The air is never still, for the gulls fill it with sound; theirs is the first call heard in the dawning: all day long they “circle and swoop and close” and in the night their relentless cry is heard out there in the darkness, sounding through the sharpest gale.
They are, too, the last gleams one sees as one leaves the station beside the bay to travel again to Oxford. Certainly the way has been made easy for intending travellers, for on once more reaching what I may call the mainland (the Cornishman thinks of himself as in a separate Iand) there is a splendid train which will bring you right back to Oxford without change, its only drawback being that there is no restaurant-car, and station tea-basket is not at all the same thing as the good fresh pot of tea one can get on board. St. Ives is worth trying in the Christmas vacation, for it is then comparatively empty of visitors, and there is the more chance of getting nearer to the real heart of the people.
Cornishman – Thursday 02 July 1908, Page 4
Extract from “One and All Notes” which reviews the 1908 book The Lands End by W. H. Hudson. This extract follows on from Hudson’s attempt to look into Cornish humour. Interesting criticism from the reviewer!
The Guise Dancers
However, Mr Hudson managed to find something, if not humour. He says:
“But how strong the simple primitive love of fun is in the Cornish people may be seen at Christmas time in St Ives in their “Guize-dancing,” when night after night a considerable portion of the inhabitants turn out in masks and any fantastic costume they can manufacture out of old garments and bright-coloured rags to parade the streets in groups and processions and to dance on the beach to some simple music till eleven o’clock or later. This goes on for a fortnight. Just think of it, men, women, and children in their masks and gaudy get-up, parading the narrow, crooked, muddy streets for long hours in all weathers! And they are Methodists, good sober people who crowd into their numerous chapels on Sundays to sing hymns and listen to their preachers!”
It would be interesting to know how many good, sober Methodists indulge in guise dancing nowadays, or ever did? The few who still dress-up at Xmas are almost invariably lads who overflow with animal spirits, but are not drawn to Methodist or any other churches.
(the quote is from p176 of the book)
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 01 October 1908
From a transcript of a talk by Jabez Letcher “by a Cornish Author” to a club.
Jabez Letcher on “Oursels.”
“Our Flora dance through Helston streets es another queer institution; and the “guise” dancers out to St Just an other parts Christmas time es interestin; an our rugged scenery and stretches ave moorland where the golden gorse an the pink heather an the green ferns do graw up among the grey rocks, can’t be matched anywhere.”
The Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 31 December 1908, page 4, column 5
Wet weather delays guise dancing in St Ives.
The weather was too wet and stormy for the commencement of the “Guise dancing” on Monday, but the young people are looking forward to more favourable climatic conditions in the near future.
Cornishman – Wednesday 14 January 1925
An account of the St Ives Old Cornwall Society festival on 12th Night, 6th January 1925. The St George and the Turkish Knight play was performed to music. This is an extract from a much longer piece.
After the pasty and fuggan supper, to which the society now looks forward as its regular celebration of the New Year, the time-honoured play of the Guise-dancers – “St. George” – was given in a full version, specially compiled by Mr. Nance, from Cornish and other versions. Each character was carefully dressed for his part, the dragon and the hobby-horses if St. George and the Turkish Knight being of the most realistic nature. The fighting was done through to music, and time and tune were kept all through, making it once more a “Guise-dance” and not merely a mumming play. By a comparison of the words of some hundred plays is has also been possible to restore from much seeming nonsense a fairly coherent whole, and to show what life this old play – the oldest in the world – is still capable.
Cornishman – Wednesday 28 January 1925
“St George” and Guise Dancing-An Ancient Ceremonial-Cornish Evening at Carbis Bay Institute – St. Ives Old Cornwall Society gave a Cornish evening at Carbis Bay Institute on Wednesday last week. The programme consisted of Cornish folk songs, Cornish recitations and readings and the Cornish version of the guise dance play of St George.
Many years ago the performance was always given just after Christmas bu the guise dancers in the most important places in the neighbourhood. Probably from this and other Mummer’s plays we get the present “dressing up” in the streets after Christmas. And from what in the hoary past was a solemn and most important religious festival (before Christmas was ever known) representing to those nature worshippers the bringing again to life, after the dreary winter, of an apparently dead nature, through the coming of the conquering power of the sun with its life and beauty, got in more modern and Christian times, transformed into the achievements of St. George over the heathen Turkish Knights and King of Egypt. Father Christmas naturally came to be there because it was always performed at that time of the year, and our Father Christmas was very different to the German Father Christmas or Santa Claus. The old English Father Christmas was full of good things, rollickery and jest to rich and poor alike – the one time in the whole year when everybody seemed to meet as one.
And o what was instituted and directed by a pre-Christian priesthood in the midst of earnest and religious followers – a festival of Hope and Promise that came true every year – has changed through the ages until St. Ives in Cornwall, has only got and keeps alive the faintest glimmer of it in the “dressing up” at Christmas.
No doubt much of it was done in Chant and to the weird music of the time. A little of that has been maintained, but it is important to render it with its ancient ceremonial and form, or much of its former meaning. Still, an endeavour has been made to render it as our nearer ancestors did – not in the Cornish language, which to most people would be unintelligible – but in the local dialect.Other plays were also performed at Christmas time by the mummers. About eighty or ninety years ago, “The Babes in the Wood” was performed in the “Lamb and Flag” inn, and in the neighbourhood, by a party got up in the district.
Mr. R. Morton Nance deserves great credit for resurrecting “St. George.” Almost every district had its own version, and from many versions Mr. Nance has got together and connected with an intelligible whole.
One or two of the folk songs were probably hundreds of years old. Some were more recent, though traditional, and collected from the lips of local people, and so saved from oblivion, and through not like the works of the great composers, they have the old ballad and folk song flavour, and, above all they are Cornish. The Society deems it a great pleasure and favour to hear or write down and of those old pieces from anyone who may happen to know them.
Mr. W. Sandrey and choir very ably rendered the Wassail Song, and Mrs. Holman and Mr. R. J. Noall gave two Cornish recitations. Mrs. J. H. Hidge and Mr. Hamilton Jenkin read two most amusing Cornish sketches.
The musical portion was greatly helped by the society’s orchestra composed of the following: Mrs. Williams, Messrs. Horne and Fairbother and Messrs/ Cardew, Cocking and Noall.
We believe this entertainment is to be repeated shortly at Towednack for the parish room fund.
Cornishman – Wednesday 13 January 1926, page 2, column 6
Guise-Dancing in West Cornwall
The old-time custom of guise-dancing has been indulged in this year to date to a greater extent than for many years past. During the first days disguises were limited to the juvenile section, but for past nights quite a considerable number of adults have “dressed up,” and created not a little amusement and enjoyment, particularly in the parish of Paul. Males have inevitably donned feminine attire, whilst the ladies have changed temporarily to the masculine, the bobbed and shingled heads making it difficult to identify the latter. Parties of three gently knock the front doors of residents before entering, and if perchance there is a bottle of Christmas wine left, the guests, after a brief impromptu entertainment, regale themselves liberally and proceed to other houses. All parties have been decently conducted, and whereas in the years ago it would be deemed unsafe for women or children to be out after night-fall, even the juveniles enjoy the disguises, and retire to rest without the least fear.
Western Morning News – Tuesday 15 January 1929
Guise “Dancing” at St. Ives
Sir, — Mr. T. Miners, in an article in the back number of “Old Cornwall,” gives the only instance of a traditional dance as connected with guise-dancing — the “Christmas Goose Dance” — performed by three girls and three girls at Manaccan.
No dancing whatever is usually associated with it, disguise being the one essential. It is in fact “community mumming.” In old days it was customary to get up some little dialogue or song, or to act the St. George play in connection with the guise-dancing season, and dances, especially jigs and step-dances, were done only as part of such performances by certain individuals or groups. It is this part of guise-dancing, leading to greater effort on the part of the mummers, that the Ancient Customs Committee at St. Ives has been successful in reviving. The committee had nothing to do with the organising of the fancy dress dance which very appropriately wound up the evening the guise-dance parade, and confined its work entirely to the “guise-dance” proper, which is not a dance at all in the usual sense of the word.
May I also, in correcting this very natural misconception as to a “dance” that is no dance, add that the name of Miss Therese Jackson, who has given most valuable help on the judging committee at each of the three “parades,” was omitted from the list of judges.
R. Morton Nance.
Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 16 January 1930, p. 2
Guise Dancing Parade at St. IvesMuch Interest Taken in Old Custom
Those responsible for reviving the old custom of guise dancing at St. Ives are again to be heartily congratulated, the proceedings on Thursday evening being a great success. Although the number of entries was not as numerous as last year, the standard of the various classes was very high indeed, and the judges had much difficulty in coming to a decision.
About 150 dancers took part, and the marched in from the Drill Hall to the Palais de Dance, where the judging took place before a crowded audience, the adjudicators being Miss Therese Jackson, Miss Freda Paynter, Eng.-Capt. Roskruge and Capt. R. Borlase Smart. Many of the disguisers were ingeniously contrived, the family heirloom class being particularly good.
The streets of the town were thronged with people, and, favoured with fine weather, the arrangements were carried out most satisfactorily.
The awards were as follows:–
Best children’s costume—1. Old woman who lived in a show (Miss Tillie Thomas); 2. Jazz costume (Masters H. and F. Pearce; 3. Soldier (Master Albert Stevens).
Most beautiful costume—1. Indian Pricne (Mr. W. Slatter); 2. Arabian Knight (Mr C.J. Ludlow); 3. 19th century (MrsG.F. Bradshaw).
Character or National Costume—Christmas Spirit (Mrs. Pearce, Misses Watts, Stevens (2), Gyles, and Mr. Woodger; 2. Widdicombe Fair (Messrs. J.T. Freeman, E.B. Quick, H. Woman, A. Spray, J. Ellis, C.R. Woodger, C. Yelland, P.W. Nicholas, E. Jennings, E. Stevens, A. Rashleigh and P. Care); 3. Fisherman and his Wide (Mr. and Mrs. W. Farrell). Specials, St. Ives Ladies’ Hockey Club.
Family Heirloom—1. Miss J. Hollow; 2. Miss E. Hollow; 3. Miss I. Saddler. Specials—Messrs. Grenfell and T. Symes.
The Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 06 February 1930, page 3, column 5
Girl Guides Revue at Scilly
Dressed to represent the lighthouses and lightship, whose beams are visible from the Isles of Scilly by night, Girl Guides sand and recited some lines about each, as well as about the familiar bell-buoy, whose sound is well known to visitors to St Mary’s, during a revue entitled “Goose-Dancing,” performed by the recently-formed 1st St Mary’s Isles of Scilly, on Wednesday.
When the dim blue lights faded, the red and white beams from the lighthouses flashed upon the audience.
The Guides were trained by their captain, Mrs Jocelyn-Davies, of the Chaplaincy, and the proceeds will be divided equally between the Company funds and the fund for building a new headquarters in London.
Article followed by a large list of names
Cornishman – Thursday 20 December 1934, page 11, column 2
How we looked forward to May morning, when we went around with our fife and drum band. What a time we had. Then when Christmas came, how we looked forward to the guise dancers. Then there was the carol singing. To us it was a great joy. Christmas will soon be with us once again, and the old carols will be heard again in old Newlyn.
Cornishman – Thursday 18 January 1934, page 10, column 2
Madron Women’s Instutute
About 300 members and friends attended the New Year party of Madron Women’s Institute on Monday. The first part of the evening was given to a very interesting entertainment. The descriptive piece “Come to the fair,” by Newlyn friends was greatly enjoyed ; the costumes and scenery being very fine. Then followed songs by Mrs. Trevithick and Mr. Romilly Wallis (Newlyn) and Miss S. White (Heamoor). Mrs. Norman Rowe gave a Cornish reading; then came Madron Guise Dancers. Mr. and Mrs. Reed, Mr. and Mrs. Percy Jenkin, Mrs. and Miss Pollard, Mrs. Rowe, Miss Trevorrow, Messrs. Bottrell and Thomas (2). Canon Jennings presided and thanked all the performers. Then followed refreshments, ably served by Mrs Tregonning and her willing helpers. The older members then went to the men’s instutute for a whist drive, while the younger members enjoyed dancing and games, for which Mr. Reed was M.C. And Mr. Stone the pianist.
Cornishman – Thursday 03 January 1935, p. 7
Scillonian’s Passenger Taken Ill Medical Aid Wirelessed for Steamer’s Hurried Return Journey
On Saturday, while on her trip to St. Mary’s, a passenger on board the Scillonian was taken ill, and the mailboat wirelessed St. Mary’s for the doctor to meet her. When the Scillonian arrived early in the afternoon, it was deemed necessary to take the sick man back to Penzance hospital for treatment, and so the Scillonian left again almost immediately for Penzance. She returned on Sunday to be ready for her trip to Penzance.
Guise dancing is going on in Scilly at the present moment, and several homes are entertained by these groups who have come to be a part of Christmas in the Islands. To be a guise dancer, one dressed up in a disguise, learns how to amuse people, and on Christmas nights makes a tour of the houses with a number of comrades. Once it was a big feature, but like so many old customs, it is dying out.
Christmas in Scilly passed very quietly and happily, and the bad weather kept most people by their own firesides. Christmas day was very rainy, and Boxing Day very uncertain. The chief attractions were a film shown in the Church Street Cinema, the usual whist drives, and the Boxing Day dance in the Town Hall for the Scillonian Club. There was clay pigeon shooting on Boxing Day also.Since Christmas, conditions have been no better and heavy rain has fallen, and there have been a few bright patches. Once or twice we have had some brilliant sunshine, but there is no promise in the weather, and it looks like continuing very wet.
Cornishman – Thursday 07 January 1937
Guise Dancing on an early BBC location recording with mention of broom dancing. We have found a scan of the Radio Times from December 1937 which is presumably a repeat. There was also a broadcast from 1935 featuring the Madron Guise Dancers.
Madron Guise Dancers’ Broadcast
In a sketch entitled “Twelfthtide,” Madron guise dancers were broadcast on the Western Regional on Monday night. It was a version of the ancient play of “St. George and the Turkish Knight,” which Canon Jennings considers to be the oldest of all, and is thought to date back to a time before the dawn of Christianity.
Some of those who took part are descendants of generations of guise dancers among them being Tom Bottrell, who played the “bones.”
Many of the costumes worn were over 100 years old. Miss Phyllis Treverrow, who did the ancient broom dance, wore a costume which is nearly 150 years old. She learned the dance from her great-grandfather.
Mrs. P. Jenkin and Mr. Reed have been mainly responsible for reviving the Madron guise dancing.
Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 03 March 1938
Newlyn Branch British Legion
To raise funds for the Newlyn Branch of the British Legion, a concert, given by the well-known Madron Guise Dancers supported by the Madron Women’s Institute, was held at St. Peter’s schoolroom on Monday. Needless to say, the schoolroom was packed and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the fare supplied by these talented performers, sponsored by Mr. Reed and assisted by Mr. Prowse and Miss Symons whose songs were well rendered. Naturally the “high spot” of the evening was the “Guise Dance” and they kept the audience in roars of laughter by their quant sayings and dancing. No wonder they are in such demand! The Newlyn British Legion accorded them a very high vote of thanks.–Contributed.
Cornishman – Thursday 06 January 1938, p. 2
Presumably a repeat. There is a scan of the Radio Times from December 1937 and also a broadcast from 5th January 1935 featuring the Madron Guise Dancers. It is possible that these are all repeats of the original, recorded in 1934 or the first few days of 1935.
Madron Guise Dancers
Cornish Dialect—The Real Thing
Broadcast Which Made “Exiles” Think of Home
Cornish “exiles” in all parts of the country and, perhaps even further field [sic], must have found their thoughts returning to their native heath—to the old familiar places and the “old familiar faces”–when they listened-in on Thursday evening to the broadcast from Ladithy Hall, Madron.
The broadcast, which was from London Regional, consisted in the main of a programme given by the Madron Guise-Dancers. Guise-Dancing has, of course, almost died out by this time, and it is very rarely that one has the opportunity of being entertained by a really good company each of whom has some specific contribution to make. In the old days guise-dancing was a custom vigorously prosecuted in Cornwall, and one which to-day has features of interest to the antiquarian, such as the incorporation in the programme of the ancient tale of St. George and the Dragon. Such a point suggests that the custom had endured for a very long period; and it seems, indeed, to have a correspondence with the tradition of minstrelsy and the ballad-singing in which early poetry had its roots.
One of the values of perpetuated the custom is that it acquaints the public with the characteristics of Cornish dialect, with that pleasant turn of phrase, that racy idiom, which still marks the common speech of country-folk in Cornwall, but which is dying out in the towns. Although there is little reason to preserve dialect against the claims of correct English, it would be a pity if that rather Elizabethan word structure, with its frequent several of subject and predicate, its picturesqueness of simile and metaphor, its colour and vigour of expression, should be allowed finally to fade from the currency of our every-day speech. Synge and the other leaders of the Irish literary movement performed a service of no little value when they discovered and re-created the speech rhythms of the common folk of Ireland, and W.B. Yeats has in recent years further demonstrated their dramatic possibilities in a series of short plays.
A similar poetic expressiveness informs the Cornish dialect where it exists in it [sic] pure form, undiluted by latter-day sophistication; Shakespeare and Ben Jonson would have delighted in the conversation of Cornish famers and fishermen, as pungent and witty as that to be heard in Stratford of any country tavern in the time of Elizabeth.
Visitors to Cornwall find that not least among the charms of the Delectable Duchy is this readiness of wit—a wit based on a commonsense outlook and this forthright, robust mode of expression. In an age which has come to appreciate the quaintness of the old writers—Donne and Pepys among them—such a picturesque dialect has a definite interest, if from the literary view-point alone.
And it was this freshness and spontaneity of speech which was brought to the acquaintance of thousands of people throughout the country when the Madron Guise-Dancers broadcast last week. The conversation of the performers was true to reality; it was not the Londoner’s idea of Cornish speech—an idea picked up, it would seem, from holidays in Devon and Norfolk!–but the authentic article, naturally delivered in natural Cornish voices. There was none of that use of the world “be” connoting “am,” which is so frequently present in versions of Cornish dialect constructed by people entirely ignorant of the local idiom.
A particularly pleasing interpretation was that of Mrs. G. Rowe, of Madron Post Office, who had the role of the Old Woman of the House. Mrs. Rowe can speak the dialect as one born and reared to it; she can switch it on when she wishes, and it is as authentic as the speech of Martha Madder. Excellent also were the interpretations of Mrs. Pollard, as the performer playing the part of St. George, Miss Mary Pollard as Father Christmas. Mrs. J. Jenkin as the Neighbour, Mr. Percy Jenkin as Beelzebub, Mrs. Reed as the Turkish Knight, and Mr. Reed as the Doctor. They were well supported by Mr. B. Richards, who played the accordion, Mr. T. Botterell, who showed what rhythm can be got from a couple of bones, and Phyllis Trevorrow, who was the broom-dancer.
A further Cornish flavouring was added through the introduction of a song which is sung by Cornish folk at gatherings all over the world—”Pasties and Cream,” by Herbert Thomas. It was sung by Mr. Jack Collings, the Port Issac fisherman bass, and his rendering of it was really beautiful. He also sang “Skippers of St. Ives.”
A delightful musical background was provided by Made Male Voice Choir, who included in their selection a Xmas carol composed by Mr. Warmington, of Carbis Bay, and by a party of handbell ringers from the Wadebridge area; and the programme was completed by a charming monologue in dialect by Mr. P.J. Sandry, the well-known Helston comedian.
Altogether the performance was one which reflects high credit on the performers, on the B.B.C. and its officials, on Canon H.R. Jennings and the other members of Madron Old Cornwall Society who were enthusiastic in support, and on Mr. Bernard Fishwick, who presided.
Hearing it, “exiles” must have found their thoughts speeding homewards—which is the place where thoughts naturally return at this season of the year.
Cornishman – Thursday 25 August 1938, page 7, column 5
New Bards Initiated
Mr. J. W. Reed, Madron. Gwas Madern (servant of Madron), old Cornwall work, especially with regard to Madron Guise-dancers.
Western Morning News – Tuesday 10 January 1939, page 2, column 6
Last mention that we have found of traditional guise dancing at St Just by an appropriately named Rev. Chapell.
Guise Dancing at St Just
Sir, — In “Notes in the West” you deplore the decline of guise dancing in St. Ives. You say: “Apparently there is no other place where guise dancing is done on the mainland.”
I am glad to correct this. Guise dancing is still in vogue at St Just. Each year for the past four years I have witnessed it in this town.
This week, while staying at my cottage in St. Just, we had four different sets of dancers. They opened the door without knocking, and in really splendid disguises sang, played, and danced. The dancers, it is true, were young people, but they were of both sexes.
So many of our old customs are dying that I am glad to report the continuance of guise dancing in the most westerly town in Cornwall.
(Rev.) E. HAROLD CHAPPEL
Richmond House, Penzance, Jan 7.
Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph – Thursday 12 January 1939, p. 3
Following on from a report on the St Just Women’s Fellowship. The Madron Guise Dancers gave a performance, but this is not the house visit traditional form.
The Women’s Institute New Year party on Wednesday was a great success. A large number of members and friends were present and the excellent entertainment by Madron Guise Dancers was much enjoyed. Music for dancing was provided by the Lafrowda Band.
Cornishman – Thursday 23 March 1939
Extract from “Mousehole Bazaar”.
In the evening there was a concert by the Madron Guise Dancers, under Mrs. J. W. Reed.
Cornishman – Thursday 03 September 1942, p. 3
Cornish-Breton Demonstration in Cornwall
Breton sailors, fighting with the Fighting French Forces, and fishermen who are living in a small French Colony in West Cornwall, will be along those taking part in the Cornish-Breton Demonstration which is being held at Penzance on September 5th. The Demonstration will re-emphasise amid the dark shadow of war the traditional friendship and racial affinity of those Cornish and Bretons.
Cornish folk realise only dimly the appalling sacrifices these Bretons have made in order to fight beside us in this war. Homes and all worldly possessions had to be left, and the lives of kith and kin often imperilled. On sea, in the air and on land Bretons are fighting the common enemy.
People in that colony in West Cornwall are looking forward eagerly to the Demonstration. They are homesick people, who after nearly three years must await final victory before they can return home.
A committee representative of all the cultural interests in the Duchy is organising the Demonstration, Colonel Bolitho, Lord Lieutenant; Viscount Clifton; the Bishop of Truro; Sir Robert Abdy, Bart.; Mr. R. Morton Nance and Canon G.H. Noble are members of the committee, of which his Honour Judge Scobell Armstrong is chairman. The honorary secretaries are Mr. and Mrs. Ashley Rowe, of Mount Hawke, Truro, who were joint secretaries of the Celtic Congress, which had to be abandoned at the outbreak of war.
Music, dancing and wrestling will feature in the programme, which will begin on Friday, September 4th, with a concern, during which films will be shown. There will be dancing by the Madron Guise Dancers, and items by French people. On Saturday there will be a Service Parade and the Fighting French will visit places in West Cornwall enshrined in the affection of the two countries. There will also be an informal concern in the Pavillion and guests will attend a reception given by the Lord Lieutenant.
One interesting hope expressed at the committee’s first meeting was that our of the Demonstration plans might be made to set aside a place in this part of the country which, as far as possible, should be given French characteristic—”a place in England where the French can find France.”
Cornishman – Thursday 19 December 1946, page 3, column 3
Guise dancing is still going in St Ives in 1948, but perhaps mainly for children. We have spoken to elderly people in St Ives who remember doing this.
Still surviving today is the old custom of “Dress-ups,” as Camborne-Redruth called it, or “Guise Dancers,” as they are called in St. Ives. When you see young kiddies with their faces blacked or wearing odd clothes for their carol-singing, it’s not just a passing fancy of their own. This is a survival of the old days when bands of men and women mummers dressed up for their carolling, and, once again, found greater pleasure in their festivity that they would have in the mechanical pleasures of today.
Cornishman – Thursday 16 December 1948, p. 4
Within living memory in West Cornwall at Christmas, what was known as guise dancing caused much merriment.
Groups of boys, in all sorts of disguises, paraded the streets with masks on, often behaving in such an unruly manner that women and children were afraid to venture out.
If the doors of the houses were not locked the youths would sometimes enter unwanted and stay, playing all kinds of antics until money was given to them to go away.
Sometimes furniture was broken, but as the mischief makers wore masks it was difficult to know the culprits.
It is recorded that this dancing became such a terror to the respectable inhabitants of Penzance that the Corporation practically stopped the revellers by ordering a notice to be posted on Christmas Eve in a conspicuous part of town forbidding them to perambulate in the streets.
At Newlyn and Mousehole these Christmas revels were very popular and houses were entered, and dancers, with an English concertina, and another accompanying with the rattling of bones, caused the fisherfolk much fun and merriment and, if the family was inclined to object to the merriment, there would soon be a racket.
In some parts of the county much fun was made when the dancers masked themselves with the skins of the heads of bullocks leaving the horns on.
In some cases they were more ambitious, and ventured the old-time play “St. George and the Dragon.”
On one occasion a man representing a hobby-horse, made a contrivance for opening and shutting the mouth with a loud snapping noise, the performer being disguised by a horse cloth neatly placed over his back.
Cornishman – Thursday 14 April 1949, p. 2
New Cornish Opera ‘Avon’ Well Received
“Guise Dance” Should be Revived
(By a “Cornishman” Reporter)
“Avon,” a new opera by the Cornish composer, Inglis Gundry, was well received by a large audience when on Monday evening it was given its first public presentation at the Scala Theatre, London. It is the fourth opera he has composed.
This is believed to be the first grand opera dealing with the Elizabethan times, and it reveals the prominent part that music played in the lives of both town and country dwellers of that period.
The story is based on a marriage planned to unite the two halves of Warwickshire separated by the River Avon. All the leading characters are historical. The plan fails because the bride-to-be is in love with the household musician. These two parts were well played by Victoria Sladen and George Chitty. Douglas Craig as Lord Buckridge, the disappointed bridegroom-elect, was splendid.
“Avon” must be seen a few times before its beauty can be fully appreciated. One of its features is a series of masques and dances. There is a street dance and a torch dance and a number of ballet sequences, all of which Joan Lawson, the choreographer and the premiere danseuse, has endeavoured to make as authentic as possible. Miss Lawson is an authority on English folk-dancing, and these pieces are based on historical records.
The conducting of Geoffrey Corbell won the applause of all parts of the house and the enthusiasm of the audience increased as the opera proceeded. Six performances are being given by the Exploratory Opera Society, and there seems reason to believe that “Avon” will become the best known of Mr. Gundry’s works.
Cornish Opera Company
Mr. Gundry told “The Cornishman” that he has lived “abroad” in England all his life, but spends most of his holidays “athome.” “I shall be in Cornwall again in May and June.” he added.
“If only Cornwall would start an opera company of its own, I should be the first to shake the dust of London off my feed. Think of the subjects we have for operas in our wonderful traditions! The old Cornish ‘guise-dance’ was a kind of opera, and we could revive it in some modern form suited to Cornishmen and visitors to Cornwall today.
“I am told by Dr. Herbert Howells, who adjudicated in Cornwall recently, that we have the voices. I should like to see a company called ‘The Cornish Guise-dancers’ performing throughout Cornwall and touring the rest of Britain, especially the other Celtic countries.
“Will nobody help such a venture, which would be the best way of preserving Cornish culture and spreading it abroad?”
Cornishman – Thursday 22 December 1949, page 5, column 2
The artist mentioned is Hyman Segal (1914-2004). Here the paper suggests that guise dancing is still going, and adults take part, backed up by Segal’s drawings.
Guise Dances at St Ives
Artist’s Set of Pictures
“Here, as in other English counties, Christmas customs are fast disappearing.” Mrs Henry Pennell Whitcombe wrote in this tone of lament 75 years ago. Even then the metrical guise-dance plays of Cornwall were a thing of the past, rightly to be listed in a book on bygone days.
Guise-dancing of a kind has, of course, continued here and there in the county, but at its best it has resembled, more than anything else, a minstrel show and at its worst it has been merely a rather pathetic effort at mumming, with little actual entertainment.
The true guise-dancing of Cornwall formed a link with the ancient ballady from which literature as we know it evolved. There was, for instance the popular Christmas play introducing St. George and the Turkish Knight:
Here come I, Saint George, That valiant champion bold. And with my sword and spear I’ve won three crowns of gold.
“But the old version of these plays is almost forgotten,” wrote Mrs Pennell Whitcombe in 1874. “With the juvenile members of families, the ‘goosey dancers’ (guised dancers) still retain their practices; and on Christmas Eve these boys and girls rifle their parents’ wardrobes old coats, gowns, etc., and thus disguised dance sing and beg money to make merry with.” This still applies in the country districts, but even among the children enthusiasm is lacking since the war.Happily, there has been a revival of guise dancing in St Ives. Last year’s street scenes inspired Segal, the artist, to a set of very effective pictures.
Western Morning News – Friday 20 January 1950, page 3
Here in 1950 guise dancing continues as a procession.
Old Tradition Carries on at St. Ives
Guise-dancing in the streets
The age-old custom of Guise-dancing was in full swing at St. Ives, when the streets where lined with inhabitants, who had come out, despite the cold wind to participate in the fun-making.
Over 100 adults and juveniles with veiled faces and every conceivable style of dress or costume assembled at the car park near the harbour, and danced through the streets of the town to the strains of the Furry Dance, played by the St. Ives Town Band, under the direction of Mr S. G. Coombe.
Custom Dying Out
In times past it was the custom of “geese-dancers” to enter uninvited any house in the borough and provide the householder with entertainments and the residents invariably received them hospitably.
It is understood that St. Ives is the only town in West Cornwall which now keeps up this tradition.
Cornishman – Thursday 26 January 1950
Description of the St Ives Old Cornwall Society meeting, during which a concert was held with contributions from other OCS from around Cornwall, presumably with a performance of a guise dance play.
Their Winter Festival
Old Cornwall Societies at St. Ives
<snip>Guise dancing St. Ives O.C.S.</snip>