Traditional Cornish Stories and Rhymes
Retold by Donald R. Rawe
About this book
Here are fifteen of the favourite stories which Cornish people have for centuries regarded as their chief fireside entertainment. Varied in mood, and presenting a wide range of personages, these tales bear comparison with the best fairy stories and legends anywhere. In the tradition of the droll tellers of former centuries, we here offer a taste of the rich store of well-loved tales as collected by Victorian and Edwardian antiquaries.
DONALD R. RAWE is a Cornish bard, well-known for his plays and writings on Cornish themes. He was born in Padstow, where his family has lived for over 200 years. Among his books are ‘A Prospect of Cornwall’, ‘Cornish Hauntings and Happenings’ and ‘Padstow’s May Day Festivities’; his plays include ‘Petroc of Cornwall’, ‘Hawker of Morwenstow’, ‘Murder at Bohelland’, and ‘The Last Voyage of Alfred Wallis’.
MORGELYN (Mary Mills) was also a Bard of Gorseth Kernow, being widely admired for her distinctive line drawings on Cornish subjects. This new edition of Traditional Cornish Stores and Rhymes is dedicated to her memory, with respect and affection.
© Donald R. Rawe, 1971, 1992.
© Illustrations by Morgelyn, 1971.
ISBN 0 902899 08 2
Reprinted eight times, 1972-88 This reset edition published 1992.
Copyright reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical or electronic means without prior permission from the author or publishers.
Since first publishing this volume in 1972, the revival of interest in Cornish folklore has continued steadily, partly due to the popularity of the book itself. Especially in the field of drama, these and other stories have taken their hold. There have been memorable productions of plays on the Treagle theme by the Foots Barn Players and Knee High Theatre; Shiva, Bedlam and Kernow Productions, among other companies, have contributed to the movement, as we may certainly call it, by writing and performing on themes including the Giants of West Cornwall, various Mermaids, Saints Merlasek, Petroc and Piran, and King Geraint. School drama productions based upon Cornish folklore are on the increase, even in these days of the national Curriculum; and story telling itself has revived at events such as the annual Lowender Peran Festival and the Triennial Cornish Esethvos (Eisteddfod).
All this is particularly heartening, since when I myself was a child, although we were introduced quickly enough to the fairy tales of Anderson and Grimm, there was hardly a story told from our own rich Cornish tradition; and yet these tales and legends have been assiduously collected by Robert Hunt (1865-77) , M.A. Courtney (1890), J.H. Harris (1906), Enys Tregarthen (1906-10) and others. To those ‘gatherers of fragments, that they be not lost’, we owe an incalculable debt.
This new edition will, I hope, introduce further generations of parents and children to this unique heritage, and will be followed, it is hoped, by similar volumes.
DHE GOF MORGELYN
Traditional Cornish Stories and Rhymes retold by Donald Rawe
Peder Prynne was the brightest child in his class at school, and usually the best behaved. If his teacher had any trouble with him at all it was because now and then she would catch him day-dreaming in class; and she would wonder what he was thinking about, staring before him with bright innocent eyes as if he could see all the past and all the future too.
Cornwall was once the favourite dwelling place of giants; they were especially fond of the Land’s End and Mount’s Bay districts. In fact the Mount, now called after St.Michael, was actually built (so we are told by the old writers) by a famous giant called Cormoran, a man as big as a mine-stack, but extremely lazy.
The king of East Cornwall, Bran Dhu, had two daughters, one fair and the other dark; their names were Elowen and Merouda. Elowen was tall and golden-haired, as gentle as a lily; but Merouda, who took after her father, was dark and fiery, so much so that all the suitors who came to woo her soon left Bran’s court on one excuse or another; because they couldn’t put up with her tongue or her temper.
St. Piran is known as the merriest, hardest drinking, hardest living holy man Cornwall ever knew. He is also the patron saint of tinners, and his feast day used to be kept as a holiday in the parishes of Perranzabuloe (Piran in the Sands), St. Agnes and St. Day, and others where tin mining has always been the main occupation.
Yselt the Fair was married, at the age of fifteen, and by the dictates of her father, to Margh, King of Cornwall; and went to live with him in his castle at Tintagel. There above the rushing waves and amid the shrieking of seagulls, she accustomed herself to a lonely shut-up life; while Margh went out hunting or off to the wars with King Arthur, the great Pendragon who commanded the armies of all Britain.
Davy Tremayne and Kervern Angove were two tin miners, fine upstanding men in their twenties, and both married with young families. They had been bosom friends since their school days and lived near each other in cottages on the downs outside St. Just.
They have been there for centuries, longer than anyone can tell: two little stone men sitting on stone horses, on the roof of what used to be an old inn in Padstow. A legend handed down through the mists of time says that at certain times of the year, when the church clock strikes twelve midnight, the little horsemen and their steeds come alive, descent to the Market Place, and gallop through the town.
One fine Sunday morning in Zennor church, perched on the cliffs of Penwith, the choir and congregation were ready for service when through the church door came a strange lady of unearthly beauty.
Piskies are of several sorts, some kind and some mischievous; and some are both at various times. This is the story of a pisky who, at least for a time, was helpful and did a farmer a very good turn.
Bonaventure is a Norman-French name, and means Good Fortune. And good fortune indeed came to one of that name, a simple country girl, Thomasine (or Tamsin), once a shepherdess at Week St. Mary in the north of Cornwall. Good fortune also came through her to the scattered parish in which she lived.
At Chyannor in St. Levan parish lived a man called Jowan (pronounced ‘Ewan’) and his wife Kekezza. Jowan was a tinner, but the bal he worked at nearby went scat and closed. So sadly he said goodbye to his dear wife for a long time, and set out to find work elsewhere. He went east and walked for several days.
One bright calm moonlit night on Trevose Head, where a large dark pisky-ring showed up on the turf, about six hundred piskies were dancing and laughing in a circle. Round and round they danced, faster and faster as the Fiddler in the middle sawed away on his tiny violin.