May Day in Cornwall in 1758

An anonymous correspondent in 1758 wrote to the Universal Magazine and, among other things, described what happened in Cornwall on the arrival of May:

An ancient custom, still retained by the Cornish, is that of decking their doors and porches, on the 1st of May, with green sycamore and hawthorn boughs, and of planting trees, or rather stumps of trees, before their houses; and on May eve, they from towns, make excursions into the country, and, having cut down a tall elm, brought it into town, fitted a straight and taper pole to the end thereof, and painted the same, erect it in the most public place, and on holidays and festivals adorn it with flower garlands, or ensigns and streamers.

This usage is nothing more than a gratulation of the spring season; and every house exhibited a proper signal at its approach, to testify their universal joy at the revival of vegetation.”

May Day in Padstow around 1900. The ‘Obby ‘Oss festivities are the best-known May Day events but in the 18th century celebrations of spring would have been widespread in every town and village.

2 thoughts on “May Day in Cornwall in 1758

  1. “Gratulation”, wonderful new word for me.

    Super also to learn about what was happening in the 1700s. Can you recommend books on this period, particularly the first half?


    1. The period from the 1640s to the 1780s is actually a bit of a black hole in Cornish history. There’s very little detailed work on this period since the economic histories of James Whetter (fior the 17th century) and John Rowe (for the 18th and later), both published now more than 50 years ago. The period is of course superficially covered in general histories, including my own!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.