Saturday, 13 August 2016

Hateful Places? Rivalries of Neighbours

A whole genre of folklore (not unique to Cornwall) is devoted to rivalries between communities through the ages.  This suspicion between neighbouring communities is treated often as quaint or a symptom of the narrow rural mindset, but may mask deeper animosities.  Villages could sit alongside each other, trade with each other and occasionally (grudgingly?) assist each other in times of distress, but under the veneer of centuries old mutual distrust, disguised as a joke, was there real hatred?  Which places were particularly prone to hate even nearby outsiders?  Read on.
 One way in which community neighbours on the coast often acted for their mutual benefit was when an unfortunate ship got into trouble in their vicinity and the wrecking instinct kicked in.  This rhyming naval prayer commemorates this:
 God save us from rocks and shelving sands
And save us from Breage and Germoe’s men.
 It was said in the area that Germoe’s men once had very beautiful singing voices, but their overwhelming pride in this fact meant that God eventually took away this communal talent.  The village still boasted a very fine opinion of itself, as this rhyme on local characteristics demonstrates:
Camborne men are bulldogs,
Breage men are brags,
Three or four Germoe men
‘Ull scat ‘um all to rags.
 Further on, St Ives and its neighbour Zennor shared a mutual loathing of each other for many years.  Zennor people often reminded St Ives of an incident which may or may not have actually happened.  The fishermen of St Ives became enraged because hake would incessantly get into their standard catch of mackerel.  So they decided to teach the hake a lesson by catching one large example of the species, giving it a good whipping and throwing it back into the water, teaching a lesson and giving a warning to all the hake.  So, if a Zennor man felt vindictive towards his neighbour, he might comment, ‘Who whipped the hake?’  Few things are more satisfying than believing the village next door is hopelessly full of idiots.   St Ives could hit back by disparaging Zennor’s barren geography and poverty.  It was whispered that Zennor was the place where ‘the cow ate the bell-rope’ because the place was so rocky and desolate there was nothing else for it to eat. 
 Possibly, as a reaction, St Ives would also accuse the inhabitants of Zennor of not being intellectually well equipped.  The explanation of their taunt, ‘Why built the wall around the cuckoo?’ is as follows.  It was said that the folk of Zennor noticed how the coming of the cuckoo in spring always coincided with better weather, so they resolved to ensure fine weather by keeping the bird with them always.  They were in the act of building a wall to detain the cuckoo one particular year when the creature simply flew away, much to their dismay.  ‘Ef us ‘d got another coorse [course of bricks] an, us ‘d a kep’n in.’ They commented sadly as the bringer of spring flew us.  Unfortunately the people of St Ives seem to have stolen this story in an effort to blacken the reputation of Zennor, because this tale was already famously and originally told about the village idiots of Gotham in Nottinghamshire. 
 Camborne and Redruth, despite being cheek by jowl, were sometimes at odds.  Camborne once accused its neighbour with the taunt, ‘Who crowned the donkey?’  This remembers an incident  when the townsfolk paraded such a best through its streets, complete with crown, as a mocking response to the accession of the poorly regarded King George IV in 1820.  Another, stranger slander says that Redruth’s people all had three chocks (slits) in their heels – whatever that means.
 Even in modern times, Bodmin had sometimes been disparaged wrongly by others in Cornwall.  To say that a certain person ‘has gone a bit Bodmin’ was hinting that they were mad, deriving from the fact that the mental hospital was located in the town.  A kinder and older saying about the town was, ‘In to Bodmin and out of the world.’  This hinted at an era when the town was sleepy and isolated, not just from the rest of Cornwall, but the whole country.  When the outside world rudely intruded into Bodmin the results were not always happy.  It was said that an enterprising outside merchant once created a sensation in the borough by bringing in fancy clothes and hats from up country.  Although the fashions rapidly sold out and transformed the appearance of the town, there was an immediate outbreak of severe pestilence and many people died.  The rumour spread that these new, outlandish clothes were the cause of this plague.  So all the hasty garments were gathered up and ceremoniously burnt.  But the disease ravaged through the town afterwards and the dead were carted away to be buried in a far off field at Crantock, where the burial mounds of the victims were still to be seen long afterwards.  It was said in Crantock that if the mounds were disturbed in the least the Angel of Death would be instantly released and flap across their village with his great black wings.
 Nicknames of small settlements and other places are often derived from disparaging views of other nearby places, but the meanings or reasons behind a lot of these names are not now recoverable.  Take, for instance, this list of nicknames of places in the area of the Meneage (from Mullyon: its History, Scenery and Antiquities, E G Harvey, 1875):
Landewednack/Lizard – Onions
Grade – Geese
St Ruan – Ducks
St Keverne – Romans
St Anthony – Pigs
Manaccan – Sweets
St Mawgan – Owls
St Martyn – Kites
Cury – Crows
Gunwallow – Jackdaws
Mullion – Gulls

The list of local nicknames is quite possibly endless, but here are a few more:

St Levan  -Witches
 St Just - Fuggans /Bugs
Egloskerry - Rough Heads
Poundstock-  Stragglers
Otterham  -Revellers
 Lesneweth and St Juliot -Whitpot Eaters
Week St Mary - Beggars
 Stratton - Mice
Whitstone - Owls
Morvah Chick- Chacks
Zennor - Goats (It was said that Zennor people would contrive, by their thrifty habits, to live like goats. Hence the nickname "Zennor Goats", or "as careful as Zennor people.)
Towednack -  Cuckoos
Nancledra - Rats
St Buryan - Boars
 Mousehole Cut-Throats
 Newlyn Buccas
Sancreed - Pigs
Penzance - Scads [a type of mackerel]
North Tamerton - Mingies [Minnows]
 Launcells Geese
Jacobstow - Gentlemen
 Bude - Mules
Poughill - Cuckoos
Kilkhampton - Rooks
Marhamchurch  -Bulldogs
Morwenstow and St Gennys –Wreckers
Marazion - Crows
Gulval Bulls
Ludgvan - Hurlers
Lelant and Hayle- Badgers
Camborne Merry-Geeks [after St Meriasek] also - Chaw Bacons
Penryn - Skiverdowns 
Falmouth Trollops
Stithians - Bugs
 St Agnes Cuckoos
Tregony - Mutton
 Probus - Winter Pigs
 Fowey Gallants
Polruan - Polly Roosters
 Padstow - Crows
St Pinnock - Bone Pickers

Polperro - Stinkers

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