Games, Customs, Amusements, Baths and Bathing
AS OUR CIVIC FATHERS HAD NOT EVEN THOUGHT OF recreation grounds, or provided any kind of place for the youngsters to play sixty years ago they had, perforce, to make use of the beach for all manner of things including their games. At this period there was quite a nice bit of sand to be seen from Sandybank to Larrigan. Girls found the protruding ledges of the sea-wall under South Terrace "just the thing" for the shelves of the "shops" which they played at almost daily when the weather was favourable, specially during their summer holidays. Their stock-in-trade consisted of coloured pebbles, bits of brick, sherds of pottery and small fragments of coloured glass; sand, being the substitute for sugar, was served out by a limpet-shell. Different species of seaweed (oreweed it was always termed) did duty for the various kinds of meats. The improvised scales comprised a flat piece of wood balanced upon a stone; pebbles, of course, formed the different weights. Winkles, limpots, small crabs, etc., were on sale; the money being represented by pieces of 'ellan (slate). And good timers they were, too. Girls also did a lot of skipping on the by-roads, and trundled wooden hoops in the streets and, of course, played at hop-scotch.
Prior to the appearance of motors in the town the streets, especially in the evenings, were fairly free of vehicular traffic allowing the youngsters to indulge in the numerous games then in vogue, i.e., marbles, pits, tops, stilt-walking, leap-frog, mop-meady, pellets, blackbull, cutters and trucklers (a remembrance of the ancient smuggling days), buck-shee-buck, etc. An excellent game called "Duck" was played with large stones on the beaches.
The policemen, however, who had much more time for street patrol at that period, gave the youth of the town a great deal of attention every day, and broke up the games immediately they appeared on the scene. The uniform then was a little different; the buttons on their tunics being of solid silver, with the head of St. John the Baptist on a Charger, in relief, in the centre and the words "Borough of Penzance" around the design. On the reverse side was seen the name of the mayor, as well as the date of his year of office. (Specimens may be seen in Penlee Museum.) The bobbies also carried a forbidding cane when patrolling the streets, and whenever they saw a few lads congregated anywhere—even if the Law was not being broken in any shape or form, the policemen had merely to swish their canes smartly upon the slacks of their somewhat wide trousers, producing a crack-of-the-whip sound, to scatter the assembly in all directions. The same procedure occurred with the gossipers who assembled on The Terrace on market nights, as well as the Esplanade on Sunday evenings.
The first Billards-table set up in Penzance was a private one at Redinnick House where a Mr. Eddison resided. This would be soon after the completion of the house in 1815. (To celebrate the opening of his grand home Mr. Eddison invited the gentry of Penzance and neighbourhood to a garden party at Redinnick; a well-known band from Plymouth was engaged and rendered musical selections during the proceedings.)
The next table seen in the town was at The Dolphin, the Quay, claiming the honour of being the first table available to the billiard enthusiasts in the town. This now historical article, I believe, still finds a home at The Dolphin, although not in use for cues and ivories as theretofore. The Star Hotel followed with its public table, after which they became more general; every other hotel in the borough being the proud owners of one or more tables.
The Penzance Billiard Club situated in Prince's Hall, Prince's Street, provided three tables for the use of their members and cueing friends.
May Day customs in Cornwall varied so greatly as to need several pages to enumerate them all. In her delightful book: Cornish Feasts and Folklore published in 1890, Miss M. A. Courtney says: "May Day is ushered in at Penzance by the discordant blowing of large tin horns. At daybreak, and even earlier, parties of boys assemble at the street corners, from whence they perambulate the town blowing their horns and conch-shells. They enter the gardens of detached houses, stop and bray under the bedroom windows, and beg for money. With what they collect they go into the country, and at one of the farmhouses they breakfast on bread and clotted cream, junket, etc.".
In my younger days, and even up to 1933, the custom was a little different. Boys rose at dawn and armed with their tin horns of different sizes marched through the streets of the town into the countryside, making music (?) all the way. Along the lanes we gathered branches of Sycamore (always termed May) and from the young shoots made - by the aid of a sharp penknife - a rude kind of whistle, termed a "feeper". We then returned homewards bringing large branches of Sycamore, and again trumpeted in the streets before partaking of a belated breakfast. Girls also accompanied some of the parties and usually gathered armfuls of Bluebells; but they did not carry horns. After the great day was over the treasured horns were safely put away, and an additional inch of tin - a penn'orth - was added to the horn each year that the boy used it. The use of tin horns - peculiar to Penzance and neighbourhood, like the Furry Day celebration at Helston - is of great antiquity.... '
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