Padstow Obby Oss Day

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Following on from John Buckingham’s superb article, Bygone May Days – an insider’s view of Padstow’s great day – we now have a visitor’s viewpoint from Alan Murton, a regular contributor to Cornish Story.


The volume of sound grew as the Blue army crowded into Prideaux Place. The music of the concertinas and the thump of the drums welled up the staircase from the hall – a moment to catch the throat of the most blasé sophisticate. For a Cornishman making his first visit to the Padstow May Day celebrations an invitation to wallow in the waves of emotion that swelled with the music.

The luxury of an entrée to the Prideaux-Brune family home was a bonus and the climax of a day of unalloyed pleasure. No matter how much you enjoy radio, magazine and newspaper reports you have to be there and I defy you not to become swept up in the excitement of ‘Obby ‘Oss day.

By mid-morning the celebration was in full swing, the Children’s ‘Oss was making its way back towards the harbour and the Red ‘Oss had just emerged from the hostelry, refreshed for its midday visit to Prideaux Place. The funfair on the quay was crowded – a fiendish machine flung braver stomachs than mine this way and that, the golden horses of the sedate carousel carried younger punters on a circuit of dreams.

The narrow streets were awash with people and the dancing of the ‘Oss in response to the Teasers carried the tide along. It was easy to identify the Padstow natives – dressed in white, the better to display the favours of their allegiance, red for what their programme calls: “The original old ‘oss” or blue, the colour of the “Padstow Blue Ribbon ‘Oss.” Not for me to get involved in the origins of the two ‘Osses, especially in view of the challenge in the Red programme:

“And shall we allow aliens and strangers to usurp our pleasures and rob us of our birthright that we have inherited from Mother to Daughter, from Father to Son? NO WE WILL NOT!”

Usurp their pleasures – beggar the thought! But I felt welcome to join in and enjoy them.  Exiled Padstow folk come home to re-unite with their families and wear their white dress, posies of spring flowers and their coloured favours, to play and sing the traditional song and stop and start their way around the narrow streets.  Every year they are joined by hundreds of visitors.

It was the feeling of “Community” which came to me, watching the gyrations of the shiny black hoss and the antics of the teasers with their ritual sticks.  People travelled the routes in good-humoured groups, smiling families, young children perched high on their fathers’ shoulders, dozing in pushchairs or dancing tiny steps in their own celebration.  Honour and pride of place went to the older generation – vantage places were always found for them to lend their voices to the never-ending singing of the traditional words: “In the merry morning of May.”

The Red ‘Oss arrived at Prideaux Place to be greeted by Peter and Elizabeth Prideaux-Brune with members of their family and their guests. A flashback to feudal days?  For me it was evidence of unity within the community and acknowledgement of the responsibility that goes with heritage. The greetings were warm and, despite the long climb, the playing, dancing and singing continued on the gravel terrace in front of the castellated house.

There was time to draw breath at last when the Red ‘Oss danced its way back to the town for a well-deserved draught or two and a rest before the traditional night meeting of the ‘osses at the Maypole erected in the town square.

We chose to watch the Blue ‘Oss visit to the Prideaux Place from the balustrade on the gallery above the main hall. We were joined on stairs and landings by more family guests. We could hear the cavalcade making its musical way long before three firm blows on the front door announced its arrival.

It had rained and the Blue band came into the hall streaming wet but the playing and singing was full of the promised sunshine of the coming summer. I counted over forty accordions of all shapes and sizes – “Concertinas” to local folk – and speculated that there must be more accordions per head of the population of Padstow than in the rest of the world.

Inside the hall the singing took on a new dimension, the sound confined and echoing round the old house.  Peter Prideaux-Brune took the teaser’s stick for a while and then passed it to his elder son, Nicholas who one day will inherit the house, estate and the traditions and commitment to the community which go with it. Nicholas’ young lady guest was persuaded to tease the ‘Oss and to the considerable amusement and delight of everyone the ‘Oss gathered her under his skirt – by superstition guaranteeing pregnancy within the year! I could sense that the ancestors whose massive portraits line the walls of the scene would have nodded their approval of May Day 21st century style.

The official programmes admit that nobody can pin down the origins of the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival – pagan and lost in the mists of time. In fact history hardly matters, this is an event of today and the people of today, what is vital is that the festival goes on – one of the most colourful, noisy and uninhibited of the many such in Cornwall. The jealous commitment of the Padstow-born to maintaining their tradition is evidence that they will not let their birthright go. In a silicon chip world there is still time for people to work together and make music together for pleasure as well as the protection of their heritage – at the same time they shake their collecting tins for local charities.

Long may it continue.


Truro born and educated Alan Murton returned to Cornwall in 1994 with Writing as a key aim in early retirement after a course with Open College of the Arts with Cornish poet Philip Gross as his mentor. He sent some of his writing to Cornwall Today and was soon a regular in its pages until the West Briton took it over. He joined Truro Creative Writers in 1995 and worked with them, for 20 years as Chairman/Secretary.

Apart from competing in Old Cornwall Society competitions he wrote for two subscription magazines and has been published nationally as well as locally.


2 thoughts on “Padstow Obby Oss Day

  1. A most interesting narrative. I must confess I have not made t to Obby Oss Day and am sure I won’t now. Far too feeble for such activities!

  2. Great story. I have never attended Obby Oss Day but have often thought I should have, especially as my 3rd great grandmother was a Padstow girl – Grace Carpenter born 1784. I wonder if I would be entitled to wear white?

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