Sue describes to Mel Mitchell her memories of May Day, Maypole and May Queen.
Greg and Denise Williams
Greg and Denise talk to Mel Mitchell about dancing on May Day and dancing around the Maypole. They then talk about Paul village school and Mousehole school in the 1950s.
Max and Sue Gibson
Max and Sue reminisce to Mel Mitchell about the Silver Jubilee, May Day and Mousehole carnival.
Liz recounts the choosing of the May Queen.
The Reluctant May Queen
I lived in Paul between 1959-1979. Really early on in this project I found an old picture of myself as May Queen. As soon as I saw it, I was reminded of how I felt at that time. In one way I really wanted to do it, to be the centre of this lovely village tradition, but at the same time I was very reluctant. I’ve never been that interested in clothes or managed to look smart or tidy and I’ve always hated having my photo taken. Anyway, my mum was so excited at the prospect I really felt as if I couldn’t let her down and she relished the planning and pageantry that was involved and really enjoyed it all. The accompanying picture captured the moment and I think it conveys my feelings perfectly.
Reluctant May Queen by Mel Mitchell
27th May, 1971—
The die was cast, my time had come.
Mum took me down Vi’s to get my hair done—
Wearing new white socks, vest and pants from in town,
They’ve insisted I squeeze into a hand-sewn white gown.
(I’m not fat, just had a growth spurt is all,
And Mrs Pearce keeps asking why I’m suddenly so tall)
My head’s too small for the ancient brass crown,
The old green velvet cape is weighing me down.
Mum’s really excited and dad’s so impressed,
He cannot believe that I’m wearing a dress.
It’s a mild sunny evening, but my mood isn’t light—
There’s not one thing about this that feels at all right.
We’ve been ‘arranged’ on a decorated farm trailer,
And requests for smiles have resulted in failure
The beat of the old drum leads us down to the Green,
A Cornishman photographer captures the scene—
There are speeches and dancing and pasties in the hall,
Then at last it’s all over, I’m May Queen of Paul.
Picture courtesy of The Cornishman
These poems were inspired by the memories of Mary Barnes and Betty Johns. In separate accounts both women explained the significance of Penzance Promenade as a social destination for young people of West Penwith following church or chapel on a Sunday evening. These free weekly gatherings were attended by youths from the many different villages and hamlets surrounding Penzance from the early 1900s right up to the late 1950s. It was a rare opportunity to mix and socialise with other young people they might otherwise never meet. Their accounts were full of detail including the clothes they wore for the occasion and conveyed the excitement and importance of this social opportunity for them both.
Prom — 1940s by Mel Mitchell
Ere we go again, another long evensong,
Every Sunday is the same, e goes on and on and on.
‘Come on Reverend Wagner, will be dark in a minute—
And if I don’t get down the prom, that’ll be the limit!’
Don’t get me wrong, I’m regular in church,
But if I don’t get cracking, I’ll be left in the lurch.
I been saving for weeks for this bottle green jacket,
The Astrakhan collar cost me a packet!
I bet e’s already there wi’ that Tommy Trembath,
They’ll be by the bandstand or stood by the path—
I been waiting for weeks, while e’s been away,
But now that e’s back, I got something to say.
I’ve missed him so much, while e’s been gone,
An’ I’ve dreamed of a future tha’s ’appy an’ long.
I’m goin’ to say yes, an’ up Paul we’ll be wed—
Then off inta Chirgwin’s, for tea an’ a spread.
This war’s makin’ all of us seize every chance,
We can’t afford diamonds, nor a band for a dance—
But I’ll be contented to give him my arm,
An’ a promise of marriage, down on the prom.
Image used under the Creative Commons license
Betty talks to Mel Mitchell about how the church was the basis for people’s social life, how children were free when she was growing up, what she got up to at 15 years old and May Queen.
Prom — 1950s by Mel Mitchell
Reverend Wagner’s nearly done,
We’ll all make the prom, if we hurry and run.
I’m hoping that chapel might also be through,
So that all of the Mousehole lads, they can come too.
Circle skirt, petticoats, gloves, a new hat—
I’m a lady of fashion, no doubt about that!
Sunday nights are packed down the prom,
But last week one lad stood out in the throng—
He arrived nice and early, an’ made me stare—
He wore natty clothes an’ ’ad brilliantine hair.
That boy Johnny Blewett, e’s got some style,
An’ in all of that get up, e stood out a mile!
In a white sports coat an’ a pink carnation,
This dapper young chap caused some consternation.
I’m usually always about rock’n’roll—
But that boy Johnny Blewett, well e’s got soul!
Linda recounts to Hilary Beard some memories of being May Queen.
As soldiers marched away is a short poem inspired by the many discussions of wartime with people in Paul. Written by Pauline Sheppard
Image used under the Creative Commons license