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padstows streets full of people for the festival of obby oss

Traditions and Festivals

Obby Oss

The Obby Oss festival is a traditional Mayday celebration in Padstow - records mention it in 1803 but it is certainly older than this and is thought to be the oldest Mayday celebrations still continuing in the UK. It is now an “excuse” for a good day out, a few beers to celebrate Mayday and some friendly rivalry amongst the local villagers.

(photo below by geraintandkim)
The town is decorated with greenery, flowers and flags and on May 1st ( or may 2nd if the 1st is a Sunday ) as it turns midnight, the obby oss in padstow the celebrations begin with the singing of the “night song” in the Golden Inn . The main part of the festival is the appearance of the two ‘osses - the "Old" and the "Blue " who emerge from their respective stables and dance through the town. The ‘osses ", are male dancers wearing a mask and large black cape under which they are meant to catch young maidens as they dance along. The supporters born in the town traditionally dress in white wearing a coloured sash - family loyalties dictating whether they follow the 'Red'/original Oss, or the 'Blue'/peace Oss. Each ‘Oss is preceded by their own supporters and followed by a “Teaser” who prods it into action and finally the musicians on accordions, triangles and drums, all singing the “day song”. one of the two obby oss's in the streets of padstow after dark

(photo right by Purely Penzance)
Originally there was simply one ‘oss - the “Old Oss” who starts early and finishes late at the Golden Lion inn, but in the 1800’s the temperance movement, disgraced at the quantities of alcohol consumed started the Blue Ribbin ‘oss, - who now starts at Harbour Inn at 10am.

During the morning several junior 'Osses played by children may appear, accompanied by drums and dancing, finishing around 10am. The adult dance takes place at 11 o'clock and is followed by a mock battle between the Old 'Oss and the Blue 'Oss at the Maypole around midda – all things going to plan of course .
the hurling ball used in st columbs majors hurling games

(photo left by J Milburn)


On Shrove Tuesday St. Columb hosts a “hurling” game – you’ll know it’s getting close to the date when the high street start to install wooden frames holding wire mesh over the front of the windows. The repeat game –the second Saturday after Shrove Tuesday - is the more traditional, and much rougher, version.

Once quite common in Cornwall, the game, believed to be Celtic in origin, involves throwing or carrying a silver covered wooden ball ( about the size of a cricket ball) through the streets of the town – use of the feet is forbidden, but snatching & tackling are allowed .

From the starting point in Market Square, the ball is thrown to the crowd and usually results in a large scrum and the aim is to get the ball back to your own teams own goal about a mile away. The teams sides are unlimited - similar to old fashioned “mob” ball games - and there aren’t many rules. There’s an hour of “warm up” when the ball is simply passed about before the teams begin to compete, picture of the tradition of hurling taken from the puband the game can be paused for spectators to touch the ball for luck (or originally for fertility) or can be slowed down to allow younger players to join in - and needless to say it all ends with the “much consumption of ale”.

(photo right by Phil Ellery)
The two teams are the “townsmen” and the “countrymen” and traditionally the ball is engraved as “"St Columb Major and Minor , Do your best, In one of your parishes, I must rest. The balls are hand made in the village from applewood & sterling silver and weigh about a pound - . there‘s usually one on display at the Town Hall in St Columb Major. The winner of the ball may keep it, but must then have a replacement made for the next game ( at a cost of about £300).

has a claim to fame that few outside the parish know about - hurling the silver ball...Once popular throughout Cornwall, hurling now survives traditionally in only two places—St Columb Major and St Ives. It is a street ball game, similar to the mass football customs described elsewhere, but in hurling the ball is thrown or carried, but never kicked. The ball is also smaller, about the size of a cricket ball, and although made of wood is coated with silver. At St Columb, the game is still played in the streets, between two sides—the ‘town’ and the ‘country’, with the latter coming from the outlying districts. The ball is thrown up in the Market Square and the idea is to get the ball back to your side's base, which is about a mile away.

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