British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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JUNE 23.]                        MIDSUMMER EVE.                                       315
it was wont to be kept. In the time of the Commonwealth the show was discontinued, and the giants with the beasts were destroyed. At the Eestoration of Charles II. the citizens of Chester replaced their pageant, and caused all things to be made new, because the old models were broken. —See Every Bay Book, vol. i. p. 834.
In Cornwall the festival fires, called bonfires, are kindled on the eve of St. John the Baptist and St. Peter's Day; and Midsummer is thence in the Cornish tongue called '' Goluan," which signifies both light and rejoicing. At these fires the Cornish attend with lighted torches, tarred and pitched at the end, and make their perambulations round their fires, and go from village to village, carrying their torches before them; and this is certainly the remains of the Druid superstition, for " faces praeferre," to carry lighted torches, was reckoned a kind of Gentilism, and as such particularly prohibited by the Gallick Councils: they were in the eye of the law " accen sores facularum," and thought to sacrifice to the devil, and to deserve capital punishment.— Borlase, Antiquities of Cornwall, 1754, p. 130.
On Whiteborough (a large tumulus with a fosse round it), on St. Stephen's Down, near Launceston, there was formerly a great bonfire on Midsummer Eve: a large summer pole was fixed in the centre, round which the fuel was heaped. It had a large bush on the top of it.* Eound this were parties of wrestlers contending for small prizes.— Brand, Pop. Antiq. 1849, vol. i. p. 318.
Hutchinson (Hist of Cumberland, vol. i. p. 177), speaking of the parish of Cumwhitton, says: They hold the wake on the Eve of St. John, with lighting fires, dancing, &c.
* The boundary of each tin-mine in Cornwall is marked by a long pole with a bush at the top of it. These on St. John's Day are crowned with flowers.—Brand, Pop. Antiq., 1S49, vol. i. p. 318.
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