Poughill's Annual Revel and Cuckoo Fair


A look back at the History of Celebrations in Cornwall

Feasts, Saints Days, Fairs, Bazars, Cuckoo fairs, Revels, Festivals and other events



  Traditionally, there have been two main types of Celebrations in the Cornish calendar, apart from the Christian holy days, Easter, Whitsuntide and Christmas and Saints days, which have always been associated with feasting.
One kind welcomes in the Spring, the Cuckoo Fair and the other the Harvest. Lammas marked the end of the growing season and became the Revel and both fell at different times of the year.



 Parish feasts though were a celebration instituted by the parochial Church and were taking place in villages all across Cornwall, just like those taking place here in the village of Poughill. Principally were created to celebrate the anniversary of the day set aside to honour the Saint to whom the church was dedicated. In Our Case, St. Olaf.

For those who did not know, he was in real life, a man called King Olaf Haraldsson II, (born in 995 and who died on the 29th. July 1030) But also known as Norway’s 'Eternal King' and the Patron Saint of Norway.

He was cannonised for introducing that country to Christianity a year after his death in battle. So traditionally, St. Olaf's day here in Poughill was the 29th of July, honouring the day that he died.

The choice of that Saint the church is dedicated to is also interesting and may very well point to our earliest Anglo Saxon roots.


  In medieval times and on through the centuries, on the eve of the village Saints day, special prayers were offered in the church and hymns were sung which continued long into the night and these particular celebrations took on the name 'Watchings'. From which the more familiar term of 'Wakes' derived. It has its own special association now, for those we celebrate and honour who have departed.

But over time, it was realised that with callendar changes, sometimes the Saints day feast interrupted the normal day to day labours of the week. Which when you consider that this part of the year was the season of the harvest, it really was not the best scenario as many would be torn between necessary toil and celebration. 

So to prevent this from happening in future and quite wisely, it was decreed by the Bishop of the area a celebration was to take place in, that every feast should be celebrated on the Sunday 'after' the saints day.

This was followed through by a much weightier decree made by King Henry VIII, that ordered that 'every' feast instituted at the dedication of the church, should be celebrated in 'all' places throughout the realm, on the first Sunday in October and that this be set in place that way forever. In some parts of the country this was adopted, but in others, villages defied that authority because it just didn't work for them.

 In time, from their earliest pure Christian times, these feasts, or revels as they were now getting to be known, were gradually devolving into more boysterous events and this offended many puritans who regarded them as a nuissance to public morals.
So much so, that in 1627, two judges at Exeter, issued an order to suppress such celebrations altogether and four years later, Somerset followed suit !

 Eventually, following a complaint made by Bishop Laud, the then Archbishop of Canterbury and advisor to the King, the supression law was reversed. His argument being that on these Celebratory Sundays, a Church was far fuller than on any other ordinary Sunday in the year and that revels ''increased friendships and encouraged more unity in the community. Thus resulting in a far better appreciation of charity and bringing more help for the poor of the village.' ( funds to the church! )




 So what about the Poughill Revel and just how old is it ?

 Well you might be surprised.

 We know for certain that the earliest 'Poughill Revel' was mentioned as far back as 1525, when William Dovill, the Abbot of Cleeve who administered the manor of Poughill at the time, gave the land over the road from the church for Church house to be built. But he did so under the strict condition that it would be used to erect a Guild house. Partly as a venue for the 'Church Ales’ which were gatherings to raise money for the church and partly for Poughills poor residents. But also for our annual Revel, which was a different kind of celebration back then, in honour of Saint  Olaf.

 So the Poughill Revel, at least by name, has very ancient roots indeed.



 I haven't found many old photographs of the Poughill revel, yet, but those that I have found are interesting.

 < On the left is a photograph of the very smart looking Morwenstow band performing at the Poughill Revel and Cuckoo Fair in 1939.

And below, some young ladies from CJ’s Dance school in Bude entertaining the crowds at the Revel just a few years ago.

Picture credit : Paul Hamlyn


And below, two very brave looking super heroes who flew in just for the Poughill Cuckoo fair.


Poughill Revel in about 1956/7. The greasy pole

participator is a young Gordon Brooks, now aged 80

Photo courtesy Gordon Brooks.





 In the 18th and 19th centuries, Poughill's Revel and Cuckoo Fair became the great event of the year locally in north Cornwall. There were church services, feasting, the inevitable making merry and taking of ale, along with boysterous sporting events such as Cornish hurling and displays taking place on the day. Including a firm favourite, Cornish wrestling. There was archery and hoopla. It would have certainly deviated somewhat from the austere dedicated parish celebration of St. Olaf that it traditionally started out as. 


 In 1740, the Poughill parish feast day, called Tooleda day, dedicated to St Olaf (Olave) was said to be on Monday August 1st, close to St Olave's day itself which is on the 29th of July.

 As one of the main events of the calendar, the parishoners made saffron buns, called 'Revel Buns' and there were children processions much singing and dancing, the bells rang all day and the church it is said "would be overflowing into the churchyard."


 "In modern times, there are traditional games for all to enjoy, including the coconut shy and hoopla stalls as a part of the Revel. The flower club sold arrangements members had made on the day and there were also cake stalls and bric-a-brac, as well as a refreshment tent and a barbecue."

 It seems logical that the Poughill Revell it became, with it being close to St.Olafs day and the long held tradition of celebrating the harvest, the two became inevitably intertwined and of one significance. Having a great time and raising funds for charity.


 But it also seems likely that we probably had two celebrations annually here in Poughill and both had very different reasons for taking place.












Cuckoo Fairs



  Most English 'Cuckoo Fairs' are consigned today to history, though some do exist in name in different parts of the country and some do have traditional Celtic elements, particularly with the crowning of “the Revel Queen” as its culmination.

 But far back in time, the local Cuckoo fair was held as a celebration of the advent of Spring, set in place to celebrate the coming of fine and warmer weather, fertility and better prospects for all.

And what was chosen to symbolise this event ?

Obviously a migratory bird call the cuckoo, who suddenly appears on the scene at just this very time of year.


 Cuckoo fairs around the land , were traditionally marked by the physical releasing of a live cuckoo and that action symbolised the beginning of summer and always took place in mid to late April, when the poor confused bird was finally released from captivity either from a basket, a gated enclosure, or a pen where “penning the cuckoo” had taken place to capture the returning bird.

  There is an old folk law that said that there would be 'eternal spring' if only the cuckoo could only be persuaded, (or compelled more like) to stay in the village and in some places parishoners built a huge fence around its tree to try and capture one, but never quite high enough i
t seems, as it always managed to fly away.



 Down through the centuries, May Day has been associated with fun, revelry and perhaps most important of all, fertility.

The days festivities would be marked with village folk cavorting round the maypole, the selection of the May Queen and the dancing figure of the Jack-in-the-Green at the head of the procession. A character thought to be a relic from those enlightened days when our ancient ancestors worshipped trees. So there is a remarkable similarity with all these types of celebrations at this time of year.


 But one question still remains. Why and when our Poughill Cuckoo Fair celebration and the Saints day Poughill Revel somehow joined up?






A list of the different Traditional Festivals occuring in Cornwall



= Parish Feast Day - 25 in total

St Piran's Day † Celbrated throughout Cornwall was originally a miners' holiday now Cornwall's national day                                           5 March.
Allantide † - Saint Allan's Day or the Feast of Saint Allan,                                                                                                                          31 October
Golowan † Celebrated throughout Cornwall moreso Penzance Revived in various forms 1920s, 1935, 1990                                    Around 23 June
The Montol Festival - Penzance, held on the date of the feast of St Thomas the Apostle, usually the 21st December.
Mummer's Day, Padstow on Boxing day.
Madron Feast † Madron, Heamoor & formerly Penzance - St.Maddern
Celebrated the fourth Sunday before Christmas

St Just Feast † St Just in Penwith

Celebrated First Sunday and Monday in November
Paul Feast † St Pol de Leon, Mousehole and Newlyn

Continuously celebrated Sunday nearest 10 October & week following

Sennen Feast † St Sennen
Celebrated Advent Sunday
St Erth Feast † St Erth
Held 31 October
Ludgvan Feast † Ludgvan - St Paul

Celebrated Monday and Sunday nearest 29 January

St Hilary Feast † St Hilary, Cornwall

Celebrated in Mid-January

Davidstow Feast † Davidstow - St.David

Celebrated 1 March

Gunwalloe Feast † Gunwalloe - St Winwaloe
Celebrated 3 March
Porthleven Feast † Porthleven - St. Bartholomew
Celebrated 22 February
St Kew Feast † St K ew - St James the Great
Celebrated 8 February

St Keverne Feast † St Keverne

Celebrated Sunday nearest 18 November
St Breward Feast † St Breward
Celebrated Sunday nearest 22 February
St Day Feast † St Day, Carharrack = Holy Trinity 8 Saints
Celebrated End of June
St Buryan Feast † St Buryan
Celebrated Sunday nearest 13 May
Mevagissey Feast † Mevagissey - Related to Golowan
Celebrated - Around 29 June (St Peters Day)
Zennor Feast † Zennor - Saint Senara
Celebrated Sunday nearest 6 May
Gulval Feast † Gulval

Celebrated Near 6 June

Mawgan Feast † Mawgan-in-Meneage

Celebrated Near 8 June
Mullion Feast † Mullion - St Mellanus
Celebrated Sunday nearest 6 November
Camborne Feast † Camborne - St Martin and St Meriadoc
Celebrated Near 15 November
Sancreed Feast † Sancreed - St Creden
Still celebrated Early June
St Endellion Feast † St Endellion
Celebrated Sunday nearest May Bank Holiday

St Stythians Feast † Stithians

Agricultural show held on the following Monday Sunday closest to 10 July
St Allen Feast † St Allen
22 February
Furry dance † Helston
Continuously celebrated with a short break in the Victorian era 8 May
Towednack Cuckoo Feast † Towednack - crowder feast
Still celebrated Around 28 April

St Ives Feast (Feast Monday) † St Ives

Still celebrated Sunday and Monday nearest 3 February
Porthleven Petertide celebrations † Porthleven
Still celebrated; Related to Golowan approx. 29 June

Marhamchurch Revel to St. Morwenna

First Monday in August.
Festivals and Other celebrations  
Midsummer Hilltop Bonfires  

Throughout Cornwall in particular Castle An Dina, Kit Hill, Carn Brea, Revived in various forms from 1930   - 23 June

Lizard Midsummer Bonfire - Residents of the Lizard also preserve an old annual event, which is a celebration of St John’s Eve marking the middle of summer with dancing an a procession.

'Obby 'Oss festival Padstow Still celebrated Around 1 May


Tom Bawcock's Eve   -  Mousehole
A 16C legend has it that Tom caught enough fish to feed the entire village on a dreadful winter night. Now special fish pies are baked,

Continuously celebrated before World War II and revived in the 1950's. 23 December.

Nickanan night, also known as Collop Monday or Peasen Monday, is the Monday before Lent was celebrated throughout Cornwall but - not publicly celebrated. Traditionally it was a time to eat pea soup, which was prepared in nearly every house from dried split peas. For chldren it was a night to play tricks and demand pancakes, much the same as trickery on Halloween.


Chewidden Thursday or White thursday is celebrated in West Cornwall on the first clear Thursday before Christmas. The festival celebrated the discovery of 'white tin' or smelted tin by St Chiwidden, a little-known Cornish saint assocuated with St Piran.

Picrous Day was also a festival celebrated by the tin miners the second Thursday before Christmas,

Guise dancing goes on throughout Cornwall   and is still practised in some places including the Montol Festival in Penzance. Christmas through to Twelfth Night and Plough Monday.

Crying The Neck
and Guldize. Throughout Cornwall Still celebrated September as a harvest festival.

Bodmin Wassail. Bodmin Still celebrated New Twelfth Night, every 6th January for centuries.

Goldsithney Charter Fair
Goldsithney Still celebrated St James Day (Old Style) 5 August always associated with wrestling.

Morvah Fair - Morvah / West Cornwall No longer celebrated but Morvah Pasty Day takes place on the same date, claimed by some to be the largest Lughnasadh celebration outside Ireland 1 August

Knill Ceremony - St Ives, where girls dance while Psalm 100 is sung in front of the monument to John Knill.Started 1801 25 July (St James Day every 5 years)

Goldsithney Charter Fair - Goldsithney. Still celebrated on St. James Day - 5th. August

Hurling the Silver Ball - St. Columb Major. Cornish Hurling. Still celebrated on Shrove Tuesday. 2 teams with few rules,  traditionally local countrymen and townsfolk compete to keep control of a silver coloured apple wooden ball in the town.

Also played at St Ives once a year.

Bodmin Riding Bodmin - Celebrated as part of the 3 day Bodmin Heritage festival Late June or early July

May day celebrations - Various including Padstow, St Ives, West Looe, Helston.

Celebrates the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane - the annual return of the Celtic sun god Bel, which causes crops to grow and hours of daylight to lengthen.

Helston Flora Day- Celebrates the end of winter and the arrival of spring. 8the May. Really a cuckoo fair, without the cuckoo.

St Agnes Bolster Festival, held in the village each May to celebrate a local giant’s demise.

Beating The Bounds is still celebrated in Crnwall, usually lead by the priest who walks the parish boundaries to show where it is best to to pray for protection and blessings for the land.

Crantock Bale Push in September encourages local teams to push a massive straw bale, 4ft 6ins and weighing 420lbs, around the village

Dolly Dunking at a recently re discovered holy well on West Penwith moors on Good Friday where Dolls were blessed with holy water.

St Peter’s-tide celebrates St Peter’s Eve recognising the patron saint of fishermen.

May Horns parade held in Penzance celebrates the coming of summer. Residents make as much noise as they can to scare away the winter.









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