A gaggle of bards marching behind the Cornish flag. Their robes were once white but someone left a pair of jeans in the washing basket.
I read and absorbed every piece of lore that I could find and began accumulating my now huge library of Cornish interest books. In time, I co-founded the Cornish Folklore Society to promote our folk stories and even re-wrote some of them in a 21st century idiom for a new generation of children. Sadly, other pressures in my life (the least of which was an emotionally and financially draining divorce) meant that the society withered and died. But I retained the website pages and you can still find them here, attached to my personal site. By clicking on 'legends' you will find hundreds of pages of material to read. Meanwhile, the stories I re-wrote are here. They include tales of the giant Cormoran, the witch of Stithians, Bolster and St Agnes and the Mermaid of Zennor. I hope they amuse you. I'm not apologetic or ashamed of the way I have mercilessly played around with these traditional tales. As I have discussed previously, faerie tales soon lose their resonance with audiences if they do not 'move with the times'. In this post back in January, I explained how Little Red Riding Hood, for example, has changed beyond all recognition in under 200 years.
Meanwhile, I've continued to read and research these stories. The primary sources for most Cornish folklore are the works of three writers: William Bottrell, Robert Hunt and Margaret Courtney who, between them, travelled the length and breadth of Cornwall in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, speaking to locals and collecting stories that they then catalogued. The fact that they did this entirely independently of each other means that the widest range of stories, and variants of stories, was recorded. However, barring a few other minor works by other writers, there has been no real addition to the corpus of lore for maybe 100 years. Until now, that is. Yesterday morning, with a resounding 'Plap!' a thick book-sized package dropped through my letter box and onto the floor. Inside was a copy of my good friend Jason Semmens' long-awaited book on William Henry Paynter, the last great Cornish folklorist.
Jason has painstakingly pulled together every piece of information he could find about the man who called himself the 'Cornish Witch-finder' (Cornish: Whyler Pystry). Paynter (1901-1976) was fascinated by the existence of 'cunning folk' still operating in Cornwall in the 20th century and Jason's book roots around in Paynter's archives to bring us hungry readers a whole new gang of ghosts, traditions, spells and charms that we would otherwise never have seen.
Paynter has been called the last great Cornish folklorist and, I hope, will one day have his name spoken in the same revered tones as Bottrell, Hunt and Courtney. But I often wonder, and secretly hope, that somewhere out there in an attic gathering dust - maybe even an attic in the 'New World' as so many Cornish men and women sailed away to the USA and Australia in search of new lives - is maybe another lost treasure just waiting for someone like Jason to discover it.
I do hope so.
Get rooting people.
The Cornish Witch-Finder: William Henry Paynter and the witchery, ghosts, charms and folklore of Cornwall by Jason Semmens is published by the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies and can be ordered from Amazon.