Cornish Wedding customs can be seen as rather odd from the outside. The first one of note is the use of Gorse as a decoration during weddings The distinctive yellow blossom of the Gorse or Furze bush can be seen across the Duchy year round and the continuous fertile nature of the plant was seen as a symbol of fruitful times to come for the couple this meant that Gorse was often used in bridal bouquets.
More bizarrely it was customary for the wedding guests (known as the weddnars) to place a whole Gorse bush in the marital bed of the happy couple which was proceeded by a very strange practice indeed where the entire company would burst into the bedroom and thrash the couple with socks full of sand, belts, whips and any other instrument of torture they could lay their hands on. This was known as “giving pepper” and had to be completed before midnight to avoid poor luck for weddnars. It was simplified in some cases by just throwing a stone rapped in a sock at the couple, if it hit the bride their first child would be a girl and vice versa.
Another custom was the use of the “shallal” or band of infernal music.. The historic shallal involved great gangs of people banging pot and pans and blowing whistles. The bands would visit the couple on their wedding night making a terrible racket, no doubt disturbing any attempt to consummate the marriage. This was particularly common where the couple were suspected of “sampling their love” before the wedding night or where a love rival was in a vengeful state of mind.
Food at weddings seems to be more orthodox and not unlike the food prepared for feast days. Currant cake and copious quantities of roasted meats were the norm. Goose and roast beef seem to be particular popular. Mead was also popular as were country fruit wines and cordials all of which added to the merriment.
All of these customs share common concerns, a prosperous future, healthy descendants and life long happiness. In my opinion his simple wedding toast, recorded in 1860, sums up these sentiments nicely.
“Here’s to the bridegroom and the bride,
May they stick to each other’s side;
I hope their life will be of joy,
And that the fust will be a boy.”