Nickanan Night

Nickanan Night (sometimes called Hall Monday or Peasen Monday) is traditionally held on the Monday before Lent Sometimes called roguery night , this event was an excuse for youths to play practical jokes on neighbours and family. The eating of pea soup and salt bacon was common.

In the 19th century Thomas Q Couch in described Nickanan Night in Notes and Queries”

“On the day termed Hall Monday, which precedes Shrove Tuesday about the dusk of the evening, it is the custom for boys, and, in some cases, for those who are above the age of boys, to prowl about the streets with short clubs, and to knock loudly at every door, running off to escape detection on the slightest sign of a motion within. If, however, no attention be excited, and especially if any article be discovered negligently exposed, or carelessly guarded, then the things are carried away; and on the following day are discovered displayed in some conspicuous place, to expose the disgraceful want of vigilance supposed to characterise the owner. The time when this is practised is called ‘Nicka-nan night’ and the individuals concerned are supposed to represent some imps of darkness, that seize on and expose unguarded moments. The following rhyme was used by the Cornish children during the evening and the following day”

“Nicka nicka nan
Give me some pancake, and then I’ll be gone
But if you give me none
I’ll throw a great stone
And down your door shall come.”

In coastal communities it was also traditional to gather shell fish. This practice was known as ‘going a triggin’ and the produce gathered known as ‘trigg meat’. This is still practiced at Easter by people living close to the Helford River.

During this ‘Nickanan’ period another custom prevailed throughout Cornwall. In some villages it was usual to make a Jack-o-lent a straw figure dressed not unlike a firework night guy. This Jack-o-Lent was paraded through local communities and pelted with projectiles and then burned on a bonfire. This practice was until the late 19th century common in Polperro.

In West Cornwal particularly St Just  a skull on a pole ‘Obby ‘Oss was sometimes part of proceedings. The following passage is from  the West Briton in 1843.

“To the Editor of the West Briton. Sir, – I regret very much that I have so long lost sight of that number of the West Briton in which Mr. J. COUCH requested some particulars from your Newport correspondent regarding the resemblance which I thought existed betwixt the “Mari Lwyd” of Wales, and the “Nick-a-nan-Night” of Cornwall. In conversing with a lady from Cornwall, a few days since, upon the subject, she informed me that she had seen a similar exhibition in St. Just. If this be the case, no doubt Mr. Couch will not fail to enquire into the circumstance. J. MARSHALL SCOTT. Newport, South Wales, January 16, 1843.”

Below is a an account of Nickanan Night in 1855.