One of Cornwall’s best known traditions takes place at Padstow every May 1st. The festival itself starts at midnight on May 1st with unaccompanied singing around the town starting at the Golden Lion Inn.
By the morning, the town is dressed with greenery, flowers and flags, with the focus being the maypole. The climax arrives when two groups of dancers dancers process through the town, one of each team wearing a stylised recreation of a ‘horse.’ The two ‘osses are known as the “Old” and the “Blue Ribbon” ‘osses. During the day a number of “Junior” ‘osses appear, operated by children. Accompanied by drums and accordions and led by “Teasers”, each ‘oss has a gruesome mask and black frame-hung cape under which they try to catch young women as they pass through the town.
The Blue Ribbon oss is apparently of more recent origin. In the late 19th century it was supported by members of the temperance movement who were trying to discourage the consumption of alcohol associated with the “old” ‘oss followers. After the first world war the imperative of temperance was lost, and the ‘oss became known as the Peace ‘Oss. Each ‘oss has a “stable” – in the case of the Old ‘Oss, the Golden Lion Inn and the Blue Ribbon ‘Oss, the Institute, from which they emerge at the start of the day’s proceedings and retire at the end.
Some time in the late afternoon the ‘osses may meet at the maypole and dance together. During the ritual the ‘Oss occasionaly falls down symbolically dying and leaping back to life.
Padstow May Day – Red ‘Oss Party
Padstow May Day – Blue ‘Oss Party
Padstow Night Song