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Cornwall Today, Redruth Wassail

Cornwall Today – November 2016

I’m sitting in one of Redruth’s hidden gems, the Melting Pot Café at Krowji, Cornwall’s creative hub in the up cycled former Redruth Grammar School. Redruth sits in the centre of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site, and Krowji, in its former industrial heartland, is Cornwall’s largest creative hub.

 

The café is warm, colourful and bohemian with mysterious corners and book-lined alcoves begging to be explored. I’m here to meet Mike Chappell, Town councillor and passionate Redruth local, to chat about the revival of both the Redruth Wassail and the town’s flourishing community spirit.

 

Mike is a native of Redruth and spent 30 years in the police force before returning home. “I was born in this town, as were generations of my family on my mother’s side, and I felt a real call to come back here to retire.”

Councillor Mike Chappell at the Melting Pot Cafe, Krowji

Councillor Mike Chappell at the Melting Pot Cafe, Krowji

But “retirement” didn’t last long; before he knew it he was busy with offers to get involved in various community organisations. He began a new career as a writer and poet, and buoyed by publication of his work and being accepted into Cornwall’s vibrant poetry scene he quickly became hooked.

 

Social media has proved to be a useful asset to this new vocation. Mike now runs six Facebook pages with nearly 20,000 followers, including “The Cornish Are A Nation”, and the “International Cornish Association” page, responsible for connecting sons and daughters of Cornwall to stories and events of interest both locally and nationally.

 

“I’m in daily contact with Cornish people from around the world. And when they come back to Cornwall, I look after them.”

 

And his interests also include politics. “I’m quite a political animal, I was part of the campaign group that saw Cornish people recognised by the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 2014. I’m a prolific letter writer as well and I’m not afraid to tackle politicians. I’ve been a Town councillor for a few years now, and I love it. I’m not aligned with a political party and that’s how I like it – I see myself as being in the ‘Redruth party’ because that’s who I stand for”.

 

So what is it that Mike loves about his town? “Redruth has been through really hard times. As a young boy in the ’60s I remember it as a thriving town, it was still on the back of mining and mining engineering – at one time it had been the wealthiest area in the world. But I think the one thing Redruth has got, and it’s been something I’ve been very proud to tap into, is a very strong sense of community. And that’s more important than pounds in your pocket. I still know of people here that leave their keys in their car and their doors unlocked. And to say that in the 21st century is incredible. Of course you do get crime, I’m on the local Police liaison group, but we are lucky that our crime rate here is incredibly low, and I’m proud of that and I’m proud of the people in this town.

 

What is it about Redruth that give it this sense of community? “It’s difficult to put your finger on it, but I think it’s just how Cornish people are, we’re incredibly outward looking and we think about other people. Cornish people have a way of connecting to each other – at home and abroad – in a very strong way. I was once in Dallas, Texas and struck up a conversation with a businessman whose great-great grandfather was Mayor of Truro. We sat and chatted to each other for two hours and you’d think we’d known each other all our lives, and it’s an incredible thing. We are the indigenous people of this land and we are all connected.”

 

I absolutely agree with this, I personally have had so many similar “co-incidental” experiences, from striking up conversations with strangers to then find we both have Cornish ancestry or the discovery that the majority of my dearest, closest friends – here in the UK and in Australia – have Cornish ancestry. There is a sense that we are bound by something and that we recognise that in each other. I can’t quantify it but it’s a feeling so strong for me that I also can’t deny it.

The Redruth Wassail Parade, 2015

The Redruth Wassail Parade, 2015

And while the sense of Cornish identity appears to be strengthening in the face of funding cuts to the Cornish language, more talk of what devolution might mean and the looming threats of “Devonwall”, it’s still community events that are at the heart of bringing people in the Duchy together.

 

In 2015 Mike was instrumental in the revival of the Redruth Wassail, a custom originally embedded in the Christmas guizing traditions of the area. In a similar fashion to the Bodmin Wassail (CT January 2016), Wassailers would go from house to house, singing and carrying a bowl full of specially concocted spiced ale, offering it to the householder or landlord as they went. The Wassailers would then receive a reward of some form of refreshment and continue on their way.

 

Simon Reed from the Cornish Culture Association wrote a book on Wassailing several years ago and came across the Redruth tradition. He approached the Town Council to revive the event which they agreed to, with the help of Mike Chappell. The revived Wassail is based on Simon’s research and includes the performance of the Redruth Wassail song.

The Redruth Wassail Bowl

The Redruth Wassail Bowl

Simon says “The 2015 Wassail was one of the most successful events I’ve ever been involved with. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and is getting bigger this year thanks to the work of CCA trustees Pol Jenkin and Jo Kennedy. It will include a Cornish celebration this year at the Miner’s Arms and everyone is invited. I am so delighted that we can support the community of Redruth and bring this very special tradition to its people”.

 

This year’s event will be held on Saturday 26th November and will start at the Regal Cinema at 5:30pm with stops thereafter. It will be led by a procession of musicians and singers who stop at several places in the town, including under the town clock where the bowl is presented to the Mayor of Redruth. The bowl was commissioned and decorated by Pol Jenkin and the custom is now set to occur on the last Saturday of November every year. Dress will be mock formal with seasonal greenery and all are welcome to this wonderful celebration of one of Cornwall’s proudest towns.

 

The Redruth Wassail Song

 

The Mistress and Master our wassail begin,

Pray open the door and let us come in.

 

Chorus: With our wassail, wassail, wassail, wassail;

And joy come to our jolly wassail

 

The Mistress and Master sitting down by the fire,

While we poor wassailers are travelling in the mire.

 

The Mistress and Master sitting down at their ease,

Put their hands in their pockets and give what they please.

 

I hope that your apple trees will prosper and bear,

That we may have cyder when we call next year.

 

And where you’ve one hogshead I hope you’ll have ten.

So what we may have cyder when we call again.

 

I hope that your barley will prosper and grow,

So that you may have some and enough to bestow.

 

Now we poor wassail boys growing weary and cold,

Drop a small bit of silver into our bowl.

 

I wish you a blessing and a long time to live,

Since you’ve been so free and willing to give.

 

At a glance:

 

Krowji

www.krowji.org.uk

 

The Melting Pot Café

www.themeltingpotcafe.co.uk

 

Visit Redruth

www.visitredruth.co.uk

 

Cornish Culture Association

www.cornishculture.co.uk

 

© Sally Bell 2016

Originally published in Cornwall Today

www.cornwalltoday.co.uk

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