Over the last few years we have been researching guise dancing, a form of mumming that takes place during the twelve days of Christmas (and in recent times, a few days before). There is a wealth of information about the tradition in historic newspapers, and we have begun to transcribe the many wonderful articles on guise dancing so that they are searchable and freely available online.
One of the reasons for doing this is that in reading the well-known books that mention guise dancing, there seemed to be a fair bit of repetition, and not much life to something that, in our experience, is a pretty lively custom. We have used both the British Newspaper Archive and microfilms at Kresen Kernow in Redruth, Cornwall.
This is the kind of liveliness that we mean, found in an 1863 edition of the Cornish Telegraph:
Serving Him Out: An Incident of the Guise Dancing at St Ives
On Friday evening the 9th inst. a party of guise-dancers entered a beer shop at St Ives and obtained an interview with the landlord, whom they well plied with drink until his eyes blinked like two revolving lights and his dizzy head manifested unmistakable signs of a desire to change places with his lower extremities. In this unenviable state (which by the bye is better described than felt, we should think) four of the strongest of the party took the somnolent landlord by the arms and legs and ere could he say ‘What doest thou?’ spirited him into the open street, where a goodly number (as if by magic) started into the middle of the road and formed a procession singing the Old Hundredth with a more than mournful twang, and away they marched towards the beach (the house is situated near the sea side) landlord and all.
Some one at intervals gave short sentences from the Burial Service. As may be expected, the sudden and by no means welcome termination of a good day’s business roused into fury all the drink be-clouded and drink-debased energies of the poor fellow, but all his imprecations were met with the remark ‘Prepare, Evil! prepare; thy time is short indeed.’ His struggles and cries were all in vain and in a short time the edge of the water was reached. And now as the sobered man heard the rippling of the waves, he seem to fear the result, and made a superhuman effort to free himself, but alas! the hands that held him were too strong and whilst he was cursing his tormentors and invoking vengeance on their devoted heads he was borne out into the tide, whilst one, with a fine nasal accent, pronounced aloud, ‘We now commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ ; if no one else will have him, the d—l must,’ and down they threw their burthen (wretches that they were) and scampered off, leaving their victim to scramble ashore as best he might.
Fortunately the only effect produced in the landlord is a determination to hate guise dancers in general with a perfect hatred. Who the delinquents are is a mystery. Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 28 January 1863, page 3, column 6
So, dig in, and explore the heady adventures of the folk of West Cornwall in their pursuit of fun and entertainment, bringing fun and life into the darkest time of the year. Visit our guise dancing sources: newspaper archives page.