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Black John and the Pencarrow Hunt in Cornish Ballads - Dr.Merv Davey - Zoom

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The UnNatural History of Cornwall Lecture Series - the story of the Pencarrow Hunt and Black John

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The Unnatural History of Cornwall - curated by Dr.Amy Hale brings stories of the weird and wonderful from Cornwall to a wider audience, with an emphasis on Cornish voices from the past and the present.

Traditional ballads and the tunes that go with them can be quite separate entities that connect and part company as they travel through time. There is a sense in which both carry the stories and interpretations of the people and communities with which they engage. Indeed, these stories and meanings will often tell us more about these people and their social milieu than the origins of the tradition. During the course of its travels the story of the Pencarrow Hunt and Black John has connected with some interesting characters and provides the perfect study for an “unnatural history”.

The origins of the story are satisfyingly obscure. Black John was manservant, master of the hounds and court jester for Lord Arscott and there are several historical candidates for both characters in 17th and 18th century Cornwall, but none quite match the story. It seems to have become a ballad through the mischievous pen of Robert Stephen Hawker, Cornwall’s (and probably the world’s) first hippy as he mused on the cliff tops of North Cornwall in his scarlet cloak, seaman’s boots and wacky baccy. It went on to encounter the romanticism of Folk Song collector Sabine Baring Gould and the contrasting world views of Cecil Sharp and his English folk song society and Henry Jenner’s Celto Cornish revival. In the 21st century it returned to its mystic roots as the lament for the Beast of Bodmin.

Merv Davey

Merv Davey is a folk arts practitioner engaged with the customs and rituals of the Cornish calendar from the ceremonies of the solstice to the celebrations of Pirantide. He is a member of North Cornwall Ceilidh Band and does duty as piper for the Gwari Bosvenna – Bodmin Play as well as leading the dance for the closing ceremony of the annual Phoenix Pagan conference. Merv completed his PhD in Cornish Folk tradition with Exeter University and is an Associate of the Institute of Cornish Studies. He is immediate past Grand Bard of Gorsedh Kernow and is currently a member of the team working on the recently launched Cornish National Music Archive.

Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta-based anthropologist and folklorist writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall in various combinations. She has been writing about Cornwall and Cornish culture for over 25 years and has no intention of stopping. Her biography Ithell Colquhoun Genius of the Fern Loved Gully was published by Strange Attractor Press in 2020.

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Organiser The Viktor Wynd Museum & The Last Tuesday Society

Organiser of Black John and the Pencarrow Hunt in Cornish Ballads - Dr.Merv Davey - Zoom

The Last Tuesday Society is a 'pataphysical organisation founded by William James at Harvard in the 1870s, currently headquartered at The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History in London. For the last twenty years we have put on Lectures, Balls, Workshops, Masterclasses, Balls, Seances, Expeditions to Papua New Guinea & West Africa, all from our East London Museum and it's infamous cocktail bar.

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