The bizarre, ancient May Day festival of the Obby Oss
Hobby Horses cavort through the streets

A man in a horse’s skin called the ‘Obby Oss’ dances around the English village of Padstow in Cornwall.

Dozens of accordion players accompany the Oss as the Teasers dance & urge the snapping ‘Oss onward.

The Pagan dance and the drum rhythm beat the winter out and the spring in.

The Obby Oss “Teaser” prods him with a special padded stick.

On its route through Padstow, the ‘Oss sometimes drags women and girls under its dark costume.

It used to be said that “if you were caught beneath the veil that you would be pregnant within the year”.

The exact origins of the Obby Oss are unknown, but it may date back to pagan times and the Celtic festival of Beltane.

Beltane was dedicated to the return of the Celtic sun god Bel, who made crops grow and daylight hours lengthen.

 

  • Obby Oss

 

The old streets, rich in history, are ablaze with bluebells, forget-me-nots, cowslips, and sycamore twigs.

There is the Old Oss and the Blue Ribbon Oss, ferocious-looking beasts that seem very un-English.

Each creature has a man concealed under its enormous frame, his head covered with a heavy mask.

They and their followers take separate routes through the town during the day, accompanied by singing, drums, and accordions.

The day ends as the beasts gather to dance around the maypole.

Before the First World War, there was only one hobby horse in Padstow, the old Oss. 

For some reason, the Temperance Movement thought the best way to control one Obby Oss was to introduce another!

The blue ribbon Obby Oss or the temperance Oss appeared in 1919 in an attempt to discourage drunkenness.

None of the attempts to tackle the sometimes raucous behavior associated with the festival have ever worked.

The only thing residents drew the line at was gunfire.

During 1837 some residents did not approve of people firing pistols in the air during the celebrations and tried to stop it by threatening them with a fine.

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story that during WWI, two Padstownians celebrated the Obby Oss by dancing in the trenches.

 

May Day in Padstow officially begins at midnight, when groups of ‘mayers’ meet outside the Golden Lion Inn to serenade the owner with their Night Song:

Rise up, Mr. Rickard, and joy to you betide,

For summer is a-come in today;

And bright is your bride, that lays down by your side

In the merry morning of May.

You may meet some celebrants the next day that are still singing!

If you enjoy eccentric English festivals, try the Gloucester Cheese Rolling Race or Hunting the Earl of Rhone. 

 

 

 

 

 

Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.