Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1
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Pages (PDF): 350
Publication Date: 1870
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In the 19th century William Bottrell compiled three volumes of Cornish folklore, legends and historical tales. This is the first book in that series. He tells stories of giants, mermaids, and a Cornish fairies including the spriggan, bucca, and the knackers. He also describes Cornish folk magic, and folklore about witches.
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Ancient traditions tell us that, long before monks or saints set foot in Cornwall, a mighty race of Titans dwelt in our hills, woods, and carns, who were anciently the masters of the world and the ancestors of the true Celtic race, and who, as they exceeded all other people in health and strength of body, were looked upon as giants. One of this potent race, called the giant Denbras, long dwelt among the hills of Towednack, until one Tom, who lived somewhere about Bowjeyheer, slew him in fair fight and got possession of his treasures, which were the making of many old high-country families, who keep fast hold of some of the riches, thus acquired, to this day.
When Tom was a young man he was always going about with his hands in his pockets, and never cared for doing much except rolling the big rocks from over the fields into the hedges for grounders. About such work as that, he said, he could feel his strength, and get the cramp out of his joints. He was not a very big man to look at for those times, when men in general were twice the size they are now. He was no more than eight feet high, but very broad-backed and square-built—full four feet across from shoulder to shoulder, and the same width all the way down to his cheens (loins), with legs and arms like iron for hardness. Tom's old mammy was always telling him to go and do something to earn his grub, because he would eat a pasty at every meal big enough to serve any two ordinary men.
To please her he went over to Market-jew one morning to look for a job. He first called at the old public-house near the road to the Mount, kept by one Honney Chyngwens, who was a famous tin-dealer, brewer, and mayor as well,—and there never was a better mayor of Market-jew. Whenever any of the townfolks had a dispute he would make them fight it out, or drink it out, and if they did not speedily settle the matter he would belabour them with his stout thorn stick until they were sworn friends. There never was such another notable mayor of Market-jew until the first was elected of the mayors who always sat in their own light. The brewer told Tom that he wanted to send a load of beer over to St. Ives, and would be very glad if Tom would drive over the wain-load of beer. "With all my heart," says Tom, who soon got three or four yoke of oxen fixed to the wain, and the brewer put on an extra barrel for Tom to drink and to treat folks he might meet on the road. Down by Crowlas a dozen men or more were alongside the road, trying, without being able, to load a dray with a tree which they wanted to take away to build a church. "Stand clear," says Tom, as he came along, and, putting a hand on each side of the tree, lifted it into the dray without so much as saying "Ho" to the oxen. A little farther on the old road from Market-jew to St. Ives (wherever that road was) Tom found that a giant who lived thereabouts had built the walls of his castle-court right across what used to be the high road. "Well," says Tom to himself, "I don't see what right the old villain of a giant has got to build his hedges across the king's highway, and to enclose the common lands, any more than I or anybody else have: the road belongs to go straight through here where he has placed his gate. They say he is a monstrous strong fellow; well, so am I, and which is the best man we will soon try. He waent eat me I s’pose. My old mammy never told me I should come by my death that way at all. I be cuss’d if I don't break down his gates and drive right through." Tom ran full tilt against the giant's gates, smashed them open, and entered, calling out to the oxen, "Come along Spark and Beauty, Brisk and Lively, Wilk and Golden, Neat and Comely;—yo hup; come hither ho." As the wheels rattled over the caunce of the castle-court out came a little yelping cur of a dog, that with his barking waked up the giant, who came out a minute after—stretching himself, rubbing his eyes, and looking at a distance, before he saw Tom and the wain near him.
Tom wasn't the least bit frightened on seeing Old Denbras, the hurler, as most people called the big man, who stood about fifteen feet in his boots. His girth was more than proportionate to his height, because he was very big-bellied, the effect of his gormandizing, old age, and idle life. The hair of his head, from exposure to sun, wind, and rain, had gone to look like a withered brake of heath. His teeth were all worn down to his gums, from grinding up the bones of the goats, which he ate raw, with all the skin on. "Hallo!" says the giant, "Who are you, you little scrub, to have the impudence to drive in here and disturb my nap. Es the beer for me? I didn't expect any." "You are heartily welcome to a drink," Tom answered, "but I am on my way to St. Ives, and will keep upon the old road, and the right road too, in spite of you and a better man than you." "Thou saucy young whelp, to break into my castle and spoil my after-dinner nap: begone to the rightabout, or I will soon pluck a twig and drive thee out." "Not if I know it it," says Tom: "don't crow too soon my old cock." The giant now looked as black as the devil, and, going down the hill a few steps, he plucked up a young elm-tree about twenty feet high or so. Tom seeing what he was up to, whilst the giant was coming up the hill, breaking off the small branches and trimming the twig to his mind, handed off the barrels, and overturned the wain, then slipped off the wheel that turned round on one end of the exe, and took the oak axle-tree, (fast in the other wheel) out of the gudgeons in which it worked round under the wain. The giant was so slow in his motions that all this was done, and Tom held the axle-tree and wheel aloft, before the giant had trimmed his twig to his mind. "Now," says Tom, "if you are for a fight, come on; the exe and wheel is my sword and buckler, which I will match against your elm tree." And at it they went.
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