Cornish Saints and Sinners: St. Ives Women


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Old Cornish Characters: the Ladies of St. Ives
by J. Henry Harris

S T. I V E S
W O M E N

and their Gift

The women of St. Ives have always enjoyed the reputation of being well endowed with the tongue. Some people think their old vivacity is the result of foreign blood, but it is singular that the "gift of the tongue" should follow only in the female line. A St. Ives man is quiet enough until his blood is up, and then he wants to hit something or throw something overboard, and make a big noise in the open air. There is a story of three young women slipping into their pattens and going to the well with their pitchers for water. Their husbands were at sea. The young women began to talk, and they talked on and on until their husbands returned and found them just at the beginning of an argument. So they set off to sea once more, and back again, and the three women were still at the well and getting interested in their argument. Then the three men took a long voyage and, returning with well-lined purses, found their wives, now grown white, still at the well, but on the point of adjourning till the morrow to take up the thread of the old argument.

A St. Ives woman, however, has an eye for business. What her man catches, she sells and pays his bills for nets and barking and repairs. On land she's boss, and has a "sharing cake" once a week when she settles accounts. The "sharing cake" is an ancient institution, and must be respected. It has its ceremony too, and must be broken with the fingers, not cut with a knife, because cold steel would bring bad luck. The customs of women are very different in the north and south of the county.

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Edited from "Cornish Saints & Sinners" (1906)





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