Wednesday 12 April 2023

A Peek at the Folklore of Mylor and District

A Peek at the Folklore of Mylor and District

Alex Langstone

The parish of Mylor has some interesting and little-known folklore, the oldest of which has its origins at the ancient and imposing church, which stands in a large oval churchyard overlooking the creek. As with so many of the early medieval Cornish saints, legend states that St Mylor sailed from Brittany in 411 AD and landed at a creekside location by an ancient freshwater spring and a tall standing stone. Here St Mylor founded his monastic cell in the woods. The holy well and cross can still be found in the churchyard, and the cross is interesting because at five and  a half metres including its foundations, it is the largest churchyard cross in Cornwall. It was probably a bronze age menhir before it was carved with its wheel headed cross design. Locally it is believed to mark St Mylor’s burial spot.

Mylor holy well

On the edge of the ancient woodland of Devichoys, where the parishes of Mylor and Ponsanooth meet, can be found a haunted lane known locally as ‘Irish Woman’s Hill’. It was here that sometime during the first decade of the 21st century, a shimmering ghostly manifestation was seen by a resident making her way home. The lady concerned had just turned onto the old coach road which runs alongside Goonreeve Farm, and ultimately terminates at the town of Penryn. These days the road is little more than an isolated narrow country lane. It was a late summers afternoon, and the driver was shocked to witness an old lady standing in the road as she turned into the lane. She was wearing a long, black skirt and had a black shawl over her head and shoulders. She appeared to be wandering slowly along the lane, stopping every few seconds to catch her breath. The local lady followed cautiously in her car, as she trudged along the old lane and around the bend ahead. But when the driver rounded the corner, the lane was empty and there was no sign of the hunched figure of the old lady. After searching the hedgerows on either side, thinking that she may have stopped for a rest, the perplexed driver carried on her journey, pondering no doubt, about where the black-clad figure had gone. Several years later, the same lady met a man who farmed the land on the corner of said lane, She took the opportunity to ask him about the strange incident. Without hesitation the farmer stated that it was the ghost of an old Irish woman who haunts this lane. It is told that she was on a stagecoach heading to Penryn when she suddenly died. It was frequent practise in those days to bury dead passengers on the roadside where they perished. The field here is known as 'the Irish woman's field' because she is buried there. No-one knew her name, nor where she had come from. Though stories of her ghostly form have often been reported, both during daylight and after dark.[1]

According to some of the older villagers, the lane where she met her demise, which runs from the junction near Devichoys Woods and going towards Penryn, was often referred to as ‘Irish Woman’s Hill’.[2]

The Mayor of Mylor, is an old custom, which traditionally links Mylor parish with Penryn. Traditionally held each Autumn, when the hazel-nuts are ripe, the festival of ‘nutting-day’ is kept. A crowd from the town go into the country to gather nuts. Meanwhile townsfolk would proceed to Mylor, and whilst there, elect one of their number as the sham mayor. Seated in a chair shaded with green boughs, and borne on the shoulders of four strong men, the Mock Mayor and his compatriots process from Mylor to the ancient borough of Penryn. The procession would consist of torch bearers, bodyguards wielding weapons, and two ‘sergeants’ clad in official gowns and raised hats, each wielding a monstrous cabbage on his shoulder in lieu of a mace. The rear was brought up by the throng of the ‘nutters’. As they approached the outskirts of Penryn, the town band would join them and march them joyously into Penryn, where they were received by the massed population of the town. At the town hall speeches were given, and the celebrations went on late into the night, with street fires, music and dancing.[3]

Another amazing tale from the village is The Black Bull of Mylor. I came across this incredible tale many years ago, and it involves the sighting of a ghostly, fire breathing black bull, who is reported to haunt Church Lane between the church wall and Well Ackett:

One night the two men were out on their rounds, and were intending to make their way towards Trefusis Point, so as to pass by the Big Zoon, when after they had passed the church stile they were suddenly brought to a stop―Away in the distance, coming towards them, they could hear a fearful roaring noise; then they could hear the gravel flying, and as the sound came nearer they could make out the form of a big black bull, tearing towards them with fire coming from his nostrils, and roaring something terrible! [4]

The tale seems to originate from the 1830s, when smuggling was still rife around the creeks of the Fal and was probably made up (or kept alive) to keep folk at bay during the illicit operations along the creek after dark.[5]

Church Lane, haunted by the Black Bull

First published in my regular folklore column in Meyn Mamvro Vol. 2 No. 7, Spring/Summer 2023. 


[3] Robert Hunt. Popular Romances of the West of England: Sham Mayors – The Mayor of Mylor

[4] Old Cornwall, volume 1, issue 7, published in April 1928, and written by W. D. Watson.

[5] For a full investigation of this folklore see LienGwerin 7, Feb. 2023, pp 48 - 52

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