Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, [1870], at

p. 159

Parson Spry, the Curate of Sennen & St. Levan, Half a Century Ago, and His Wooden Horse, and Dog "Sport"

Before leaving this part of the town, let us cast a glance at the three or four little cottage-like dwellings just opposite the lane leading to the Well fields, on the higher side of the entrance to The Hollies. These cottages were regarded as very genteel residences, half-a-century ago, before the North Parade, and some score of other terraces, which now form the most pleasant portions of the town, were ever thought of. Then, the cottage nearest to The Hollies gate was the residence of the Rev. William Spry, many years curate of Sennen and St. Levan. The reverend gentleman was one of those eccentric, or independent, characters who pay no regard either to conventional modes or to the opinion of those who have no need to trouble themselves about their harmless whims. His dapper little figure, dressed up in the most anti-clerical not to say ridiculous, of costumes, must still be well remembered by man in town and country. Notwithstanding his eccentric vagaries, he was always a welcome guest, for the sake of his never-failing good humour, quick repartee, and the droll stories of which he was generally the hero. His most extravagant freaks were mostly harmless, and always amusing, at least to the spectators (yet with all the care taken to qualify his characteristics, we may have to make some exception when the parson mounts his wooden horse).

When in the reading-room, public library, or any other place of resort for gentleman of the town, parson Spry was always the centre of attraction and fun. One day, in the library, he was, as usual, relating some of his amusing drolls, when an elderly gentleman, General Tench (who very much liked to hear himself talk), finding that he could not have the chance to get in a word edgewise even, interrupted the parson by saying, "Come, Mr. Spry; as you appear to know a great deal about everything, be pleased to explain to me the difference between a major and a minor canon?" "Pho! pho!" replied Mr. Spry, in his lisping accent, "What a general! not to know the difference between a major canon and a minor canon. Why a major canon is a great gun, and a minor canon is a thun (son) of a can (gun), to be thure (sure)." The general wheeled on his heels, and went away without firing anymore of his guns at the parson for that day.

The rev. gentleman, finding the hire of a horse to take him to the scene of his clerical duties, more than he could well afford out of his slender income, took it into his head to have a velocipede, hoping, with the assistance of that machine, to be able to ride out to the Land's-end at his ease (hills excepted, when he would have to drag his horse). He exercised his wooden steed, by way of breaking of it in, on the descent from St. Just lane's end to Alverton. He was very proud of his steed, when he found it would run down the hill with so much speed. The next

p. 160

market day, early in the morning, the parson stationed himself, mounted on his velocipede, on the top of Tul-tuf hill, to challenge anybody coming from, or going to, the market to try a race, always down the hill be it understood. Plenty of the farmers desired no better fun than to try a race with the parson on his wooden horse; but their own nags, not knowing what to make of the parson's queer beast, going on three legs like the wind, in their fears and doubts about the nature of the thing threw their riders into the ditch, and spring over the hedges, that they might not be overtaken by what they must have thought a most unnatural-looking affair. So the parson won the wager, and boasted long and loud that his horse was the best in the west; but, in the last race that Thursday morn, the three-legged Bucephalus attained such velocity in descending the hill near Alverton that it became quite unmanageable and fairly ran away with its gallant rider as fast as its wheels could spin. When it came to Alverton water (there was no bridge over the water which then worked the old factory) several market-women were on their nags, in the midst of the pooled-up water, to let their horses drink and breathe awhile, their heavy baskets of butter and eggs rested carelessly in their knees, to ease their weary arms whilst having a chat, and before they had time to seize their bridle-reins in dashed the parson, on his horse, in the very midst of them. He tumbled over in the water, with the machine between his legs. The women were thrown off their horses, which galloped away—some home, some like mad into the town to their accustomed yards and stables, others ran they didn't know where; but fancy what a wreck was there, with the broken eggs, barm-jars, butter, and baskets on the road, or floating down the stream! The women were so exasperated that they half-killed the parson between them. In the heat of their passion they pelted him with butter and eggs, then rolled him in the mud, until luckily some gentlemen came to the rescue of the parson and his steed.

The next Sunday, the reverend gentleman being unable to attend to his duties at the Land's-end, his parishioners, as well as most of the people of the west who had congregated at St. Levan church and along the roads, hoping to see the parson racing his horse, were much disappointed. The fame of his Thursday's adventure had spread far and near, so that such a gathering was never seen before in the church except at the feasten tide. Against the following Sunday the parson had sufficiently recovered of his broken skin and his courage to be off early in the morning, for fear of disappointing his congregation again. The people waited long about the cliff and Rospletha-hill, looking out in vain; at last, fearing some accident had happened, from seeing neither sight nor sign of their pastor, a good number of them proceeded along the road towards Penzance, two miles or more, when they saw the parson's well-known dog, Sport, coming towards them. Sport testified his joy at seeing some of his friends, and ran back, yelping and barking, and looking behind him to beg the people to follow him fast. In a few minutes, on turning

p. 161

the corner of Cotneywilley, they found the parson and his horse in a deep pool of mud at the bottom of the hill, or rather the runaway steed was deep in the muddy hole. The rider had contrived to scramble out and shake himself just as they arrived. Mr. Ellis, of Trendrennen, being among the people who came to the relief of their forlorn pastor, he was helped along to that gentleman's house, which the parson usually made his resting-place.

Mr. Spry never trusted his wooden horse to make such long journeys any more, and the people of the two western parishes, who liked their parson much, because he was very sociable (never wearied them with tiresome platitudes, nor bothered them with what some call deep, that is, inexplicable, dogmas and notions), were very indulgent, and never complained whether he came early or late, or stayed away for weeks together on account of bad weather.

The doings of the parson's handsome black dog Sport added much to the interest of the Sunday's performances. Sport seemed to think that some dogs belonging to his master's parishes had not so much right to enjoy church privileges as himself. To others—larger dogs than himself—he was more indulgent, and even condescended to wag his tail at them, but woe to any audacious dog of a smaller size, that presumed to venture into the more respectable, or parson's, portion of the church east of the rud locks (rood loft). Sport would then show the rustic dogs the colour of his teeth and drive them into the belfry, where the other country dogs would follow to see fair play, or perhaps to give the town-bred puppy a bite by the sly, if they saw their own comrade likely to get the worst of the game.

One Sunday, a dog belonging to a farmer who sat near the chancel, seemed inclined to come nearer the parson's ground than his dog liked. Both dogs then said as plainly as looks could express, "Come then, to decide which shall look the biggest, let’s try our right, down in the belfry, by a quiet bit of a fight." Off walked the two dogs, began and continued their fight without making much noise, until the parson was in the midst of reading the second lesson. Then Sport gave some dreadful yells, which so much alarmed his master that he stopped reading, bundled up his surplice under his arm, ran in all haste down to the belfry, drove out the country dog, and shut in his own by way of penance among the shovels, brooms, pickaxes, bellropes, planks, and other lumber. When the parson returned to the reading-desk, leaning over towards the old clerk, he asked, "Where was I Josey?" (meaning the verse of the lesson at which he left off). Uncle Josey, the clerk, being rather deaf, like most deaf people spoke rather loud—loud enough to be heard all over the church—when he intended only to whisper, "Where war ’e? What do ’e mean, master? Why down in the belfry parting the dogs, to be sure!" Sport took it in high dudgeon, to be imprisoned like a felon. When he found

p. 162

barking and howling of no use towards procuring his release from durance vile, he contrived to entangle himself in the bellrope (left dangling up and down) by getting his head into the running noose, made by the sexton for his foot, to assist in tolling the great bell, which Sport set a ringing and soon rung himself out.

Another day, whilst the parson was reading the burial service over the defunct, his dog Sport behaved himself in a very unseemly manner for such a solemn occasion by kicking up a dust among the dry bones, howling at the mourners, catching their dresses in his mouth, and renting off yards of crape from the young widow, and other such like pranks. The parson, reading, with one eye on the book, the other on the dog, at the end of every portion where the clerk had to respond "Amen," the parson called "Sport!" and Sport replied with a bark. At the conclusion, in the same breath with the words, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I commit this body to the ground," the parson called out louder than ever, "Sport! Sport! come here;" turning quickly round at the same time as if to catch the dog and bury him.

Next: Cornish Pulpit Retorts, Forty Years Ago