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Padstow ( ) is a small town, civil parish and cargo port on the north coast of Cornwallmarker, Englandmarker, United Kingdommarker. The UK Census 2001 reported a parish population of 3,162. It was once important as a fishing port. It lies near the mouth of the estuary of the River Camel]] and is connected to the north coast of that estuary by a pedestrian ferry.


Padstow is located approximately 14 miles north and east up the coast from Newquaymarker, at the mouth of the River Camelmarker. The approach to Padstow Harbour is notorious for the presence of the Doom Barmarker, a very dangerous sand bar which has caused many ship and small boat wrecks.


Padstow was originally named Petroc-stow, after the Welsh missionary St. Petrocmarker, who landed at nearby Trebetherickmarker around AD 500. After his death a monastery was established here which was of great importance until the town was raided by the Vikings (the monks moved inland to Bodminmarker). In the medieval period it was commonly called Aldestowe (as the 'old place' in contrast to Bodmin the 'new place').

About two miles to seaward of the village past a small inlet known as St George's Well, is an abandoned concrete bunker which housed generators for several nearby gun emplacements (World War II). Further along, the coastal path, on the cliff top, is an abandoned manual capstan. For ships entering the bay with a SW wind, a great hazard was caused by the immediate loss of wind power due to the cliffs. Rockets were fired from the cliffs to place a line on board to allow ships to be winched or warped in more safely. Padstow was notorious for ships becoming becalmed on entering the estuary, due to wind shadow and then and swept onto the Doom Bar.


The church of St Petroc is one of a group of three said to have been founded by the saint, the others being Little Petherickmarker and Bodminmarker. It is quite large and mostly of 13th and 14th century date. There is a fine font of Catacleuse stone which is 15th century: the pulpit of ca. 1530 is also of interest. There are two fine monuments to members of the Prideaux family (Sir Nicholas, 1627 and Edmund, 1693): there is also a monumental brass of 1421.


Railway lines

Between 1899 and 1967 Padstow railway stationmarker was the westernmost point of the former Southern Railway. The station was the terminus of an extension from Wadebridgemarker of the former Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway and North Cornwall Railwaymarker. These lines were part of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR), then incorporated into the Southern Railway in 1923 and British Railways in 1948, but were proposed for closure during the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.

The LSWR (and Southern Railway) promoted Padstow as a holiday resort; these companies were rivals to the Great Western Railway (which was the larger railway in the West of England). Until 1964, Padstow was served by the Atlantic Coast Express -- a direct train service to/from London marker -- but the station was closed in 1967. The old railway line is now the Camel Trail, a footpath and cycle path which is popular owing to its picturesque route beside the River Camel. One of the railway mileposts is now embedded outside the Shipwright's Arms public house on the Harbour Front.

Footpaths and seaways

The Padstow-Rock ferry
Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant, Padstow

The South West Coast Path enables walkers to explore this spectacular section of coast, with Stepper Pointmarker and Trevose Headmarker within an easy day's walk. The path crosses the river using the Black Tor Ferrymarker, which carries pedestrians between Padstow and Rockmarker. Another long-distance footpath known as the Saints' Waymarker starts in Padstow and ends at Foweymarker on the south coast of Cornwall.

During the mid-nineteenth century, ships carrying timber from Canadamarker (particularly Quebec Citymarker) would arrive at Padstow and offer cheap travel to passengers wishing to emigrate. Shipbuilders in the area would also benefit from the quality of their cargoes. Among the ships that sailed were the barques Clio, Belle and Voluna; and the brig Dalusia.


Traditionally a fishing port, Padstow is now a popular tourist destination; although some of its former fishing fleet remains, it is mainly a yachting haven on a dramatic coastline with few easily navigable harbours. The influence of restaurateur Rick Stein can be seen in the port, and tourists travel from long distances to eat at one of his restaurants or cafés. However, the boom in the popularity of the port has caused house price inflation both in the port and surrounding areas, as people buy homes to live in, or as second or holiday homes. This has meant significant numbers of locals cannot afford to buy property of their own now, with prices often well over 10 times the average salary of around £15 000.


'Obby 'Oss festival

The 'Old Oss' capturing a passing maiden during the Mayday festival.
Padstow is best known for its "'Obby 'Oss" festival. Although its origins are unclear, it most likely stems from an ancient fertility rite, perhaps the Celtic festival of Beltane. The festival starts at midnight on May Eve when townspeople gather outside the Golden Lion Inn to sing the "Night Song". By morning, the town has been dressed with greenery and flowers placed around the maypole. The excitement begins with the appearance of one of the 'Obby 'Osses. Male dancers cavort through the town dressed as one of two 'Obby 'Osses, the "Old" and the "Blue Ribbon" 'Obby 'Osses; as the name suggests, they are stylised kinds of horses. Prodded on by acolytes known as "Teasers", each wears a mask and black frame-hung cape under which they try to catch young maidens as they pass through the town. Throughout the day, the two parades, led by the "Mayer" in his top hat and decorated stick, followed by a band of accordions and drums, then the 'Oss and the Teaser, with a host of people - all singing the "Morning Song".[4156] - pass along the streets of the town, never meeting. Finally, late in the evening, the two 'osses do meet, at the maypole, before returning to their respective stables where the crowd sings of the 'Obby 'Oss death, until its resurrection the following May Eve.
The 'Old Oss' party attending the Oss with dozens of accordions and drums.

Mummers' or Darkie Day

On Boxing Day and New Year's Day, it is a tradition for some residents to don blackface and parade through the town singing 'minstrel' songs. This is an ancient Britishmarker midwinter celebration that occurs every year in Padstow and was originally part of the pagan heritage of midwinter celebrations that were regularly celebrated all over Cornwall where people would guise dance and disguise themselves by blackening up their faces or wearing masks. (Recently the people of Penzancemarker have revived its midwinter celebration with the Montol Festival which like Padstow at times would have had people darkening or painting their skin to disguise themselves as well as masking.)

Folklorists associate the practice with the widespread British custom of blacking up for mumming and morris dancing, and suggest there is no record of slave ships coming to Padstow. Once an unknown local charity event, the day has recently become controversial, perhaps since a description was published. Also some now suggest it is racist for white people to "black up" for any reason. Although "outsiders" have linked the day with racism, Padstonians insist that this is not the case and are incredulous at both description and allegations. Long before the controversy Charlie Bate, noted Padstow folk advocate, recounted that in the 1970s the content and conduct of the day were carefully reviewed to avoid potential offence. The Devon and Cornwall Constabulary have taken video evidence twice and concluded there were no grounds for prosecution. Nonetheless protests resurface annually. The day has now been renamed Mummer's day in an attempt to avoid offence and identify it more clearly with established Cornish tradition. The debate has now been subject to academic scrutiny..

Other similar traditions that use the black-face disguise are still celebrated within the United Kingdom are the

Notable residents

See also


  • Henderson, Charles (1938) "Padstow Church and Parish" in: Doble, G. H. Saint Petrock, a Cornish Saint; 3rd ed. [Wendron: the author]; pp. 51-59

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