Page 4, 20th September 1957

20th September 1957
Page 4
Page 4, 20th September 1957 — THE PIOUS COBBLERS OF HELSTON

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By Frank A. King

IN the Middle Ages, the guilds played an allimportant part in commercial and civic life, and the craft or trade guilds formed part of the Gild Merchant, the forerunner of the modern Chamber of Commerce.

Cobblers, or cordwainers, had their own guilds, which regulated the craft as strictly as the modern manufacturers' associations.

Helston, the chief town of the Lizard Peninsula, is famous for its " Furry " or Floral Dance, held since time immemorial on or about May 8, when the inhabitants dance through the streets and houses to the traditional melody. Few of the many guilds of medieval Cornwall have any records left, but, by a strange chance, a schedule made in 1517 records the rules and regulations controlling the members of the Cobblers' Guild at Helston. The document was amongst the muniments at Clowance about 1821, but it has since disappeared. Fortunately, a printed copy, without note or comment, is in one of W. C. Rorlase's Scrapbooks at Castle-Horncck. This version provides a great deal of information about the organisation and shows that women not only worked as cobblers but were considered competent enough to he admitted as members of the guild. It must not be forgotten that, in the Middle Ages, the cobbler or cordwainer not only made footwear arid repaired such goods but also sold his finished products direct to the wearer.


IN 1201, Helston obtained its

first civic charter from King John, and one of its provisions permitted the burgesses to have a Gild Merchant. The king was hunting in his chase at Cranborne. in Dorset, accompanied by a small retinue, when the men of Helston took the opportunity to petition for a charter. The Archdeacon of Wells at once wrote out the document. By this charter " Helleston " was made a free borough, with a Gild Merchant to regulate its trade. Three days later the burgesses, for a great price, obtained the right to " farm " the borough themselves-that is, assess and levy their own taxes. For this privilege they paid forty silver marks and a palfrey at the time, and agreed to pay double the old " farm "— £8 per annum and so they managed to get rid of all outside control. The Cobblers' Guild would be one of the many trade and craft fraternities making up the Gild Merchant and may have existed long before 1517, when the clerk, James " Mychell." compiled the list of rules and regulations. Mychell (or Mitchell) was evidently the Guild Priest, and. after the abolition of guilds and fraternities by the Chantry Act of 1545, which gave their revenue to the Crown. he received a pension of 13 6s. 8d.. and was described as " last incumbent of a shrine in the Church of Helston."


THE craft guilds were always closely associated with the church and therefore had their own priests. The " Rules " confirm the extraordinary close connection between religion and the daily life of the period. In the following quotations from the record the spelling and punctuation have hen freely modernised. ;The document commences with ' the customary salutation and then gives the names of several members.

" The Name of God, Amen.

" Be it known to all men that we. Benett Mabba, John Rychard, David 'Gylbert. Rawlyn Jakka, John Alan, William Jenyn, Janyn Perowe. Cordeners (Cordwainers) and householders of the Borough of Helston and also (their ?) servants: John Marsely, Mathy Jac Davy, John Emott and other principal founders of the Fratern ity of the Trinity in the church of St. Michael in Helston-Burgh ..."

The exact number of members is not indicated by the document, but the population pf Helston had increased a great deal since 1377. when. out of a population of 282 persons, some 188 paid Poll Tax. By 1549, it was estimated that there were 800 " houslings" (communicants) in the town.

The first reference to a church at Helston was made in 1208, when it was termed the " Chapel of St. Michael of Hellstone." It was then, as it continued to he until recent years, a mere chapelry to the mother-church of Wendron.


QT. Michael is the Patron saint

of Cornwall and dedications in his honour are very numerous throughout the Duchy. He is also Patron of Helston and on the fourteenth-century seal of the borough is represented transfixing the Dragon. Counting Michaelmas as the first.

" Furry Day is the second of St. Michael's feasts. There can be little doubt that the festivities, like other Cornish feasts, were celebrated in honour of the Patron of the church.

The first regulation shows the provisions of the guild's own altar in the church and the arrangements made by the members for perpetual intercessions to release the departed from Purgatory always a motive of great importance in such associations. The rule states : " First, we ordain that on Saturday next. after the Feast of the Trinity, every brother and sister come to the said Church and there hear Dirges that shall he said upon the Trinity Altar and every brother and sister to say a Psalter of Our Lady for all the lives and souls that God willeth we should pray for." 1 he next regulation refers to the festivities to he held after this annual assembly. and states the annual payments to he made by each member, and suggests that affluent members might he prepared to pay more than the amounts assessed. The fees paid would cover the funeral expenses and sickness benefits not only for the member but also for his wife and children. "And. after. in the same day, every brother and sister come to the house where the Wardens (officials of the guild) will assign, and there to eat and drink in worship pf the Trinity and pay our rent (levies) viz.. I2d.. 8d., 6d., or 4d.. and thus yeark to he paid for a man and his wife, and better if they may, every man and woman after (according to) his devotion." Either from surplus funds or gifts made by members, the guild must have become comparatively wealthy as, in 1568, the first Queen Elizabeth sold two, holdings in Sithey formerly belonging to the " Brethren of the Holy Trinity." that is, this fraternity of Cobblers.


THE next regulation required that any dispute between any of the Brethren or "Sistern" was to be brought before the Brethren, probably the Wardens, or perhaps even the whole Guild, and settled peacefully. If the decision was not accepted the offender was to be fined twentypence (20d.). The next rule covered any occasion when a member sought to join with another member in a bargain, and enacted that no matter how much profit might he made, and no matter how much extra work or capital the bargainpromoter might put in, he was only to have " one quart of wine for courtesy " more than his associate. The first part of the next regulation says that " if any brother fall in poverty that then ever!, brother and sister help him after their degree." The remainder of this section deals with the funeral arrangements on the death of a member or his wife. It says : " Also, if any brother or sister die, then the brethren and sisters do their diligence to bring to their burying with Worship; and that there he held about the Corpse at the Dirge in Worship of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three tapers and at the Mass in the Worship of Our Lord's Five Wounds. five tapers." The next regulation states that a fine of fortypence was to he levied on any member who tried to engage another member's apprentice before the expiration of the full term of the indentures, and the offending worker was to pay twentypence (20d.).


THE rule which followed required that a , servant who wished to leave his master must give reasonable warning, and that, if a master wished to dismiss a worker, he was to give one week's warning or find work for the man elsewhere. Every workman was to be given four pairs of shoes each year for his own use. The regulation covering the complete training of an apprentice in the " cunning" or knowledge of the craft, stated ; " Also we ordain that any man that hireth a servant . . . teach him within his term all his Cunning in his Craft. And if there he any point unknown, as in Cutting, before his term is put, then the Master is to give him a whole week's teaching (later ?) and meat and drink and twelvepence (12d.) to hire and God's Blessing." The cobbler is warned not to use cheap materials and reminded of the religious duty of doing a good job: " Also, we ordain that np man buy false stuff for Coveyte of Chepe (covetousness of cheapness, or love of a bargain), for dread of deceit of the Country (for fear of deceiving any person in the country), and displeasing God."


PERIODICALLY the stocks of craftsmen such as shoemakers was inspected by the Wardens of the Guild to ensure that good materials were being used in making shoes and boots, and that the goods produced were of a recognised standard. The last regulation of the rules governing the Helston Cobblers refers to these inspections, and the document ends in the customary manner of the period : " Also, we ordain that the Wardens search all these things and others that may befall from house to house, three searches in a quarter. and look that a Master deceive not his servant nor no servant deceive his Master, thereto we all abovesaid be according (in agreement) among ourselves for ever more and thereto we have put our seals. "Dated at Hellston, the year of the Incarnation of Our Blessed Lord, the 15th day a June MDXVII (1517), James Mychell clerk (clerk-in-holy-orders). The Trinity Guild of the Hellston Cobblers was similar to the scores of craft and trade guilds in every English centre of that period, and to many in Flanders and Italy. Pious members left property to supplement the revenues; it was this which was seized by the Crown in 1545, when only the privileged livery companies of London, and a few other guilds, were allowed to retain their estates and other property. These estates were seized because it was considered that the incomes were put to " superstitious uses." By this was meant the payment of stipends to " Chantry " priests, and similar purposes.


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The definition of the dogma of the Assumption is comparatively recent; how ancient Is the feast

THE feast celebrated on August 15 is the oldest of all the feasts d Our Lady. It is the principal one, is a holiday of obligation throughout the Western Church, and is observed by the Orthodox and other dissident Eastern churches.

This annual feast of the Mother of God seems first of 'all to have been celebrated in Palestine. In 529 Bishop Theodore of Petra in a panegyric on St. Theodosius wrote that the monks of Palestine held every year with special devotion and solemnity a memorial feast of the Mother of God. Though neither the date nor the event recalled is mentioned in this document there seems little doubt that it was The Falling Asleep (Dormitio) which according to ancient tradition took place on August 15. It is certain that the Emperor Mauritius in 602 confirmed the date and established this feast as a holiday for the Eastern Empire. Rome quickly followed suit. So closely was this feast connected with the tradition that Our Lady's body did not see corruption, but was assumed into Heaven by the miraculous disposition of her Divine Son. that in the seventh and eighth centuries the name of the feast was gradually changed into the " Taking Up" (Assumptio). This is the title under which it has been known ever since in the Western Church. The feast was given a Vigil and Octave by Pope Leo IV as early as 874. There is a special irony in the fact that the Church in Hunger}, kept the feast with special solemnity as a great National Holiday. According to legend, St. Stephen, King of Hungary. offered his sacred and royal crown to Mary on that feast and she became the Queen and Patroness of Hungary. The Hungarians call the day Feast of Our Great Lady, and Our Lady is known as the "Great Lady of the Hungarians." Last month was picked by the Communists for a new onslaught on the Church in Hungary:

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