Helgh Penkarow / Pencarrow as adapted and sung by Richard Trethewey for Lowender Peran’s Levow Brythonnek / Brythonic Voices project in 2018.
The Story of “Pencarow Hunt”:Folklore and tradition travel through the landscape and through time bearing the stories, memories, and ideas of a community. Indeed the very term “Folk” was coined by the German philosopher Johann Herder who saw these traditions as representing the very soul of the people. There is a beautiful paradox here in that whilst folk tradition represents continuity with the deep past, the way that it is mediated and explained also tells the story of the people providing that explanation at a given moment in time. The story of “The Pencarrow Hunt” provides a fascinating illustration of this.
“Pencarrow Hunt” as the song is known in North Cornwall becomes “Lord Arscott of Tetcott” along the Cornwall Devon border and shares it melody with a Welsh song called “Difyrwch Gwyr Dyfi” (Delight of the Men of Dovey). The narrative focuses on Pencarrow House, near Bodmin, and a bucolic fox hunt across the moors with Lord John Arscott whose family owned much of the land between here and Tetcott just over the border. The chase takes us to the towering cliffs of North Cornwall where it sometimes ends with the demise of the fox; and sometimes ends with the hounds leaping off the cliffs to meet their doom on the rocks below closely followed by Lord Arscott and friends.
In good folkloric style the hunters reappear in ghostly form from time to time and we also meet the mysterious Black John. Black John was Lord Arscott’s servant who played the role of court jester to entertain his guests. One of his tricks was to swallow and regurgitate a live mouse on a string! Black John lived and ran with the hounds so that he was first in on the kill at the end of the hunt. The date of “fifty two” in the lyrics is variously interpreted as 1652 when there was a Lord John Arscott but no record of a Black John: 1752 when there was a candidate for Black John but the Lord was an Arthur Arscott and not John; and 1772 when there was again a Lord John Arscott who was the last of his line. It is very easy to go down the metaphoric rabbit hole here and look for historic hereditary facts which have little to do with the folklore!
There was once a view that committing the narrative or melody of a folk song to print was to fix it forever and stop the process of change in oral tradition. In practice quite the opposite is often the case and appearance in print serves to encourage the process of evolution and change. This certainly seems to be what happened with “The Pencarrow Hunt”. We get an early glimpse of the lyrics and the story in the form a poem submitted to a “gentleman’s” periodical called Willis’s Current Notes by the redoubtable Rev Robert Stephen Hawker in 1853:
On the ninth of November, in the year Fifty-Two,
Three jolly foxhunters. All sons of the blue;
They rode from Pencarrow, not fearing a wet coat,
To take their diversion with Arscott of Tetcott.
He went to his kennel an took them within;
“On Monday “ said Arscott, “our joys shall begin;
Both horse and hounds, how they pant to be gone,
How they’ll follow ‘ foot, not forgetting Black John”.
When Monday was come, right early at morn,
John Arscott arose, and he took down his horn;
He gave it a flourish so loud in the hall,
Each heard the glad summons, and came at the call.
They heard it with pleasure, but Webb was first dress’d,
Resolving to give a cold pig to the rest;
Bold Bob and the Briton, they hasten’d down the stairs,
‘Twas generally supposed they neglected their pray’rs.
At breakfast they scrambled for butter and toast,
But Webb was impatient that time should be lost;
So old Cheyney was ordered to bring to the door,
Both horses and hounds, and away to the moor.
“On Monday”, said Arscott, as he mounted his nag,
“I look to old Blackcap, for he‘ll hit the drag!”;
The drag it was hit, they said it was old,
For drag in the morning could not be so cold.
They prick’d it along, to Becket and Thorn
An here the old dogs they set out, I’ll be sworn,
‘Twas Ringwood and Rally, with capital scent,
Bold Princess and Madcap, Good God! How they went!
How far did they make it? How far went they on?
How far did they make it”? said Simon the Son;
“O’er the moors” said Joe Goodman, “Hark to the Bacchus, the word!”
“Hark to Vulcan” Cried Arscott “that’s it, by the Lord!”
“Hark to princess!” says Arscott; “there’s a fresh Tally-ho!”
The dogs they soon caught it, and how they did go!
“Twas Princess and Madcap, and Ringwood and Ralley,
They charmed every hill and they echoed each valley.
From Becket, through Thorn, they went on their way,
To Swannacott Wood without break or delay
And when they came there, how they sounded again!
“What music it is!” cried the glad Whitestone Men.
In haste came up Arscott – “Oh, where are they gone?”
“They are off to the cliffs,” then said Simon the son;
Through Wike, and through Poundstock, St Genys. they went.
And when Reynard came there, he gave up by consent.
So when Reynard was dead, we broke up the field,
With joy in our hearts that we made him to yield;
And when he came home he toasted the health
Of a man who ne’er varied for places or wealth!
When supper was ended we spent all the night
In gay flowing bumpers and social delight;
With mirth and good humour did cheerfully sing,
A health to John Arscott” and God save the King!.
Hawker introduces the article by explaining that “Many a legend and record of his (Arscott’s) times and deeds a century since, still float unembodied around the Oaks of old Tetcott…..”. It is not clear whether he is the author of the ballad or is recounting oral tradition and in all likelihood it was a combination of both. Hawker was a mystic, immersed in the stories and folk traditions of North Cornwall and there is sometimes a very fine line between his creative work and his retelling of oral tradition. He was also quite mischievous and allowed his own compositions to be passed on as traditional. For example when he first published “Trelawny” in 1826 he allowed it to be seen as a traditional Cornish Ballad and did not admit authorship for several years. The fact remains that Hawker helped to boost the journey of “The Pencarrow Hunt” and if he did pen these words then he was perpetuating local legend in doing so.
By the time that Rev Sabine Baring Gould started his folk song collecting project in 1889 the ballad had become firmly attached to a tune and collected a “fol de rol” refrain. In the notes to the song published in Songs and Ballads of the West  he makes no mention of Hawker but describes having found a great many variations of the ballad. The oldest he actually quotes a publication date for is 1880 , nearly 30 years later than Hawker’s version. One of Baring Gould’s sources apparently provided him with a partial copy of the song taken down by their mother circa 1820 but neither Baring Gould’s notes in Songs and Ballads of the West nor his manuscripts provide much detail. Following correspondence with the Game Keeper of Pencarrow, Frank Abbot, Baring Gould eventually attributed the origin of the ballad to one Dogget, a servant of the Arscotts who used to run with the hounds.
Baring Gould is quite disparaging of Dogget’s version suggesting that he “spoilt and vulgarized” it from an older and finer ballad. This reveals more about Baring Gould than it does about the ballad. Baring Gould was caught up in the Romantic Movement of the time that saw folk songs as relics from a golden cultural past with a rich Bardic tradition. He also had a tendency to alter the songs he collected on publication to fit in with his view of what folk songs should be like and was not alone in this. Baring Gould gave concert parties to bring the songs he collected to a wider audience and, as “Arscott of Tetcott” included “The Pencarrow Hunt” in the programme. He was unhappy with the original text attributed to Dogget and changed the narrative so that that the hounds leaped off the cliffs at Penkenner closely followed John Arscott himself. Finishing with the verse:
When the tempest is howling, his horn you may hear,
And the bay of the hounds in their headlong career:
For Arscott of Tetcott loves hunting so well.
That he breaks for the pastime from Heaven – or Hell.
Baring Gould’s biographers describe him as someone with a keen sense of the moral responsibilities of the landed gentry and alcoholic hunting parties were probably not included in these responsibilities!
In terms of meanings and mediation it was the melody provided by the schoolmaster at Tetcott, J. Richards, which really inspired Baring Gould. He identified it with the Welsh tune Welsh “Difyrwch Gwyr Dyfi” from a collection of Welsh airs published by Edward Jones in 1784.
From Edward Jones’ Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards transposed to G for comparison
In his introduction to Songs and Ballads of the West published in 1891, Baring Gould suggests that Dartmoor and not the Tamar was the boundary between the Anglo Saxons of the East and the Celts of the West. He supports this by pointing out the distinctive nature of the melodies he found during his research in the area. A melody shared between the Celts of Wales and the Celts of the West fitted his world view perfectly. Several versions of the tune were identified by Baring Gould from oral tradition, but he felt that the modal variations provided by J. Benney of Menhenniot were particularly haunting and Celtic.
Melody Taken Down for Baring Gould By Frank W Bussel from J Benney of Menhenniot April 1891
Cecil Sharp, who collaborated with Baring Gould to publish a revised edition of Songs of the West in 1905, had quite a different world view. Like Baring Gould he subscribed to the Romantic Movement and the notion of a past, golden, cultural age but Sharp’s was an English one and not Celtic. We find this reflected in the updated notes on the ballad in the revised edition. Here we find that the tune is now not Celtic at all but that it originates in England and is set to the Welsh words by Edward Jones. Notwithstanding the Celtic versus English debate these various publications did serve to plough “The Pencarrow Hunt” / “Arscott of Tetcott” back into the domain of oral tradition.
The ballad was firmly reclaimed for the Celtic world by Celto-Cornish revivalist, Henry Jenner, when he submitted it for inclusion in Alfred Graves “Songs of the Six Celtic Nations” published in 1928. Although this was after Baring Gould’s death it had been planned for some time, Jenner had corresponded with him on the project and drew heavily upon his work for the Cornish section of this publication. The 1920s were a key period for the Celtic Revival in Cornwall and saw the formation of the Old Cornwall Societies and the inaugural ceremonies of Gorsedh Kernow. Folklore and tradition was an important element of the Celtic revival and “Songs of the Six Celtic Nations” ensured that ballads like “The Pencarrow Hunt” were included in the revival repertoire.
“The Pencarrow Hunt” makes quite a different appearance in the “Racca” project 1995-1997. The aim of the project was to capture Cornish tunes in a moment of time from both oral tradition and contemporary composition. Two versions of the tune for “The Pencarrow Hunt” are included and are an expression of Cornish instrumental tradition. It is from here that the tune migrated to the Gwari Bosvenna, the Bodmin Play which takes place on the first Saturday in July as part of the Bodmin Heritage celebrations. Here the tune is used as the lament for the Beast when it is captured and found guilty of being Cornish.
Cornish folk musician, Richard Trethewey, was commissioned to write an arrangement using a Cornish Language version of the words with the original Welsh tune by Lowender Peran Celtic Festival in November 2018 as part of its “Levow Brythonnek” / “Brythonic Voices” celebrations. No doubt “The Pencarrow Hunt” will continue its journey across the landscape and through time to bring us more stories and more insights.
 Johann Gottfried Von Herder, ed. Volkslieder. ( Leipzig, Weygandschen Buchhandlung,1778: but see discussion of this in John Francmanis, “Folk song and the ‘folk’: a relationship illuminated by Frank Kidson’s Traditional Tunes” in Folk Song: Tradition, Revival, and Re-Creation, ed. Ian Russel and David Atkinson (Aberdeen, The Elphinstone Institute, 2004), p186-187.
 Robert Stephen Hawker. Footprints of Former Men in Far Cornwall. (London, 1870)
 Robert Stephen Hawker. “Ballad Lore” in Willis,G. Current Notes: a series of articles on Antiquities, Biography Heraldry, History. Language. Literature. Topography curious customs &c. (London, G.Willis, 1853)
 Sabine Baring-Gould, R. H. Fleetwood Shepherd, “Introduction”, Songs and Ballads of the West: A Collection made from the mouths of the people, (London, Methuen & Co.1891).
 W.H.Luke. J.Arscott, esq of Tetcote and his jester Black John (Plymouth, W.H.Luke, Steam Printer to His Majesty, Bedford Street, 1880
 Baring Gould collection, Wren Trust available online at https://www.vwml.org/record/SBG/3/1/11
 Holland Cohan Bickford Dickinson. Sabine Baring-Gould: Squarson, Writer and Folklorist, 1834-1924. (Newton Abbot, David & Charles, 1970), pp.117 and 123; Se also Martin Graebe. As I walked out, Sabine Baring-Gould and the search for the Folk Songs of Devon and Cornwall,(Oxford, Signal Books, 2017)
 Edward Jones. Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards:Preserved by Tradition, and Authentic Manuscripts, from Remote Antiquity. (London: The author, 1784) p129
 Alfred Percival Graves.The Celtic song book : being representative folk songs of the six Celtic nations. (London, E. Benn. 1928).
 Frances Bennet, Hilary Coleman, Nick Crowhurst, Merv Davey, Rosie Fierek, eds. Racca 2: Cornish Tunes for Cornish Sessions, (CaIstock, Racca Project, 1997).
 Alex Langston. From Granite to Sea: The folklore of Bodmn Moor & East Cornwall, (London, Troy Books,2018) p.138