Lelant-an unlikely village for rebellion?

St Ives Ruffians disrupt Lelant Fair (1823)

In a recent documentary concerning St Ives artists after the war, Lelant was inaccurately referred to, by a Cambridge academic as,” a dingy suburb of St Ives. In fact Lelant has usually been regarded as a prosperous and well appointed village. However, in 1823, some six years after the death of Jane Austen, the English countryside could become the venue for rebellious behaviour though perhaps without the political focus that have characterised recent demonstrations. The Bullingdon Club at this time was well established as a hunting and cricket club. William Webb Ellis was to “invent” rugby, a channel for excessive testosterone after the events described below, a few months later in that same year.

Disgraceful Outrage

“A most disgraceful outrage was committed at Lelant Fair, or rather revel, on the night of Friday last, by a gang of ruffians from the well known Borough of St Ives, Cornwall, who entered the place shortly after nightfall, armed with bludgeons; and whilst some commenced an attack upon the standings which were covered with tempting viands for the refreshment of rural beaux and belles, and the youthful miners and ball maidens; others behaved with great brutality to such of the females as came within their reach, and attacked such of the young men as attempted to rescue their female friends from the rude hands of these savages. The uproar that ensued may be more easily conceived than described; the crash of the standings, the screams of the affrighted damsels, the calls of their protectors and of the owners of the standings for assistance, produced a compound of discordant sounds not often equalled in this now peaceable county. The ruffians were, however, speedily masters of the field, and the discomfited and terrified multitude fled to the adjacent houses for shelter. The greater part rushed into the public houses which were filled with company:- here they were persued by the brutal miscreants , who commenced breaking the windows , demolishing the windows etc. They were at length opposed by a number of young men, who rallied in defence of the females and the houses; when, as cowardly as they were brutal and ferocious, the St Ives ruffians fled under cover of the darkness; but as soon as they saw an opportunity, they rallied and commenced an attack upon the windows. They were at length driven from the field ; but not before upwards of twenty of them were identified, who will have to answer for their conduct in a Court  of Justice. When it is considered that few, comparatively, are benefited and that numbers are seriously annoyed by the annual nuisance denominated Lelant Fair, its discontinuance would be regarded as a public benefit”.-(West Briton)

Reported in The Morning Post Wednesday, August 27, 1823



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