Lammas, the Harvest, and an eccentric Cornish pastor

The schools are out, and here in the UK, summer is proving to be a bit of a washout. It’s interesting to see how ancient festivals based around the seasons still play out in our modern-day lives. We still tether school holidays to Christian festivals. These echo older traditions based around the agricultural year. The summer holidays were a means to rope the children into going out onto the fields to collect the harvest.


I like to mirror the cycles in nature. This time of year is all about the harvest. Lammas and Lughnasadh are two of the names it goes by. I ‘plant’ ideas in the winter and this is the time of year to reap the benefits (or see what didn’t materialise as planned and see where I can make improvements).

What are you personally harvesting from the seeds you sowed at the beginning of this year? What do you have in abundance? What are you grateful for?

Harvest time covers many months and many of you are aware of the traditional harvest festival celebrated in October. What you may not know is it originated in Cornwall.

Robert Stephen Hawker

Robert Stephen Hawker was born in Devon, in 1803 and followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and became a reverend. Set aside any preconceptions you may have about a 19th-century member of the clergy. Even in his own time, Hawker was seen as an eccentric.

But let me keep on track. In 1843, Hawker invited those from his parish in Morwenstow, Cornwall, to celebrate and thank God for providing a plentiful harvest. Suffice to say, the event proved so popular, people still celebrate it.

Morwenstow is right on the north Cornwall/Devon border. Having lived a few miles down the coast in Bude for most of my life, I know it’s windblown and a bastard to get to. Back in the day, it was also a prime spot for shipwrecks and wrecking. Hawker’s church and vicarage are a short walk to the coast. He built the vicarage, but the most interesting dwelling he built is found nestled in the cliff, Hawker’s Hut.

Hawker’s Hut

Partially built into the cliff face, Hawker’s Hut was constructed using shipwrecked timbers and driftwood washed up on the beach below. By the sounds of it, Hawker built himself a writing cabin. Here he could take in the ever changing Atlantic view, smoking opium while getting the words down. Hawker penned many letters, poems and stories from the hut. He even invited some well know visitors, such as Alfred Tennyson.

South along the coast path by the headland Higher Sharpnose Point is a waterfall. Go north and you’ll find another, and an old Holy Well dedicated to St Morwenna. I had no luck finding it, but I had no desire to scramble down a precarious-looking cliff in high winds to go looking for it—maybe another time.

Cornwall has a varied geology and the prevailing winds mean no stretch of coastline is quite the same. Here, the north coast is continuously battered by wind and wave. Hawker’s Hut is a comfortable size for one, but you can squeeze in two or three more at a push. The stable-styled door means the occupant can keep the worst of the weather out while enjoying the sea views.

And what views! I’m biased, I know. Having lived in Cornwall all my life, I am rarely out of sight or earshot of the sea. Speak of nature and typically we think of green spaces, but I equally think of the delineation between the land and sea. The beaches and clifftops are the places I go to unwind and recharge. Here on the north coast, in a wind so fierce it robs you of breath, the sensation is exhilarating. Although it is more comfortable to visit the beach on a warm day with a slight breeze with the sea a sparkling azure, I can’t help but enjoy (and endure) those cold, wet, windy days where the elements turn the sea a slate grey and the sea mist enshrouds the headland.

The Clergyman Coastguard

It can’t have been nice weather to be in if you were on a ship. As I mentioned earlier, shipwrecks were common, and wreckers were opportunists who used lanterns on the clifftop to lure ships onto the rocks. Drowned crew members were typically buried in the sand or left in the sea to be carried out or washed up elsewhere along the coastline. The Caledonia is one such wreck which foundered in 1842. Five of its nine crew drowned. Hawker, being a compassionate Christian, gave the crew a Christian burial in his churchyard. The ship’s figurehead was used as a marker for their graves.

Going against the sombre vicar look, Hawker liked to wear colourful clothing. After he died in 1875, a biography alluded to other quirks, such as the time Hawker dressed up as a mermaid and excommunicating the cat for mousing on Sundays.

The Song of the Western Men

Hawker’s enduring legacy left in the Cornish is his poem, The Song of the Western Men, also known as Trelawny, which was published in 1826. In 1861, Louisa T. Clare set the poem to music and Cornwall’s national anthem was born. While the chorus is an additional part of his original poem, it is the part which everyone can happily belt out loud, “And shall Trelawny live? Or shall Trelawny die? Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men, will know the reason why!”

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