Cornish tradition dating back to 1434 risks being cancelled over 'health and safety' fears

Cornish tradition dating back to 1434 risks being cancelled over 'health and safety' fears

Councils in Cornwall have also proposed switching off street lights for environmental reasons

GB News
James Saunders

By James Saunders

Published: 16/01/2024

- 16:50

‘Luckily there were just enough of us to stop this attempted erosion of our culture’, one councillor said

A centuries-old Cornish game is under threat from “health and safety gone mad” after a council risk assessment suggested changing the historic local tradition.

Cornish hurling, where a players throw or carry a sterling silver ball from one end of a town to another, has been played for hundreds of years, and was first recorded in 1584.

Players must pass the ball between themselves as they work their way up into the streets of St Ives until midday, at which point the final ball-holder presents it to the mayor, winning the game and collecting their five-shilling prize.

It’s a St Ives Feast Day tradition and forms part of a day of festivities to commemorate the consecration of the Parish Church of Saint Eia in 1434.

St Ives hurling, many years ago - but there are plans to change the silver ball (pictured) to a tangerine


But the game, scheduled for February 5 this year, is under threat from a more modern tradition: health and safety.

The initial phase of the game, where the mayor throws the ball down from the parish church into a crowd of players on the beach below, faced calls to be moved after children were forced by changing tides onto jagged, unstable rocks.

St Ives Town Council clerk Louise Dwelly said: “As a modern-day council we have to follow sensible health and safety practice which includes risk assessments for events.

“We have the challenge of young people, rocks and sea, so there was a discussion about whether we did enough on health and safety and managing the event, so we asked Cornwall Council for a health and safety review of the feast.”


St Ives, where King Charles III greeted crowds in his coronation year


Towards the end of the game, councillors drop pennies from the guildhall’s balcony onto players below – but the council themselves suggested a switch to chocolate coins, which was met by fierce local opposition.

A move to change the silver ball, a key part of the tradition, to a foil-wrapped tangerine was described as “health and safety gone mad”.

Cllr Andrew Mitchell said: “I couldn't believe this report when I read it... I think every previous councillor who has sat in this chamber would totally and utterly disagree with what is being proposed.

“Those who are no longer with us would be turning in their graves.”

“I totally support having a full risk assessment but a risk assessment is not to stop something happening.

“I am totally opposed to a change of venue, a change of penny and a change of ball being thrown.

“I've never said this in my life before but on this occasion, this is health and safety gone mad. I will vote as many times as I can to oppose those things.”

Johnnie Wells, the Mayor of St Ives, said: “[The beach] is the worst kind of rocks, they are shin height and they move. They are the most dangerous size of stone.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare. We are now waiting to see if the insurance companies will let it happen.”

Speaking to The Times, Wells added: “We have ended up in a bit of a hole because the people who voted to defend the tradition may cause it to be stopped.”

Cllr Luke Rogers said: “This is St Ives culture… I am absolutely shocked when we have got people moving from other parts of the UK coming to St Ives and changing local traditions – It’s 100 per cent unacceptable.

“Luckily there were just enough of us to stop this attempted erosion of our culture and nip this in the bud for now – they'll be wearing crash helmets and holding their mothers' hands next.”

Cllr Charlie Hodson said: “The people of St Ives, who we represent, would be amazed at what we're discussing here. This should never happen – leave it as it is.”

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