September - Crying the Neck in Cornwall

Written by Anne Newman 14th December 2019

Crying The Neck is a tradition once common in Devon and Cornwall. It declined following the invention of combine harvesters. No longer celebrated in Devon, in Cornwall it was revived in the early twentieth century by the Old Cornwall Society.

The Story of Cornwall, by Kenneth Hamilton Jenkin, has the following explanation:

"In those days the whole of the reaping had to be done either with the hook or scythe. The harvest, in consequence, often lasted for many weeks. When the time came to cut the last handful of standing corn, one of the reapers would lift up the bunch high above his head and call out in a loud voice.....,

"I 'ave 'un! I 'ave 'un! I 'ave 'un!"

The rest would then shout,

"What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee?"

and the reply would be:

"A neck! A neck! A neck!"

Everyone then joined in shouting:

"Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck! Hurrah for Mr. So-and-So"(calling the farmer by name.)"

Guldize, Gooldize or Goel dheys (sometimes dicklydize or Nickly Thize) is the harvest festival of Cornwall. Guldize is Cornish language for "the feast of ricks" (i.e., grain stacks).

The festival itself was held at the end of the harvest and took the form of a vast feast usually around the time of the Autumn Equinox. The ceremony of Crying the neck took place before the feast, the neck being formed into a Corn dolly which presided over the celebrations.

Since 2008 a revived Guldize celebration has been held in Penzance and since 2010 in several other locations across Cornwall. The Guldize feast was famous for its food and drink, including a steamed pudding called Guldize Pudding, which became popular all year round in some Cornish homes. Quite often, a large lamb or beef stew was cooked for the occasion and eaten by the farm workers.

Sometimes, the farm workers would try and smuggle the “neck” of corn (the last corn to be cut) into the feast. If they were caught by the people preparing the food, a bucket of water was thrown over them, but if they succeeded they would receive a kiss from one of the girls attending.

A number of traditional dances are associated with the events of Guldize including “Cock in Britches”, which copies the process of sowing and harvesting grain.

There are now several Guldize events in Cornwall including in Penzance where the Saturday nearest the Equinox is always celebrated. The wheat harvest of old seems to have been some 2-4 weeks later than today the chosen date in Penzance reflects this, in fact there are several chapel harvest celebrations in West Cornwall that fall in the first week of October.

In a harvest scene in the third episode of the second series of the 2015 of Poldark (S02 E03), Francis Poldark performs the tradition at Trenwith, his estate.

A. K. Hamilton Jenkin wrote about it in his book Cornish Homes and Customs,

On the evening of the day on which the neck was cut the harvesters would repair to the farmhouse kitchen. Here numerous company in addition to farmers own family would sit down to a substantial meal of broiled pork and potatoes, the second course consisted of Apple pie, cream and 'fuggans' the whole being washed down with cider and spirits.

The playing of music and communal singing followed sometimes throughout the night. A number of songs in particular have been recorded as being sung on these occasions, including "Green Brooms", "Here's a health to the barley mow", and "Harvest Home".

A number of customs also were associated with the feast; a man would have been chosen to rush to the site of the feast with the corn neck and enter the building by stealth avoiding an appointed lady who would have soaked the carrier of the neck if discovered. If this game was successful then the carrier of the neck would have been entitled to take a kiss from female "guard" of the property.

The earliest reference to Guldize was in 1602 by Richard Carew in his Survey of Cornwall.