Hundreds would gather throughout mid and west Cornwall to parade during teatreats. During the late 19th century it was a mark of social status but in latter years became one of the most enjoyable dates in the year.
Cornish Methodist teatreats seemed unique. During the late 19th century and for several decades after, villages in Cornwall were served by various chapels. Each chapel had a Sunday School and the village children were expected to attend. The annual Whit Monday teatreat (a date in late May to coincide with the festival of Whitsun) was the highlight of the calendar.
They began in the 18th century and traditionally a parade would take place through the village. As it passed each chapel, that Sunday School's scholars would join the line of walkers.
A 1952 teatreat at Talskiddy
After the parade the children, joined by their families, would congregate in a large field and attend a short Christian service. Then the feast would begin - with children longing to get their hands on the teatreat bun! This was a saffron bun that was flatter than usual and the size of a tea-plate!
Professor Catherine Brace from the University of Exeter, along with her colleague Dr Adrian Bailey, has studied the earliest traditions in Cornwall:
'The teatreats were partly about celebrating the community of the Chapel and they were also about reward, as prizes were given out if it coincided with the Sunday School anniversary. To attend you had to earn your ticket by going regularly to Sunday School'.
Dr Adrian Bailey says it was quite a spectacle:
'It was a piece of street theatre that gave Methodists a sense of belonging to a community and a sense of status and pride'.
Archive documents show that organisers had to order a mass of ingredients for the butter buns; 18 dozen buns were often ordered for one teatreat using 6lbs butter and 12lbs sugar.
A 1952 teatreat at Talskiddy
Talskiddy, near St Columb Major, was another site for the teatreat, held annually at Anniversary Field. There were days of preparation before the event, from door to door collections to raise money to hire a brass band, to transporting the Chapel harmonium up to the field for the service. Dennis Ellery and Renee Trevaskis' father owned the field so they grew up with this village tradition:
'It was the gala day of the year when the whole village came to life. The women of the village used to attend to the tables, two on each end to serve the tea, and they used to bring out their best tea set'.
Afterwards the tea games would be played including the Kissing Ring or Twos and Threes:
'A young lady and a young gentleman would stand one in front of the other whilst two were selected to chase each other around the field. If the lady was caught by the gentleman he was entitled to kiss her. If she didn't really fancy him she would stand by another couple and the one in front would have to run'.
Keith Truscott from Bodmin can remember getting into trouble when he played that game at Indian Queens Pit:
A teatreat at Carbis Bay
'I had a brand new cream shirt on - because we always had something new for Sunday School anniversary - and I was running along the top ring "koosing a maid" (chasing her). I slipped down through a little gap in the hedge and I ripped my shirt on the barbed wire and Mother was not too happy!'
For years groups from around the Redruth area would take the train to Carbis Bay and take advantage of the service at Payne's tearooms. The beach, boating lake, and tearooms ensured there was something for the whole family.
Teatreats seemed to die out after the 1960's in Cornwall but Porthleven pays homage to the celebrations with its annual St Peterstide event where members of the church march through the fishing village and always end up with a teatreat bun.
last updated: 26/05/2009 at 12:42