Saturday 3 June 2023


Since I was a kid I've seen this rhyme on tee-shirts, mugs, postcards and every kind of souvenir possible. I'm working on a series of Cornish myths - specifically ghost stories at the moment - so I thought I'd use it at the beginning of the book. I researched it to make sure there was no copyright issues and could find surprisingly little on its origins. 

Most say it comes from a 14th or 15th century Protestant chant but I couldn't find any actual records of that. A similar litany was found in print in the mid 19th century but the "things that go bump in the night" reference wasn't there.  Another litany appeared in 1850:

From witches and wizards

and long-tailed buzzards,

and creeping things that run in hedge-bottoms.

Good Lord, deliver us.

It's a bit short on the old scanning that one isn't it. Still, I might borrow it for my "witches" book. 

After 1905, the litany and the phrase "things that go bump in the night" appeared in other writings in both English and Scottish dialect so I wondered how it became known as specifically Cornish. It seems that it may have started in 1923 in a crafts community in Polperro, Cornwall. Some women were taught the craft of poke-work (burnt wood design) and the cottage industry that came of that sold many souvenirs inscribed with this rhyme to tourists. 

So maybe, after all, it's "Cornishness" stems from a creative plan by the Cornish Tourism bureau to sell more souvenirs. I'll still use it though because it's cute and suits the light-hearted tone of my book.

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