Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Betty Stogs

Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog, in an article about the largely forgotten Cornish folklorist William Bottrell - see William Bottrell and the Strangest Funeral Procession in the World - just quoted a wonderful uncredited obituary imagining a funeral cort├Ęge for Bottrell consisting of a throng of characters and entities (most of whom/which I'd never heard of) from Cornish folklore.

One not there, who ought to be, is Betty Stogs. The earliest account I can find of her is in Robert Hunt's 1865 Popular romances of the west of England; or, The drolls, traditions, and superstitions of old Cornwall (here's a 1908 reprint in the Internet Archive: ID popularromanceso00huntuoft). It's an extremely interesting book.

The story Betty Stogs and Jan the Mounster, which has a bit of a social engineering subtext, tells of Betty, a scruffy, lazy woman given to "courseying" (wandering house-to-house to gossip); in the version collected by Hunt, she allegedly lived near Towednack. She never darns her stockings, but just lets them sag to hide the worn heels. She finds an equally scruffy partner, Jan the Mounster (i.e. monster) who gets her pregnant but refuses to marry her until her father comes up with a dowry. They don't get on because Betty has in addition got a gin habit, can't cook, and tries to wash his watch in dirty dishwater. She's extremely neglectful to her baby, which gets as dirty as its parents. But at a year old, he disappears. After a search, he's found in a thicket, on a bed of moss, wrapped in clean clothing and sprinkled with flowers, spick and span from having been cleansed in the morning dew. The fairies had planned to take him as a changeling, but had taken so long to clean him up that dawn had broken, and they had to leave him behind. Betty and Jan are chastened by the experience, and mend their ways (or at least somewhat). Here's the story, starting page 103, or you can read the 1865 edition at Google Books.

Betty Stogs beer pump logo
Beer drinkers will recognise Betty from her incarnation as Skinner's Brewery's' "Queen of Cornish Beer"; their flagship beer is named after her. I didn't realise until Googling her name last week that she was based on a folklore character. Skinner's  has adopted her in both her original scruffy incarnation with wrinkled socks, and in her cleaned-up version in which she has become something of a force of nature, represented by the brewery at festivals and charity fundraisers in true mumming / folk custom fashion as a burly man - former Cornish-style wrestling champion Fred Thomas - in drag.

Skinner's promotional poster
I especially like the style of the new promotional poster by by Nick Berringer and Stuart Thorn, "intended to emphasise the ale’s origins as Betty remains devoutly Cornish while exploring the big wide world", in which the now-slightly-genteel Betty goes to a posh restaurant, but still has beer and a giant Cornish pasty. They promise more. See the Skinner's events page for details.

- Ray

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