Updated 4 Mar 2007

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Photo 509


Coconut shy, Wirksworth Fair 1886

These photos from an old album were provided by Brenda Pearson, (see Elizabeth Wright's Album 1888). They show a fair in the Market Place in Wirksworth, and are dated 1886. There is a Merry-go-round in the right photo, and a brass band marches up West End in the left photo. Another photo #02 shows swings. In the foreground, two coconut shies are unusual, as the earliest mention of such a shy in the OED is 1903. However, a photo exists showing a coconut shy about 1870. The nearer shy seems to be made of bladders, perhaps painted with a face, like an "Aunt Sally". A wooden post shows where the thrower must stand. The Red Lion Commercial Hotel is in the background, and 2 policemen stroll through the crowd. Six stalls can be seen, and three umbrellas, though there is strong shadow. A two boys sit on a bag of what might be coconuts. A dwarf in a bowler follows the band. Only the further shy seems to be active, with curtains rigged round the back and side, to protect against the missiles used (though there is no trace of these). Perhaps light wooden balls were used, like today, which just bounce off a coconut, but "sticks"are mentioned in a reference below. The floor of the shies has been lined with groundsheets. It is likely that the fair shown was held on Shrove Tuesday, before Easter Sunday (Easter is a moveable Feast between late March and late April). In those days, "coconut" was spelled "cocoa-nut". If anyone knows more about old coconut shies, please contact the author on ..
These look like conventional coconuts,
mounted in hoops attached to iron shy stands.
These don't look like coconuts, more like discs or bladders,
perhaps with a face painted on?

More about the subject

    Brett Payne of NZ writes:
    Dear John,
    I found several groups of travelling showmen while looking at photographers in the census records. It appears that the fairground groups usually had a couple of more or less itinerant photographers in their midst. I have also noticed several "swing boat proprietors" - I wonder if the "swings" in one of the other photographs on your pages were actually "swing boats"?

    Regards and best wishes, Brett
    Brett Payne of NZ writes:
    Dear John,
    I don't have the emails to hand, but you initiated a thread recently on the Derbyshire List regarding a photograph that you had of what looked like a coconet shy. Well, I have found an entry in the 1891 Census which might be of interest to you:

    1891 Census: Caravan, Morledge, Derby St Peter DBY RG12/2727/16/26/152:
    Abraham SMITH Head M M 35 Cocoa Nut Bowling Proprietor DBY Belper
    Martha SMITH Wife M F 30 DBY Smalley
    Carolina SMITH Dau F 4 DBY Derby

    They one of a large number of households living in caravans on Morledge, mostly show people, and including several photographers. I believe that many of the show people may have travelled the countryside, and perhaps they were in Matlock. I wonder if the coconut shy operator was the one shown in your photo?

    Regards and best wishes, Brett
    From the Herts Advertiser & St Albans Times 1881 price: One Penny
    23rd Jul p8 about WHEATHAMPSTEAD.

    RURAL FETE. - The Foresters (No. 6199), in conjunction with the Grove Lodge, M.U.Odd Fellows, held their sixth anniversary on Monday, in a meadow lent by Mr. Seabrook. The weather was beautifully fine, and there was a good attendance. Refreshments and a dinner were provided on the ground by Mr. McCulloch. About 70 sat down to a substantial repast. There were the rustic sports usual at such gatherings, viz., pony, donkey, and foot racing, cocoa-nut bowling, swings, Aunt Sally, kiss-in-the-ring, dancing, &c. An efficient brass band, conducted by Mr. Batchelor, from Coldicote, attended, and enlivened the proceedings with some selections of music. The festivities were kept up to a late hour, when there was a fine display of fire-works. The best race of the day was a pony race, in which five started, and was won by Mr. Fountaine, George Hotel, St. Albans.
    From: cocos.arecaceae.com/mercantile.html
    Coconut shy 1890

    Writers who expatiate on the enormous growth of importations and the development of trade in various foreign commodities during the last sixty or seventy years, point, among other illustrations, to the immensely increased consumption of the oil extracted from the cocoa-nut, of which an enormous number of tons reach this country from Ceylon; but few of them refer to the consumption of the cocoa-nut itself, as an indication of the advance of commercial enterprise. Yet in nearly every country fair, and in almost all the open spaces round London at holiday seasons, the cocoa-nut plays so conspicuous a part that every child is acquainted with it, most children have eaten it, and large numbers have tasted the thin, rather insipid liquor that is the "milk'' in a very deteriorated condition. The origin of the now neglected game of "Aunt Sally," also an importation from the tropics, may be attributed to the cocoa-nut; and at any rate the cocoa-nut "shy" has superseded it by providing not only for the amusement, but the cupidity of the patrons of "three sticks a penny." It has also nearly superseded the more ancient "cock shies," where the prizes were pincushions, knives, toys, and painted tin snuff-boxes - just as these covetable articles took the place of the gingerbread and gilded [. . . ] that in earlier days displaced the live cocks at which the brutal part of the population threw sticks on Shrove Tuesdays.
    Lyrics of a popular song
    Hoi've got a lo-ve-ly bunch o' coconuts.
    There they are a-standin' in a row.
    Big ones, small ones, some as big as yer 'ead!
    Give 'em a twist, a flick o' the wrist,
    That's what the showman said.

    Hoi've got a lo-ve-ly bunch o' coconuts.
    Hevery ball yer throw will make me rich.
    There stands me wife, the idol of me life,
    Singin' "roll a-bowl a ball, a penny a pitch!

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