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Who'll give me a couple of quid for the missus?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 11, 2012

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Had enough of the wife? Fancy trading the old girl in? Then get along to Redruth on Friday-week and see how much she fetches.

Such a dangerous suggestion would have been the main topic of humour in the bars of the former mining town back in 1819, when one William Hodge proposed selling his missus to the highest bidder.

Hodge had apparently announced a few days earlier that he proposed to auction his wife in the hope of raising sufficient funds to leave the country.

It all sounds like the plot of an unlikely farce, but both William Hodge and his unfortunate wife, Rebecca, were real people, as was the highest bidder, William Andrew.

Reported in the Royal Cornwall Gazette of December 1819, it was stated that "a disgraceful scene, the first of its kind witnessed at Redruth, took place here on Friday night, when a fellow led his wife by a straw band into the market and offered her for sale".

It went on: "He was heard to cry: A woman for sale. Who'll purchase?"

After some fierce bidding and haggling, Hodge accepted half a crown and handed her over to William Andrew, who led her away. Although married, the Hodges had not lived together for some years – and who can blame poor Mrs Hodge?

Hodge and the successful bidder were arrested some time later. Andrew appeared at Truro Quarter Sessions and was fined one shilling and jailed for three months, while Hodge appeared at Lostwithiel Quarter Sessions and sentenced to three months' hard labour. The case was described by the judge as a "an offence so disgusting that we hope it will never be repeated in the county".

Next week, the whole affair will be re-enacted as part of the town's annual Miners' Day, which is part of a three-day festival celebrating the area's industrial past.

Under the banner of "miners, Mexicans and mass crimpers", the weekend of activities begins on September 21 with Miners' Day and continues with Pasty Day, when bakers will turn the town centre into a street market paying homage to pastry – considered by any self-respecting Cornish man and woman as part of your "five a day".

Alongside traditional fillings of chuck steak, teddy, swede and onion, there will a selection of Mexico-inspired fillings specifically cooked up for the occasion by Berryman's Bakery. Among these will be chicken fajita, chilli-beef and chocolate, refried bean and cheese, and pineapple, banana with chilli chocolate.

Now twinned with Real del Monte in Mexico, an area referred to as "Little Cornwall" because of the number of miners and their families who moved there during the 19th century, Redruth will welcome seven Mexican representatives who host a similar "paste" festival every year.

On the Saturday afternoon, expert bakers will help 500 children to make their own free pasty, using ingredients donated by Prima Bakery, Etherington Butchers and Gear Farm. The event will culminate in a mass pasty-eating picnic.

David Rutherford, of the World Heritage Site, which is supporting the events, said: "Redruth forms part of the world heritage site and the history of the pasty is a tale we continue to tell. It is fitting for us to support the pasty festival. Events like these help to promote the stories of how mining culture has shaped our world and again pinpoints areas of the site as having global significance."

The festival continues on the Sunday with commemorative events at Basset Stamp House and St Euny church, when the Cornish men, women and children who laboured underground and on the surface to meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving world. Their stories will be told at a special exhibition on global migration at Murdoch House.

Town development manager Lee Dunkley said: "There is no more apt a place as Redruth – the heart of Cornish mining – to host the first of what is hoped to become an annual event celebrating this most iconic of Cornish products and one synonymous with mining heritage here and abroad. Redruth's Miners' Day and Memorial Day continue to remind us of our mining heritage, along with the part the town played during the industry's heyday. We believe the pasty festival will become an annual event, attracting locals and visitors to the town and making it an extended cultural weekend for all the family."

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