Once while on one of our trips my other half and I were taking in just another orange Caribbean sunset when we heard what we thought was a party just a few dusty streets away.
It may have been the rum or the weeks on the road with little in the way of night life but we quickly decided we had better investigate further. To our surprise what we discovered was not a night club but a church. The place was so alive. The parishioners were dancing in the aisles, whooping and singing, clapping and laughing. The children were running about playing, there was no solemn formality, just joy.
Outside the night was now deep dark and I remember looking in the windows at the warm glow of the lightbulbs and feeling the happiness shining out. We both agreed right then if church at home in England had been like that we would have gone every Sunday.
There was one man I think that would have known exactly what we meant. During his lifetime and in some ways to this day his joy in his religion is what has made him so loved
and so memorable. It is also what has made him in some ways a little bit of a joke too.
Billy Bray found religion after hitting rock bottom (almost literally). He was a poor miner and a riotous drunk and it was a near fatal accident at work that stunned him into thinking about his life. Quite suddenly and to the astonishment of those around him he found God and became a preacher for the next 43 years.
But the main reason that Billy Bray is still remembered all this time later is that he was renowned for breaking into spontaneous singing and dancing in the middle of his sermons.
He would say “He has made me glad and no one can make me sad. He makes me shout and no one can make me doubt…”
In fact as well as his happy feet Billy also became renowned for his enthusiastic little sayings:”If they were to put me into a barrel, I would shout glory out through the bunghole!”.
When someone told him that they were less than impressed with his singing voice he is said to have replied: “God would just as soon hear a crow as a nightingale. I’ll sing all I want to sing and if I shut my mouth, my feet would still shout. Every time my left foot hits the ground, it says ‘Amen!’ And every time my right foot hits the ground it says, ‘Glory’ and I just can’t help myself.”
The first person that Billy converted was his long suffering wife, Joanna who it seems had supported them and their children during his former drunken life before his conversion. But Billy was a changed man and as well as the 7 children they had together he also raised 2 orphans and built 3 chapels. The ‘Three Eyes’ Chapel at Kerley Downs is the only one that remains and it is beautiful peaceful little place that is open to the public. (The Three Eyes name is in reference to its windows I believe.)
I for one think that Mr Bray must have brought a great deal of fun and laughter to those around him. He certainly left an impression on the local miners by providing Sunday School outings of hundreds of their children in the Carharrack area. One such day out was reported in the West Briton in 1847, the article says that the 200 ragged children were entertained with a band and a choir of singers and that this was followed by lashings of tea and cake for everyone.
I am not religious in the conventional sense but the way I see it is that faith should be about supporting and enlivening the lives of those around you and that Billy Bray most certainly did.
For more local legends take a look at my page devoted to Cornish Characters: Cornish Folk