“You want to go to Baboon Night” said Barry “Baboon what?” I said? “Baboon Night its near Grantham….they chase a baboon around the village.” He added. Now knowing Barry’s obsession with the word baboon, usually in the sense of ‘what a baboon’ I questioned its genuineness. I hadn’t heard of the custom and no…it was or is not April….I checked the internet and found it! On YouTube as below:
Oasby is a small village just outside what was once voted the most boring town in England, Grantham..however Baboon Night or more correctly Baboon Tossing Night is far from being dull and lightens, quite literally, a rather cold and dull Friday in November.
The custom is linked to a local legend; involving a pet baboon and the local land owner’s son who is said to have died at the hands of the monkey. The event dates back to 1723, when Sir Michael Newton, (relative of the more famous Isaac) kept a pet baboon at Culverthorpe Hall. It is said that when his son, Viscount Conningsby, was only only six months old, the pet threw from a window! What the instant reaction of the family is unrecorded by the son was duly buried in the chapel. The baboon? He appears to have been granted a mini mausoleum on an island on the estate. Although he was killed as a result of the incident I do believe.
Does anyone give a monkey?
Apparently so! For around 15 years ago, a local Morris team, who drank at the delightful Houblon Inn, thought it was a good idea to celebrate it or rather to drive the spirit of the creature out to placate the spirit of the young child. So they created their own custom and an eccentric one it is too! I was told by the organiser that the custom combines a number of customs, a sort of omni tradition including souling, fire based celebrations and riding the stang, indicating the folklore literacy of the organiser. The event always on the Friday when Children in Need is on is perhaps a rare example of such a folk custom being directly linked to a national TV event. Although no one appeared get the rather bizarre notion of a baby killing monkey being ‘celebrated’ on Children in Need night, although as it was clearly to remove the monkey I suppose it was defending it!
I arrived early to find the pub festooned with small toy monkeys and gorillas. There was one on a seat in a nock, two over the fire, in a photo by the door, and even a picture of newsreader John Snow with one! On the bar was the one which was the main baboon (although it was a gorilla) and beside it was our ‘baboon’ having a quiet pint…no one batted an eyelid that a man in a monkey suit was at the bar.. Soon the Oasby Morris team arrived and everyone began gathering outside. Large specially made torches were lit. The Morris Men were organising themselves with one of them the baboon finder general carrying a horn. A child was selected to carrying the baboon on a stick…this year it was my eldest boy who proudly carried it aloft. The horn was blown to call forth the baboon….three blows and then it appeared! Off we went around the village: blowing horns, shouting and chasing a man in a money costume in our torchlight procession around the village.
Monkey say Monkey do!
At the pub we stopped and the chief Morris Man, Paul Kennedy, banged on the door to gain entry to the pub.
“Landlord, landlord, let us in there’s a monkey on the loose!”
The door opened and the landlord said:
“none shall enter until the monkey goes over”
So the attempt to throw the baboon begun…fortunately not the one we were chasing for his and our back’s sake, but the one my son had been carrying. So he had the first try…wooooooooooooo..ahhhh…a valiant effort but it simply rolled down the roof. A young girl tried and again it bounced down…finally an older youth had a go and it disappeared into the darkness! The baboon was vanquished. A great little custom and one which shows how something can be completely made up and sound genuine! I was a bit disappointed with the numbers compared to the video from 2008 where there appeared to be a lot more children.. perhaps it wasn’t as well advertised? I was told that one year soon after its creation, news of it reached the Sun and a 1000 people turned up! Despite the lower numbers, it still is supported locally and I feel sure it will continue as not only is it unique but its a great gift for a pun writer…!!
– images copyright Pixyled Publications