Broughton (pronounced Browton) Tin Can band is a unique survival. Every year on the Monday morning – that is 12 midnight (accounts always say Sunday night but call me a pedant it’s not strictly is it) – villagers carry pans, metal dustbin lids, spoons, sticks, forks, spanners and anything that clangs, dongs, thumps or beats. It is not organised, planned or ordered but it happens every year. It has been going on as far as we know for 300 years. Why? Read on.
One man band
The Tin Can band had been on my radar for many years and finally I decided to see for myself what it was all about. I arrived in Broughton – streets dressed for Christmas but not a soul to be seen along its streets. I headed for the Red Lion, which advertised itself as the pre-Tin Band location and in the back of the pub were the carol singers, the nucleus of the said ‘band’. It appeared I was not the only one here to experience this curious custom for sitting at the table were two other researchers who can come to make a film and make sound recordings. Soon another visitor turned up guided in by the pub’s landlord as here’s another one of your lot! It was quite interesting that many of the attendees appeared quite surprised that anyone knew of it – I added that virtually every general folklore book has it mentioned which surprised them even more! Some interestingly, seemed reluctant to be filmed as well – hence why I blurred some faces!
Strike up the band!
Leaving at the pub at 11.50 giving me a few moments to walk to the church as we walked we debated whether it was at the church porch or at the bottom of the gates…I said it was more likely considering how dark the grounds of the church was that the gates seemed a sensible location. It was the gates. The first to arrive were some seven youths. Now usually upon seeing some teenagers holding spanners and crowbars at midnight down a lane I would keep quiet (or run the other way!). However, they seemed genuine enough and keen to get involved. Was this everyone? Fortunately not as soon a larger group of older people arrived carrying their pans, metal trays, whistles and spoons some suspiciously looking like they had come from the nearby pub!
Just before twelve a shadowy figure could be seen coming down the church path his cloak fluttering in the wind – it was the vicar Canon Revd Brian Withington. I thought he might have appeared to give some sort of disapproving sermon but fortunately not, the complete opposite he was there to give his blessing. On the BBC 4 documentary he does go onto disclose that he had joined, justifying if it was to drive out evil that was okay! This was a feature of the custom I was unaware of! Furthermore it was good to see the event advertised in the church’s newsletter. As soon as the church’s clock chimed twelve he read the Collect for Advent:
“Alrighty God give us Grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us with great humility and in the last day he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead we may rise to the life immortal to him who liveth and reigneth with the holy ghost. Now and ever Amen.”
Then as his force rose to the occasion he called out:
“So put away all that is evil tonight as you go around the village as you make a racket.”
At this point ironically perhaps the heaven’s opened and heavy rain began to fall..this was no discouragement for the assembled ‘band’ who shock and rattled, whistled, honked, yelled and cried at message from the vicar. They then maked their way off bashing, smashing, whacking, hooting and whistling down the streets. The route took the main streets of the town; Church Street, Glebe Avenue, High Street and Gate Lane bringing a curious cacophony for these quiet streets.
Band on the run
The Broughton Tin Can Band has had as rough a journey as the music. It has always been controversial and complaints from the usual suspects resulted in 1929 that the Parish council appeared to have set about trying to stop what they saw as an undated and clearly anti-social practice noting that:
“Notice is hearby given that at a meeting at Broughton Parish council given on September 17th 1929, it was resolved that the practice of the Beating of Tin Kettles and the noise created thereby on Broughton streets must cease and will not be allowed.”
This thus would make it an arrestable offence! The police were called in and it is said appeared to have enjoyed the event much I am sure to the Parish’s chagrin. Finally they were forced to issue arrests and fined fifty-four people. However, as the village was still supported by the villagers and a dance was held which paid for the fines! Some elderly people still live in the village apparently proudly displaying their fines! The following year the police presence was reduced and fewer arrests and soon it appears to have returned to normal. Local people have been victims Mr Stamper notes that when they first moved there they had their metal dustbin lid taken…but a visit to the police station the next day found all the lost metal dust bin lids laying on the lawn for collection!
This has not been the only time. Three years ago it was close to be stopped but as John Stamper relates that there were enough people in the village who would be very upset it had. This was probably as a result of some undesirable elements joining the throng. The Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph 2007 notes:
“However, last year the fun was marred by anti-social behaviour which saw vandals damaging street lights, signposts and garden fences. Police were called to the event after a series of incidents.”
These appear to have been people from outside the village and indeed the youths of our throng did seem to spend more time hitting lamp-posts and pins then what they were carrying. They appeared to get admonished for this but again as John Stamper notes again on a BBC4 Lives in the Landscape:
“Once hour a year not going to kill anyone!”
And they generally grow up, more on or get girl-friends. Furthermore, in an essence this sort of ‘vandal’ behaviour is surely part of the appeal of the custom and it needs young blood to keep it going and if they get some sort of pleasure out of bashing bins and rattling railings…that’s the point of it! They all good humoured with it and importantly stopped when everyone else did.
Then back at the church the ‘band’ retired for the year…the group all linking arms to sing Auld Lang Syne…or at least the verse everyone knows and they disappeared into the darkness – presumably to bed! The rain then stopped. My companions remarked that that was what you got when you are trying to cast out evil spirits. And spookily according to folklorist Doc Rowe the same happened the year before!
What are the origins of this custom?
Unsurprisingly for such as anti-social custom its history is a little lacking. The custom is most often linked to the principle of ‘rough music’ which was an ad hoc custom undertaken by villagers to drive out an undesirable – a wife beater or philander – a tradition most recently seen during a mock funeral for Margaret Thatcher in Goldthorpe Yorkshire. The focus on this ire is said to be gypsies. However, as one local questioned in the BBC4 documentary that it could not be for gypsies as there were some in the locale! The other equally plausible theory is that it was used to drive out evil spirits. However, the two are not mutually exclusive as gypsies were through to cast spells and brought about evil.
One rarely made association is that the event is staged near what would have been Old St Andrew’s Day or Tander’s Day. This was a feast day particularly celebrated by lace makers, of which there were a number in Northamptonshire. Furthermore, Thomas Sternberg of Dialect and Folklore of Northamptonshire collected the following account from the mid 1880s which looks significant:
“Tander – of the numerous red-letter days which diversified the lives of our ancestors, this is the only one which has survived to our own times in anything like its pristine manner…Drinking and feasting prevail in a riotous extent. Towards evening the sober villagers appear to have suddenly smitten with a violent taste for masquerading. Women may be seen walking about in male attire, while men and boys donned the female dress, and visit each other’s cottages, drinking hot ‘eldern wine’; the staple beverage of the season.”
Since this account the custom has died out. However it is interesting to speculate that the Broughton Tin Can Band may have arisen this way. The association with St Andrew is supported by the fact that the church is dedicated to the saint and so the village would have celebrated the day as a patronal day. Furthermore there certainly were lace makers in the 1800s in the village according to the census, but it is not clear how many. I did not see any ‘men and boys donned the female dress’ but there were quite a few’ Women may be seen walking about in male attire’ well trousers anyhow!
Whatever the truthful origins of the custom it is something the village must preserve. The group were keen to have it continue and wondered how they could ensure it preserved. Hopefully this small contribution There will always been those who disagree with it but being so unique it needs to be kept. However, understandably a custom which is set on midnight in December on a Sunday night-Monday morning might not have any takers. Numbers have waved over the years from the 100s said to have attended years back down to one lone drummer in the war years. When I attended there were 22. The greatest risk to the custom is not the complainers but like many customs apathy! So if you are reading this blog post and live near Broughton, nothing to do on Sunday night, have tin pan and will travel…don’t forget first Sunday after the 12th December.