Custom demised: Peterborough’s St Catherine’s Day Parade

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January 29, 1536 - Burial of Catherine of Aragon - Janet Wertman

T.F. Thistleton Dwyer in his British Popular customs present and past (1875) records that:

“At one time it was customary, at Peterborough, till the introduction of the new poor laws, for the female children belonging to the workhouse, attended by the master, to go in procession round the city on St. Catherine’s Day. They were all attired in white, and decorated with various coloured ribbons, principally scarlet.”

This appeared to be a moral formalised approach to the St. Catherine Day begging undertaken as he continues:

“the tallest girl was selected to represent the Queen, and was adorned with a crown and sceptre. The procession stopped at the houses of the principal inhabitants, and they sang the following rude ballad, begging for money at every house as they passed along :

” Here comes Queen Catherine, as fine as any queen, With a coach and six horses a coining to be seen. And a spinning we will go, will go, will go, And a spinning we will go. Some say she is alive, and some say she is dead, Aud now slie does appear with a crown upon her head. And a spinning we will go, &c. Old Madam Marshall she takes up her pen, And then she sits and calls for all her royal men. Aud a spinning we wQl go, &o. All yon that want employment, though spinning is but small, Come list, and don’t stand still, but go and work for all. And a spinning we will go, & If we set a spinning, we will either work or play, But if we set a spinning we can earn a crown a day. And a spinning we will go, &c. And if there be some young men, as I suppose there’s some. We’ll hardly let them stand alone upon the cold stone. And a spinning we will go, &c.”

The author reflects that as St. Catherine was the patron of the spinners, as well as of spinsters, and that spinning being formerly the employment of the females at the workhouse, it naturally followed that they should be selected to commemorate the anniversary of this Saint. He recorded that early entries in the Dean and Chapter’s accounts for payments of wheels and reels for the children show it to be of  great antiquity. When it ceased is not known but presumably as the workhouses closed and spinning replaced with more mechanical procedures its enactors would have slowly died out.

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