Category Archives: Memorial

Custom survived: Building bonfires for Guy Fawkes

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“Don’t you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
‘Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made’em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away.”

Charlton in Otmoor – 1742

Bonfires and Guy Fawkes Night are synonymous so much that the name Guy Fawkes appears to be disappearing and it is now called bonfire night. But why did bonfires become associated with a remembrance which you would think would not want to celebrate with the very thing which was avoided!

The association is early as soon after the King’s escape, his council encouraged the celebrate with bonfires which were “without any danger or disorder” in 1605. One of the earliest recorded being in Dorchester, by the 1670s in London it had become an organised fire festival by the London apprentices such that in 1682 London’s militia were forced to intervene in when violence ensued and such that the following year bonfires were banned in the capital. When James II came to the thrown, fireworks were banned and the government attempted to reduce the celebrations of the day. It was unsuccessful and when he was deposed in 1688, William of Orange actively encouraged its celebration except keeping the ban on fireworks. In Nottinghamshire earliest reference of Guy Fawkes celebrations appears to 1743 as noted in the borough records. The forest ground in Nottingham is still the location of one of the largest Bonfire night celebrations, and records in 1830 and 1890 record bonfires. Celebrations appear to often cause conflict. In 1834 two shots were shot into the Wing Tavern. A report also notes:

“The anniversary of Guy Fawkes was celebrated in Newark by the ringing of bells, a large bonfire in the market place and plenty of squibs, crackers etc. Blunderbusses, guns and pistols were let off….during the evening to the annoyance of everyone walking the street.”

In a diary written by a William Moss of Mansfield (who worked as a Cooper) is the following entry for 5 November 1841:  

“Gunpowder Plot; but I think it is almost forgotten at Mansfield.  I have neither seen squib nor cracker, nor anything of the kind.  There is one bonfire at the top end of Stockwell Gate and I know not of any more in the town”.

Going ‘chumping’ was a Nottinghamshire term for collecting sticks and deadwood from hedges called ‘chump’ for Bon fires. A Bill Morely recalls the rivalry between local groups which was focused on bonfire night antics, and it is worth quoting at length:  

“Bonfire Night, and the time leading up to it, had its rituals, amazing to look back on (no nonsense about Hallowe’en in those days; I don’t suppose I heard of it until my teens). When the lead-up to Bonfire Night started, the estate split into three gangs: us, that is those who lived on or near the top end of Danethorpe Vale, Collin Green and Edingley Square, a slightly more formal square near the bottom of Caythorpe Rise. Opposite our house, by the wall of the Firs where I was born, was Hooley Street (leading to the orchards which are now Elmswood Gardens), where Hall Street had their bonfire – another gang. So the four gangs built their bonfires, and guarded them against attack from the others. Usually it was the young ones like me who were left to guard the fires whilst the bigger kids went about their business of collecting, or scouting for the enemy, or maybe just clearing off. Sometimes you’d find when you came home from school that the entire bonfire had gone. It wasn’t other gangs though; it was the council, which didn’t want the fires on its property. The most infamous of these council raids was in 1945 or ’46. The day before, or actually on November 5, (incidentally, all bonfires were on November 5, no rubbish about spreading them over three or four weeks like today) the council took Collin Green’s bonfire away. Well, with the returned soldiers saying, according to legend and no reason to disbelieve it, stuff like, “we didn’t fight a war to come home and find our kids can’t have a bonfire”, and the like, they dismantled the garden gates round the Green – all council property, of course – and rebuilt the bonfire with them. And everyone approved, even my very respectable parents. But back to the gangs: there was always a hollow in the middle of the fire, and we sat in there, ready to ward off the enemy coming to nick our fire, or possibly set fire to it. Bit stupid being inside it, of course. And there were pitched battles on the streets of the estate. The members of the other Greens were often friends, but, for a couple of weeks, we’d fight them. The fights were always the same, throwing grass-sods and sticks at each other, and always on the roads of the estate. What did the adults do? Nothing. What did they think, especially those without children? I can’t remember anyone getting hurt, and we didn’t throw stones, so perhaps we unconsciously realised it was a ritual not reality, but there were real frissons of fear and aggression. Collin Green was our main enemy. In fact, as far as I remember, all our actual fights were with them. This was all on a ‘respectable’ estate; these days it would either be much worse and seriously violent, or it just wouldn’t happen. However, we were really frightened of the Hall Street gang (did it really exist?). Hall Street had some fairly rough older boys, or so we thought, but again some of the younger kids from there were friends of mine at school. Anyway, the real fear was that Hall Street would come, and we were seriously scared of that. Did they ever? We certainly never had one of the pitched battles with them. On Bonfire Night, all the boys (girls too) came to the bonfire (on which there’d be a guy) with long poles, on the end of which were tightly bound rags, in flames and we’d set the fire going by thrusting the burning torches into it. I remember the anguish of whether I’d get there in time for the start. My mother seemed to take ages to get the rags sorted out, as no doubt the other mothers did too. Again, there was no penny-for-the-guy stuff, round our way anyway, though the guy was probably another thing to defend in the last two days. The fire always seemed to burn very fast, the guy vanishing in a few minutes, and then it was more or less over, and, no, we didn’t put potatoes or chestnuts in the fire, it was just a fire, nice and primitive.”

These large informal street fires became a thing of the past when in the 1960s the police, local authorities and fire brigade combined to prevent them and in 1963 27 organised sites were provided. In the 1990s regular sites were established in across the country from those set up to raise money for preservation railways such as that done by the Quorn railway (Leicestershire) and various ones to raise money for scouts, WIs and schools. 

Why bonfire?

Historians have often suggested that Guy Fawkes Day served as a Protestant replacement for the ancient Celtic Samhain festival. Another theory is that it transferred from Crispin’s Day celebrations. Over time the bonfire has changed of course. In 2005 David Cannadine commented on the encroachment into British culture of late 20th-century American Hallowe’en celebrations, and their effect on Guy Fawkes Night:

Nowadays, family bonfire gatherings are much less popular, and many once-large civic celebrations have been given up because of increasingly intrusive health and safety regulations. But 5 November has also been overtaken by a popular festival that barely existed when I was growing up, and that is Halloween … Britain is not the Protestant nation it was when I was young: it is now a multi-faith society. And the Americanised Halloween is sweeping all before it—a vivid reminder of just how powerfully American culture and American consumerism can be transported across the Atlantic

Despite the changes there is something still attractive to people and very well attended. People still have the primeval need to feel the warmth of the bonfire.

 

Custom demised: Ringing the bells on Guy Fawkes Night

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Ringing Photos

Across the country churches were expected to celebrate the foiling of the Gun Powder Plot. Nottinghamshire in particular has a large number of reported cases.  At East Bridgford, Gunpowder treason ringers would ‘clash or fire’ the bells in commemoration. Holme Pierrpoint churchwarden’s account notes in 1688 “payment to Gonpowder treason ringing” , and that in Gedling:

“22nd Nov 1708. Agreed that betwixt the three towns of the parish of Gedling that there be an allowance at the common usuage of ye parish for ringing of three shillings for ye fifth November”

In Worksop in 1617 it notes money was given “for ringing on ye gunpowther days”. In 1747 2s and 6d were given to Nottingham for ‘Gunpowder Treason with 6d given for candles for ringers.  Found in the Parish Constables accounts for East Leake, 1791: “5th Nov paid for Ale Gunpowder plott”

Rickinghall (Suffolk) churchwardens’ accounts of November 5th 1814 when beer was bought for the ringers, probably for ringing the bells for Guy Fawkes Nigh

In Backwell (Somerset) it is recorded in the church wardens accounts that:

“Spent upon ye ringers ye 5th November 1698 – 12/6d”

Little Cornard (Essex) records that in

“1731 when five shillings was paid to the bell ringers for their efforts on Guy Fawkes Night.”

The Penistone bell-ringers active on 5th March 1696 were paid eight shillings to ring the bells. That same year, 4s 6d was paid for ‘A bel-rop and 2d for bringing it home’.

When the last time any of these bells were rung is unclear but it may link to the removal of Guy Fawkes as a national holiday  

Custom contrived: Battle of Hastings re-enactment

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‘I don’t want to spoil the end but Harold loses in the end!’

Britain is proud of its history and indeed it is a great money spinner – thousands travel to see sites associated with historical events and sometimes these historical events come to the visitors and barring a time machine – the only way is via the battle re-enactment. The Battle of Hastings is perhaps the most famous of these and well-known. 

1066 and all that!

The very first re-enactment was organised back in 1932 and called a pageant. It was organised by a Gwen Lally and impressively attracted 2600 re-enactors. In an article for the Sussex Agricultural Express Lally told the that she and her partner Mabel Gibson:

“had felt definite psychic influences in the Abbey grounds at late rehearsals…I think that the monks were probably not displeased with us, for we were doing them no dishonour in making those lovely scenes live again”.

This was apparently a one off and is remembered by a commemorative pamphlet displayed at Battle Abbey. A regular re-enactment would not begin until understandingly English Heritage saw the commercial possibility in a regular event. This would take place at first every two years and then annually since 1984 on a weekend date closest to the 14th  October; the date closest to the actual event. Then every five or six years  it has been the site of major re-enactments. At the 2000 re-enactment, called “Hastings 2000”, about 1000 reenactors on foot 100 cavalry and between 50 and 100 archers from 16 different countries took part. That year was nearly a washout as the BBC website attests:

“She said: “Fortunately the battleground – on Senlac Hill – is high ground and in no danger of flooding.”

Not that a bit of rain would affect anyone I’d say and it would add to the reality of it. Certainly the participants really take the re-enactment serious. The air is awash with the sound of clashing swords and maces. Bodies flung against each other as the arrows flew over head. This event is heavily choregraphed but there is a real authentic feel to the conflict. Of course we are all know the outcome but that does not detract from the excitement of the event. Those doing are doing it for real almost it seems. However, not as much that the time I watched that Harold would have a chance to win…oh no this is strict to script Harold will be losing!

Walk to Victory…er defeat

There has become over time at the big events a re-enactment of the walk from Stamford Bridge to Hastings as recorded by the BBC in 2006:

“Members of a group called The Vikings, who call themselves Britain’s largest Dark Age re-enactment society, preceded the battle by restaging Harold’s dash back to Sussex.

They left York on 21 September in full period costume, passing through Nottingham, Leicester, Luton, London and Kent, before arriving in Battle on Friday.”

Again adding to the realism of the event the re-enactors being tired as were Harold’s men on the actual event.

Eye eye!

Of course we know what is going be the key thing to look out for and so does the re-enactor playing Harold as the BBC website recorded in 2006

“Roger Barry, who faced inevitable defeat as King Harold II, said he had studied the Battle of Hastings for a long time.

On acting out his character’s death, the 49-year-old soldier from Salisbury in Wiltshire said: “I have down my person somewhere an arrow or part of an arrow.

“On cue, I will clasp my eye with the arrow over it and fall gracefully to the ground.

“It’s a bit of bummer really, but sadly that’s the way it is. It’s fun, win or lose.

As I say we all know the outcome like watching a movie over and over again, there is some comfort in seeing how that inevitable end will happen! Certainly the crowds of 30000 would agree and has become one of the largest re-enactment of its kind. 

 

 

Custom survived: Harvest festivals

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As the autumn draws in, it is difficult to avoid piles of produce piling up at churches, community halls and schools, all of these being collected for annual harvest festivals which bring colour and poignancy to the drawing days.

Shine on harvest moon

For the medieval period the harvest was a major event. Every village would celebrate bringing in the harvest usually in some harvest home event and quite often a large harvest supper – with much feeding, drinking and associated activities. It was these associated activities which caused many within the church to look at supressing these events. However, others realising the need for a moment of reflection at this time looked for other alternatives.

Thus unlike other customs the origins of the custom is well recorded. It was in 1843 that the Reverend Robert Hawker established a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. The custom was firmly established as Christian event adopting Victorian hymns such as We plough the fields and scatter, come ye thankful people come and all things bright and beautiful. The church was decorated with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service a tradition which continues today. The service remained a local event until 1854 when the Revd Dr William Beal, Rector of Brooke Norfolk was the first to hold a Harvest Festival. He noted his aim was to:

to put a stop to the disgraceful scenes which too often characterise the close of harvest, and to the system of largess, which gives rise to cases of the grossest description.”   The Times at the time stated more politely that:  “The attempt to put an end to the system of public-house harvest feasts, in which neither wives nor children can join, appears in this instance to have been eminently successful.”   

Another early adopter of the custom was Rev Piers Claugton at Elton Huntingdonshire in or about 1854. By 1875 the Lincolnshire Chronicle recorded St Mary’s Church at Stamford indicating in 20 years how far it could spread.

Reap what you sow

An earlier account is recorded at Plumtree in 1880 in The Nottinghamshire Guardian where a new organ had been installed and attracted considerable interest:

“The service commenced with the harvest hymn, “Come, ye thankful people, come”, sung as a processional. Tallis’ Festal Responses were used in the service, the first part of which was intoned by the Rev. A. Marshall rector of Heythrop, Oxon, and formerly curate of Plumtree; the latter part being taken by the Rector. The first lesson was read by the Rev. F. Sutton, rector of Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire; and the second lesson by the Rev. H. Seymour, rector of Holme Pierrepont. The Proper Psalms, 144  and 147, and the Canticles were sung to Single Anglican Chants. The anthem was “Ye shall dwell in the land” (Stainer), the bass solo in which was sung by the Rev. A. Marshall, and the treble solo by Archibald White, of S. Werburgh’s Church, Derby.”

It continued with:

“A very eloquent and able sermon, which was listened to with marked attention by an appreciative congregation, was preached by the Rev. the Hon. Wm. Byron from the text “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” – Ephesians 4:3 – from which, connecting it with the events of the day, he delivered a most admirable and practical discourse on the beauty and necessity of harmony and concord in the parochial and domestic life.”

It was recorded that:

“The church was very tastefully decorated with the usual flowers, and fruits, and corn, and produce, which are so general at our Church Harvest Festivals. Plumtree is now amongst the most beautiful of our Notts. churches, and is well worthy of a visit by all who value a hearty service, and appreciate beauty of colouring and artistic design in ecclesiastical decoration.”

By the 1900s it had spread considerably both geographically and ecumenically being described in Horsham Sussex’s Congregation church:

“which was very tastefully decorated for the occasion with flowers, fruit and vegetables”

In the Sheffield it is recorded in Daily Telegraph Sheffield that it was already being described as the:

 “The harvest festival season in Sheffield is now in full swing. In churches and chapels all over the city preachers are drawing the old familiar themes.”

The Berwickshire News and General Advertiser recorded that Etal church:

“was beautifully decorated with fruit, flowers, corn, and vegetables, by Rev. R. and Mrs Simpson.”

Throughout the 20th century it had become firmly established as part of the church’s calendar across the various denominations. Today the focus may have moved from celebrating directly the village harvest to a general celebration of thanksgiving for ‘our daily bread’ to recognising the need of others beyond. So nowadays the displays of food with inedible gourds and sheaths of wheat is far more about ‘arrangements’ than providing food.

Custom survived: Lichfield’s Dr Johnson’s Birthday commemoration

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The picturesque city of Lichfield could win a prize for the most traditional calendar customs and ceremonies a number of which I have detailed in this blog. One of these is an annual celebration of their most famous son, the poet, essayist, lexicographer and all around scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson. The man who gave the world the first real dictionary A Dictionary of the English Language.

Born in 1709 it too nearly 200 years for the city to formally recognise him however when in 1903 the Lichfield City Council first started their September birthday celebrations. A society was founded in 1910 the year after the bi-century of the author’s birth which was remembered with a big celebration.

The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.

In 1909 it was reported in Lichfield Mercury that;

“From Wednesday , Sept . 15 , to Sunday , Sept . 19 , 1909 , Lichfield gave itself up with great enthusiasm and éclat to the celebration of the two – hundredth anniversary of the birth of its most illustrious citizen , Dr . Samuel Johnson . 

For months before the preparations had been going on , and they culminated in great and brilliant gatherings which will without doubt be historic in the annals of the ancient and loyal City”. 

The order of the day has not changed much over the years:

12  Noon .  Great gathering of citizens in the Market  square , when the Children of the schools of the City will assemble to take part in the celebra tion .

Tableaux illustrative of the genius of Dr . Johnson will be placed in prominent positions in the Market square , representing  Literature ,   Poetry ,   and the  Drama . 

Address by the Sheriff .

Presentation of silver and bronze medals to the scholars of the respective schools in the City . The medals will be awarded for proficiency in the English language , English history and biography , general knowledge , and good conduct . 

Two hymns of Joseph Addison , the famous essayist , son of Lancelot Addison , Dean of Lichfield , and one of the eminent scholars of Lichfield Grammar School , will be sung on the occasion .

4 p . m . to 6 p . m . – Reception by the Mayor and Mayoress in the Guildhall . ”

7 30 p . m . – The Anniversary Johnson Supper , at the George Hotel . Speaker , Mr . W . Pett Ridge .

A man may be so much of everything that he is nothing of anything.

However, despite the big celebration for the 220th anniversary the Mayor of Lichfield stated that:

‘He was a great a man, and he was still a great man today: but there were so many who knew so little about the greatness of their fellow citizen.”

And it goes on to state that not many people knew of him. However, one cannot say that now as the town on Saturday morning was buzzing with people in the town perhaps encouraged by the free birthday cake available in the Birthplace museum. As noted in the 300th anniversary the events were:

On Friday September 18, Dr Johnson’s birthday, there will be a spectacular light and sound show in the Market Place, with live performances suitable for all the family.

The celebrations continue on Saturday with a ceremony in Market Square with live music, followed by cake at the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum. A special book fair will also take place at Wade Street Church Hall on Saturday in honour of Dr Johnson’s love of books.”

When I arrived the Mayor and various other dignitaries and a group of local children assembled around the statue of Johnson on his plinth where a metal step ladder was also placed.

The assembled group of children begun to sing and the Mayor and guest of honour came forward to a podium and drew the audience to the importance of the great man and came forward with a wreath which was placed on the moment. Then the city celebrated with some local bands and of course…some Morris dancers.

Custom contrived: Yorkshire Day

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“Today is Yorkshire Day. Not many people know that, as a very non-Yorkshire person likes to say, and probably not many Yorkshiremen either know or care. It is almost as artificial as Father’s Day, which, as all thrifty northerners know, was created to sell more greetings cards.”

The Times 1991

In 1974 the then Government made the decision to change some county boarders and remove some counties such as Rutland altogether. Yorkshire perhaps was one of the worst hit – the old Ridings were gone, South Yorkshire appeared taking some of Derbyshire with it and Hull was created with north Lincolnshire its own county of Humberside. Understandably many people were not happy with the changes and 20 years later some of the changes were overturned.

Such an act is often a catalyst for a custom and proud Yorkshire people were keen that the historic ridings of Yorkshire were not forgotten and in 1975 the Yorkshire Ridings Society celebrated their first Yorkshire Day as a protest in the city of Beverley on the 1st of August.

The first of August was chosen because it has already been celebrated for many years by the Yorkshire regiments in itself a custom in its own right called Minden Day. The Yorkshire Society every 1st of August since 1985 there has been a civic gathering of Lord Mayors, mayors and other civic heads in different Yorkshire towns and cities. Naturally starting in York, nearly every town and city in the three original Ridings have taken part.

On Yorkshire Day a ‘declaration of integrity’ is read out by members of the society which reads:

“I, (insert name) being a resident of the (West/North/East) Riding of Yorkshire (or City of York) declare:

That Yorkshire is three Ridings and the City of York, with these Boundaries of (which is the current year stated minus 851) years’ standing; That the address of all places in these Ridings is Yorkshire; That all persons born therein or resident therein and loyal to the Ridings are Yorkshiremen and women; That any person or corporate body which deliberately ignores or denies the aforementioned shall forfeit all claim to Yorkshire status.

These declarations made this Yorkshire Day God Save the Queen!”

Around this declaration have arisen all sorts of local events and festivals to celebrate Yorkshireness beyond civic processions and declarations. In 2013 Yorkshire born and bred celebrities came together to give a rousing rendition of the county’s traditional folk song On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘At with Brian Blessed rapping a section!

In 2020 it was Rotheram’s opportunity but virtually of course! Indeed the threat of the Coronavirus did not stop the celebration with Welly wanging, making Yorkshire Parkin and online Yorkshire pudding. In fact the 1st was used by many Yorkshire museums and heritage sites as the day they reopened after lockdown.

Denis Kilcommons: Yorkshire Day - Denis Kilcommons - YorkshireLive

It’s not all flat caps and whippets?

Yorkshire people are proud of their heritage as this local newspaper account notes:

The ‘Official Yorkshire Day Civic Celebration’ now adds pomp and circumstance to a day of pride for a county which is like a nation within a nation: having its own flag, its own language, own anthem (almost) and its own culture. It is undoubtedly the biggest gathering of ‘first citizens’ and civic leaders in the UK and probably one of the biggest in the world.

The problem with any celebration of a county or indeed a country can that it falls into the trap of enforcing stereotypes as noted by Arnold Kellett from the Yorkshire Dialect Society in Grand day for the white rose county in the The Times. 1 August 1998.:

“We have to be careful not to overdo it, but regional distinctiveness adds colour. I’m against a grey uniformity spreading over everything, which is the way the world is going.”

Indeed, an what would appear to have been a largely ignored ‘contrived’ custom is now more and more embraced to celebrate the uniqueness of the three counties – just don’t mention it in Lancashire!

Custom survived: St Bartholomew’s Founder’s Day and Bun Race, Sandwich Kent

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Sandwich is a town where you would expect there to be many traditions. One of the Cinque ports, many traditions have arisen from its long association with sea. In a small chapel and its associated almshouse community is one of the most enjoyable.

Legend has it that on the 24th August 1217 the town received a considerable amount of money from a sea battle held off the coast. This they used to build St Bartholomew’s Chapel and a hospital for sixteen men and women to inhabit. It would probably have been envisioned as a place of refuge for pilgrims latterly as it is today becoming an almshouse for the elderly.

Sandwich did not forget this great sea battle’s bounty and it appears that St Bartholomew’s Day became a day of importance in the town with the Mayor and civic dignitaries processing to the chapel for a special patronal founder’s day service – a founder’s day with a difference.

A prickly decision

One of the roles of the service is the selection of a new Master for the coming year. This is called pricking out. During this process a list of all those living in the almshouse – called brothers and sisters – is laid out and a silver bodkin  is used to run over the names and selects the person who will be in charge for the next twelve months. However the role of the Master is fairly mundane being a sort of care taker!

Typically you might say for August, the weather was wet and horrible. I arrived to watch a rather soggy civic procession arrive at the chapel to meet the brothers and sisters within. I slipped into the chapel, just about finding some room, to see the pricking out ceremony and hear the oath which went:

“I – (insert name) will me as I ought to be true and faithful unto the hospital and all things shall do, to my best of my power, for the most weal, proper and commodate of the same hospital and at the end of the year, a true and just account shall make all of things, wherewith I shall have to do belonging to the hospital for this year following.”

Not a bun fight!

After the ceremony as Charles Kightly records in his 1986 Ceremonies and customs of Britain:

“The ceremonies then conclude in livelier fashion, with local children racing around the chapel for a reward of a currant bun a piece.”

Outside there were a fair number of parents and young children waiting the race – the chapel could never have accommodated all of them and I wondered how the race had arisen. Did it arise as a way to encourage a well behaved congregation or to encourage more attendees? Both struck me as odd as it was clear that the service had a rather private feel about it and large numbers of children may have equally ruined the atmosphere I would imagine!

The dampness and drizzle did not put the participants. They lived up in the designated place beside the chapel. As it began to rain, the Mayor blew a whistle and the kids were off

The mayor protected by an umbrella gave out the buns to an out of breadth congregation of grateful children of many sizes. Many covered in mud and soggy! The adults who attended were given a hard paste biscuit with the hospital’s seal and the date 1190 – it did not look as nice as the bun! It was over as soon as it started and the crowd dispersed for another year.

How did the Bun race originate? The bun race is an interesting custom. A bit like those no winners or losers sports day everyone gets a prize! Everyone gets a bun! Why a race? Perhaps the custom arose as a dole for wayfarers and as these slowly disappeared some one came up with the idea of a race. The race symbolising the race to Canterbury’s St Thomas’s shrine. When it arose is not clear either and I have been unable to find it out. Kightly suggests it can only be less than a hundred years old – but that was in 1986 – with 34 years elapsed I imagine it qualifies now!

Custom contrived: Broadstairs’ Dicken’s festival, Kent

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Broadstairs is one of those old fashioned genteel seaside towns, with picturesque views across the beach one can just imagine genteel Victorian ladies and gentlemen promenading along the road overlooking the bay. Well one does not have to imagine it come June time and one can see them!

What the Dickens?

Charles Dickens one great Victorian writer stayed in 1837 when he was 21 after the fame of Pickwick Papers, lodging at 12 High Street. After writing this he purchased a house, now part of the Royal Albion Hotel, where he finished Nicholas Nickleby. Dickens clearly loved the place he stayed at Lawn House where he wrote part of Barnaby Rudge and then finally Fort House. Here he wrote three works ‘David Copperfield’, ’The Haunted Man’ and ‘American notes’. He visited Broadstairs for many holidays finally writing ‘Our English Watering Place’ his homage to the town in August 1852.

Great expectations

With such an affection shown for the town it was not surprising that there was a great proud and love for the writer such that in 1937 a Broadstairs Dicken’s Fellowship was formed. Gladys Waterer, the resident of Dicken’s House then had the idea of celebrating the 100th anniversary of his first arrival in the town. This consisted on putting an production of David Copperfield which was advertised via people dressed in Victorian dress. Such was the Dicken’s festival born. It has continued with the exception of the World Wars and the Coronavirus ever since with some Victorian themes added to it. The fun includes readings, a Dickensian cricket match, a Victorian bathing party, and vaudeville acts.

Christopher Trent in his 1966 Festivals and events in Britain records:

“The centre piece of the week’s celebration is the performance of a play adapted from one of the novelist’s works. In Miss Waterer’s own words: ‘The festival is unique that it is the only Dicken’s festival in Europe. It is a completely local effort. The whole town joins in. In 1936 we put on the first Dickens play. After the war I wrote Christmas Carol and that was really the start’ It was a very good start.”

Of course other Dicken’s festivals have developed over the years such as Rochester, doubtlessly based on Broadstairs’ success

Trent continues:

“For many years a different play was staged each year. In 1964 the wheel turned full circle and a Christmas carol was staged again. In 1965 Our Mutual friend. The players are members of the Broadstairs Dickens Players’ society.”

The plays take up a considerable amount of dedication as he continues:

“the adaptation and rehearsals take on average nearly eight months. The result is the modest Festival Theatre is always satisfying, throwing a new and original light on the novelist, who is still one of the favourite writers of hundreds of thousands of people, young and old.”

What begun as a play developed into fringe entertainments doubtlessly in some cases there to advertise the play, became more and more and more and more imaginative. Trent noted that:

“Gradually the scope of the festival has been extended, though the play remains the most important part. Bleak House and Dickens House are open to the public throughout the week. There is Dickensian garden party in the grounds of Bleak House, with prizes offered for the best costumes. There are concerts of Victorian music, talks on Dickens and his work and a Victorian exhibition. A festival dance s organized in the grand ballroom, and the proof of Miss Waterer’s assertion that the whole town joins in is well illustrated by the number of  shops and the number of people, especially shopkeepers, who wear Dickensian costume in spite the difficulty in modern times of moving about in crinolines! A stage coach on he front is a sign that the festival is in progress. It is a replica of a coach in which many of Dickens’ characters travelled, and in which he must have made many of his journeys to Broadstairs.”

Dolby and son and son and daughter and grand children!

In 2017 it celebrated its 80th anniversary and the press said locally:

“Expect top hats, bonnets and billowing dresses as the community gathers for events including the grand parade, Dickensian picnic and beach party. Other activities includes a traditional Victorian country fair and theatre production of Dombey and Son – the author’s novel follows the fortunes of a shipping firm, whose owner is frustrated at not having a son to follow him in the job, and initially rejects his daughter’s love, eventually becoming reconciled with her before his death.”

Over the 82 years the theatre productions were still a focus on the event. However, back in 1994 I arrived to see two of its more custom like events – the Victorian bathing and the Grand parade.

The former was bizarre as if I had been sent back in time only the camera and the boats on the horizon reminded me I was back in the 20th century as there on the beach ready to dive in a collection of people dressed head to toe in Victorian bathers. Although this was June the water did not look that inviting and warm and a head to toe ensemble might not be too bad an idea. They all rushed to the water to have a paddle and the obligatory photo and some slipped away. Other rushed headlong and dived in.

The parade was a much more spectacular affair and it was clear that a lot of effort had been put in by those involved. Fronted by Oliver Twist and Mr Bumble with his ‘comforting’ arms around him with a pipers band. Behind them every character Dicken’s fertile imagination had concocted appeared to be there for David Copperfield to Pickwick. A great entertainment could be had trying to name the characters and some had really gone to town even affecting their characteristics. There were a few non-dressed entrants like the Brownies as well which rather broke the illusion. Each carried banners and shields. One of the most impressive was the stilt walking ghost from Christmas carol! But of course the most were in Victorian day wear and one could even hear the sound of crinoline!

Custom survived: Nicholas Smith’s Dole, Hartfield, East Sussex

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Hartfield is a charming village on the edge of Ashdown Forest. It is particularly famed for its association with A. A Milne’s famed Pooh Bear – the shop Pooh Bear remembering it. However, visit it on Good Friday and you will see another famed association Nicholas Smith’s Dole. I say see but perhaps I should add if you are unlucky.

Hart -felt story

A 17th Century local story tells how Nicholas Smith was an itinerant who had travelled around the Sussex countryside dressed in old clothes looking for food and shelter. At each placed he was treated poorly by the local inhabitants who thought he was a beggar and sent unceremoniously on his way. Finally he arrived at Hartfield where the local people gave him a friendly welcome. Thus he revealed himself to actually be a wealthy man. As a result he finally settled due to the friendliness of the locals at Cotchford farm. When he died in 1634 he left money to be given to the poor each Good Friday from his tomb which lies close to the south door of the church. The Reports of the Commissioners appointed…to inquire concerning charities and education of the poor in England and Wales (1815-1839) records:

Nicholas Smith of Hartfield, gentleman, in his will dated 18 October 1634 and proved in and proved in PCC on 29 April 1635 (PROB 11/167), gave a rent charge £5 on that part of the Manor of Cotchford, Hartfield in the possession of Lady Sherley, for the poor of Hartfield to be paid 21 days before 25 December and distributed at the discretion of the minister, churchwardens and overseers ‘upon the stone which should then be lying on his grave”.

It is claimed that Nicholas Smith was the son of a rich squire at East Grinstead. However, Jacqueline Simpson’s 1973 Folklore of Sussex:

“But the real origins of the custom remain obscure; some attribute it to an eccentric called ‘Dog’ Smith because he drove about in a cart drawn by dogs.”

Grave matters

The dole is distributed on the grave which suggests its founder remembers the tradition of sin eating and one wonders whether food may have been given out at some point. Now it consists of money in an envelope the amount distributed dependent on how many attend the custom. Although previously as Simpson notes in The Folklore of Sussex:

“The custom demands that immediately after the Good Friday service is over, the Rector and the churchwardens  walk to what they believed to be Nicholas Smith’s tombstone in the churchyard, and lay out the money on it, the churchwardens calling out the names of each recipient.”

Never a dole moment?

I had read of the custom in an old book and on the off chance I happened to be in this area of Sussex in around 1994 and decided to see the custom. I turned up just as the then vicar appeared and got dressed into the white hassock in the porch and was pleasantly surprised to see me. ‘Are you here for the dole? He asked ‘ I replied yes to film it not to collect it’ He looked a little crestfallen and said ‘well I’ve vicar here for many years and no one has ever come to collect it’. It did not seem positive but nether-the-less I awaited. And waited. And waited. And he was just about to disappear with his white envelopes when two elderly ladies appeared. Had they come for the dole? One of them said they were local residents and had read about and came to see if they were eligible. The vicar was clearly delighted and duly gave over the envelopes. Unfortunately, the two women were too embarrassed to being photographed having the envelopes handed over – although I did take some photos and believe I videoed it too – sadly I cannot find good copies of either at the moment! It was amazing coincidence that I should be there when it happened. Interestingly,  Averil Shepherd notes on her page on the ever excellent Calendar customs website:

The dole is given to local residents in the churchyard in a simple low-key ceremony, which is only publicised normally in the parish magazine. When we went in 2013, there were no claimants; we discussed the likelihood that even though there are probably local people in need of a helping hand, they won’t want to publicly admit it and be seen to be asking for money.”

Perhaps I witnessed the last collection. Of course in a largely affluent area such as the Sussex Weald there fortunately is not much demand for charity of this nature although it is surprising that it is not visited by some who might not exactly be financially eligible might well appreciate the tradition and a bit of pin money. Back when F. J. Drake Carnell’s 1938 Old English customs and ceremonies include a photo of it (though no reference in the text) it looked well attended and even Homer Sykes’ visit in 1975 showed attendees but clearly local demographics change. The Hartfield Dole asks the questions when does a custom become defunct? Perhaps the church could return back to the list and calling names as seen in the Pathe film Caught By Camera in 1935 it is successful in other affluent areas with such customs.

Custom transcribed: Father’s Day

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Image result for fathers day advert 1970s uk

It is fair to say that unlike Mother’s Day it is not the most popular of our transcribed customs but despite the slew of comical cards, cliché toolkit adverts and reference to classic rock and beer, its beginnings had honourable origins

There is some confusion of how the custom actually begun. One This tells us it begun as a response to a local disaster which killed 361 of which 250 were fathers at the 1907 Monongah Mining disaster, not far from Grafton West Virginia where Anna Jarvis had successfully introduced a re-constructed Mother’s Day. Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father. As the disaster had left about a 1000 children without a father, she suggested that the pastor of the local church Robert Thomas Webb honour those fathers. The event did go ahead but the event was not promoted and was a small affair. As a consequence all the details of the event have been lost and it never continued.

Father dear father

However, perhaps the true originator of the ‘real’ Father’s Day was perhaps Sonora Smart Dodd. She again was influenced by Jarvis’s Mother Day service hearing a service in 1909 at the Central Methodist Episcopal Church. She suggested to the Pastor that the fathers should have a similar event. She herself wanted to honour her father William Jackson Smart who not only was a Civil War Veteran but raised six children on his own. Dodd suggested her father’s birthday, the 5th June, but apparently did not have enough time to organise it so chose the third Sunday in June. This was thus held on the 19th June 1910 at the Spokane, YMC, Washington. At the event she got the boys to wear fresh-cut roses, red for living fathers and white for those deceased in their lapels.

This time the event was more influential and thus a number of local clergymen adopted the idea and it spread through the city.  Thus in 1911, Jane Addams proposed a citywide Father’s Day in Chicago but this was rejected.

Origin number three perhaps is Methodist pastor J.J. Berringer of Irvington Methodist Church in Vancouver Washington. It what may have been an independent invention which locally was believed to be the origin of the custom.

Origin number four was Harry C Meek, who was dubbed the ‘Originator’s of the Father’s Day’ by the Lions Club International, because he came up with the idea of the custom in 1915, picking the third Sunday in June as it was close to his birthday.

Father on in time

A move was developing to allow Americans to adopt it as a holiday and President Woodrow Wilson event went to Spokane to speak at a celebration as an attempt  to raise its profile. Due to Dodd taking up studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, in the 1920s, the custom looked like it would die out. However, in the 1930s she returned to Spokane and started promoting it again there and nationally speaking to companies who might benefit for promoting it by providing traditional presents.

In 1938, a Father’s Day Council was founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers which aimed to further promote the custom as a holiday. It was  not successful, as newspapers, reluctant to support another commercial enterprise like Mother’s Day, made sarcastic attacks and jokes. However, the merchants fought back and even used some of the derogatory opinions in their advertising.

Even in the 1930s, a movement started to replace both Mother’s Day and the embryonic Father’s Day, with a Parent’s day. The Great Depression prevented the success of this movement as the retailers saw it as a way to promote ties, hats, socks, pipes, tobacco, golf clubs and of course greeting cards in this;

Second Christmas for all the men’s gift-oriented industries.”

 

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By World War II advertisers saw it as a way to celebrate American troops. When it arrived in the UK is unclear but one feels that again like Mother’s Day it came over with those troops. Interestingly in the Belfast Newsletter of 20th May 1930 it is referred to as American:

“FATHER’S DAY, In the United States of America they have a day called Father’s Day —this year it is the 15th of June—and the idea is that on this day presents are bought by wives and by children.”

And according to the Western Mail of the 25th July 1949 lamenting the lack of adoption stating:

“It is sad to note that there has been no nation-wide response to the proposal for an annual Fathers’ Day. It would be an occasion when ‘Poor old Poppa, who, as the Americans used to sing, He don’t get nothin’ at all, would receive due.”

Yet by at least 1952 effort was being made by companies as an advert in the Fraserburgh and Northern Counties Advertiser saying:

“FATHER’S DAY. Show your appreciation of your DAD on FATHER’S DAY by choosing him a nice gift at RUSSELL’S “The Men’s Wear Shop.”

The Tatler in 1957 had an advert which stating:

“A good new pipe is something he’s been wanting for months, maybe years. So ye him a Barling Guinea Grain.”

Or in 1966 Gift decanters were available. By the 1970s and certainly into the 1980s it had become well established and despite some who see it as a Clinton cards event it is now firmly established. Interestingly, what begun as a religious service is now almost wholly secular.

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