Tag Archives: Easter

Custom survived: Making Simnel Cakes for Mothering Sunday

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Recently I have noticed that well-known bakery Greggs had been selling Simnel cakes around March time in memory of the tradition of making Simnel Cake which if the number of recipes on the internet is anything to go by is still a commonly made cake. Here is a clip of well-known Mary Berry making one!

The association with Mothering Sunday has been so great that it became alternatively known as Simnel Sunday. 

Nathan Bailey in his 1721 Dictionary states that:

“Simnel is probably derived from the Latin Simila, fine flour, and means a sort of cake, or bun, made of fine flour, spice, &c.”

Frequent mention is made of the Simnel in the household allowances of Henry the First.

“Cancellarius v solidos in die et i Siminellum dominicum, et ii salum, et i sextarium de vino claro, et i sext. de vino expensabili, et unum grossum cereum, et xl frusta Candell.”–_Libr. Nigr. Scaccarii,”

Why a cake should be firstly established with a religious custom is unclear but some have argued that it derived from a type of bread given out on the Sunday service. Indeed a bread called “simnel bread” is mentioned by Jehoshaphat Aspin, in his Pictures of Manners, &c., of England quoting from a statue book of the 51st of Henry III:

“A farthing symnel_ (a sort of small cake, twice baked, and also called a cracknel) should weigh two ounces less than the wastel_(a kind of cake made with honey, or with meal and oil).”

At some point probably to make it more commercially viable it manifested itself into cakes with the image of Jesus to know the traditional 12 apostles and Jesus made of balls of marzipan!

Edward Baines in his 1836 History of Lancashire records that:

“At Bury, in Lancashire, from time beyond memory, thousands of persons come from all parts, and eat “simnels” on Simnel Sunday.”

However the custom nearly fell afoul of the church:

“Formerly, nearly every shop was open, quite in defiance of the law respecting the closing during “service,” but of late, through the improved state of public opinion, the disorderly scenes to which the custom gave rise have been partially amended. Efforts have been repeatedly made to put a stop to the practice altogether, but in vain. The clergy, headed by the rector, and the ministers of all denominations (save the Romanists) have drawn up protests and printed appeals against this desecration, but, as just stated, with scarcely any visible effect. It is not a little singular that the practice of assembling in one town, upon one day–the middle Sunday in Lent, to eat simnel cake, is a practice confined to Bury. Much labour has been expended to trace the origin of this custom, but without success.”

Herrick in his Hesperides has the following:

“TO DIANEME. “A CEREMONIE IN GLOCESTER.    “I’ll to thee a Simnell bring, ’Gainst thou go’st a _mothering;  So that, when she blesseth thee, Half that blessing thou’lt give me.”

Hone’s Book of Days gives the origin of the name

“There is a story current in Shropshire, which is more picturesque. Long ago there lived an honest old couple, boasting the names of Simon and Nelly, but their surnames are not known. It was their custom at Easter to gather their children about them, and thus meet together once a year under the old homestead. The fasting season of Lent was just ending, but they had still left some of the unleavened dough which had been from time to time converted into bread during the forty days. Nelly was a careful woman, and it grieved her to waste anything, so she suggested that they should use the remains of the lenten dough, for the basis of a cake to regale the assembled family. Simon readily agreed to the proposal, and further reminded his partner that there were still some remains of their Christmas plum-pudding hoarded up in the cupboard, and that this might form the interior, and be an agreeable surprise to the young people when they had made their way through the less tasty crust. So far all things went on harmoniously; but when the cake was made, a subject of violent discord arose, Sim insisting that it should be boiled, while Nell no less obstinately contended that it should be baked. The dispute ran from words to blows, for Nell not choosing to let her province in the household be thus interfered with, jumped up, and threw the stool she was sitting on at Sim, who, on his part, seized a besom, and applied it with right good will to the head and shoulders of his spouse. She now seized the broom, and the battle became so warm, that it might have had a very serious result, had not Nell proposed as a compromise that the cake should be boiled first and afterwards baked. This Sim acceded to, for he had no wish for further acquaintance with the heavy end of the broom. Accordingly, the big pot was set on the fire, and the stool broken up and thrown on to boil it, whilst the besom and broom furnished fuel for the oven. Some eggs, which had been broken in the scuffle, were used to coat the outside of the pudding when boiled, which gave it the shining gloss it possesses as a cake. This new and remarkable production in the art of confectionery became known by the name of the cake of Simon and Nelly, but soon only the first half of each name was alone preserved and joined together, and it has ever since been known as the cake of Sim-Nel or Simnel.”

Well upon cooking my Simnel cake I took pains to boil the fruit and then add it to the mix bake it slowly..and then with the marzipan on carefully place it under the grill..and very nice it was too. My mother was very pleased with it as I arrived surprising her on Mother’s Day.

Custom revived: St Alban’s Bun, Hertfordshire

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Recently I was in a well-known supermarket and referred to hot cross buns as how it was odd that unlike mince pieces they are sold all year round now and they look puzzled at me. Why they asked? I said because they were something you’d only eat around Easter time. Oh they said. That got me thinking it would be worth exploring it

Bun in the oven

Herts Advertiser of 1862 April 26, 1862 reports it as follows:

“It is said that in a copy of ‘Ye Booke of Saint Albans’ it was reported that; “In the year of Our Lord 1361 Thomas Rocliffe, a monk attached to the refectory at St Albans Monastery, caused a quantity of small sweet spiced cakes, marked with a cross, to be made; then he directed them to be given away to persons who applied at the door of the refectory on Good Friday in addition to the customary basin of sack (wine). These cakes so pleased the palates of the people who were the recipients that they became talked about, and various were the attempts to imitate the cakes of Father Rocliffe all over the country, but the recipe of which was kept within the walls of the Abbey.” The time honoured custom has therefore been observed over the centuries, and will undoubtedly continue into posterity, bearing with it the religious remembrance it is intended to convey.”

When these buns stopped being made is unclear but one would imagine that their Christian imagery fell afoul of the Reformation and the puritanical thoughts. However, the hot cross bun did survive and has remains popular today.

Have cake and eat it

It looks like my view on why it was available all year around rang in accordance with the Dean of St Albans who wanted to reclaim the hot cross bun for Good Friday according to the Telegraph in 2009. The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral, stated:

“Recently we’ve lost touch with the significance of the bun, and its link to Holy Week and the Cross. These days it’s possible to buy Hot Cross Buns throughout the year. Whilst any reminder of the importance of Easter is welcomed, we’ve come to the conclusion that the Alban Bun might be a way of reaffirming the significance of the bun as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection.”

As a result they looked into reviving their very own St Alban’s bun. A local mill was contacted, Redbourne Mill, and the recipe selected, which kept close to original one and was described as being “denser, and more cakey”. As they were hand made, their shape were not uniform and rather than use pastry the cross is made by knife.

So thus the Alban bun was revived and since then every Lent culminating with Good Friday of course you have been able to visit the Abbott’s kitchen and re-taste this revival. I myself had planned to turn up on Good Friday to taste the said revived bun but something prevented me…I cannot remember what….and I just made some myself instead!

Custom Survived: William Hubbard Graveside Easter Singing, Market Harborough, Leicestershire

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An Easter Custom. — On each recurring Easter Eve, in pursuance of a custom which has continued for more than a century (and which, as a fund was left for the purpose, will continue for centuries to come), the church choir of Market Harborough visit the ‘God’s Acre’ of St. Mary’s, and sing at midnight the beautiful Easter hymn over the grave of Mr. Hubbard, the founder of the chantry of that name.”

The History of Market- Harborough in Leicestershire and its vicinity by William Harrod (1808)

On the outskirts of Market Harborough is a ghostly shell of a church twixt between an industrial site, the railway station and the urban sprawl. Surrounded by a few graves it is a mysterious place. There are many such derelict churches open to the elements slowly decaying, unvisited all bar the curious- this one is an exception though for despite being a ruin once year on the evening before Easter Sunday this desolate place is warmed by the sounds of heavenly voices in a custom which has been done for over 200 years.

Willed to sing

The originator of this unique bequest was William Hubbard, a gardener and more importantly churchwarden. When he died in 1786, aged 63 his will stipulated:

“at the decease of his wife to the Singers of Harborough for the time being for ever the sum of One Guinea yearly on condition of their finding over his grave every Easter eve the EASTER HYMN the said guinea to be paid out of the rent of a house now in the tenure of Mr Clark painter &c In cafe the singers should neglect complying with the donor’s desire the said legacy is to be applied to purchasing shoes for widows.”

Sadly those local widows have shoeless because without fail the congregation of the more substantial St. Dionysius church dutifully come here every Easter Saturday to sing since 1807, presumably the death date of his widow. That guinea has gone a long way! I am not sure whether it pays for anything now but in 1957 a rent charge was still being taken.

Sing when you’re winning!

When I first came to experience this custom, it was a balmy Easter Saturday in 1996, 7th of April. The churchyard was quiet, mysterious and unloved. I located the grey slate gravestone of William Hubbard and waited.

Soon a small choir appeared. Arched around the grave the vicar, curate and choir made a fine sight in themselves but when the hymns were sung it was magical.

1996

2016 – Spot the difference!

Obviously it is a short service. It started with Chorus novae Jerusalem

“Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, your sweetest notes employ, the Paschal victory to hymn in strains of holy joy. For Judah’s Lion bursts his chains, crushing the serpent’s head; and cries aloud through death’s domains to wake the imprisoned dead. Devouring depths of hell their prey at his command restore; his ransomed hosts pursue their way where Jesus goes before. Triumphant in his glory now to him all power is given; to him in one communion bow all saints in earth and heaven. While we, his soldiers, praise our King, his mercy we implore, within his palace bright to bring and keep us evermore. All glory to the Father be, all glory to the Son, all glory, Holy Ghost, to thee, while endless ages run.”

Then a reading is given in 2016, the Gospel for Easter was Matthew 27 a very adapt piece about Jesus’s burial:

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The Guard at the Tomb: The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”

The Easter Hymn was sung

“Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! our triumphant holy day, Alleluia! who did once upon the cross, Alleluia! suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia! Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia! unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia! who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia! sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia! But the pains which he endured, Alleluia! our salvation have procured, Alleluia! now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia! where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!”

Then an Easter Collect and Prayer finishing with a sung grace

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Eighteen years later passing this way I came to again experience it. However, my sources were incorrect and I’d missed it by an hour! Finally, again in 2016 I came again, on a most appalling Easter evening. Dark clouds were building up and the wind howled through the ghost of the church. After a while I was beginning to think my sources had been incorrect, had the weather put them off…no soon more and more people arrived. The first thing I noticed is how much the congregation had grown since 1996; despite the awful weather it was clear that this custom was still a popular one…and even the dreadful rain was not going to stop the custom. In 1984, so Brian Shuel in his Traditional Customs of Britain was informed by the vicar:

“in really nasty weather, such as the previous year when it was snowing, they have been known to do it themselves”

It did not stop them, nor did it in 1876 as a local newspaper reports:

“Easter Eve – The old custom to sing the Easter hymn over Mr. Hubbard’s grave, in St. Mary’s burial ground, was carried out again on Saturday last, at 8.30, by the church choir. To get to the grave yard this year there was something very unusual. The waters, from the rapid melting of the snow which had fallen on the two preceding days, were out, near the Toll-gate and Gas works, but this obstruction was bravely encountered by about thirty of the choir, besides a few others. Many more who intended to go, declined, when they got to the end of the walk, not liking to got through the flood, and returned again to the town. One gentleman was kindly carried over the flood by a young man named Toomes. This little incident amused the choir boys and one of them was overheard to whisper, ‘I wish he’d drop him.’ We understand this is the 70th year that the above custom has been carried out.”

The only shame was that the weather had prevented the congregation wearing their traditional choral attire. Yet in a way it made the custom seem even more bizarre.

Before the Reformation, sung songs and prayers were common from chapels to great Cathedrals, but although these Chantry chapels survive the bequests have long gone, siphoned off to support schools such as Thomas Burton’s in Loughborough or incorporated into general funds. What is of course unusual with Hubbard is that this is a post-Reformation one. Little did he also know that he think that when he made the bequest that the church would fall into disuse and ruin. Yet this is part of the curious nature of the custom, despite the church and the possible temptation of removing the grave to somewhere more convenient the custom continues.

All in all, Hubbard’s bequest is without doubt one of the countries, a beautiful uplifting tribute to a man long forgotten but still remembered!

Custom demised: Fig Sunday

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Palm Sunday known locally as Fig Sunday was a minor hamlet festival. Sprays of soft gold and silver willow catkins called ‘palm’ in that part of the country, were brought indoors to decorate the houses and worn as buttonholes for churchgoing. The children of the house loved fetching in the palm …..better still they loved the old custom of eating figs on Palm Sunday. Some of the more expert cooks among the women would use these to make fig puddings for dinner.’

Flora Thompson Lark Rise to Candleford

Fig Sunday was an alternative name for Palm Sunday and it appears to have been observed as a custom across the country. It is noted that at one point it was observed in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Northampton and North Wales. In Hertfordshire it is recorded in the village of Kempton:

“It has long been the custom for the people to eat figs – keep warsel! – and make merry with their friends on Palm Sunday. More figs are sold in the shops on the few days previous to the festival than in all the year beside.”

In Buckinghamshire it is noted that:

“At Edlesborough, Buckinghamshire, the children procure figs and nearly every house has a fig- pudding.”

In Dunstable, Bedfordshire:

“For some days beforehand the shop windows of the neighbouring town are full of figs and on Palm Sunday crowds go to the top of Dunstable Downs, one of the highest points of the neighbourhood, and eat figs.”  

In the 1912 Byways in British Archaeology by Walter Johnson he observes that a:

 “Ceremony was carried out on Palm Sunday by the villagers of Avebury, Wiltshire, who mounted the famous Silbury Hill, there to eat fig cakes and drink sugar and water. The water was procured from the spring below, known as the Swallow Head.”

Image result for fig sunday silbury

The author observes that real figs were often replaced by raisins as they were in the west of England and Wessex.

Why figs?

“when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.”

The Gospel of St Mark

Image result for fig sunday

Palm Sunday is so called from the custom of eating figs on that day but why them? The main claim is that on Christ’s entrance to city on Palm Sunday he cursed a fig tree for not having any fruit, a barren tree, being hungry he then cursed it. Another claim is that the practice arose from the Bible story of Zaccheus, who climbed up into a fig-tree to see Jesus.

Sadly although a few food bloggers might promote fig pudding making on the day, Fig Sunday as a community custom has long ceased.

Custom demised: Caister’s Palm Sunday Gap Whip

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gad whip2

In a glass frame in the church is a curious relic – the Gad Whip. An account in the Book of Days notes:

“Until it was discontinued in 1847, a singular ceremony took place annually in this church, by the performance of which certain lands in the parish of Broughton, near Brigg, were held. On Palm Sunday, a person from Broughton brought a large whip, called a gad whip, the stock of which was made of wood, tapered towards the top. He came to the north porch about the commencement of the first lesson, and cracked his whip at the door three times; after which, with ceremony, he wrapped the throng round the stock of the whip, and bound the whole together with whip cord, tying up with it some twigs of mountain ash; he then tied to the top of the whip-stock a small leather purse, containing two shillings, (originally 24 silver pennies) and took the whole upon his shoulder into the Hundon choir, or chapel, where he stood in front of the reading desk until the commencement of the second lesson; he then waved the purse over the head of the clergyman, knelt down upon a cushion, and continued in that posture, with the purse suspended over the clergyman’s head, till the end of the lesson, when he retired into the choir. After the service was concluded, he carried the whip and purse to the manor house of Hundon, where they were left.”

An odd procedure and one which had a few complainants.

Banning the custom

It is reported in the May 24th 1836 copy of the Hertford Mercury and Reformer that:

“A petition by Sir Culling Eardley-Smith of Bedwell Park, Hertfordshire, was put before the House of Lords Temporal and Spiritual , to get the practice in Caistor stopped on the grounds that it was a superstitious practice… Sir Culling had even applied to the Bishop of Lincoln to get it stopped but he had not done so. Sir Culling wanted the Lords to investigate the Bishop of Lincoln for this scandal.”

However, this petition was unsuccessful and it did not cease until 1847 when the land which paid for the custom was sold. A common source for the stopping of customs.

The origins of the custom

“generally supposed to be a penance for murder by the Lord of the manor, the Lord would have paid a penalty to the Lord of a neighbouring manor had it really been murder.”

Despite the article’s noting that the custom derived from the penance for murder, that seems unlikely. One possible origin is seen in the purse and its thirty silver pieces – does this refer to the betrayal of Judas? However, the whip is problematic if so..More likely is that considering the date that it is associated with the custom of the Procession of the Ass, a custom which has been revived across the country. The whip was probably used to move the Ass symbolically or actually! The name is further evidence being derived from the term goad for driving horses.

 

Custom revived: Middleton Pace eggers and Egg rolling

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“It’s an important Manchester United match on…there won’t be any Pace Egging”

Was one paraphrased reply when enquiring about Pace Egging on Easter Monday from the Mossley team. Fortunately, the Middleton team were not some encumbered by a need to watch the footy..after all they could get snatches of it in the pubs.

Pace Egging Play 2013 (199)

 

What egg-xactly does it mean?

The English can be confusing. Any search for the words Pace Egg will reveal two slightly contradictory uses of the phrase – a play and a decorated egg, the precursor of the chocolate egg, which is rolled down the hills.  This usage is noticeable in Lancashire.

The name Pace derives from Pasche which is derived from the Hebrew Passover which is when traditionally the Crucifixion is associated with. The term probably survived in the Lancashire region, like the burning Judas custom because of the large number of recusant Catholics and Irish catholic immigrants.

How did this confusion arise I think Poulson (1977) in her North Country Traditions gives us the clue:

“Children used to call door to door, sometimes selected houses in the district where they lived and stated that they were pace-egging. The householder would then offer an egg as a gift.”

What probably happened is that the play arose independently and largely became debased in areas where the children took it over as they did not practice and so it continued as a house visiting custom probably based around singing as their entertainment form. As it was Easter time, people would give eggs which they knew would be used as either food, rolled down the hills or both. Hence the name being used for both.

Pace Egging Play 2013 (252)

The Middleton Pace Eggers have avoided this confusion by doing both! For after the play which finishes at the highest point of the town and the group move to a slopping field beside the church. So if you want to get two Easter traditions in following the Middleton Pace Eggers is a must

Egging you on?

There is evidence of Pace Egging in the area in the 18th century. As Joan Poulson (1977) North Country Traditions notes:

“a seventy-six year old Manchester man told me in 1974 that it was regular custom for school children to go Pace-Egging on Good Friday before 1910 and that afterwards it may have persisted for a year or two in some locations. The nineteen-four-teen/eighteen war certainly put an end to it.”

This group is one of the oldest of the revivals, 50 years in 2017. Unusually it is one which owes their existence to well known folk comedian Mike Harding who compiled the script from various plays such as those at Bury. Being a writer, Mike added some artistic license to the play and elaborated on some of the characters and made them more prominent such as the section with the Quack Doctor and St. George. Fortunately it is the doctor who has played the role since the 1967 that keeps the playing going on.

Pace yourself!

Like most other folk plays…one could see this as glorified pump crawl, although how the team can remember their lines after so many pints at the end is always a mystery!!

My first encounter was on the streets of Middleton a small town on the outskirts of Manchester, having just left their first pub – the Dusty Miller. They were a rag bag group of curiously dressed people – recognisable were a King with a crown, a black faced Turkish Knight, St. George the most obvious, as well as a whole pantheon of bizarrely dressed people including a horse on that pub crawl with a difference.

Entering the first pub, a Wetherspoons, I could not resist the temptation cracking that horse at the bar joke. The group knew there script well and certainly put passion and power into it…pity that no one thought of turning off the music blearing over them in the pub! A well…a sort break for some beer and up the hill to a more traditional spit and saw dust establishment. The crowd may have been smaller, but there was no music and they seemed quite appreciative and laughed in all the right bits!  There is something quite addictive in following these plays…the script is the same but you feed off the ab-libs and often as the drink takes over the mistakes.

Eggstrordinary story

The story is a familiar one! A story of conflict, death and resurrection – a more appropriate theme for Easter than at other times. The characters are the King of England and his son St. George, his antagonistic partner the Turkish Champion and Bold Slasher, the doctor, Beelzebub and Derry Doubt. Familiar characters and then the team have two unusual characters a ‘female’ clown called Miss Kitty Fair and impressive black horse called Dobbin. The basic plot concerns St George fighting the Turk. At first defeated (to the accompaniment of boos), St George is brought back to life by the mysterious Doctor and finally defeats his adversary

Curiously, the play starts with all the characters in a circle and they sing a song introducing themselves. Round one – Captain Slasher fights the Turkish Knight. The former wounded! Round two – St George fights the Turkish Knight (after some egging on from the King). The former dies! Everyone is distraught! In comes the Doctor with his unruly horse…and he ‘cures’ St. George. Round three – St George fights the Turkish Knight! Death to the Turkish Knight. Owd Beelzebub and Derry Doubt sweep up for some money (charity not beer!)

Small and almost children take on the Turkish Knight and almost win!

Last stage of the tour is the Ring O’Bells. Here we encountered what I consider one the scourge of events….the professional photographer. Don’t get me wrong,  I like to get a good shot, but sometimes I do think that these people arrogantly think the show is set up for them, just swan in at the end and demand photos. I know we all need publicity but I do think that such people can look down at the event for the sake of copy. Rant over! Having said this the custom is well supported by the press the Middleton Guardian reporting:

“Nowadays most of us are older and the joints are rather stiffer, so the prospect of carrying out a schedule like that doesn’t bear thinking about. Most memorable perhaps is the wonderful feeling as the team walk up through Jubilee Park and approach the final pub, The Ring O’ Bells. Although the crowd can vary, often dependent on the weather, on a good day, we can be welcomed by an appreciative crowd, waiting expectantly outside the pub, and the warmth of the welcome makes the whole thing worthwhile.”

At the Ring O’Bells we were greeted with bright but chilly weather and the team set the play outside. What is delightful is that the group are keep to accept volunteers, mainly children in their play. Here they solicited others for any children to join  in to slay the Turkish Knight…this was feverishly taken up by one boy who despite making a valiant effort was dispatched but kept coming back to life. Another appeared to also not read the brief and was determined to kill the Turkish Knight aiming for some more delicate places on the way. Without doubt the last performance was the best and all the team with the children who helped out got together for a group photo.

Then it was off for some egg rolling. This was clearly very well known in the area for a large congregation of children clutching eggs had appeared at this point. This rolling was a simple but nevertheless effective. The King blew his horn and the eggs were rolled and some went some great distances…sweets being given as prizes…once the rollers had climbed the steep hill up that is.

A King but no soldiers for the eggs!

A King but no soldiers for the eggs!

This I would say is the most important part of the custom and one which other similar customs could take points from…children are actively involved. One would hope that by doing so, especially encouraging participation in the play, the play’s survival is assured..perhaps such teams should invest in Junior  tours although it would have to be a tour of soft play centres…mind you there are plenty of them!

Find out when its on

Calendar Customs … http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/pace-egg-plays/

Copyright Pixyledpublication

Custom revived: Cusworth Hall and Fountains Abbey Egg Rolling

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Is everywhere! I don’t know whether it is the consequence of the internet spreading the nature of the custom across the country or whether the internet has made me more aware of its occurrence elsewhere, but egg rolling was everywhere this year. From Calverley Park in Tunbridge Wells to One Tree Hill, in Essex (both with very suitable hills to do it) to a humble hill in Wanstead and down a flat road in Nottinghamshire, and in various schools apparently…everyone was rolling eggs.

Eggs-plain.

Well traditionally egg rolling is said to commemorate the rolling away of the tomb from the Christ’s tomb remembering the Resurrection. Of course this would have a double significance as the egg itself represents rebirth and has continued albeit as a chocolate one in virtually every household in Britain at Easter. Folklorists have suggested that the rolling event however has a deeper pre-Christian significance and may represent the solar patterns moving from spring to winter

Eggs-strordinary

Presently despite what some books and websites state, there appear to be only two English sites where rolling is done ‘traditionally’ with regular crowds: Avenham Park Preston and Holcombe Hill, Ramsbottom. There other two long term revivals one very well known, the other less so.

Rolling into the 20th century

Fountain’s Abbey near Ripon is perhaps the most famous revival.  It is said that the custom was revived in 1954, when someone connected with the site remembered it being undertaken there in the early parts of the 20th century.

Egg-citing

Turning up at the site despite an egg hunt stuck in various odd locations: trees, walls and by an old well, there did not appear to be no-one awaiting an egg roll. Then I noticed an area of the hillside and some organisers checking their handiwork. Soon a loud hailer was called and people begun to arrive. You could see the excitement on the faces of the children feverishly grasping their baskets of coloured eggs. Close inspection revealed there to be a wide range in quality from simple unadorned (but hopefully hard boiled) to those boiled in colouring to those both painted and draw to resemble cartoon characters – Perhaps more a result of the enthusiasm of the parents than the child perhaps I thought. Different age groups assembled and at the bottom of the slope the adjudicator to judge the fastest egg and give out the sweet prize. The cutest people those just about able to walk…let alone through. As the group lined up, a countdown begun and the first roll begun…sometimes these younger participants had to be held back to prevent this becoming a egg rolling-cum-cheese rolling event.

There was no such problem at the other notable revival indeed following the egg was actively encouraged with hilarious results. Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster, has been rolling since the 1970s and was a conscious effort to ensure the survival of a local custom by the council who own and run the estate; although it was unclear where the hill here was the exact site it was done.

I shouldn’t include Cusworth Hall, because it is unusually is done on the Thursday before Easter and this year that was in March, but when I visited last it was in April. Despite this welcome, for custom followers (as it allows one to attend more than one rolling event), change of day, it did not lack rollers and the event consisted of two sessions; one 11 am and one at 2 pm. I didn’t make the earlier event as I was involved in another ceremony which I may report at a later date.

Hundreds of people, mainly mothers and their children congregated at the hall, where at first they did a timed Easter egg hunt and then progressed around to the front of the hall where the hill flowed steeply towards a lake below.

Again it was divided into age groups, with some very eager teenagers, some which considering they were in their late teens appeared exceedingly enthusiastic. Then the ready-steady-go was called and the eggs were projected at great speed down this rather steep hill. Watching from below they appeared like bouncing balls hitting hard and leaping into the air like bombs; and remarkably unbroken. Get out the way…this could be dangerous! Certainly what was slightly more hazardous was the cavalcade of children building up greater and greater speeds looking like at any point terminal velocity would be achieved and some appeared even eager to catch up with their egg although physically impossible considering the speed some very rolling. The satisfaction of many of the children’s faces when they uncovered their egg unscathed and some distance down the slope was very apparent…although fortunately none actually reached the water.

Of the two sites, I preferred the Cusworth Hall one, firstly access was free (of course there is a charge for non- National Trust or English heritage members to Fountains, although well worth a visit if you have not been there!) and the steepness of the hill meant that the speed at which the eggs rolled, bounced and somersaulted down the hill was something to be seen quickly followed by some very eager children….roll on next year.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

Custom survived: Mary Mallatratt’s Dole

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Good Friday is traditionally a time for giving doles and a number are noted around the country. One tradition which is still maintained, although little known, and not even recorded in any countrywide volume on customs, is Mary Mallatratt’s Dole.

The Buns make their journey

A sad memorial

The dole was established in 1894 in Mary’s will, and is said that dole established to remember Mary’s child who died as an infant of brain damage aged 7 months in 1876, although this is not explicitly stated. Certainly the Mansfield and North Notts Advertiser (1931) stated that even before Mary’s death it was customary to give free buns out at Easter to children at the Blue Boar Inn, so clearly Mary wanted to see this custom being perpetuated in perpetuity. After the death of her son, Mary became increasingly involved with the affairs of the meeting house and so after her death it was not surprising that she gave monies for school books for the Meeting House, money for a stained glass window and the bequest of £100 to the trustees of the Meeting house to provide buns annually.  It appears to have survived an attempt to amalgamation with similar charities and the two world wars when it ceased to be given out and is consists of ‘hot cross buns’ given to children as they go about their business on Good Friday.

The Buns await

A Bun fight!

As Alan Mallatratt (2003) notes in his article for the Nottinghamshire Historian on the custom (he himself being a descendent) each year the distribution grew in size. The largest distribution being in 1912 when a local coal strike happened and 2000 buns were distributed! (And it still was not enough!) The Mansfield reporter noted:

“The magic of the Good Friday Bun drew a crowd of over a couple of thousand of Mansfield’s poor children to the Old Meeting House on Friday morning. For the past 14 or 15 years in accordance with a bequest it has been the custom to distribute buns in the grounds of this place of worship, the number usually being given usually 1200. This year in consequence of the coal strike, some additional funds were obtained from private sources, and the number of buns increased to 2000. The distribution is a popular annual event and on the Friday morning children began to gather as early as seven o’clock, three hours before the specified time in Rooth Street. By 10 o’clock a long queue of youngsters from babies of 2 and 3 years of age in the arms of big brothers and sisters, to boys and girls of 10 and 12 years old, stretched the whole length of the street and overflowed into Rosemary Street. It was a miserable morning-the first one known to be wet in the distribution-but the children stood patiently in the long line and at 10 o’clock when the big doors opened, two thousand shrill voices cheered. Police officers let them in by batches and the little ones filed past the table, each received a bun from either Mr. J.H. White, Mr. Birks or Mr. Roper or one of the several ladies who took part in the distribution. So great was the number of applicants that the supply ran short, and about 200 were disappointed.”

So popular was the custom that it created its own tradition. For local tradition records to earn a bun you had to complete a circuit –out of the gates of Stockwell gate, right to Rosemary Street, along and right into Rooth Street, through the meeting house main gates and into the hall.

Some children partakeA curious resident

Have a tea-cake and eat it!

Unlike similar charities, the Mallatratt Trustees missed the opportunity during the last war to commute the buns for cash and although the original gift no longer covers the expense the Chapel Trustees subsidise the distribution, it does continue. Times have changed and the size of the distribution is not as daunting. The Guardian Journal in 1973 noted that only 73 turned up to collect 200 buns (which appeared to the children to be a good ratio no doubt) which was down on the previous year and the author of the piece suggested this was due to demolition of housing in the area. It notes that:

“First in line was 13 year old Christopher Simpson, Richard Street, Mansfield who arrived at 8.50 am 10 minutes before the gates opened. In the past children where queuing up as early as 7.30 to get the buns.”         

In 1994 they were joined by the decedents of the Mallatratts, and to celebrate the 100 anniversary of the distribution an exhibition on the history of the custom was established, and perhaps indicating how cultural views have changed Rev Michael Joyce:

 “Now days it’s pretty hard work trying to get children to accept them”

Despite the decline, the Old Meeting house still distributes their dole, but no one lines up for it now. The distribution time has changed to now 10.30 am and rarely is it distributed in the Meeting House itself unless the weather dictates it.  It is now presented on a trolley outside. For many years it was rolled down to the high street, Stockwell Gate, below but in 2013 it was taken across the street to outside ASDA.

The size of the dole has also changed from 200 to three dozen. Even since my first visit in the early 2000s, the focus has changed slightly. Then I watched the members of the Unitarian church attempt to give out their dole, much to the bemusement and sometimes mistrust of the local children and scepticism of parents perhaps. Now, they had out their buns still free of charge to all takers, although children are still their aim, but subsequently the distribution disappears quicker. Of course I made sure I had the last one! Hopefully since it is now recorded on their website more interest in the custom may be generated and individuals like me may attend to see the continuation of this curious and little known custom.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

All gone!

Custom demised: Burning Judas

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“Judas is short of a penny for breakfast”

Such was the begging cry of children on Good Friday morning in a unique custom. Oddly, in one city and in one small area of that city, the urban areas surrounding the dock area of that city, was one of the county’s most fascinating and incendiary customs. As Carole Sexton in her 1992 book ‘Confessions of a Judas Burner’, notes:

“Mrs Lympany who lived in Lothian Street recalls her two elder sisters going out at 4am around 1914 carrying a burning torch and running through the streets shouting ‘Burn Judas’.” Children would parade the Judas as they ran through the streets asking for contributions with the cry of ‘A penny for Judas’s breakfast.’ The Judas would then be burnt on a local waste ground.”

This was a local event mainly for local children and had features which combined the older ‘Jack O’Lent’ and the more recent Guy Fawkes and as such it was not popular with the authorities. Indeed, most of the reports recall its suppressing, such as this from the Glasgow Herald on the April 2nd 1931:

The Burning of Judas –Police stop old Liverpool Custom

The observance of the annual burning of Judas, a custom in the south-end of Liverpool, was frustrated yesterday by the police, No one knows the origin of this old custom. In times gone by adults took part in the ceremony, but in recent years it has been observed or attempted to be observed, only by the youngsters of the district. Much in the spirit of Guy Fawkes Night, they make effigies of Judas out of old clothes stuffed with straw, and in the early hours of Good Friday morning parade the streets, make bonfires and burn the effigies in the streets. In the early hours of yesterday morning before the children got up, the police searched backyards and entries, and confiscated over a score of Judas effigies and material for bonfires. Some children did later attempt to burn several effigies, but as they had been left out all night in the rain, they failed to blaze and the police coming along seized these and removed them to the destructor.”

The origins of the custom appear to underline the international nature of the city and the importance of its port for it can be found still in existence in Spain, Portugal and particularly Latin America where the video clip below hails from and understandably was picked up by the Roman Catholic community around the docks in the south end of the city around the 1800s.

Interestingly, the beating of Judas was also involved. This would need a pig’s bladder obtained from the butcher, inflated and then tied to a stick.   It is a well remembered and thought of custom of which the locals were naturally reluctant to let go. A report from 1954 records:

“It is comic to see a policeman with two or more Judases under his arm striding off the Bridewell and 30 or 40 children crowding after him crying Judas!”

Putting the fire out

According to notes on the Liverpool History website, Toxteth St was supposedly the last focus of the custom. On this website a Brenda Robson records:

“We were brought up in the tenements in the Dingle, and every year on Maundy Thursday the boys from the blocks would go around and collect wood for the ‘bommy’  they would stay up all night protecting their hoard, and on Good Friday, the fire would be lit with an effigy of Judas onto the fire. We used to sit on the steps watching the fire, eating hot cross buns. Happy memories”

A Stan Cotter who lived on Homer Street

“I am 74. I lived in Stopford street in Dingle. On Judas day we burnt wood we collected days or weeks before. Just after the War there were lots of bombed houses we played in and in the debies (bombed sites). Also wood was rationed and had to be applied for and stated why it was wanted. So sometimes we pinched some from peoples back yard going down back entries. The streets had cobbles fixed together with tar which we collected and put on end of stick to which we put matches and throw so that they went bang. We also put burning ember into tin cans hung by wire we wurled them round and threw at other gangs. On Judas day we got up early and went around the street showing “e are john” and other names of gang members to get them up. The cops tried to stop us and chased us on their bikes. They could not catch us and we taunter them to get them to chase us. After the fire the street floor was well burnt The practice ended when the corp sent police and fire engines’ think It finally ended when Hutchinson Methodist hall hire buses and took the kids out for the day . I remember going to church ground in Penyffod north wales where we were given cakes and lemonade. I think it was 1951 the practice ended.”

It lived longer than that. Although a search on Good Friday morning by Brian Shuel failed in the early 1980s, it is thought that the last burning was in 1970-1 by an Alan Rietdyk on waste ground between Prophet Street and Northumberland Street.  With the the disappearance of his relative Guy and the demonization of youths, it is unlikely that this unusual custom will ever be revived!

 

Custom survived: The Hungerford Hocktide

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Hungerford Hocktide was one of those well known colourful customs which has always been on my to do list and despite living in both Bristol and London (Hungerford is mid way between the two) I never managed it, mainly because it falls on a weekday, a Tuesday two weeks after Easter Monday….so this year I thought I would.

Calling all commoners to the court.

Turning up in the morning, I thought that I had made a mistake picking this time to visit, the wind howled down the street taking with it a sharp and penetrating rain which looked like it may in for the day making the observation of the Tuttimen’s progress less than pleasurable and certainly not very photogenic. Yet in these unpleasant conditions quite a throng of observers had assembled, the usual press and TV crews, this year one being the team behind Ade in Britain with its host, comedian Ade Edmondson As the bell of the Town Hall struck 8 am, the Bell Man and the Horn blower, this year a lady, arrived on its balcony and blew the horn to call all the commoners to the court. She disappeared back into the building, but this was not the end of the duties for the Bell man, who surging against the wet terrain and started his perambulation of the town to visit key locations to call for the commoners to enter the court. These commoners, one should add are being those who live in the main street of the town and in Sandford Fee, a one point a separate hamlet but now indistinguishable from the main town and own houses in these areas. For Hungerford is unique in both retaining this ancient privilege of owning the common, fishery rights, various properties such as the John O Gaunt Inn and their own Town Hall, unique in the country. Returning to the Bell man this year being a sort of last minute replacement after the sad death of the iconic figure of Mr. Tubbs who not only had continued the tradition for 50 years was at his death thought to be last in a long line of bell man in his family…until his nephew offered to take on the role for 2013.

The ancient court

At 9 o’clock those appointed Tuttimen (and before you ask women have and can do it I believe) waiting across the road in the Three Swans cross to join the tutti girls, a group of school girls specially released for the day with their chaperone, whose roll is to give out sweets and balloons to small children. Their original role apparently was to give out ale and so I would presume they were a bit older than they are now…Once crossing the road, they are met by the Town’s constable (the equivalent of the Mayor) who then after being given their flower bedecked poles topped by an orange and joined by the orange giver, they are told to go about their business and their first stop was the shop across the town hall, where followed by Ade Edmondson and film crew they squeezed into the shop and claimed their first kisses of the day.. These tutti men or tithing men, whose role was to collect a tithe from all commoners, but this  now consists of a kiss, which may also link to the binding custom. They are accompanied by another top hated character the Orange giver. His role is probably the most recent of the associated characters on this day, oranges of course were not available in the 14th century, and probably dates from William of Orange (who is said to have heard he has King in Hungerford).

Meanwhile….

The ancient court begins, and I returned back to the town hall to witness it. Perhaps the most sombre of the day’s events but of course the whole reason for the day, this consists of reading those entitled to claim rights to the common, the fishery and use of the facilities covered by the then now charity. The court consisted of a series of readings of the frankpledge, those commoners not present being fined with the bell man calling here and slamming a penny coin on the table in symbolism of this now it would appear unenforceable fine. During the meeting an importance decision was the election of new officers to this court: the constable (returned), Portreeve (rent-collector), baliff (market toll collector), water bailiffs, ale tasters (traditionally last year’s Tuttimen), common overseers, keepers of the common coffer and blacksmith. These people, who despite in some cases a considerable amount of hard work and effort such as clearing the common and being involved in legal disputes, are not paid. These officers put forward the week before at what is called the Macaroni supper and were elected in the meeting with the end man and middle man being asked to stand forth and concur.. However, despite this possible frivolity that such an ancient court could have, there is after-all a real Mayor in the town, the reading and discussion of the counts brought to observer the importance of this court and its relevance in discussion of the issues of running a fishery, the lease of the pub, ensuring the common was functioning and that the town hall was a suitable venue….clearly the cost of a new kitchen being a bit of a bone of contention!

The Tutti men go about your business

To return to the Tuttimen, I had missed the staged climbing of the ladder to receive a kiss from a commoner, in this case the wife of one of the Tuttimen. Of course by this stage they were a long way off finishing. Every house is visited on the day which does not finish until 9 pm, but is punctuality by good hospitality at each house or business (when they were in that is!). I found generally people were very welcoming to this tradition and indeed some organised parties when the Tuttimen arrived. Surprisingly in some cases people appeared a little unaware of the custom, the occupier of the Indian restaurant was most bemused…although the fish and chip shop was very pleased to see them with most welcoming with some gratis chips although the couple eating there did appear rather non-plused! . Of course at each house, the Tuttimen and their orange given filled their tankards….with a mixture of alcohol and this continued all day…

The Hocktide luncheon

Sadly I was a bit too disorganised to get a ticket for this event and so investigated the possibility of viewing it from the balcony which I was told that would be alright. However, I felt immensely privileged, when I was informed  that there may be the possibility of a ticket. The meal was excellent and the company was superb. The meal begun again with a minute’s silence for the passing of the noted bellman, and then with an excellent amusing grace by the colourful vicar (more of him later) and was then punctuated by toasts namely to their founder the Duke of Lancaster (or the Queen as most of us know her as!).Other notable sections the ale tasters proclamation concerning the quality of the ale be fine and the presentation of the Plantagenet punch with its recipe known only to a few and clearly the descendent of a loving cup or wassail ceremony with the sharing of the drink. The constable introduced in amusing fashion his top table, the vicar introduced as being in the dictionary between vibrator and vice. He then distributed then as an unexpected extra gift, a silver coin minted especially for the Jubilee. The meal formally ended with a talk by Lady Carnarvon, whose nearby Highclere Castle is associated now with the hit TV show Downtown Abbey. She spoke of the similarities with the problems of visitors and TV crews……after the meal came the

Shoeing the colts

Colts is referred to in other Court leets and in particular during beating of the bounds and other hocktide events (such as Reach fair now moved to Mayday), but as far as I am away this shoeing is a unique custom here in Hungerford. Certainly most bizarre element of the whole day and certainly the most enjoyable. The manor’s blacksmith dons his leather apron and with hammer, horse shoes and nails shoes the colts or those who had never been to the luncheon before, which this year was a sizable list of names, including me, and shows that interest in the traditions in the town continues through new comers and the younger people… Women faired okay and most were offered a chair to sit down on and then raising their leg, the blacksmith tapped the shoe into their shoes until they quietly called out ‘punch’ but the men! This was when the excitement begun. It was traditional to fight or try to run away and such grappling, grabbing, half nelson’s and sitting on were all in the process, the later mainly done by the larger than life character of the vicar again! I watched some of the members of my table be dragged before the blacksmith I was rather daunted when told by one of the Tuttimen, that when he was done the previous day the vicar was so enthusiastic that he upended him and he banged his head on the floor and was concussed being taken to see the doctor! But the moment came, and realising that I needed my fee money rushed across to the cash machine and caught up in a terrible rain storm!!!! You’re not going are you because we’ll find you they said…..Soon, I was grabbed on one side by the vicar and struggled for all my worth kicking and was turned upside down with my feet flailing in the air at which point the vicar jumped on my chest and I was laying on the floor…with the sound of the horse shoe into my foot I shouted punch although it was difficult to remember to say this as I was laughing so much.

Anchovies on toast and back with the Tuttimen

After the luncheon it was back over to the Three Swans where the traditional anchovies on toast was made available, perhaps in celebration of the fishery rights of the manor…and still the Tuttimen and orange giver went on their business….it finally became a delightful evening and the sun was glinting down the high street, I bumped into the Tuttimen again who appeared to be now rather staggering and working towards the need of a wheel barrow, offered by the lady who owned the house I was invited into with them.

What is hocktide about?

Hocktide is believed to get its name from the Saxon word ‘hock’ meaning ‘in debt’ and is believed to date from the reign of Etherlread in 1002 after a victory against the Danes or the death of Harthacnut in 1042. As neither were associated with the week after Easter, the first November and second June, it appears confusing why these are suggested. Furthermore, these are secular events and it does appear to have been associated with raising money for the church in many places. In many places roads were closed off by ropes and fines levied. There is a clear link between this and Easter heaving or lifting and perhaps the two customs were linked in the past and as Hocktide died out, the custom was transferred to Easter. In Hungerford this was granted by John of Gaunt in 1364 within whose vast Duchy of Lancaster estates the town lays. He gave a horn, now only used on special occasions, an ancient hunting horn. This is now replaced by a 1634 edition which still has the inscription “John a Gaun did give and grant the Riall of Fishing to Hungerford town from Eldren Stub to Irish Stil, excepting som several Mill Pound (ponds)” All in all, in all my encounters with ceremonies and traditions I never come across a more friendly and welcoming place than Hungerford. Everyone welcomed me in and offered me nibbles and drinks at their houses and made me feel very welcome. I am sure I will return to Hungerford and hopefully on Hocktide now that I am no longer a colt to be shoed..