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Sunday, 14 December 2014

'Merry Meet' issue 54 out now!

Merry Meet Issue 54 Autumn 2014
Merry Meet Magazine is an independent quarterly journal of Folklore and Pagan Heritage, produced and edited by local musician and author Jerry Bird. 

In Issue 54 Autumn 2014, articles include:
  •  News & Comment
  • An Old Mummer at the Chequers, Wheeler End
  • King Arthur: Warlords, Wizardry, History & Prophecy by Hannah Spencer
  • The Lost Stone Circles of Dorset (Pt 2)
  • Twelve Days of (A Dorset) Christmas
  • Reviews: Wassailing - Reawakening an Ancient Folk Custom by Colin & Karen Cater; The Shortest Day - A Little Book of the Winter Solstice by Karen Cater; Mumming Plays in Hardy's Wessex by Jerry Bird
  • Folklore Diary
Current Stockists
    For more information visit www.merrymeetmagazine.co.uk

    Mumming Plays in Hardy's Wessex by Jerry Bird

    Mumming plays, like several other winter customs, have enjoyed a huge revival in modern times, largely due to the enthusiasm of morris sides. This academic paper, a version of which was read at the Folklore Society conference in April of this year, delves into the mysterious origins of the Christmas mumming play, before examining its extent and importance in the County of Dorset.

    Thomas Hardy famously used a mumming play as a dramatic device in his novel Return of the Native, and seems to have had an abiding interest in folk-drama generally; his last published work which was not poetry was The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall, billed as a 'play for mummers'. He came from a long line of folk-musicians and his cousins performed in the Puddletown play. Despite this, the play he used in his novel appears not to have a local origin, though his description of the players was accurate, and he later borrowed a genuine Dorset script to write a new version for a stage production of Return in the 1920s, thus inadvertently becoming an early revivalist.

    The author has collected together numerous references to mumming plays in Dorset, and the paper is well illustrated with photographs from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and elsewhere. The incident in which the Fordington mummers did battle with the Bockhampton band in Dorchester in 1845 is covered, with contemporary newspaper accounts reproduced here in full for the first time.The author explores the social and economic background to this event in the context of the upheavals of the time amongst the rural workforce, which included rick-burnings and the'Swing riots' as well as the Tolpuddle Martyrs' trial.

    The Symondsbury Mummers
    The well-known folklorist John Symonds Udal, author of Dorsetshire Folk-lore was an early collector of mumming plays, and fortunately the author was able to have access to his original play scripts and notes. There seems to have been a distinctive character to West Dorset plays in particular, which incorporated other traditions such as the 'hobby horse' and the Dorset Ooser.

    The Appendix includes the scripts of ten Dorset plays, including Hardy's own version. These are well annotated with extensive notes, and illustrations, including some musical notation and a photograph of one of Udal's original scripts.

    Like most academic offprints, the presentation is somewhat plain, being a straightforward reproduction of pages from the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Proceedings, bound with a plastic clip. Like the Proceedings, however, it is printed to A4 format, and so is equivalent to a paperback with over twice its number of pages, and is some 36,500 words long.

    • Mumming Plays in Hardy's Wessex is available, printed to order, from Merry Meet Magazine at the address below, or from the website www.merrymeetmagazine.co.uk, priced at £ 12.50 inc. UK p&p. The price is the actual cost of production and postage.

    Saturday, 6 December 2014

    The Customs and Traditions of St Nicholas's Day

    Of all the supernatural being freed by the winter season the best known is ‘St Nicholas’, alias ‘Santa Claus’, or ‘Father Christmas’. Originally Santa was not the gift bringer as he is today, but the actual ‘Soul of Winter’. He owes some of his character to the Norse god, ‘Odin’, who flew through the winter skies with his terrifying ‘Yule Tide Host’ of ghosts and fairies, distributing punishments to the wicked and rewards to the worthy. He also has an affinity with ‘Bacchus’, the Roman god of wine and revelry, but perhaps more surprising is his connection to the ‘Wild Man’; (Dorset Ooser) the horned beast god, so powerful that Pope Gregory the Great, in the sixth century chose him to be Christianity’s poster child for evil, - the cloven-hoofed, goatish figure we recognise as the Devil. (see previous blog entry Krampus Day: The Traditions and Customs of Saint Nicholas Eve)

    Below, Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days December 6th 1864, details the traditions of St. Nicholas' day.

    St. Nicholas belongs to the fourth century of the Christian era, and was a native of the city of Patara, in Lycia, in Asia Minor. So strong were his devotional tendencies, even from infancy, that we are gravely informed that he refused to suck on Wednesdays and Fridays, the fast-days appointed by the church! Having embraced a religious life by entering the monastery of Sion, near Myra, he was in course of time raised to the dignity of abbot, and for many years made himself conspicuous by acts of piety and benevolence. Subsequently he was elected archbishop of the metropolitan church of Myra, and exercised that office with great renown till his death. Though escaping actual martyrdom, he is said to have suffered imprisonment, and otherwise testified to the faith under the persecution of Dioclesian.
    As with St. Cothbert, the history of St. Nicholas does not end with his death and burial. His relics were preserved with great honour at Myra, till the end of the eleventh century, when certain merchants of Bari, on the Adriatic, moved by a pious indignation similar to what actuated the Crusaders, made an expedition to the coast of Lycia, and landing there, broke open the coffin containing the bones of the saint, and carried them off to Italy. They landed at Bari on the 9th of May 1087, and the sacred treasure, which they had brought with them, was deposited in the church of St. Stephen . On the day when the latter proceeding took place, we are told that thirty persons were cured of various distempers through imploring the intercession of St. Nicholas, and since that time his tomb at Bari has been famous for pilgrimages. In the ensuing article a description is given of the annual celebration of his. festival in that seaport.

    Perhaps no saint has enjoyed a more extended popularity than St. Nicholas. By the Russian nation, he has been adopted as their patron, and in England no fewer than three hundred and seventy-two churches are named in his honour. He is regarded as the special guardian of virgins, of children, and of sailors. Scholars were under his protection, and from the circumstance of these being anciently denominated clerks, the fraternity of parish clerks placed themselves likewise under the guardianship of St. Nicholas. He even came to be regarded as the patron of robbers, from an alleged adventure with thieves, whom he compelled to restore some stolen goods to their proper owners. 

    But there are two specially celebrated legends regarding this saint, one of which bears reference to his protectorship of virgins, and the other to that of children. The former of these stories is as follows: A nobleman in the town of Patara had three daughters, but was sunk in such poverty, that he was not only unable to provide them with suitable marriage-portions, but was on the point of abandoning them to a sinful course of life from inability to preserve them otherwise from starvation. St. Nicholas, who had inherited a large fortune, and employed it in innumerable acts of charity, no sooner heard of this unfortunate family, than he resolved to save it from the degradation with which it was threatened. As he proceeded secretly to the nobleman's house at night, debating with himself how he might best accomplish his object, the moon shone out from behind a cloud, and shewed him an open window into which he threw a purse of gold. This fell at the feet of the father of the maidens, and enabled him to portion his eldest daughter. A second nocturnal visit was paid to the house by the saint, and a similar present bestowed, which procured a dowry for the second daughter of the nobleman. But the latter was now determined to discover his mysterious benefactor, and with that view set himself to watch. On St. Nicholas approaching, and preparing to throw in a purse of money for the third daughter, the nobleman caught hold of the skirt of his robe, and threw himself at his feet, exclaiming: '0 Nicholas! servant of God! why seek to hide thyself?' But the saint made him promise that he would inform no one of this seasonable act of munificence. 

    From this incident in his life is derived apparently the practice formerly, if not still, customary in various parts of the continent, of the elder members and friends of a family placing, on the eve of St. Nicholas's Day, little presents, such as sweetmeats and similar gifts, in the shoes or hose of their younger relatives, who, on discovering them in the morning, are supposed to attribute them to the munificence of St. Nicholas. In convents, the young lady-boarders used, on the same occasion, to place silk-stockings at the door of the apartment of the abbess, with a paper recommending themselves to 'Great St. Nicholas of her chamber.' The next morning they were summoned together, to witness the results of the liberality of the saint who had bountifully filled the stockings with sweetmeats. From the same instance of munificence recorded of St. Nicholas, he is often represented bearing three purses, or three gold balls; the latter emblem forming the well-known pawnbrokers' sign, which, with considerable probability, has been traced to this origin. It is true, indeed, that this emblem is proximately derived from the Lombard merchants who settled in England at an early period, and were the first to open establishments for the lending of money. The three golden balls were also the sign of the Medici family of Florence, who, by a successful career of merchandise and money-lending, raised themselves to the supreme power in their native state. But the same origin is traceable in both cases—the emblematic device of the charitable St. Nicholas.

    The second legend to which we have adverted is even of a more piquant nature. A gentleman of Asia sent his two sons to be educated at Athens, but desired them, in passing through the town of Myra, to call on its archbishop, the holy Nicholas, and receive his benediction.

    The young men, arriving at the town late in the evening, resolved to defer their visit till the morning, and in the meantime took up their abode at an inn. The landlord, in order to obtain possession of their baggage, murdered the unfortunate youths in their sleep; and after cutting their bodies to pieces, and salting them, placed the mutilated remains in a pickling tub along with some pork, under the guise of which he resolved to dispose of the contents of the vessel. But the archbishop was warned by a vision of this horrid transaction, and proceeded immediately to the inn, where he charged the landlord with the crime. 
    The man, finding himself discovered, confessed his guilt, with great contrition, to St. Nicholas, who not only implored on his behalf the forgiveness of Heaven, but also proceeded to the tub where the remains of the innocent youths lay in brine, and then made the sign of the cross, and offered up a supplication for their restoration to life. Scarcely was the saint's prayer finished, when the detached and mangled limbs were miraculously reunited, and the two youths regaining animation, rose up alive in the tub, and threw themselves at the feet of their benefactor. We are further informed, that the archbishop refused their homage, desiring the young men to return thanks to the proper quarter from which this blessing had descended; and then, after giving them his benediction, he dismissed them with great joy to continue their journey to Athens. In accordance with this legend, St. Nicholas is frequently represented, as delineated in the accompanying engraving, standing in full episcopal costume beside a tub with naked children.
    An important function assigned to St. Nicholas, is that of the guardianship of mariners, who in Roman Catholic countries regard him with special reverence. In several seaport towns there are churches dedicated to St. Nicholas, whither sailors resort to return thanks for preservation at sea, by hanging up votive pictures, and making other offerings. This practice is evidently a relic of an old pagan custom alluded to by Horace:

    Me tabulâ, sacer Votivâ paries indicat uvida Suspendisse potenti Vestimenta marls Deo.
    The office of protector of sailors, thus attributed in ancient times to Neptune, was afterwards transferred to St. Nicholas, who is said, on the occasion of making a voyage to the Holy Land, to have caused by his prayers a tempest to assuage, and at another time to have personally appeared to, and saved some mariners who had invoked his assistance.

    St. Nicholas Statue,
    Studland, Dorset
    The Feast of St. Nicholas, at Bari, is one of the chief ecclesiastical festivals of Southern Italy. It is attended by pilgrims in thousands, who come from considerable distances. From the Tronto to Otranto, the whole eastern slope of the Apennines sends eager suppliants to this famous shrine, and nowhere is there more distinctly to be seen how firm and deep a hold the faith in which they have been educated has on the enthusiastic nature of the Italian peasantry, than at this sanctuary, and on this occasion.

    Bari is a city of considerable importance, being the second in population of those belonging to the Neapolitan provinces. It is situated on the Adriatic coast, half-way between the spur, formed by Monte Gargano, and the heel of the boot. It contains some 40,000 inhabitants, and is capital of the province of the same name, which contains half a million of population. The city occupies a small peninsula, which escapes, as it were, into the blue waters of the Adriatic, from the bosom of the richest and most fertile country in Italy. The whole sea-board, from the mouths of the Ofanto to within a few miles of the magnificent but neglected harbour of Brindisi, recalls the descriptions given of Palestine in its ancient and highly-cultivated state. The constant industry of the people—in irrigation, in turning over the soil, in pruning the exuberant vegetation—is rewarded by a harvest in every month of the year, and the wealth of the soil is expressed by the contented aspect, the decent clothing, and the personal adornment with rings, chains, and ear-rings, of both men and women. Stockings and even gloves are commonly worn, and that not as being needed for defence against the climate, but as marks of decent competence. At Barletta, the great grain-port, which is situated between this garden of Italy and the great pastoral plain of Apulia, there is a labour-market held daily, during the summer months, at four A.M. There the labourers meet, before going to their daily toil, to settle the price of labour, and to arrange for the due distribution of workmen through the country. Each man is attended by his dog, and most of them mount their asses, at the conclusion of this ancient and admirable congress, to ride to the scene of their occupation.

    The harvests of this fertile country commence, in the latter part of April and earlier portion of May, by the gathering of the pulse crops, those of beans especially, on which the people subsist for some weeks, and of vetches. Oranges and lemons succeed during the month of May, and the country affords many species of these fruit, one at least of which, as large as a child's head, and with a thick and edible rind, is unknown in other parts of Europe. In June, succeeds the harvest of oats, barley, and wheat, and the gathering of flax. In July, the maize is harvested; a plant which has been regarded as of American origin, but which is represented in the frescoes of Pompei as boiled and eaten precisely as we see it used at the present day. July is also the chief month for the making of cheese, as well as for the silk crop, or the tending of the silk-worm till it forms its cocoons.

    August produces cotton, tobacco, and figs. September yields grapes and a second shearing of wool, the first having taken place in May. The next five months, in fertile years, supply a constant yield of olives; and the plucking and preserving of the fruit, as well as the manufacture of oil, afford continual occupation. The olive, which, in the south of France, appears as a small shrub, covers the hills to the south of the Ofanto, with trees about the size of the apple-trees of the Gloucestershire and Herefordshire orchards; and yet further south, in the Terra di Otranto, it rises into the magnitude of a forest-tree, and covers large districts of country with a rich and shady woodland. The culture and the varieties of the olive are the same with those that are so minutely described by Virgil, and the flavour of the edible species, and the delicacy and filbert-like aroma of the new-made oil, can only be appreciated by a visit to a country like Apulia. In March, the latest addition to the production of the country, the little Mandarin orange, becomes ripe; a delicious fruit, too delicate to export. Introduced into Italy during the present generation, it has already much increased in size, at the expense, it is said, of flavour. In April is the season for the slaughtering of fatted animals, which brings us round again to the wool-crop.

    Bari is an archiepiscopal city, but its ancient cathedral, with its almost picturesque architecture, is outshone by the splendour of the Church of St. Nicholas, the 'protector of the city.' The grand prior of St. Nicholas is one of the chief ecclesiastical dignitaries in Italy, claiming to rank with the bishop of Loretto, the archbishop of Milan, and the cardinal of Capua. The king of Naples for the time is, when he enters the precincts of St. Nicholas, a less person than the grand prior, ranking always, however, as the first canon of the chapter, and having a throne in the choir erected for his occupation in that capacity. The present grand prior is a man every way fitted to sustain such a dignity —courteous and affable, erect and vigorous in form and gait, and clear and bright in complexion, although hard on fourscore years of age. He is the very counterpart of the pictures of Fenelon, but of Fenelon unworn by the charge of the education of a dauphin.

        It so chanced that the writer was in Bari, and was the guest of this respectable prelate, on the two great festivals that are distinctive of the city that of St. Mark, and that of St. Nicholas. On St. Mark's Day, the chief peculiarity is the procession of the clergy and municipality to the walls of the ancient castle that overlook the sea, and the solemn firing of a cannon thrice in the direction of Venice, in acknowledgment of the relief afforded by the Venetian fleet when Bari was besieged by the Saracens in 1002 A.D. The ricochet of the cannon-ball over the surface of the Adriatic is watched with the greatest interest by the people, and the distance from the shore at which the water is struck appears to be regarded as ominous.

    But on the festa of St. Nicholas, in addition to the rejoicings of the citizens, and to the influx of the contadini, the city is absolutely invaded by an army of pilgrims. With staves bound with olive, with pine, or with palm, each bearing a suspended water-bottle formed out of a gourd, frequently barefoot, clothed in every variety of picturesque and ancient costume, devotees from every province of the kingdom of Naples seek health or other blessings at the shrine of the great St. Nicholas. The priory gives to each a meal, and affords shelter to many. Others fill every arch or sheltered nook in the walls, bivouac in the city, or spend the night in devotion. The grand vicar of the priory said that on that morning they had given food to nine thousand pilgrims, and there are many who never seek the dole, but travelling on horseback or in carriages to within a few miles of Bari, assume the pilgrim habit only to enter the very precincts of the shrine.

    The clergy composing the chapter of St. Nicholas are not slow to maintain the thaumaturgic character of their patron, and seem to believe in it. The bones of the saint are deposited in a sepulchre beneath the magnificent crypt, which is in itself a sort of subterranean church, of rich Saracenic architecture. Through the native rock which forms the tomb, water constantly exudes, which is collected by the canons on a sponge attached to a reed, squeezed into bottles, and sold to the pilgrims, as a miraculous specific, under the name of the `Manna of St. Nicholas.' As a proof of its supernatural character, a large bottle was shewn to me, in which, suspended from the cork, grew and floated the delicate green bladder of one of the Adriatic ulvae. I suppose that its growth in fresh water had been extremely slow, for a person, whose word I did not doubt, assured me that he remembered the bottle from his childhood, and that the vegetation was then much less visible. 'This,' said the grand vicar, a tall aquiline-featured priest, who looked as if he watched the effect of every word upon a probable heretic-

    'this we consider to be conclusive as to the character of the water. If vegetation takes place in water that you keep in a jar, the water becomes offensive. This bottle has been in its present state for many years. You see the vegetation. But it is not putrid. Taste it, you will find it perfectly sweet. Questa è prodigiosa.'

        I trust that all the water that was sold to the pilgrims was really thus afforded by St. Nicholas, if its efficacy be such as is asserted to be the case; but on this subject the purchasers must rely implicitly on the good faith of the canons, as mere human senses cannot distinguish it from that of the castle well.

    The pilgrims, on entering the Church of St. Nicholas, often shew their devotion by making the circuit once, or oftener, on their knees. Some are not content with this mark of humility, but actually move around the aisles with the forehead pressed to the marble pavement, being generally led by a child, by means of a string or handkerchief, of which they hold the corner in the mouth. It is impossible to conceive anything more calculated to stir the heart with mingled feelings of pity, of admiration, of sympathy, and of horror than to see these thousands of human beings recalling, in their physiognomy, their dialects, their gesticulations, even their dresses, the Magna Graecia of more than two thousand years ago, urged from their distant homes by a strong and intense piety, and thinking to render acceptable service by thus debasing themselves below the level of the brute. The flushed face, starting eyes, and scarred forehead, fully distinguish such of the pilgrims as have thus sought the benediction of the saint.

    The mariners of Bari take their own part, and that a very important one, in the functions of the day, and go to a considerable expense to perform their duty with eclat. Early in the morning, they enter the church in procession, and receive from the canons the wooden image of the saint, attired in the robes and mitre of an archbishop, which they bear in triumph through the city, attended by the canons only so far as the outer archway of the precincts of the priory. They take their charge to visit the cathedral and other places, and then fairly embark him, and carry him out to sea, where they keep him until nightfall. They then return, disembark under the blaze of illumination, bon-fires, and fireworks, and the intonation, by the whole heaving mass of the population, of a Gregorian Litany of St. Nicholas; parade the town, visit by torchlight, and again leave, his own church; and finally, and late in the night, return the image to the reverend custody of the canons, who, in their purple robes and fur capes turned up with satin, play only a subordinate part in the solemnity. 'It is the only time,' said a thickly-moustached bystander—

            'it is the only occasion, in Italy, on which you see the religion of Jesus Christ in the hands of the people.'

    The conduct of the festa was, indeed, in the bands of the mariners and of the pilgrims; the character of the religion is a different question.

        Those who have witnessed the festa of St. Januarius, at Naples, will err if they endeavour thence to realise the character of the festa of St. Nicholas at Bari. The effect on the mind is widely different. Without the frantic excitement that marks the Neapolitan festival, there is a deep, serious, anxious conviction that pervades the thousands who assemble at Bari, which renders the commemoration of St. Nicholas an event unique in its nature. The nocturnal procession, the flashing torches, the rockets, the deep-toned litany, the hum and surge of the people through the ancient archways, the thousands of pilgrims that seem to have awakened from a slumber of seven centuries, all tend power-fully to affect the imagination. But the chief element of this power over the mind is to be found in the deep earnestness of so great a mass of human beings, while the stars look down calm and solemn on their time-honoured rite, and a deep bass to their litany rolls in from the waves of the Adriatic.

        On St. Nicholas's Day, in ancient times, a singular ceremony used to take place. This was the election of the Boy-bishop, or Episcopus Puerorum, who, from this date to Innocents', or Childermas Day, on 28th December, exercised a burlesque episcopal jurisdiction, and, with his juvenile dean and prebendaries, parodied the various ecclesiastical functions and ceremonies. It is well known that, previous to the Reformation, these profane and ridiculous mummeries were encouraged and participated in by the clergy themselves, who, confident of their hold on the reverence or superstition of the populace, seem to have entertained no apprehension of the dangerous results which might ultimately ensue from such sports, both as regarded their own influence and the cause of religion itself.

        The election of the Boy-bishop seems to have prevailed generally throughout the English cathedrals, and also in many of the grammar-schools, but the place where, of all others, it appears to have specially obtained, was the episcopal diocese of Salisbury or Sarum. A full description of the mock-ceremonies enacted on the occasion is pre-served in the Processional of Salisbury Cathedral, where also the service of the Boy-bishop is printed and set to music. It seems to have constituted literally a mimic transcript of the regular episcopal functions; and we do not discover any trace of parody or burlesque, beyond the inevitable one of the ludicrous contrast presented by the diminutive bishop and his chapter to the grave and canonical figures of the ordinary clergy of the cathedral. The actors in this solemn farce were composed of the choristers of the church, and must have been well drilled in the parts which they were to per-form. The boy who filled the character of bishop, derived some substantial benefits from his tenure of office, and is said to have had the power of disposing of such prebends as fell vacant during the period of his episcopacy. If he died in the course of it, he received the funeral honours of a bishop, and had a monument erected to his memory, of which latter distinction an example may be seen on the north side of the nave of Salisbury Cathedral, where is sculptured the figure of a youth clad in episcopal robes, with his foot on a lion-headed and dragon-tailed monster, in allusion to the expression of the Psalmist:

            'Conculcabis leonem et draconem—
            [Thou shalt tread on the lion and the dragon].'

    Besides the regular buffooneries throughout England of the Boy-bishop and his companions in church, these pseudo-clergy seem to have perambulated the neighbourhood, and enlivened it with their jocularities, in return for which a contribution, under the designation of the 'Bishop's subsidy,' would be demanded from passers-by and householders. Occasionally, royalty itself deigned to be amused with the burlesque ritual of the mimic prelate, and in 1299, we find Edward I, on his way to Scotland, permitting a Boy-bishop to say vespers before him in his chapel at Heton, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, on the 7th of December, the day after St. Nicholas's Day. On this occasion, we are informed that his majesty made a handsome present to this mock-representative of Episcopacy, and the companions who assisted him in the discharge of his functions. During the reign of Queen Mary of persecuting memory, we find a performance by one of these child-bishops before her majesty, at her manor of St-James-in-the-Fields, on St. Nicholas's Day and Innocents' Day, 1555. This queen restored, on her accession, the ceremonial, referred to, which had been abrogated by her father, Henry VIII, in 1542.

    We accordingly read in Strype's Ecclesiastical Memorials, quoted by Brand, that on 13th November 1554, an edict was issued by the bishop of London to all the clergy of his diocese to have the procession of a boy-bishop. But again we find that on 5th December, or St. Nicholas's Eve, of the same year, ' at even-song time, came a commandment that St. Nicholas should not go abroad or about. But notwithstanding, it seems so much were the citizens taken with the mock of St. Nicholas—that is, a boy-bishop—that there went about these St. Nicholases in divers parishes, as in St. Andrew's, Holborn, and St. Nicholas Olaves, in Bread Street. The reason the procession of St. Nicholas was forbid, was because the cardinal had, this St. Nicholas Day, sent for all the convocation, bishops, and inferior clergy, to come to him to Lambeth, there to be absolved from all their per-juries, schisms, and heresies.' Again Strype informs us that, in 1556, on the eve of his day,

    'St. Nicholas, that is, a boy habited like a bishop in pontifcalibus, went abroad in most parts of London, singing after the old fashion, and was received with many ignorant but well-disposed people into their houses, and had as much good cheer as ever was wont to be had before, at least, in many places.'

    With the final establishment of Protestantism in England, the pastime of the Boy-bishop disappeared; but the well-known festivity of the Eton Montem appears to have originated in, and been a continuance under another form, of the medieval custom above detailed. The Eton celebration, now abolished, consisted, as is well known, in a march of the scholars attending that seminary to Salt Hill, in the neighbourhood [AD MONTEM—' To the Mount '—whence the name of the festivity], where they dined, and afterwards returned in procession to Eton in the evening. It was thoroughly of a military character, the mitre and ecclesiastical vestments of the Boy-bishop and his clergy of former times being exchanged for the uniforms of a company of soldiers and their captain. Certain boys, denominated salt-bearers, and their scouts or deputies, attired in fancy-dresses, thronged the roads in the neighbourhood, and levied from the passersby a tribute of money for the benefit of their captain.

    This was supposed to afford the latter the means of maintaining himself at the university, and amounted sometimes to a considerable sum, occasionally reaching as high as £1000. According to the ancient practice, the salt-bearers were accustomed to carry with them a handkerchief filled with salt, of which they bestowed a small quantity on every individual who contributed his quota to the subsidy. The origin of this custom of distributing salt is obscure, but it would appear to have reference to those ceremonies so frequently practised at schools and colleges in former times, when a new-comer or freshman arrived, and, by being salted, was, by a variety of ceremonies more amusing to his companions than himself, admitted to a participation with the other scholars in their pastimes and privileges. A favourite joke at Eton in former times was, it is said, for the salt-bearers to fill with the commodity which they carried, the mouth of any stolid-looking countryman, who, after giving them a trifle, asked for an equivalent in return.

    About the middle of the last century, the Eton Montem was a biennial, but latterly it became a triennial ceremony. One of the customs, certainly a relic of the Boy-bishop revels, was, after the pro-cession reached Salt Hill, for a boy habited like a parson to read prayers, whilst another officiated as clerk, who at the conclusion of the service was kicked by the parson downhill. This part of the ceremonies, however, was latterly abrogated in deference, as is said, to the wishes of Queen Charlotte, who, on first witnessing the practice, had expressed great dissatisfaction at its irreverence. The Eton-Montem festival found a stanch patron in George III, who generally attended it with his family, and made, along with them, liberal donations to the salt-bearers, besides paying various attentions to the boys who filled the principal parts in the show. Under his patronage the festival flourished with great splendour; but it afterwards fell off, and at last, on the representation of the master of Eton College to her Majesty and the government, that its continuance had become undesirable, the Eton Montem was abolished in January 1847. This step, however, was not taken without a considerable amount of opposition.

    In recent times, the Eton-Montem festival used to be celebrated on Whit-Tuesday, but previous to 1759, it took place on the first Tuesday in Hilary Term, which commences on 23rd January. It then not unfrequently became necessary to cut a passage through the snow to Salt Hill, to allow the pro-cession to pass. At a still remoter period, the celebration appears to have been held before the Christmas holidays, on one of the days between the feasts of St. Nicholas and the Holy Innocents, the period during which the Boy-bishop of old, the precursor of the 'captain' of the Eton scholars, exercised his prelatical functions.

    Friday, 5 December 2014

    Krampus Day: The Traditions and Customs of Saint Nicholas Eve

    The Krampus
    December 5th, Saint Nicholas Eve is known as Krampus Day in some parts of Austria and the run of the Krampuses is preserved both in the Tarvisio area, in Italy near the Austrian border, and in Südtirol/Alto Adige. Krampus is an evil demon that has a long tail, fur, rattling chain, birch branch, and big black bag. Children and adults go to the village square and throw snowballs to scare him off. On Saint Nicholas Eve children place their shoes on the window sill or outside their bedroom door to be filled with fruits, nuts, and sweets.

    A Chocolate Krampus
    The many legends and traditions surrounding the saintly Nikolaus' often wild companions are more diverse than those of the saint. The pagan origin of all of these figures is evident although difficult to trace. The best known companion is Knecht Ruprecht, "Knecht" meaning servant. Historically, Ruprecht was a dark and sinister figure clad in a tattered robe with a big sack on his back in which, legend has it, he will place all naughty children. However, Knecht Ruprecht also became the servant and companion of the Christchild. In this role Ruprecht became the patron saint of Christmas and was called "Weihnachtsmann," Father Christmas or Santa Claus.

    This is quite in contrast to Bavaria, where St. Nikolaus may be followed by the hideous Klaubauf, a shaggy monster with horns. In Austria the saint is followed by a similar horned creature, called Krampus, covered with bells and dragging chains.

    Who is Krampus?
    St. Nicholas and the Krampus
    The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). The Krampus is a sort of devil who accompanies Saint Nicholas on the eve of December 6, in Styria this attendant is named Bartel. He accompanies Saint Nicholas, who visits every home during the night and leaves small gifts in the shoes of children who have been good during the past year. Those who have misbehaved, however, may get punished by his helper. He might take back the gifts that St. Nicholas left for them, and leave them a lump of coal instead. He might give them a birching with the switch he carries with him. Really bad children might even get carried off in his sack and taken along, or even put into an ink-well by St. Nick himself, as told in the Struwwelpeter: "Da kam der grosse Nikolas Mit seinem grossen Tintenfass.... Er tunkt sie in die Tinte tief, Wie auch der Kaspar "Feuer" rief. Bis "bern Kopf ins Tintenfass Tunkt sie der grosse Nikolas."

    Krampus is also known in Austria as Kneckt Ruprecht and Black Peter. In Germany he may be called Pelzebock, Pelznickel (or Belznickel), Hans Muff, Bartel, Gumphinkel, Stoppklos, Black Pit, or Knecht Ruprecht. To this day, the Running of the Krampus (Krampuslauf) happens during the first week of December. In Salzburg, young men put on dark animal-skin suits, red carved masks with horns or antlers, and mismatched shoes. They stomp down the Getreidegasse, the main shopping street, ringing cowbells, pretending to snatch little children, and hitting people on the leg with the switches they use for tails. St. Nicholas follows behind, handing out candies.

    Sunday, 30 November 2014

    The Legend and Traditions of St. Andrew's Day

    Around midnight on November 29, it was traditional for girls to pray to St. Andrew for a husband. They would make a wish and look for a sign that they had been heard.

    A girl wishing to marry could, throw a shoe at a door. If the toe of the shoe pointed in the direction of the exit, then she would marry and leave her parents’ house within a year.

    Peel a whole apple without breaking the peel and throw the peel over the shoulder. If the peel formed a letter of the alphabet, then this suggested the name of her future groom.

    German folklore advises single women who wish to marry to ask for St Andrew’s help. The night before the 30th, they would drink wine and then perform a spell, called Andreasgebet (Saint Andrew's prayer) while nude and kicking a straw bed, they will see their future husbands in their dreams.

    "Heiliger Andreas, ich bitt' dich,
    Bettstatt, ich tritt dich,
    lass mir erscheinen
    den Herzallerliebsten mein!"
    Young women should also note the location of barking dogs on St Andrew’s Eve, as their future husbands will come from that direction.

    St Andrew is also expected to look after gout, singers, sore throats, stiff necks, unmarried women, women who wish to become mothers, fish dealers, fishmongers, fishermen, old maids – and more!

    Below, Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days November 30th 1864, details the traditions of St. Andrew's day.


    St. Andrew was the son of Jonas, a fisherman of Bethsaida, in Galilee, and was the brother of Simon Peter, but whether elder or younger we are not informed in Scripture. He was one of the two disciples of John the Baptist, to whom the latter exclaimed, as he saw Jesus pass by: 'Behold the Lamb of God!' On hearing these words, we are informed that the two individuals in question followed Jesus, and having accosted him, were invited by the Saviour to remain with him for that day. Thereafter, Andrew went in quest of his brother Simon Peter, and brought him to Christ, a circumstance which has invested the former apostle with a special preeminence.

    After the Ascension, the name of St. Andrew is not mentioned in the New Testament, but he is believed to have travelled as a missionary through Asiatic and European Scythia; to have afterwards passed through Thrace, Macedonia, and Epirus into Achaia; and at the city of Patra, in the last named region, to have suffered martyrdom about 70 A.D. The Roman proconsul, it is said., caused him to be first scourged and then crucified. The latter punishment he underwent in a peculiar manner, being fastened by cords instead of nails to the cross, to produce a lingering death by hunger and thirst; whilst the instrument of punishment itself, instead of being T shaped, was in the form of an X, or what is termed a cross decussate. We are further informed that a Christian lady of rank, named Maximela, caused the body of St. Andrew to be embalmed and honourably interred; and that in the earlier part of the fourth century, it was removed by the Emperor Constantine to Byzantium, or Constantinople, where it was deposited in a church erected in honour of the Twelve Apostles.

    The history of the relics does not end here, for we are informed that, about thirty years after the death of Constantine, in 368 A. D., a pious Greek monk, named Regulus or Rule, conveyed the remains of St. Andrew to Scotland, and there deposited them on the eastern coast of Fife, where he built a church, and where afterwards arose the renowned city and cathedral of St. Andrews. Whatever credit may be given to this legend, it is certain that St. Andrew has been regarded, from time immemorial, as the patron saint of Scotland; and his day, the 30th of November, is a favorite occasion of social and national reunion, amid Scotchmen residing in England and other places abroad.

    The commencement of the ecclesiastical year is regulated by the feast of St. Andrew, the nearest Sunday to which, whether before or after, constitutes the first Sunday in Advent, or the period of four weeks which heralds the approach of Christmas. St. Andrew's Day is thus sometimes the first, and sometimes the last festival in the Christian year.

    Saturday, 29 November 2014

    St. Andrew's Fire and Burning Barrows

    The Burning Barrow
    In Scottish tradition, on this night, the eve of St. Andrew's, mysterious lights appear, hovering above the ground believed to be the burial site of hidden treasure.

    Barrows or earthworks are often regarded as places, where hidden treasure can be found. On the Ridgeway Hill, near the Dorset village of Bincombe there is a bowl barrow that has been given the curious name of The Burning Barrow.

    It was given this name due to an inexplicable event one night in the early 1980's. A woman told him in 1984, that she was riding pillion on her boyfriend’s motorbike travelling along the top road of Came Down. When they were both startled to see flames shooting upward and a bright orange glow emitting from one of the many barrows upon the Ridgeway.

    Both the rider and the woman thought the area had some sinister air about it and didn't stop to find out what caused this unusual phenomenon.

    The flames seen at the Burning Barrow could have been some form of luces del dinero (or Money Lights) as the are called in Mexico. Theses flames or ignis fatuus appear to hover above the ground, are said to mark the spot of treasure.

    Tuesday, 25 November 2014

    Cattern Cakes and Catherine Wheels - The Customs and Traditions of St Catherine's Day

    St. Catherine
    Today the 25th November is the feast day of St. Catherine. Similar to St. Martin's Day on November 10, St. Catherine’s Day also marks the arrival of winter.

    St. Catherine’s Chapel at Abbotsbury was once a popular place of pilgrimage for girls seeking their truelove. Many would visit the chapel on St Catherine’s Day, where, inside the south doorway, there are three ‘Wishing Holes’. The girls would put their knee in the lower hole and their hands in the other two above and wish for the man of their dreams, saying as follows:

    ‘A husband, St Catherine
    A handsome one, St Catherine
    A rich one, St Catherine
    A nice one, St Catherine
    And soon, St Catherine’
    St. Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury
    Wishing or praying to St Catherine for a husband was also a popular custom at Cerne Abbas,where there was once a ruined St Catherine’s Chapel on Cat-and-Chapel Hill. With the chapel now gone the custom has since switched to St Augustine’s Well, where there is a ‘Wishing Stone’ upon which is the wheel of St Catherine.

    It was the custom for any single girl wanting a husband to go alone to St Augustine’s Well at dawn on either, May Day, Midsummer Day, or St Catherine's Day. In a state of nudity she would kneel down and place her hands on ‘The Wishing Stone’ and say the following rhyme:
    ‘St Catherine, St Catherine
    O lend me thine aid
    And grant that I never
    May die an Old Maid
    A husband St Catherine
    A good one St Catherine
    But ar-a-one better than
    Nar-a-one, St Catherine’
    In order to consecrate the wish, the girl would then have to drink and immerse herself in the water to purify her mind and body.

    In honor of the Saint "Cattern Cakes" are eaten today. Also known as 'Catherine Cakes' (after Catherine of Aragon, whom whilst imprisoned locally at Ampthill, heard of the lacemaker's financial plight, and destroyed all of her lace only to commission some more and give work to the local industry). They are specially prepared for St. Catherine's Day - the patroness of lace makers, rope makers, prostitutes, servants, unmarried girls, wet-nurses, female students, and any profession to do with the wheel, such as; spinsters, wheelwrights, potters and millers - on the 25th November, which is the lacemaker's special day.

    Below, Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days November 24th 1864, details the traditions of St. Catherine's day.

    Among the earlier saints of the Romish calendar, St. Catharine holds an exalted position, both from rank and intellectual abilities. She is said to have been of royal birth, and was one of the most distinguished ladies of Alexandria, in the beginning of the fourth century. From a child she was noted for her acquirements in learning and philosophy, and while still very young, she became a convert to the Christian faith. During the persecution instituted by the Emperor Maximinus I, St. Catharine, assuming the office of an advocate of Christianity, displayed such cogency of argument and powers of eloquence, as thoroughly silenced her pagan adversaries. Maximinus, troubled with this success, assembled together the most learned philosophers in Alexandria to confute the saint; but they were both vanquished in debate, and converted to a belief in the Christian doctrines. The enraged tyrant thereupon commanded them to be put to death by burning, but for St. Catharine he reserved a more cruel punishment. She was placed in a machine, composed of four wheels, connected together and armed with sharp spikes, so that as they revolved the victim might be torn to pieces. A miracle prevented the completion of this project. When the executioners were binding Catharine to the wheels, a flash of lightning descended from the skies, severed the cords with which she was tied, and shattered the engine to pieces, causing the death both of the executioners and numbers of the bystanders.

    Maximinus, however, still bent on her destruction, ordered her to be carried beyond the walls of the city, where she was first scourged and then beheaded. The legend proceeds to say, that after her death her body was carried by angels over the Red Sea to the summit of Mount Sinai. The celebrated convent of St. Catharine, situated in a valley on the slope of that mountain, and founded by the Emperor Justinian, in the sixth century, contains in its church a marble sarcophagus, in which the relics of St. Catharine are deposited. Of these the skeleton of the hand, covered with rings and jewels, is exhibited to pilgrims and visitors.

    St. Catherine's Wheel
    A well known concomitant of St. Catharine, is the wheel on which she was attempted to be tortured, and which figures in all pictured representations of the saint. From this circumstance are derived the well kown circular window in ecclesiastical architecture, termed a Catharine wheel window, and also a firework of a similar form. This St. Catharine must not be confounded with the equally celebrated St. Catharine of Siena, who lived in the fourteenth century.

    Tuesday, 11 November 2014

    Saint Martin's Summer - The Traditions and Customs of St. Martin's Day

    A vintage German
    St. Martin's Day postcard
    St Martin's Day or Martinmas (or sometimes Martlemass) was celebrated as the end of the harvest season. For workers and the poor it was a time when they had a chance to enjoy some of the harvest. Martlemass beef was beef from cattle slaughtered at Martinmas and salted or otherwise preserved for the winter. The now largely archaic term "Saint Martin's Summer" referred to the fact that in Britain people often believed there was a brief warm spell was common around the time of St.Martin's Day, before the Winter months began in earnest. The more common term in modern English is "Indian Summer".

    St. Martin in Dorset

    Dorset's oldest church St Martin's Church in Wareham is a 1,000 years old and famous for housing a priceless effigy of Lawrence of Arabia. St Martin's, as it now stands, represents the most complete example of a Saxon church in Dorset.

    St. Martin of Tours Frescoe,
    St. Martin's Church, Wareham

    The connection of St Martin of Tours with the church can be seen in the 12th century frescoes on the north wall of the chancel. They depict St Martin on horseback, escorted by attendants, dividing his cloak and giving one half to a naked beggar. It is said that the saint had a dream in which he saw Christ wearing the same portion of the cloak.

     Laterne, Laterne

    Today in many parts of Germany the feast known as Martinstag is still celebrated by processions of children with candle-lit paper lanterns (Martinslaternen - see the German children's song "Laterne, Laterne"). To conclude the evening a large bonfire was lit and there was feasting and merriment, with mulled wine and roast goose. Whilst children receive "Weckmänn" – baked goods in the shape of a man holding a clay pipe. In former times, St. Martin's Day was the “official” start of winter and the 40-day Christmas fast. Because St. Martin's Day has some elements in common with Halloween.

     Below: A traditional St. Martins Day in Koblenz-Stolzenfel, Germany

    Below, Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days November 11th 1864, details the traditions of St. Martin's day.

    St. Martin, the son of a Roman military tribune, was born at Sabaria, in Hungary, about 316. From his earliest infancy, he was remarkable for mildness of disposition; yet he was obliged to become a soldier, a profession most uncongenial to his natural character. After several years' service, he retired into solitude, from whence he was withdrawn, by being elected bishop of Tours, in the year 374. 

    The zeal and piety he displayed in this office were most exemplary. He converted the whole of his diocese to Christianity, overthrowing the ancient pagan temples, and erecting churches in their stead. From the great success of his pious endeavours, Martin has been styled the Apostle of the Gauls; and, being the first confessor to whom the Latin Church offered public prayers, he is distinguished as the father of that church. In remembrance of his original profession, he is also frequently denominated the Soldier Saint.

    St. Martin and the begger
    The principal legend, connected with St. Martin, forms the subject of our illustration, which represents the saint, when a soldier, dividing his cloak with a poor naked beggar, whom he found perishing with cold at the gate of Amiens. This cloak, being most miraculously preserved, long formed one of the holiest and most valued relics of France; when war was declared, it was carried before the French monarchs, as a sacred banner, and never failed to assure a certain victory. The oratory in which this cloak or cape—in French, chape—was preserved, acquired, in consequence, the name of chapelle, the person intrusted with its care being termed chapelain: and thus, according to Collin de Plancy, our English words chapel and chaplain are derived. The canons of St. Martin of Tours and St. Gratian had a lawsuit, for sixty years, about a sleeve of this cloak, each claiming it as their property. The Count Larochefoucalt, at last, put an end to the proceedings, by sacrilegiously committing the contested relic to the flames.

    Another legend of St. Martin is connected with one of those literary curiosities termed a palindrome. Martin, having occasion to visit Rome, set out to perform the journey thither on foot. Satan, meeting him on the way, taunted the holy man for not using a conveyance more suitable to a bishop. In an instant the saint changed the Old Serpent into a mule, and jumping on its back, trotted comfortably along. Whenever the transformed demon slackened pace, Martin, by making the sign of the cross, urged it to full speed. At last, Satan utterly defeated, exclaimed:
    Signa, te Signa,: temere me tangis et angis:
    Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.'
    In English—
    'Cross, cross thyself: thou plaguest and vexest me without necessity;
    for, owing to my exertions, thou wilt soon reach Rome, the object of thy wishes.'
    The singularity of this distich, consists in its being palindromical—that is, the same, whether read backwards or forwards. Angis, the last word of the first line, when read backwards, forming signet, and the other words admitting of being reversed, in a similar manner.

    The festival of St. Martin, happening at that season when the new wines of the year are drawn from the lees and tasted, when cattle are killed for winter food, and fat geese are in their prime, is held as a feast-day over most parts of Christendom. On the ancient clog almanacs, the day is marked by the figure of a goose; our bird of Michaelmas being, on the continent, sacrificed at Martinmas. In Scotland and the north of England, a fat ox is called a mart, clearly from Martinmas, the usual time when beeves are killed for winter use. In 'Tusser's Husbandry, we read:
    When Easter comes, who knows not then,
    That veal and bacon is the man?
    And Martilmass beef doth bear good tack,
    When country folic do dainties lack.'
    Barnaby Googe's translation of Neogeorgus, shews us how Martinmas was kept in Germany, towards the latter part of the fifteenth century
    'To belly chear, yet once again,
    Doth Martin more incline,
    Whom all the people worshippeth
    With roasted geese and wine.
    Both all the day long, and the night,
    Now each man open makes
    His vessels all, and of the must,
    Oft times, the last he takes,
    Which holy Martin afterwards
    Alloweth to be wine,
    Therefore they him, unto the skies,
    Extol with praise divine.'
    A genial saint, like Martin, might naturally be expected to become popular in England; and there are no less than seven churches in London and Westminster, alone, dedicated to him. There is certainly more than a resemblance between the Vinalia of the Romans, and the Martinalia of the medieval period. Indeed, an old ecclesiastical calendar, quoted by Brand, expressly states under 11th November: 'The Vinalia, a feast of the ancients, removed to this day. Bacchus in the figure of Martin.' And thus, probably, it happened, that the beggars were taken from St. Martin, and placed under the protection of St. Giles; while the former became the patron saint of publicans, tavern-keepers, and other 'dispensers of good eating and drinking. In the hall of the Vintners' Company of London, paintings and statues of St. Martin and Bacchus reign amicably together side by side.

    On the inauguration, as lord mayor, of Sir Samuel Dashwood, an honoured vintner, in 1702, the company had a grand processional pageant, the most conspicuous figure in which was their patron saint, Martin, arrayed, cap-à-pie, in a magnificent suit of polished armour; wearing a costly scarlet cloak, and mounted on a richly plumed and caparisoned white charger: two esquires, in rich liveries, walking at each side. Twenty satyrs danced before him, beating tambours, and preceded by ten halberdiers, with rural music. Ten Roman lictors, wearing silver helmets, and carrying axes and fasces, gave an air of classical dignity to the procession, and, with the satyrs, sustained the bacchanalian idea of the affair.

    A multitude of beggars, 'howling most lamentably,' followed the warlike saint, till the procession stopped in St. Paul's Churchyard. Then Martin, or his representative at least, drawing his sword., cut his rich scarlet cloak in many pieces, which he distributed among the beggars. This ceremony being duly and gravely performed, the lamentable howlings ceased, and the procession resumed its course to Guildhall, where Queen Anne graciously condescended to dine with the new lord mayor.

    Monday, 10 November 2014

    Happy Birthday! John Symonds Udal - author of 'Dorsetshire Folklore'

    A judge, sportsman, antiquarian, collector, essayist, poet and a miscellaneous writer - John Symonds Udal, author of 'Dorsetshire Folklore', was born on this day, 10th November 1848 in West Bromwich, Staffordshire.

    On Dorset Nature ever loves to smile,
    To shed the bright effulgence of her grace,
    And tend her offspring with unusual care.
    In woodland scenes, stands Dorset unsurpassed;
    Its winding lanes the lofty hedge-rows gird,
    And, shielding off on either side the sun,
    Cast cool refreshing shade on all beneath.
    The fertile earth upheaves her teeming breast;
    Then wild-flowers, countless in variety,
    Bejewel the fresh green sward and sloping bank,
    Whereon the primrose blooms its happy life away;
    There modest strawberry hides its blushing face,

    O'ersprinkled with the dew of early morn,
    Till ruthless plucked, shakes off the pearly drop,
    As if it wept to leave its native bed,
    A last farewell to others nestling there.
    Was ever thrush heard yet to sing so sweet?
    Or ravished Philomel, in dulcet strains,
    Her mournful tale, so plaintively relate?
    The cuckoo's welcome cry, announcing spring,
    Sounds clearer now than ever known before.
    Those breezy downs, with gorse and fern o'er grown,
    Whose fragrant breath, the balmy air pervades -
    Exhilarating power! O potent spell!
    That courses thro' the blood with bounding speed,
    And swells the turgid veins in exercise!
    Sure death or illness ne'er would come to earth,
    Could all inhale such life-restoring breath.
    Those hills of Pilsdon, Lewesdon, Colmer, - all -
    Seen from whose heights, the ever-flashing sea
    Seems to connect high heaven with earth below, -

    The God-created with the nature-born ;
    Hills that have stood the test of time's long age,
    When first from Chaos, the Almighty One
    Planted them there by will inscrutable,
    To stand erect till Chaos come again.
    The verdant meadows, when the summer sun
    With scorching heat has turned the dewy swaths,
    Exhale the fragrance of the new-mown hay;
    And shouts of children in their playfulness,
    Are lightly wafted o'er the distant fields.
    The lowly valleys, thick with waving corn,
    That like the breast of ocean ever heaves,
    In ceaseless motion, to the wind's caress,
    Though soon to fall beneath the reaper's hand,
    Unconscious of its fate, nods dreamily.
    Then as the sun in glowing splendour sinks,
    And leaves a crimson track athwart the sky,
    The laughter of the gleaners plodding home,
    Bearing their long day's labour on their heads,
    Disturb the nestling birds in every hedge,

    And wake the stillness of the evening air.
    No sooner passed than quiet reigns again, -
    The danger gone, the frightened birds return
    Whence they had fled before - the dying glow
    Now faded from the still yet darkening sky -
    Then sable Night arises in her shroud,
    To hold her sway o'er all created things,
    And spread her mantle o'er the face of earth.
    There country seats from immemorial time,
    Held by one family, are handed down
    From generations past to those to come.
    Old manor-houses, crumbling down with age,
    With lofty halls and gloomy corridors,
    Where ancient armour of th' illustrious dead,
    That oft had stood the shock of clanging blows,
    In tournament, or yet more deadly war,
    Rests undisturbed amidst the sacred dust,
    Sad relics of the ages past and gone.
    The light now streaming thro' the windows stained
    By mediaeval art indelibly,

    Throws out the coats-of-arms of warriors
    Who left that spacious hall, with retinues,
    To fight the infidel and Saracen,
    And shield the sepulchre of Him they loved.
    And so the red Crusader's cross - as there -
    Showed prominent upon the argent field.
    How many knights have borne that shield in war?
    Or passing down the oaken staircase broad,
    Strode through the hall, in feudal days of yore?
    Foul shame it is that what so nobly won,
    And nobly kept for centuries intact,
    Should then at last by spendthrift hands be lost!
    Or yet that grand old timber in the park,
    That watched the childhood of that mouldering house,
    Should now be brought to bow their lofty heads
    In shame, to see their founder's name disgraced!
    Sure time it is that yon old hoary oak
    Should fall a ruin in the raging storm,
    Now that a stranger owns the residence

    Which never yet a stranger claimed before!
    But 'tis in homely country-farmhouses,
    That Dorset must be held pre-eminent;
    The holy flame of hospitality
    Beams brightly on the inmates of them all,
    And breathes a welcome to the passer-by.
    Th' old-fashioned fireplace, with the crackling logs,
    Sends forth a grateful heat to warm the guest;
    And as the embers, charred, fall in the midst,
    The sparks dart upwards thro' the caverned space,
    And soar away to Erebus beyond.
    When early autumn, in its annual round,
    Begins to strew the ground with withered leaves,
    The orchards bend beneath the onerous weight,
    Pomona's hand so lavishly bestows;
    And thro' the woods, and down the pleasant lanes,
    The nut gath'rers reach down the hazel boughs,
    With crooked sticks, and strip them of their fruit;
    While village children, with the task overjoyed,

    Heap up huge wicker baskets with the spoils
    Of purple sloes and juicy blackberries.
    The drooping willows stoop to kiss the stream,
    Threading its way thro' meadow and thro' vale, -
    Beneath whose banks the speckled trout lies hid,
    Nor heeds the tempting fly, thrown skilfully, -
    Now ever and anon more swiftly flows,
    And dies in music as it floats away.
    Whilst all around, the deep autumnal tints
    Of ever-vary ing red and russet brown,
    Point out rich beauties to the wondering eye,
    That scarce could deem Creation was so grand.
    Such, Dorset, are thy beauties to my mind,
    And not to mine alone, but each, in truth,
    To whom the voice of Nature is not dead,
    Who holds a love for God's own handiwork,
    And keeps his soul unfettered by the world.
    'Marriage and Other Poems' by John Symonds Udal, 1876
    Read more about his life - John Symonds Udal - A Dorset Folklorist

    Wednesday, 5 November 2014

    The Traditions and Customs of Guy Fawkes Day in Dorset

    Today is Guy Fawkes Day, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night, Cracker Night, Fireworks Night, Bommy Night, this is an annual celebration of the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot on the 5th November 1605.  In which a number of Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow-up the Houses of Parliament in London.

    Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal mentions the Dorset traditions of 'Guy Faux Night' in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:

    "GUY FAUX DAY (5th November)

    The Guy Faux Day celebrations by fireworks and bonfires have always been very popular in Dorsetshire, particularly in the county town, where on more than one occasion disturbances have taken place because the populace has considered that its ancient privileges had been interfered with or its looked-for amusements on this night curtailed.

    I well remember on one occasion some thirty or forty years ago in Dorchester when the military had to be called out in order to assist the civic authorities in quelling the riots. These celebrations appear now to be shorn of much of their former importance and, apparently, significance.

    Barnes, in his "Fore-say" says that "the 5th of November still gathers in some parishes of Dorset its fire-wielding youths to celebrate Guy Faux's night, by flaring bonfires and flying fireworks, far more for fun than Faux, and rather as fire-worshippers than politicians". He himself gives us a dialect poem on "Guy Faux's Night".

    Guy Faux's night, dost know, we chaps,
    A-putten on our woldest traps,
    Went up the highest o' the knaps,
    An' meäde up such a vier!
    An' thou an' Tom wer all we miss'd,
    Vor if a sarpent had a-hiss'd
    Among the rest in thy sprack vist,
    Our fun 'd a-been the higher.

    We chaps at hwome, an' Will our cousin,
    Took up a half a lwoad o' vuzzen;
    An' burn'd a barrel wi' a dozen
    O' faggots, till above en
    The fleämes, arisèn up so high
    'S the tun, did snap, an' roar, an' ply,
    Lik' vier in an' oven.

    An' zome wi' hissèn squibs did run,
    To paÿ off zome what they'd a-done,
    An' let em off so loud's a gun
    Ageän their smokèn polls;
    An' zome did stir their nimble pags
    Wi' crackers in between their lags,
    While zome did burn their cwoats to rags,
    Or wes'cots out in holes.

    An' zome o'm's heads lost half their locks,
    An' zome o'm got their white smock-frocks
    Jist fit to vill the tinder-box,
    Wi' half the backs o'm off;
    An' Dick, that all o'm vell upon,
    Vound woone flap ov his cwoat-taïl gone,
    An' tother jist a-hangèn on,
    A-zweal'd so black's a snoff.
    'Guy Faux’s Night' by Rev. William Barnes
    Portland Bonfire Custom.
    The late Rev. W. K. Kendall once lent me a MS. notebook in which he had recorded a very curious form which the customary bonfire celebration in the Isle of Port-land on the night of 5th November had taken.

    When the bonfire was lighted the following custom was observed. A man taking up one of the children in his arms gave the signal, and then all the others followed him in single file round the fire, over which he leaped with the child in his arms. When the fire began to burn low the children also jumped over it. The following doggerel was sung :—

    "Wood and straw do burn likewise,
    Take care the blankers don't dout your eyes."

    This would appear to partake more of the characteristics of the old Midsummer fires."
    Below: footage taken on November 5th 2007 of a traditional bonfire and fireworks at the Upwey Society Guy Fawkes Night Celebrations.

    Below: extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days November 5th 1864, details the traditions of Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night.


    The 5th of November marks the anniversary of two prominent events in English history—the discovery and prevention of the gunpowder treason, and the inauguration of the Revolution of 1688 by the landing of William III in Torbay. In recent years, an additional interest has been attached to the date, from the victory at Inkerman over the Russians, in the Crimea, being gained on this day in 1854.

    Like the Bartholomew massacre at Paris in 1572, and the Irish massacre of 1641, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, standing as it were midway, at a distance of about thirty years from each of these events, has been the means of casting much obloquy on the adherents of the Roman Catholic religion. It would, however, be a signal injustice to connect the Catholics as a body with the perpetration of this atrocious attempt, which seems to have been solely the work of some fanatical members of the extreme section of the Jesuit party.

    The accession of James I to the throne had raised considerably the hopes of the English Catholics, who, relying upon some expressions which he had made use of while king of Scotland, were led to flatter themselves with the prospect of an unrestricted toleration of the practice of their faith, when he should succeed to the crown of England. Nor were their expectations altogether disappointed. The first year of James's reign shews a remarkable diminution in the amount of fines paid by popish recusants into the royal exchequer, and for a time they seem to have been comparatively unmolested. But such halcyon-days were not to be of long continuance.

    The English parliament was determined to discountenance in every way the Roman Catholic religion, and James, whose pecuniary necessities obliged him to court the good-will of the Commons, was forced to comply with their importunities in putting afresh into execution the penal laws against papists. Many cruel and oppressive severities were exercised, and it was not long till that persecution which is said to make 'a wise man mad,' prompted a few fanatics to a scheme for taking summary vengeance on the legislature by whom these repressive measures were authorised.

    The originator of the Gunpowder Plot was Robert Catesby, a gentleman of ancient family, who at one period of his life had become a Protestant, but having been reconverted to the Catholic religion, had endeavoured to atone for his apostasy by the fervour of a new zeal. Having revolved in his own mind a project for destroying, at one blow, the King, Lords, and Commons, he communicated it to Thomas Winter, a Catholic gentleman of Worcestershire, who at first expressed great horror, but was afterwards induced to cooperate in the design. He it was who procured the co-adjutorship of the celebrated Guido or Guy Fawkes, who was not, as has sometimes been represented, a low mercenary ruffian, but a gentleman of good family, actuated by a spirit of ferocious fanaticism.

    Other confederates were gradually assumed, and in a secluded house in Lambeth, oaths of secrecy were taken, and the communion administered to the conspirators by Father Gerard, a Jesuit, who, however, it is said, was kept in ignorance of the plot. One of the party, named Thomas Percy, a distant relation of the Earl of Northumberland, and one of the gentleman-pensioners at the court of King James, agreed to hire a house adjoining the building where the parliament met, and it was resolved to effect the purpose of blowing the legislature into the air by carrying a mine through the wall. This was in the spring of 1604, but various circumstances prevented the commencement of operations till the month of December of that year.

    The Gunpowder Conspirators
    from a print published immediately
    after the discovery
    In attempting to pierce the wall of the Parliament House, the conspirators found that they had engaged in a task beyond their strength, owing to the immense thickness of the barrier. With an energy, however, befitting a better cause, they continued their toilsome labours; labours the more toilsome to them, that the whole of the confederates were, without exception, gentlemen by birth and education, and totally unused to severe manual exertion.

    To avert suspicion while they occupied the house hired by Percy, they had laid in a store of provisions, so that all necessity for going out to buy these was obviated. Whilst in silence and anxiety they plied their task, they were startled one day by hearing, or fancying they heard, the tolling of a bell deep in the ground below the Parliament House. This cause of perturbation, originating perhaps in a guilty conscience, was removed by an appliance of superstition. Holy-water was sprinkled on the spot, and the tolling ceased.

    Then a rumbling noise was heard directly over their heads, and the fear seized them that they had been discovered. They were speedily, however, reassured by Fawkes, who, on going out to learn the cause of the uproar, ascertained that it had been occasioned by a dealer in coal, who rented a cellar below the House of Lords, and who was engaged in removing his stock from that place of deposit to another. Here was a golden opportunity for the conspirators. The cellar was forth-with hired from the coal merchant, and the working of the mine abandoned. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, which had previously been deposited in a house on the opposite side of the river, were then secretly conveyed into this vault. Large stones and bars of iron were thrown in, to increase the destructive effects of the explosion, and the whole was carefully covered up with fagots of wood.

    These preparations were completed about the month of May 1605, and the confederates then separated till the final blow could be struck. The time fixed for this was at first the 3rd of October, the day on which the legislature should meet; but the opening of parliament having been prorogued by the king to the 5th of November, the latter date was finally resolved on.

    Extensive preparations had been made during the summer months, both towards carrying the design into execution, and arranging the course to be followed after the destruction of the king and legislative bodies had been accomplished. New confederates were assumed as participators in the plot, and one of these, Sir Everard Digby, agreed to assemble his Catholic friends on Dunsmore Heath, in Warwickshire, as if for a hunting-party, on the 5th of November.

    On receiving intelligence of the execution of the scheme, they would be in full readiness to complete the revolution thus inaugurated, and settle a new sovereign on the throne. The proposed successor to James was Prince Charles, afterwards Charles I, seeing that his elder brother Henry, Prince of Wales, would, it was expected, accompany his father to the House of Lords, and perish along with him. In the event of its being found impossible to gain possession of the person of Prince Charles, then it was arranged that his sister, the Princess Elizabeth, should be seized, and carried off to a place of security. Guy Fawkes was to ignite the gunpowder by means of a slow-burning match, which would allow him time to escape before the explosion, and he was then to embark on board a ship waiting in the river for him, and proceed to Flanders.

    The fatal day was now close at hand, but by this time several dissensions had arisen among the conspirators on the question of giving warning to some special friends to absent themselves from the next meeting of parliament. Catesby, the prime mover in the plot, protested against any such communications being made, asserting that few Catholic members would be present, and that, at all events:

        'rather than the project should not take effect, if they were as dear unto me as mine own son, they also must be blown up.'

    A similar stoicism was not, however, shared by the majority of the con-federates, and one of them at least made a communication, by which the plot was discovered to the government, and its execution prevented.

    Great mystery attaches to the celebrated anonymous letter received on the evening of 26th October by Lord Mounteagle, a Roman Catholic nobleman, and brother-in-law of Francis Tresham, one of the conspirators. Its authorship is ascribed, with great probability, to the latter, but strong presumptions exist that it was not the only channel by which the king's ministers received intelligence of the schemes under preparation. It has even been surmised that the letter was merely a blind, concerted by a previous understanding with Lord Mounteagle, to conceal the real mode in which the conspiracy was unveiled. Be this as it may, the communication in question was the only avowed or ascertained method by which the king's ministers were guided in detecting the plot. It seems also now to be agreed, that the common story related of King James's sagacity in deciphering the meaning of the writer of the letter, was merely a courtly fable, invented to flatter the monarch and procure for him with the public the credit of a subtle and far-seeing perspicacity. The enigma, if enigma it really was, had been read by the ministers Cecil and Suffolk, and communicated by them to various lords of the council, several days before the subject was mentioned to the king, who at the time of the letter to Lord Mounteagle being received was absent on a hunting expedition at Royston.

    Though the conspirators were made aware, through a servant of Lord Mounteagle, of the discovery which had been made, they nevertheless, by a singular infatuation, continued their preparations, in the hope that the true nature of their scheme had not been unfolded. In this delusion it seems to have been the policy of the government to maintain them to the last. Even after Suffolk, the lord chamberlain, and Lord Mounteagle had actually, on the afternoon of Monday the 4th November, visited the cellar beneath the House of Lords, and there discovered in a corner Guy Fawkes, who pretended to be a servant of Mr. Percy, the tenant of the vault, it was still determined to persist in the undertaking.

    At two o'clock the following morning, a party of soldiers under the command of Sir Thomas Knevett, a Westminster magistrate, visited the cellar, seized Fawkes at the door, and carried him off to Whitehall, where, in the royal bedchamber, he was interrogated by the king and council, and from thence was conveyed to the Tower.

    It is needless to pursue further in detail the history of the Gunpowder Plot. On hearing of Fawkes's arrest, the remaining conspirators, with the exception of Tresham, fled from London to the place of rendezvous in Warwickshire, in the desperate hope of organising an insurrection. But such an expectation was vain. Pursued by the civil and military authorities, they were overtaken at the mansion of Holbeach, on the borders of Staffordshire, where Catesby and three others, refusing to surrender, were slain. The remainder, taken prisoners in different places, were carried up to London, tried, and condemned with their associate Guy Fawkes, who from having undertaken the office of firing the train of gunpowder, came to be popularly regarded as the leading actor in the conspiracy. Leniency could not be expected in the circumstances, and all the horrid ceremonies attending the deaths of traitors were observed to the fullest extent. The executions took place on the 30th and 31st of January, at the west end of St. Paul's Churchyard.

    Some Catholic writers have maintained the whole Gunpowder Plot to be fictitious, and to have been concocted for state purposes by Cecil. But such a supposition is entirely contrary to all historical evidence. There cannot be a shadow of a doubt, that a real and dangerous conspiracy was formed; that it was very nearly successful; and that the parties who suffered death as participators in it, received the due punishment of their crimes. At the same time, it cannot be denied that a certain amount of mystery envelops the revelation of the plot, which in all probability will never be dispelled.


    Till lately, a special service for the 5th of November formed part of the ritual of the English Book of Common Prayer; but by a recent ordinance of the Queen in Council, this service, along with those for the Martyrdom of Charles I, and the Restoration of Charles II , has been abolished. The appointment of this day, as a holiday, dates from an enactment of the British parliament passed in January 1606, shortly after the narrow escape made by the legislature from the machinations of Guy Fawkes and his confederates.

    Procession of a Guy
    That the gunpowder treason, however, should pass into oblivion is not likely, as long as the well-known festival of Guy Fawkes's Day is observed by English juveniles, who still regard the 5th of November as one of the most joyous days of the year. The universal mode of observance through all parts of England, is the dressing up of a scare-crow figure, in such cast-habiliments as can be procured (the head-piece, generally a paper-cap, painted and knotted with paper strips in imitation of ribbons), parading it in a chair through the streets, and at nightfall burning it with great solemnity in a huge bonfire. The image is supposed to represent Guy Fawkes, in accordance with which idea, it always carries a dark lantern in one hand, and a bunch of matches in the other. The pro-cession visits the different houses in the neighbourhood in succession, repeating the time-honoured rhyme:

        ' Remember, remember!
        The fifth of November,
        The Gunpowder treason and plot;
        There is no reason
        Why the Gunpowder treason
        Should ever be forgot!'

    Numerous variations and additions are made in different parts of the country. Thus in Islip, Oxfordshire, the following lines, as quoted by Sir Henry Ellis in his edition of Brand's Popular Antiquities, are chanted.

        'The fifth of November,
        Since I can remember,
        Gunpowder treason and plot:
        This is the day that God did prevent,
        To blow up his king and parliament.
        A stick and a stake,
        For Victoria's sake;
        If you won't give me one,
        I'll take two:
        The better for me,
        And the worse for you.'

    One invariable custom is always maintained on these occasions—that of soliciting money from the passers-by, in the formula, 'Pray remember Guy!' 'Please to remember Guy!' or 'Please to remember the bonfire!'

    In former times, in London, the burning of the effigy of Guy Fawkes on the 5th of November was a most important and portentous ceremony. The bonfire in Lincoln's Inn Fields was conducted on an especially magnificent scale. Two hundred cart-loads of fuel would sometimes be consumed in feeding this single fire, while upwards of thirty 'Guys' would be suspended on gibbets and committed to the flames. Another tremendous pile was heaped up by the butchers in Clare Market, who on the same evening paraded through the streets in great force, serenading the citizens with the famed 'marrow-bone-and-cleaver' music. The uproar throughout the town from the shouts of the mob, the ringing of the bells in the churches, and the general confusion which prevailed, can but faintly be imagined by an individual of the present day.

    The ferment occasioned throughout the country by the 'Papal Aggression' in 1850, gave a new direction to the genius of 5th of November revellers. Instead of Guy Fawkes, a figure of Cardinal Wise-man, then recently created 'Archbishop of Westminster' by the pope, was solemnly burned in effigy in London, amid demonstrations which certainly gave little evidence of any revolution in the feelings of the English people towards the Romish see. In 1857, a similar honour was accorded to Nana Sahib, whose atrocities at Cawnpore in the previous month of July, had excited such a cry of horror throughout the civilised world.
    The opportunity also is frequently seized by many of that numerous class in London, who get their living no one exactly knows how, to earn a few pence by parading through the streets, on the 5th of November, gigantic figures of the leading celebrities of the day. These are sometimes rather ingeniously got up, and the curiosity of the passer-by, who stops to look at them, is generally taxed with the contribution of a copper.
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