Dark Dorset Online Scrapbook is an archive of current and past events relating to local history, folklore and mysteries that can be discovered in the English county of Dorset.

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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Happy Birthday Mary Shelley - author of Frankenstein

Few seaside towns can claim so many literary associations as Bournemouth. The remains of writer, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, author of one of the most famous of all Gothic horror novels - Frankenstein, is buried in the cemetery of St. Peters in the centre of the town.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
Portrait of Mary Shelley, painted by Richard Rothwell in 1840.
Mary Shelley was born on the 30th August 1797, in Somers Town, London. She was the second daughter of feminist and writer Mary Wollstonecraft and political journalist William Godwin (who are aso interred in her grave). Her mother died shortly after Mary's birth from a hemorrhage  sustained either during delivery or by the actions of the midwife. Unusual for girls at the time, Mary received an excellent education. She published her first poem at the age of ten.
Percy Bysshe Shelley and his first wife Harriet often visited Godwin's home and bookshop in London. At the age of 16 Mary eloped to France and then Switzerland with Shelley. During May of 1816, the couple travelled to Lake Geneva. Apparently inspired by a ghost tale contest among her friends, Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont Mary had what she called a waking dream that became the manuscript for her most famous work, entitled ‘Frankenstein' or 'The Modern Prometheus'.

It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who tries to create a living being for the good of humanity but instead produces a monster.  Frankenstein creates his monster by assembling parts of dead bodies and activating the creature with electricity.  The monster, which has no name in the book, is actually a gentle, intelligent creature.  However, everyone fears and mistreats him because of his hideous appearance.  Frankenstein rejects the monster and refuses to create a mate for him.  The monster's terrible loneliness drives him to seek revenge by murdering Frankenstein's wife, brother, and best friend.  Frankenstein dies while trying to track down and kill the monster, who disappears into the Arctic at the end of the novel. 


Film Posters for Universal Studios 1931 version of 'Frankenstein'
Film Posters for Universal Studios 1931 version of 'Frankenstein'
Many films have been based on the character of Frankenstein's monster, the most iconic being played by Boris Karloff in the Universal Studios 1931 version of the novel.  Most are simply tales of horror and have little to do with the serious themes of Shelley's novel.  These themes include the possible dangers involved in scientific experimentation with life and the suffering caused by judging people by their appearance. 

Mary and Shelley married in 1816 after Shelley's first wife committed suicide by drowning. In 1818 the Shelleys left England for Italy. The Italian adventure was, however, blighted for Mary by the death of both her children Clara, in Venice and their son Will died from malaria in Rome.  Mary suffered a nervous breakdown after the death and almost died of a later miscarriage. It was followed by the birth of her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley sailed up the Italian coast and was caught in a storm on his return. He drowned on the 8th July along with his friend Edward Williams and a young boat attendant.

 To support herself and her child, Mary wrote novels, including Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), and the autobiographical Lodore (1835).  She spent much of her life in promoting her late husband's work, including editing and annotating unpublished material. She returned to England, never to re-marry.


The Grave of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
The Grave of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
She died on 1st February 1851 in Chester Square, London of what some suspect to be a brain tumor, before her to move to live with her son Percy Florence Shelley at Boscombe Manor. Her last book, sometimes considered her best work, was ‘Maria', which was published posthumously.  Her son brought his mothers remains to be interred in St. Peter's Churchyard in Bournemouth, along with Percy's heart, which was not originally buried with his body. It was retrieved from his funeral pyre by his friend Trelawny and kept by Shelley's wife Mary, pressed flat, in a copy of the poet's "Adonais" and was interred for the first time in Mary's tomb.

Source: www.darkdorset.co.uk

Friday, 22 August 2014

Happy Birthday "Folklore" - On this day, the 22nd August 1846, the term Folk-Lore, was 'born'


William John Thoms
William John Thoms
On this day, the 22nd August 1846, the term "Folklore", was coined, by English antiquarian, William John Thoms (1803-1885).

Thoms is credited with inventing the term under the pseudonym Ambrose Merton in a letter to the London literary magazine ‘Athenaeum’. 

He invented this composite word to replace the various other terms used at the time including (1803-1885)"popular antiquities" or "popular literature" to describe people’s traditional beliefs, ballads, proverbs, customs, popular superstitions and legends.

During the 1800's, scholars like Thoms, believed that folklore in ancient times had been shared by all members of a society. Most ancient peoples lived in rural communities. Over the centuries, large numbers of people moved to cities and gradually lost touch with so-called "authentic" folk uneducated peasants called ‘folk’, whose way of life had changed little for traditions. According to the scholars of the 1800’s, those traditions were preserved by hundreds of years.


Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm
Amongst the most notable leading folklore scholars were two German brothers, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. From 1807 to 1814, they collected folk tales from peasants who lived near Kassel, in Germany. The Grimms believed that by collecting the tales, they were preserving for all time the heritage of all Germans. The stories they collected became famous as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

But some versions of these tales are found throughout Europe, the Near East, and Asia. Today, scholars consider folk to be any group of people who share at least one common linking factor. This factor may be, Geography, as in folklore of the English Countryside, Religion, as in Jewish folklore, Occupation, as in Fisherman folklore, Ethnic background, as in French-Canadian folklore. Some scholars believe that even a family can be considered folk because many families have their own traditions and stories.

Characteristics of folklore

Folklore can be short and simple or long and complicated. Brief proverbs, such as "Time flies" and "Money talks," are famous examples of folklore. On the other hand, in other parts of the world, some folk plays begin at sundown and end at dawn. It is extremely difficult to make up folklore.

The songs, stories, and other material that became folklore were, of course, thought up by various people. But those individuals had the rare ability to create a subject and a style that appealed to others over the years. Folklore survives only if it retains that appeal.

People would not bother to retell tales or continue to follow customs that had no meaning for them. This is the reason people keep on using the same folklore over and over. To be considered authentic folklore, an item must have at least two versions.


For example, scholars have identified more than 1,000 versions of the fairy tale about Cinderella. These versions developed over hundreds of years in many countries, including China, France, Germany, and Turkey. Changes in folklore often occur as a story passes from person to person. These changes, called variations, are one of the surest indications that the item is true folklore. Variations frequently appear in both the words and music of folk songs. The same lyrics may be used with different tunes, or different words may be set to the same music. For example the nursery rhymes "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" have the same melody. 

Kinds of folklore:  

Myths
Myths are stories that explain how the world and humanity reached their present form. Myths differ from most types of folk stories because myths are considered to be true among the people who develop them. Many myths describe the creation of the earth. In some of these stories, a god creates the earth. In others, the earth emerges from a flood. A number of myths describe the creation of the human race and the origin of death.
Folk Tales
Folk tales are fictional stories about animals or human beings. Most of these tales are not set in any particular time or place, and they begin and end in a certain way. For example, many English folk tales begin with the phrase "Once upon a time" and end with "They lived happily ever after." Fables are one of the most popular types of folk tales. They are animal stories that try to teach people how to behave. One fable describes a race between a tortoise and a hare. The tortoise, though it is a far slower animal, wins because the hare foolishly stops to sleep. This story teaches the lesson that someone who works steadily can come out ahead of a person who is faster or has a head start. In many European fairy tales, the hero or heroine leaves home to seek some goal. After various adventures, he or she wins a prize or a marriage partner, in many cases a prince or princess. One popular kind of folk tale has a trickster as the hero. Each culture has its own trickster figure. Most tricksters are animals like the wolf, fox and the cunning hare who act like human beings.
 Legends
Legends, like myths, are stories told as though they were true. But legends are set in the real world and in relatively recent times. Many legends tell about human beings who meet supernatural creatures, such as fairies, ghosts, vampires, and witches. A number of legends are associated with famous people who have died. Others tell of holy persons and religious leaders. Some legends describe how saints work miracles. The action in myths and folk tales ends at the conclusion of the story. But the action in many legends has not been completed by the story's end. For example, a legend about a buried treasure may end by saying that the treasure has not yet been found. A legend about a haunted house may suggest that the house is still haunted. A number of legends tell about the Loch Ness Monster, a lake monster in Scotland; and the Beast of Exmoor, a large cat that haunts the Somerset moors. Some people believe these creatures actually exist. From time to time, various expeditions have tried to find both of them.
 Folk songs
Folk songs have been created for almost every human activity. Some are associated with work. For example, sailors sing songs called ‘shanties’ while pulling in their lines. Folk songs may deal with birth, childhood, courtship, marriage, and death. Parents sing folk lullabies to babies. Children sing traditional songs as part of some games. Other folk songs are sung at weddings and funerals. Some folk songs are related to seasonal activities, such as planting and harvesting. Many are sung on certain holidays. The English Christmas folk song "I saw three ships " is a popular example. Some folk songs celebrate the deeds of real or imaginary heroes. But people sing many folk songs simply for enjoyment.
Superstitions and Customs

A large number of superstitions and customs supposedly help control or predict the future. The people of fishing communities may hold elaborate ceremonies that are designed to ensure a good catch as in the custom of the Abbostbury Garland. Many people try to foretell future events by analysing the relationships among the planets and stars.

Superstitions and customs are involved largely in marking a person's advancement from one stage of life to another. For example, one such superstition concerns the Cerne Abbas Giant's powers of fertility and the belief that childless couples who made love on a phallic part of the figure would soon be blessed with children. While young women wishing to keep their lovers faithful would walk around the hill figure three times.
 Holidays
Holidays are special occasions celebrated by a group, and almost all of them include some elements of folklore. Christmas is especially rich in folklore. A national group may celebrate this holiday with its own special foods and costumes. Many groups have variations of the same folk custom. In a number of countries, for example, children receive presents at Christmas. In Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Father Christmas or Santa Claus brings the presents. In Italy, an old woman named La Befana distributes the gifts. In some countries of Europe, the gifts come from the Christ child. In others, the Three Wise Men bring them.
 Folklore and the arts
Folklore has made a major contribution to the world's arts. Many folk stories and folk songs are beautiful works of art themselves. Folklore has also inspired masterpieces of literature, music, painting, and sculpture. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer used a number of folk tales in his famous Canterbury Tales. William Shakespeare based the plots of several of his plays on folk tales. These plays include King Lear, The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew.

Certain legends and myths have attracted artists, composers, and writers for centuries, most recent revival has been made by Seth Lakeman in his songs that have been inspired by legends and folk stories of the south west of England like Childe the Hunter, Kitty Jay, The White Hare and The Hurlers.
One legend tells about a medieval German scholar named Faust who sold his soul to the devil. This legend has been the basis of many novels, plays, operas, and orchestral works. Faust, a drama by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is perhaps the greatest work in German literature.
 Folklore and society
Folklore reflects the attitudes and ideals of a society. For example, much folklore reflects how a society regards the roles of males and females in real life. In many examples of Western folklore, women are depicted as passive and uncreative. A society that produces such folklore considers men superior to women.

This attitude appears in a 18th century Scottish proverb “A crooning cow, a crowing Hen and a whistling Maid boded never luck to a house”. According to the proverb, a girl who whistles like a boy and a hen that crows like a rooster are unnatural. The proverb implies that women should not try to take part in activities traditionally associated with men, an idea that has become outdated in modem society.

A common wedding custom calls for the groom to carry his bride over the threshold of their home. This custom suggests that the woman is weak and must be carried through the doorway - and presumably through life - by the strong male. In many Western fairy tales, a female is captured by a villain and waits quietly until a heroic male rescues her.



Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Harvest Customs and Traditions in Dorset


Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of Harvest Home in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-
HAY-MAKING

The season of hay-making would seem never to have been such a period of gaiety and festivity in Dorsetshire as was the case with the "harvest-home" gatherings later in the year. The success of the hay harvest, however, was a very important matter to so large a pastoral community as the county comprised; and without doubt some celebration by way of reward for and appreciation of services loyally rendered, often in long extended hours of work when the weather was uncertain, was indulged in at the conclusion of that harvest. Extra money payments, as in the corn harvest, have largely taken the place of social gatherings and festivities amongst the labourers in which their employers once freely joined. Still in many places at the ingathering of the hay an extra jar of cider or ale would be brought out, and the men would sit down and have a chat amongst themselves and, perhaps, a song or two ; whilst at the close hats would be raised and " hip, hip, hurrahs " would be given.


In later years, both in hay and corn harvesting, machinery has taken a very active part in reducing the amount of manual labour employed in these operations, which at its introduction went sorely against the conservative feelings of the Dorset peasant. This feeling was just as strongly expressed as in the great industrial centres in the North where labour-saving appliances were ever on the increase; and sometimes took the form of reprisals by way of burning hay and corn ricks as well as the occasional destruction of the offending machinery.
 

Under these influences in course of time the very names of the old haymakers' several occupations would be lost. In William Barnes's early days—a century ago—these were numerous and distinctive. We are fortunate in having him to record what they were. Here is a description which he gives in his Glossary (1863) of what haymaking was like in his time (s.v. Häymeäken).

"Hay-making consists of several operations which with fine weather, commonly follow each other in Dorsetshire, thus : The mown grass—in zwath, swath,—is thrown abroad—tedded, and afterwards turned once or twice ; in the evening it is raked up into little ridges—rollers,—single or double, as they may be formed by one raker, or by two raking against each other ; and sometimes put up into small cones or heaps, called cocks. On the following morning the rollers or cocks are thrown abroad in passels—parcels,—which, after being turned, are in the evening put up into large ridges—weals ; and the weals are sometimes pooked, put up into larger cones—pooks,—in which the hay is loaded. In raking grass into double rollers, or pushing hay into weals, the fore raker or pickman is said to rake in or push in, or row or roo, and the other to close."


Barnes had already preserved many of these terms in two of his charming dialect poems, one on "Häymeäken ", and the other on "Häy-carrén" (pp. 51-2), which afford so delightful a picture of rustic life in the hay-field that one feels inclined to say, too:

"I do long to toss a pick, 
A pitchén or a-meäkén rick."
HARVEST HOME

The celebration of the ingathering of the corn harvest is common to all our counties and to most countries. Full accounts of these festivals and their significance may be found in Brand's, Hone's, and Chambers's works, as well as in those of less known writers.
 

It is to the late William Barnes that we might expect to look for a fitting description of a Dorset harvest-home feast, or supper, and we find it in an account,—as particular and as life-like as a painting of an old Dutch interior—of what usually took place on these occasions, which he contributed to Hone's Year Book (p. 586), from which I take the following extract:—

"Harvest Home, formerly celebrated with great mirth but now a declining usage, was a feast given by the farmer at the end of harvest, or when his hay and corn were got in ... Some years ago the ' harvest home ' in my native county, Dorset, was kept up with good old English hospitality.


"When the last load was ricked the labourers, male and female, the swarthy reaper and the sun-burnt hay-maker, the saucy boy who had not seen twelve summers and the stiff horny-handed old mower who had borne the toil of fifty, all made a happy groupe, and went with singing and loud-laughing to the harvest-home supper at the farmhouse, where they were expected by the good mistress, dressed in a quilted petticoat and a linsey-wolsey apron, with shoes fastened by large silver buckles which extended over her foot like a pack-saddle on a donkey.
 

"The dame and her husband welcomed them to a supper of good wholesome food, a round of beef, and a piece of bacon; and perhaps the host and hostess had gone so far as to kill a fowl or two, or stick a turkey, which they had fattened in the wheat-yard. The plain English fare was eaten from wooden trenchers, by the side of which were put little cups of horn filled with beer or cider. When the cloth was removed one of the men, putting forth his large hand like the gauntlet of an armed knight, would grasp his horn of beer, and standing up on a pair of legs which had long out-grown the largest holes of the village stocks, and with a voice which, if he had not been speaking a dialect of the English language, you might have thought came from the deep-seated lungs of a lion, he would propose the health of the farmer in the following lines :—
'Here's a health unto our miaster
The founder of the feast, 
And I hope to God wi' all my heart
His soul in heaven mid rest;
 

That everything mid prosper
That ever he tiak in hand,
Vor we be all his sarvants, 
And all at his command.'
"After this would follow a course of jokes, anecdotes, and songs, in some of which the whole company joined, without attention to the technicalities of counterpoint, bass, tenor, and treble, common chords and major thirds; but each singing the air and pitching in at the key that best fitted his voice, making a medley of big and little sounds, like the lowings of oxen and the low beatings of old ewes, mixed up with the shrill pipings of the lambs at a fair.

"The conversation commonly turned on the incidents of the summer ; how the hay-makers overtook the mowers, or how the rain kept the labour back ; how they all crept in a heap under the waggon in a thunderstorm ; how nearly some of them were crushed under the load that was upset; who was the best mower or reaper in the village ; which field yielded the best crop ; and which stack was most likely to heat."


Later Barnes devoted two of his charming dialect poems to a similar description, which form such a delightful complement to the whole subject that I have no hesitation in reproducing them here in full. They are to be found at pp. 78-80 of the first collected edition of the poems published by Kcgan Paul & Co. in 1879, and again in 1888. (The first edition of Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect was in 1844, whilst the earlier edition of Hone's Year Book in which Barnes's contribution first appeared was published in 1832. A change of spelling in some of the dialect words,—particularly the '"vowel sounds ",— (e.g. " ia ", in " miaster ", or " tiak ", to " eä, ") will be noticed in the earlier and later editions of the poems ; a scheme not involving so much a change of pronunciation» perhaps, but, as justified by Barnes in the preface to the third edition of his " first collection" of poems, published in 1862, on the ground that " while it affords the Dorset forms of the words to Dorset readers it may make them of more English look and more legible to others ".)
 

HARVEST HWOME

The vu'st peärt. The Supper.
"Since we wer striplèns naïghbour John,
The good wold merry times be gone:
But we do like to think upon
What we've a-zeed an' done.

When I wer up a hardish lad,
At harvest hwome the work-vo'k had

Sich suppers, they wer jumpèn mad
Wi' feästèn an' wi' fun.

At uncle's, I do mind, woone year,

I zeed a vill o' hearty cheer;
Fat beef an' puddèn, eäle an' beer,
Vor ev'ry workman's crop
An' after they'd a-gie'd God thanks,
They all zot down, in two long ranks,
Along a teäble-bwoard o' planks,
Wi' uncle at the top.

An' there, in platters, big and brown,

Wer red fat beäcon, an' a roun'
O' beef wi' gravy that would drown
A little rwoastèn pig;
Wi' beäns an' teäties vull a zack,
An' cabbage that would meäke a stack,
An' puddèns brown, a-speckled black
Wi' figs, so big's my wig.

An' uncle, wi' his elbows out,

Did carve, an' meäke the gravy spout;
An' aunt did gi'e the mugs about

A-frothèn to the brim.
Pleätes werden then ov e'then ware,
They ate off pewter, that would bear
A knock; or wooden trenchers, square,
Wi' zalt-holes at the rim.

An' zoo they munch'd their hearty cheer,

An' dipp'd their beards in frothy-beer,
An' laugh'd, an' jok'd--they couldden hear
What woone another zaid.
An' all o'm drink'd, wi' woone accword,
The wold vo'k's health: an' beät the bwoard,
An' swung their eärms about, an' roar'd,
Enough to crack woone's head.
Second Peärt. What they did after Supper.
Zoo after supper wer a-done,
They clear'd the teäbles, an' begun
To have a little bit o' fun,
As long as they mid stop.
The wold woones took their pipes to smoke,
An' tell their teäles, an' laugh an' joke,
A-lookèn at the younger vo'k,
That got up vor a hop.

Woone screäp'd away, wi' merry grin,
A fiddle stuck below his chin;
An' woone o'm took the rollèn pin,
An' beät the fryèn pan.
An' tothers, dancèn to the soun',
Went in an' out, an' droo an' roun',
An' kick'd, an' beät the tuèn down,
A-laughèn, maïd an' man.

An' then a maïd, all up tip-tooe,
Vell down; an' woone o'm wi' his shoe
Slit down her pocket-hole in two,
Vrom top a-most to bottom.
An' when they had a-danc'd enough,
They got a-plaÿèn blindman's buff,
An' sard the maïdens pretty rough,
When woonce they had a-got em.

An' zome did drink, an' laugh, an' roar,
An' lots o' teäles they had in store,
O' things that happen'd years avore
To them, or vo'k they know'd.
An' zome did joke, an' zome did zing,
An' meäke the girt wold kitchen ring;
Till uncle's cock, wi' flappèn wing,
Stratch'd out his neck an' crow'd.

To these Barnes has added " A Zong of the Harvest Home " (p. 80), of which the refrain to each of the six verses is:
"The happy zight—the merry night—
The men's delight—the Harvest Hwome."
Again, many years later, in his " Fore-say " to this work, Barnes speaks of the decline of the old-time celebrations of this festival. He says: "The feasts of Harvest-Home in which the work-folk were invited to
'the hall
where beards wagged all,—'(Thomas Tusser: Five Hundred Points of Husbandry)
 to share of mirth and meat under the smiles of the master and mistress, as tokens of approbation of their work, are now less customary than they formerly were, as in these commercial days it seems to be felt that the clock measures all the workman owes his master and the paytable all that the master owes to him."

As Brand says (i, 443), " Different places adopt different ceremonies " ; but that which seems to me to conform most to the Dorset ritual on these occasions is that of " crying the knack ", or " neck ", in the neighbouring counties of Devon and Cornwall, and in which there seems not only a strong affinity but traces of considerable antiquity. (Conf. Shropshire Folk-lore, pp372-3)


In 1873 I contributed an article to Notes and Queries (Ser. iv, xii, 491), describing " A Dorsetshire Harvest-Home " in West Dorset, which I had recently attended, and this I now reproduce :

"It was my good fortune to be present in September last at one of those old-fashioned gatherings in the West of Dorset, a harvest-home, and I thought that perhaps an account of such a quaint and time-honoured custom might not be unacceptable to some among the readers of ' N. and Q.', especially as these congenial meetings are becoming scarcer year by year and ere long bid fair to rank amongst the things that have been. Small sums of money are now in many places given to the men, women, and boys instead of the usual supper, a practice that I am sorry to say seems to be on the increase, and which I here offer up my voice to protest against.


" I say 'sorry', first, because it denotes a departure from old customs, and, secondly, because the purpose for which the alteration is intended is, it seems to me, but very imperfectly carried out. At the time of such a general holiday in the parish the labourers of one farm do not seem willing to disperse quietly to their own homes and husband the few shillings they may have received as 'largess', whilst their fellows are enjoying themselves on another farm ; but rather to keep up a harvest-home of their own in the village ale-house, though, I need scarcely say, not of so orderly a character as that of the bond fide supper ; and which, to tell the truth, they themselves much prefer, for a ' Dorsetshire labourer ', though he may be poor, is none the less Conservative.

"On the day appointed for the celebration of the harvest, the labourers from the several farms attended afternoon service in the parish church, dressed in their best clothes, the church being decorated in the usually seasonable manner. The entrance-gates of the principal farms were likewise decorated with an arch of evergreen, flowers, corn, etc., crowned with a sickle and scythe swathed in bands of wheat barley, the whole surmounted by appropriate mottoes.
 

"In the evening tables were laid out in the kitchen of a size sufficient to accommodate the men, women, boys and girls employed on the farm, the ' master ', assisted by such members of his family as might be, sitting at their head and carving a grand rump of Old English beef.
 

"As soon as the company had partaken of as much beef and plum-pudding as was considered desirable an adjournment was made to a large tree that stood near the homestead, where the following quaint custom—peculiar, I was informed, to the west of Dorset—took place. (it would seem to be somewhat similiar to the custom of 'crying the knack', which obtains to Devon and Cornwall)

"The men formed themselves into a circle, and each taking off his hat and holding it out in front of him, stooped to the ground; then, led by one standing in the centre, chanted the words : ' We have 'em ' (or ' 'en'). The first word, ' We/ is commenced in a very low tone, the men the while slowly and gradually raising themselves up, and so prolonged till they have almost reached their full height. They close the sentence by saying ' have 'em ' more quickly. This is done three times. They then shout ' Huzza ! ' once. Again they stoop down and go the same performance ; finishing up this time with two ' huzzas'. This is repeated once more, and finally wound up by huzzaing three times. As soon as the men have finished the women come forward and go through the same ceremony. This, when well performed, a not altogether unimpressive or unmusical effect. The words, I believe, bear reference to the conclusion of the harvest and the sheaves of corn being satisfactorily ' had ' in.


"The discharge of small cannon, (the peculiar care of the boys) likewise gave considerable éclat to the whole proceeding. This over, the party returned to the house and entered upon a course of singing and drinking, not unmixed with dancing in the back kitchen.
 

"The first song was, of course, in honour of the ' meäster ', and unenriched by the Dorset vernacular indulged in by the toast-master, was in the following words :—
'Here's a health unto our master, 
The founder of the feast,
And when that he is dead and gone,
I hope his soul may rest.
I wish all things may prosper,
Whatever he takes in hand.
For we are all his servants
And serve at his command.
So drink, boys, drink!

And see that you do not spill.
For if you do,
You shall drink two,

"Tis by your master's will.'
 "This song is repeated till everybody present has drunk the health.

"Then follow the ' healths' of the mistress and various members of the family, to the following words :—

'Here's Mrs' (or Mr's) good health !
Let the glass go round
And the trumpet sound,—
Huzza !  huzza !  huzza !
Down fall all the re-bels,
We long to see the day,—
Con-fusion unto them
That set 'em up again !
Huzza I huzza i  huzza !
Confusion etc.'
"This, like the last, was repeated till all had drunk.

"Then followed the curious and laughable custom of' drinking to your love over the left arm '. Each man, while the following verse was being sung, was obliged to drain his mug or horn-cup of ale by holding it in his right hand, and passing it outside of and over his left arm, which would be thrown across the chest. Great merriment was afforded when some of the older hands, through age or other infirmities failed to accomplish this in a satisfactory manner. The words sung were the following :—

' As I was a-riding over a mountain so high
I saw a pretty girl that plea-sed my eye,
She plea-sed my eye, but pla-gued my heart;
From this cup of liquor we never will part;
'Twill do us no good,—'twill do us no harm.
"Here's a health to my love, over left arm, over left arm! "
Here's a health etc.'
"This was continued till all had satisfactorily passed the crucial test. Songs of a more general character and sundry speeches followed; and eventually the proceedings were brought to a close about midnight by the whole company joining in the National Anthem, ' God Save the Queen.' "

The following version, similar but less ornate, of the " whooping " ceremony,—as it was called in the district,—was given me as having been performed at a farmhouse in the same neighbourhood as the last. At the end of the harvest a jar of cider or ale and two small cups were taken just outside the yard, when all the labourers would gather in a circle round the jar, which is presided over by the oldest man amongst them, and, taking off their hats and standing in a stooping position, would bow slowly down to the ground, whilst singing in a low, guttural, drawling tone, " We-e-e-e have 'en ! " They then stand upright again and holloa " hurrah " once. This is gone through a second time, when the " hurrah" is given twice. Again, a third repetition, when three " hurrahs " are given. They then have a drink all round; after which they return mostly for songs or dances after supper. I have been told that these cheers were often heard at a distance of a mile or two!

At the time I sent the above account to Notes and Queries I was not acquainted with Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology—or, rather, Stallybrass's translation of it,—in four volumes, which were not published till 1880-8. After I had read it I was struck by the very strong resemblance to the Dorset " whooping ", as it is called, that exists in the custom of the people in Lower Saxony invoking their great god Woden at the conclusion of the harvest. Grimm states (i, 154) that it is usual to leave a clump of corn standing in a field to Woden for his horse.


He then describes (p. 156) a custom in Schaumburg where the people, having finished the mowing of the corn, or having purposely left only a small strip standing which they could cut down at a stroke, then at the finish would raise their implements aloft, beating the blades three times with the strop, while each would spill a small quantity of beer on the ground and then drink himself. They would then wave their hats and beat their scythes three times and cry aloud, " Wôld-wôld-wôld" which, Grimm says, a Schaumburg man pronounced as " wauden ". They would then march home shouting and singing. If the ceremony were omitted the next year would bring bad crops of hay and corn.


It is a pity that Grimm did not know of the custom as existing in western Dorsetshire, which I have described above. I wonder whether he would have agreed with the suggestion that I now venture to make, that the Dorset labourers' cry in this corner of old Wessex of  "We hav'en ", repeated three times, is but a survival of the old invocation to the great god Woden of their Saxon ancestors, still continued from time immemorial at these harvest celebrations but of which the real significance and meaning have been lost.

Shortly before I left England in 1889 I was anxious to test this resemblance still further, so I invited certain of the farm labourers belonging to the same West Dorset parish—Symondsbury— in which the ceremony had been performed in 1873, after they had attended the now usual harvest festival service at the old parish church, to do their " whooping " on the lawn in front of the Manor House close to the church. They went through it all in much the same way as their predecessors had done, and again the close affinity to what Grimm had related was borne in upon me. Out of compliment to him I added a further Teutonic association that was by no means unacceptable to the performers. I made the men drink the healths from a tall seventeenth century pewter tankard, or loving-cup, with covered lid (of which there were one or two similar ones in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington), of a capacity of several quarts, which had formerly been the property of some civic company or guild in some German town (to judge from the inscription), this being the first opportunity I had had of putting it to anything approaching its former use. It would be a strange but not inappropriate incident if it should again, after so many years, have assisted in the survival of an ancient Teutonic festivity.
 

I have since obtained from locally printed sources and otherwise a few songs or verses that were sung at harvest-home gatherings. Several of these, as I have already pointed out, may also have been sung at sheep-shearing feasts in the days when these feasts were more worthy of the name. The main toasts were evidently the same. In particular the one sent by Mr. T. H. Garland to the Dorset County Chronicle (which had reprinted my paper from Notes and Queries), wherein he added that he was a West Dorset man and had for many years witnessed the old customs to which I had alluded.

The following verse appeared in the Bridport News in 1874 as having been sung at the same place as my account referred to:

"When the wheat is all ripe the harvest begin,
The farmer the fruits of the earth gather in ;
In the mornings as soon as the reap hooks are grind
We repair to the field for to reap and to bind."
Another couplet ran :—
"When the harvest is over to our master's we will steer,
And wet a good supper with a drink of strong beer."
The following toast was given by a farm labourer at a harvest home at Blandford in 1849 (" N. & Q.," Ser. v, x, 306. For a more correctly rhyming Worcestershire variant see the same volume, p. 375) :—
"Horses strong, sheep healthy, 
Barns full, money plenty."
A correspondent in Notes and Queries in 1878 (Ser. v, x, 375) speaks to his having heard, some forty years previously, the same refrain
" Drink, boys, drink, and see you do not spill;
If you do you shall drink two,
For 'tis our master's will."
at a sheep-shearing feast in the lower part of Dorsetshire, when each man was supplied with a small cup of about the third of a pint to drink the customary healths in.

Forfeits.—Amongst the amusements at harvest home suppers forfeits appear to have been sometimes indulged in (though such games were usually set apart for Christmas), when songs or rhythmic jingles were sung with the object of entrapping the unwary. The following were given me as having been used at harvest homes in the parish of Stoke Abbott, also in West Dorset.

One of the company leads off with the following rhythmic jingle, followed by the others :—


"Green grow the leaves on the hawthorn tree,
Some grow high and some grow low;
With my ringo and my jingo
We seldom disagree,
And the tenor of my song goes merrily—
And the tenor of my song goes merrily."

The leader alone then sings :

" Twenty, nineteen, eighteen—"
The next one in rotation :
" Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen—" 
The next, in their order :
" Fourteen, thirteen, twelve—"
" Eleven, ten, nine—"
" Eight, seven, six—"
The last in rotation chimes in with " Five, four, three "—and they all add:
"And the tenor of my song goes merrily."
When this is done the person next to the leader begins it over again, and it goes on as before, except that when he comes to the figures he starts with " Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen "—the next to him taking it up as before, and so on to the end. This over, the third person in rotation commences the strain, beginning the figures at " Fourteen, thirteen, twelve "—and so on as before until the whole is exhausted.
 

Should anyone make a mistake in repeating his portion he must pay forfeit, which, on these occasions, generally consists in being made to drink something.

Here is another one from the same place :— 

"O splice the cable-rope,
The rope it is so fine;*
And with a sugar loaf we'll have
A glass of currant wine ;
And if the wine is sharp
The sugar makes it sweet;
What greater joy in all the world
When two sweethearts do meet!
With my Rider, Ready, Rum,
My Rider, Ready, Rum,
So drink half your liquor, boys,
And say no more than ' Mum '.
So drink off your liquor, boys,
And say no more than ' Mum ' !"
*Possibly a covert allusion to the excellent quality of the hemp grown in the neighbourhood. So highly was it esteemed that a statute, 21 Henry VIII, provided that cables intended for the use of the Royal Navy should be made from hemp grown within a certain radius of Bridport, within which radius the parish of Stoke Abbott is situated.

The above rhyme is sung by all the company together, after which the leader, and any one who may be initiated in the game, endeavour to entrap the person sitting next them into answering more than the permitted " Mum " by accusing him, truly or otherwise, of having made a mistake in singing or in drinking more than half the liquor at the wrong time, so as to entail a forfeit. The verse is then gone through again, and the next person is interrogated with the like object, and so on in rotation until all have been subjected to the ordeal."

Friday, 1 August 2014

Crying the Neck, Corn Dollies and Fairy Folk: Customs and Traditions of Lammas


The 1st August is the ancient festival of ‘Lammas Tide’, which traditionally is the start of the harvest calendar: - a time of giving thanks to ‘Mother Nature’ for all her fruits and reaping what has been sown.

The Celts originally called it ‘Lugnasad’ and would celebrate by honouring ‘Lugh’, the sun god; however, the Saxons renamed the festival ‘hlaf-maesse’ meaning ‘loaf mass’, which later became ‘Lammas’, as we know it today. Traditionally it was the day when the first new grain was milled and baked into small loaves of bread, which were offered on the altar for a blessing and as thanks-giving for the first fruits of the harvest. Sometimes this service was reserved for ‘Garland Sunday’, the first Sunday after Lammas Day.

Music Barrows and Fairy Folk
Bincombe Bumps Music Barrows

The Dorset landscape would not be complete without its numerous ancient earthworks and barrows. In the past these burial mounds were believed to be inhabited by fairies, and at Lammas they are said to rise on pillars to reveal the revelling fairies dancing inside to the sweet sound of fairy music.

On Bincombe Hill, overlooking Weymouth, six such hillocks - which date back to the Bronze Age can be seen They were known locally as 'Music Barrows', for it was said if you put your ear to the top of one at noon, you would be able to hear the plaintive tones of music.

Corn Dollies

A traditional Corn Dolly
Corn dollies are a form of straw work made for, and associated with, harvest customs of Europe before mechanisation.
Before Christianisation, in traditional pagan European culture it was believed that the spirit of the "corn" (in modern American English, "corn" would be "grain") lived amongst the crop, and that the harvest made it effectively homeless.

Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest, hollow shapes were fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crops. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in their homes until the "corn dolly" was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season. "Dolly" may be a corruption of "idol" or may have come from the Greek word 'eidolon' (that which represents something else) as does the word 'idol'.

Crying the Neck

'Crying the Neck', ‘Crying the Nack’ or ‘Crying the Mare’, is a harvest festival tradition practiced in the West Country of England, in particular Cornwall, Devon, and parts of West Dorset.

In The Story of Cornwall, by Kenneth Hamilton Jenkin, the following explanation is given on the practice:
"In those days the whole of the reaping had to be done either with the hook or scythe. The harvest, in consequence, often lasted for many weeks. When the time came to cut the last handful of standing corn, one of the reapers would lift up the bunch high above his head and call out in a loud voice.....,

"We have it! We have it! We have it!"
The rest would then shout,

"What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee?"

and the reply would be:

"A neck! A neck! A neck!"

Everyone then joined in shouting:

"Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck! Hurrah for Mr. So-and-So"

(calling the farmer by name.)"
Although mostly discontinued the tradition is still practised by members of the Old Cornwall Society every year.

Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days August 1st 1864, details the traditions of Lammas.

"LAMMAS - This was one of the four great pagan festivals of Britain, the others being on 1st November, 1st February, and 1st May. The festival of the Gule of August, as it was called, probably celebrated the realisation of the first-fruits of the earth, and more particularly that of the grain-harvest. When Christianity was introduced, the day continued to be observed as a festival on these grounds, and, from a loaf being the usual offering at church, the service, and consequently the day, came to be called Half-mass, subsequently shortened into Lammas, just as hlaf-dig (bread-dispenser), applicable to the mistress of a house, came to be softened into the familiar and extensively used term, lady. This we would call the rational definition of the word Lammas.
There is another, but in our opinion utterly inadmissible derivation, pointing to the custom of bringing a lamb on this day, as an offering to the cathedral church of York. Without doubt, this custom, which was purely local, would take its rise with reference to the term Lammas, after the true original signification of that word had been forgotten. It was once customary in England, in contravention of the proverb, that a cat in mittens catches no mice, to give money to servants on Lammas-day, to buy gloves; hence the term Glove-Silver. It is mentioned among the ancient customs of the abbey of St. Edmund's, in which the clerk of the cellarer had 2d.; the cellarer's squire, 11d.; the granger, 11d.; and the cowherd a penny. Anciently, too, it was customary for every family to give annually to the pope on this day one penny, which was thence called Denarius Sancti Petri, or Peter's Penny.'—Hampson's Medii AEvi Kalendarium.
What appears as a relic of the ancient pagan festival of the Gule of August, was practised in Lothian till about the middle of the eighteenth century. From the unenclosed state of the country, the tending of cattle then employed a great number of hands, and the cow-boys, being more than half idle, were much disposed to unite in seeking and creating amusement. In each little district, a group of them built, against Lammas-day, a tower of stones and sods in some conspicuous place.
On Lammas-morning, they assembled here, bearing flags, and blowing cow-horns—breakfasted together on bread and cheese, or other provisions—then set out on a march or procession, which usually ended in a foot-race for some trifling prize. The most remarkable feature of these rustic fetes was a practice of each party trying, before or on the day, to demolish the sod fortalice of some other party near by. This, of course, led to great fights and brawls, in which blood was occasionally spilt. But, on the whole, the Lammas Festival of Lothian was a pleasant affair, characteristic of an age which, with less to gain, had perhaps rather more to enjoy than the present"

Friday, 27 June 2014

On this day 27th June 1728, a strange ghost story from Beaminster


Gentleman's Magazine
in 1774
In 1728, school boys who attended the St. Mary's church for schooling. Witnessed the apparition of the former pupil, who was murdered in suspicious circumstances, a month earlier nearby his home at Knowle.
The following account of the Beaminster Ghost Story first appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1774.

"The following very singular story comes well authenticate' In many respects the story may be deemed unique in the history of the supernatural. The apparition appears in broad daylight, and is seen of five children, one of whom did not even know the individual it represented when alive, and yet proved its identity by a wonderful piece of circumstantial evidence. The intense pathos of the unfortunate and evidently murdered lad, reappearing amidst the scenes of his childish occupations, and where he had been wont to play with those boys who now could only look upon him as a passing shadow, is most suggestive.

St. Mary's Church, Beaminster
St. Mary's Church
Beaminster
The school of Beaminster says the account, is held in a gallery of the parish church to which there is a distinct entrance from the churchyard. Every Saturday the key of it is delivered to the clerk of the parish by one or other of the schoolboys. On Saturday, June 27th, 1728, the master had dismissed his lads as usual. Twelve of them loitered about in the churchyard to play ball. It was just about noon. After a short space four of the lads returned into the school to search for old pens, and were startled by hearing in the church a noise which they described as that produced by striking a brass pan. They immediately ran to their playfellows in the churchyard and told them of it. They came to the conclusion that some one was in hiding in order to frighten them, and they all went back in the school together to discover who it was, but could not find anyone. As they were returning to their sport, on the stairs that lead in to the churchyard they heard in the school a second noise. Terrified at that, they ran round the church, and when at the belfry, or west door, they heard what seemed to them the sound some one preaching, which was succeeded by another sound as of a congregation singing psalms. Both of these noises lasted but a short time.

With the thoughtlessness of youth the lads soon resumed their sport, and after a short time one of them went into the school for his book, when he saw a coffin lying on one of the benches, only about six feet away. Surprised at this, he ran off and told his playfellows what he had seen, on which they all thronged to the school-door, whence five of the twelve saw the apparition of John Daniel, who had been dead more than seven weeks, sitting at some distance from the coffin, further in the school. All of them saw the coffin, and it was conjectured why all did not see the apparition was because the door was so narrow they could not all approach it together. The first who knew it to be the apparition of their deceased schoolfellow was Daniel's half-brother; and he, on seeing it, cried out 'There sits our John, with such a coat on as I have' (in the lifetime of the deceased boy the half-brothers were usually clothed alike) 'with a pen in his hand and a book before him, and a coffin by him. I'll throw a stone at him.' The other boys tried to stop him, but he threw the stone-as he did so, saying, 'Take it '-upon which the apparition immediately disappeared.

The Old School - St. Mary's Church, Beaminster
Door way to the School
The immense excitement this created in the place may be imagined. The lads, whose ages ranged between nine and twelve, were all magisterially examined by Colonel Broadrepp, and all agreed in their relation of the circumstance, even to the hinges of the coffin; whilst their description of the coffin tallied exactly with that the deceased lad had been buried in. One of the lads who saw the apparition was quite twelve years of age; he entered the school after the deceased boy had left it (on account of illness about a fortnight before his death,) and had never seen Daniel in his lifetime. This lad, on examination, gave an exact description of the person of the deceased, and took especial notice of one thing about the apparition which the other boys had not observed, and that was, it had a white cloth or rag bound round one of its hands. The woman who laid out the corpse of John Daniel for interment deposed on oath that she took such a white cloth from its hand, it having been put on the boy's hand (he being lame of it) about four days or so before his death. Daniel's body had been found in an obscure place in a field, at about a furlong distant from his mother's house, and had been buried without an inquest in consequence of his mother alleging that the lad had been subject to fits. After the appearance of the apparition the body was disinterred, a coroner's inquest was held, and a verdict returned to the effect that the body had been' strangled'. This verdict appears to have been mainly arrived at in consequence of the depositions of two women 'of good repute' that two days after the corpse was found they saw it, and discovered a 'black list' round its neck; and likewise of the joiner who put the body in the coffin, and who had an opportunity of observing it, as the shroud was not put on in the usual way, but was in two pieces, one laid under and the other over the body. A 'chirurgeon' who gave evidence could not, or would not, positively affirm to the jury that there was any dislocation of the neck. So far as can be learnt, no steps were taken to bring anyone to justice on account of the suggested death by violence of the lad."

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Chase Devil: The Traditions and Customs of the St. John's Day

St. John the Baptist
The 24th June is known as ‘Midsummer Day’, which is one of the quarter days of the year. This day was always associated with water and communities often marked it by dressing their wells. (See Rogation Tide - Upwey Well Dressing). Christians have dedicated this day to St John the Baptist, because it is believed that he was born about this time. It is one of the few saint days that celebrate the saint’s birth and not the saint’s death. The small golden flowers named after him, namely ‘St John’s Wort’ or ‘Chase Devil’ as it is sometimes called, was traditionally gathered on this day and placed over the entrance of the house to protect it from evil. Other flora like Mistletoe cut on Midsummer eve will cure all. Ashes from oak fires are magic aids to health and protection from storms and fire.

Below: Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days 24th June 1864, details the traditions of St. John's Day.
Midsummer Day - The Nativity of John the Baptist

Considering the part borne by the Baptist in the transactions on which Christianity is founded, it is not wonderful that the day set apart for the observance of his nativity should be, in all ages and most parts of Europe, one of the most popular of religious festivals. It enjoys the greater distinction that it is considered as Midsummer Day, and therefore has inherited a number of observances from heathen times. These are now curiously mixed with those springing from Christian feelings, insomuch that it is not easy to distinguish them from the other. It is only clear, from their superstitious character, that they have been originally pagan. To use the quaint phrase of an old translator of Scaliger, they 'form the footesteps of auncient gentility;' that is, gentilism or heathenism.
The observances connected with the Nativity of St. John commenced on the previous evening, called, as usual, the eve or vigil of the festival, or Midsummer eve. On that evening the people were accustomed to go into the woods and break down branches of trees, which they brought to their homes, and planted over their doors, amidst great demonstrations of joy, to make good the Scripture prophecy respecting the Baptist, that many should rejoice in his birth. This custom was universal in England till the recent change in manners. In Oxford there was a specialty in the observance, of a curious nature. Within the first court of Magdalen College, from a stone pulpit at one corner, a sermon was always preached on St. John's Day; at the same time the court was embowered with green boughs, 'that the preaching might resemble that of the Baptist in the wilderness.'
Towards night, materials for a fire were collected in a public place and kindled. To this the name of bonfire was given, a term of which the most rational explanation seems to be, that it was composed of contributions collected as boons, or gifts of social and charitable feeling. Around this fire the people danced with almost frantic mirth, the men and boys occasionally jumping through it, not to show their agility, but as a compliance with ancient custom. There can be no doubt that this leaping through the fire is one of the most ancient of all known superstitions, and is identical with that followed by Manasseh. We learn that, till a late period, the practice was followed in Ireland on St. John's Eve.
It was customary in towns to keep a watch walking about during the Midsummer Night, although no such practice might prevail at the place from motives of precaution. This was done at Nottingham till the reign of Charles I. Every citizen either went himself, or sent a substitute; and an oath for the preservation of peace was duly administered to the company at their first 'meeting at sunset. They paraded the town in parties during the night, every person wearing a garland of flowers upon his head, additionally embellished in some instances with ribbons and jewels. In London, during the middle ages, this watch, consisting of not less than two thousand men, paraded both on this night and on the eves of St. Paul's and St. Peter's days. The watchmen were provided with cressets, or torches, carried in barred pots on the tops of long poles, which, added to the bonfires on the streets, must have given the town a striking appearance in an age when there was no regular street-lighting. The great came to give their countenance to this marching watch, and made it quite a pageant. A London poet, looking back from 1616, thus alludes to the scene:
        The goodly buildings that till then did hide
        Their rich array, open'd their windows wide,
        Where kings, great peers, and many a noble dame,
        Whose bright pearl-glittering robes did mock the flame
        Of the night's burning lights, did sit to see
        How every senator in his degree,
        Adorn'd with shining gold and purple weeds,
        And stately mounted on rich-trapped steeds,
        Their guard attending, through the streets did ride,
        Before their foot-bands, graced with glittering pride
        Of rich-gilt arms, whose glory did present
        A sunshine to the eye, as if it meant,
        Among the cresset lights shot up on high,
        To chase dark night for over from the sky;
        While in the streets the sticklers to and fro,
        To keep decorum, still did come and go,
        Where tables set were plentifully spread,
        And at each door neighbour with neighbour fed.'
King Henry VIII, hearing of the marching watch, came privately, in 1510, to see it; and was so much pleased with what he saw, that he came with Queen Catherine and a noble train to attend openly that of St. Peter's Eve, a few nights after. But this king, in the latter part of his reign, thought proper to abolish the ancient custom, probably from a dread of so great a muster of armed citizens.
Some of the superstitious notions connected with St. John's Eve are of a highly fanciful nature. The Irish believe that the souls of all people on this night leave their bodies, and wander to the place, by land or sea, where death shall finally separate them from the tenement of day. It is not improbable that this notion was originally universal, and was the cause of the widespread custom of watching or sitting up awake on St. John's night, for we may well believe that there would be a general wish to prevent the soul from going upon that somewhat dismal ramble. In England, and perhaps in other countries also, it was believed that, if any one sat up fasting all night in the church porch, he would see the spirits of those who were to die in the parish during the ensuing twelvemonths come and knock at the church door, in the order and succession in which they were to die. We can easily perceive a possible connexion between this dreary fancy and that of the soul's midnight ramble.
The civic vigils just described were no doubt a result, though. a more remote one, of the same idea. There is a Low Dutch proverb used by those who have been kept awake all night by troubles of any kind:
'We have passed St. John Baptist's night.' In a book written in the seventeenth century for the instruction of a young nobleman, the author warns his pupil against certain 'fearful superstitions, as to watch upon St. John's evening, and the first Tuesday in the month of March, to conjure the moon, to lie upon your back, having your ears stopped with laurel leaves, and to fall asleep not thinking of God, and such like follies, all forged by the infernal Cyclops and Pluto's servants.'
A circumstance mentioned by Grose supports our conjecture—that to sleep on St. John's Eve was thought to ensure a wandering of the spirit, while watching was regarded as conferring the power of seeing the vagrant spirits of those who slept. Amongst a company who sat up in a church porch, one fell so deeply asleep that he could not be waked. His companions after-wards averred that, whilst he was in this state, they beheld his spirit go and knock at the church door.
The same notion of a temporary liberation of the soul is perhaps at the bottom of a number of superstitious practices resembling those appropriate to Hallow-eve. It was supposed, for example, that if an unmarried woman, fasting, laid a cloth at midnight with bread and cheese, and sat down as if to eat, leaving the street-door open, the person whom she was to marry would come into the room and drink to her by bowing, after which, setting down the glass, with another bow he would retire. It was customary on this eve to gather certain plants which were supposed to have a supernatural character. The fern is one of those herbs which have their seed on the back of the leaf, so small as to escape the sight. It was concluded, according to the strange irrelative reasoning of former times, that to possess this seed, not easily visible, was a means of rendering one's self invisible. Young men would go out at midnight of St. John's Eve, and endeavour to catch. some in a plate, but without touching the plant—an attempt rather trying to patience, and which often failed.
Our Elizabethan dramatists and poets, including Shakspeare and Jonson, have many allusions to the invisibility-conferring powers of fern seed. The people also gathered on this night the rose, St. John's wort, vervain, trefoil, and rue, all of which were thought to have magical properties. They set the orpine in clay upon pieces of slate or potsherd in their houses, calling it a Midsummer Man. As the stalk was found next morning to incline to the right or left, the anxious maiden knew whether her lover would prove true to her or not. Young women likewise sought for what they called pieces of coal, but in reality, certain hard, black, dead roots, often found under the living mugwort, designing to place these under their pillows, that they might dream of their lovers.
Some of these foolish fancies are pleasantly strung together in the Connoisseur, a periodical paper of the middle of the last century. 'I and my two sisters tried the dumb cake together; you must know two must make it, two bake it, two break it, and the third put it under each of their pillows (but you must not speak a word all the time), and then you will dream of the man you are to have. This we did; and, to be sure, I did nothing all night but dream of Mr. Blossom. The same night, exactly at twelve o'clock, I sowed hemp-seed in our backyard, and said to myself—"Hemp-seed I sow, hemp-seed I hoe, and he that is my true love come after me and mow.' Will you believe me? I looked back and saw him as plain as eyes could see him. After that I took a clean shift and wetted it, and turned it wrong side out, and hung it to the fire upon the back of a chair; and very likely my sweetheart would have come and turned it right again (for I heard his step), but I was frightened, and could not help speaking, which broke the charm. I likewise stuck up two Mid-summer Men, one for myself and one for him. Now, if his had died away, we should never have come together; but I assure you his bowed and turned to mine. Our maid Betty tells me, if I go backwards, without speaking a word, into the garden upon Midsummer Eve, and gather a rose, and keep it in a clean sheet of paper, without looking at it till Christmas Day, it will be as fresh as in June; and if I then stick it in my bosom, he that is to be my husband will come and take it out.' So also, in a poem entitled the Cottage Girl, published in 1786:
        The moss rose that, at fall of dew,
        Ere eve its duskier curtain drew,
        Was freshly gather'd from its stem,
        She values as the ruby gem;
        And, guarded from the piercing air,
        With all an anxious lover's care,
        She bids it, for her shepherd's sake,
        Await the new-year's frolic wake,
        When, faded in its alter'd hue,
        She reads—the rustic is untrue!
        But if its leaves the crimson paint,
        Her sickening hopes no longer faint;
        The rose upon her bosom worn,
        She meets him at the peep of morn,
        And lo! her lips with kisses prest,
        He plucks it from her panting breast.'

We may suppose, from the following version of a German poem, entitled The St. John's Wort, that precisely the same notions prevail amongst the peasant youth of that country:

        The young maid stole through the cottage door,
        And blushed as she sought the plant of power:
        "Thou silver glow-worm, oh, lend me thy light,
        I must gather the mystic St. John's wort tonight—
        The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide
        If the coining year shall make me a bride."
        And the glow-worm came
        With its silvery flame,
        And sparkled and shone
        Through the night of St. John.
        And soon has the young maid her love-knot tied.
        With noiseless tread,
        To her chamber she sped,
        Where the spectral moon her white beams shed:
        "Bloom here, bloom here, thou plant of power,
        To deck the young bride in her bridal hour!
        But it droop'd its head, that plant of power,
        And died the mute death of the voiceless flower;
        And a wither'd wreath on the ground it lay,
        More meet for a burial than bridal day.
        And when a year was past away,
        All pale on her bier the young maid lay;
        And the glow-worm came
        With its silvery flame,
        And sparkled and shone
        Through the Eight of St. John,
        As they closed the cold grave o'er the maid's cold day.'

Some years ago there was exhibited before the Society of Antiquaries a ring which had been found in a ploughed field near Cawood in Yorkshire, and which appeared, from the style of its inscriptions, to be of the fifteenth century. It bore for a device two orpine plants joined by a true love knot, with this motto above, Alec fiancee velt, that is, My sweetheart wills, or is desirous. The stalks of the plants were bent towards each other, in token, no doubt, that the parties represented by them were to come together in marriage. The motto under the ring was Joye l'amour feu. So universal, in time as in place, are these popular notions.
The observance of St. John's Day seems to have been, by a practical bull, confined mainly to the previous evening. On the day itself, we only find that the people kept their doors and beds embowered in the branches set up the night before, upon the understanding that these had a virtue in averting thunder, tempest, and all kinds of noxious physical agencies.
The Eve of St. John is a great day among the mason-lodges of Scotland. What happens with them at Melrose may be considered as a fair example of the whole. 'Immediately after the election of office-bearers for the year ensuing, the brethren walk in procession three times round the Cross, and afterwards dine together, under the presidency of the newly-elected Grand Master. About six in the evening, the members again turn out and form into line two abreast, each bearing a lighted flambeau, and decorated with their peculiar emblems and insignia. Headed by the heraldic banners of the lodge, the pro-cession follows the same route, three times round the Cross, and then proceeds to the Abbey. On these occasions, the crowded streets present a scene of the most animated description. The joyous strains of a well-conducted band, the waving torches, and incessant showers of fire-works, make the scene a carnival. But at this time the venerable Abbey is the chief point of attraction and resort, and as the mystic torch-bearers thread their way through its mouldering aisles, and round its massive pillars, the outlines of its gorgeous ruins become singularly illuminated and brought into bold and striking relief.
The whole extent of the Abbey is with "measured step and slow " gone three times round. But when near the finale, the whole masonic body gather to the chancel, and forming one grand semicircle around it, where the heart of King Robert Bruce lies deposited near the high altar, and the band strikes up the patriotic air, " Scots wha ha'e wi' Wallace bled," the effect produced is overpowering. Midst showers of rockets and the glare of blue lights the scene closes, the whole reminding one of some popular saturnalia held in a monkish town during the middle ages.'—Wade's Hist. Melrose, 1861, p. 146.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Midsummer Eve and the arrival of the Black Death to England

Midsummer Eve
by Edward Robert Hughe
Midsummer Eve’ or ‘St John’s Eve’ falls on 23rd June and like Hallowe’en and St Mark’s Eve this is a time when ghosts, phantoms and fairies are believed to be abroad and when one can foretell the future.

Midsummer's Fright Dream

If there was a full moon on Midsummer Eve night and a clear sky, a girl could use a mirror to discover how many years had to pass before she was to marry. The method used was for the girl to stand upon a stone on which she had never stood before with her back to the full moon and a looking glass in her hand. Gazing into the mirror she would see the moon's reflection and also a number of smaller moons. How many of these there were denoted how many years had to pass before she was to wed.

Flowers and plants feature heavily in such Midsummer Eve charms. The small yellow flower ‘St John’s Wort’ was considered to be very lucky, because it was believed to keep fairies, ghosts and evil from haunting the house. Unmarried girls would gather the flower very early on Midsummer Eve morning while the dew was still on its petals and place it under their pillows. If a girl did this in secret, it was believed that she would dream of her future husband that night.
St John's wort doth charm all witches away
if gathered at midnight on the saint's holy day
any devils and witches have no power to harm
those that gather the plant for a charm
rub the lintels with that red juicy flower
no thunder nor tempest will then have the power
to hurt or hinder your house; and bind
round your neck a charm of similar kind.
St. John's Wort
Sage leaves too were formerly used in love-divinations. This charm was believed to work for both females and males alike. To enable a person to see his or her future sweetheart, in either bodily form or in a vision, required the person to pluck twelve leaves off a sage bush at midnight; pulling one for each strike of the clock. With the last leaf pulled the destined wife or husband would appear behind them.

Rosemary is yet another herb used in Midsummer Eve charms. If a girl puts a plate of flour under a rosemary bush before retiring to bed, the next morning she should find her future husband's initials traced in the flour.

Roses are of special importance on Midsummer's Eve. It is said that any rose picked on Midsummer's Eve, or Midsummer's Day will keep fresh until Christmas. 

At midnight on Midsummer's Eve, young girls should scatter rose petals before them and say:
Rose leaves, rose leaves,
Rose leaves I strew.
He that will love me
Come after me now.
Then the next day, Midsummer's Day, their true love will visit them.

Those girls who had boyfriends already, but were perhaps unsure if he was the right partner for them would use the Orpine plant, which is often called "Mid Summer Men" to discover if he was their true-love. The enquiring girl would take two sprigs of Orpine, naming one after herself and the other after her boyfriend and place them upright in a lump of clay (Blue tac will do just as well today) and leave over night. If the next morning they were found bending towards each other, their love would prosper, but if they had turned away in opposite directions, their love affair was doomed. However, anyone trying this should be warned! If either of the two named sprigs had withered away, it was a sure sign that the said person was soon to die.

Watching in the church porch for those in the parish who were to die within the coming year was another universal Midsummer Eve custom. Anyone wishing to know would have to go to the church porch and wait there from 11pm until 1am (one hour either side of midnight) in complete silence. At some moment during the two-hour vigil, the fetches of those doomed to die would appear and pass one by one into the church.

Midsummer Fire Leaping
"Many of these ancient customs are still continued, and the fires are still lighted on St. John's Eve on every hill in Ireland. When the fire has burned down to a red glow the young men strip to the waist and leap over or through the flames; this is done backwards and forwards several times, and he who braves the greatest blaze is considered the victor over the powers of evil, and is greeted with tremendous applause. When the fire burns still lower, the young girls leap the flame, and those who leap clean over three times back and forward will be certain of a speedy marriage and good luck in after life, with many children. The married women then walk through the lines of the burning embers; and when the fire is nearly burnt and trampled down, the yearling cattle are driven through the hot ashes, and their back is singed with a lighted hazel twig. These hazel rods are kept safely afterwards, being considered of immense power to drive the cattle to and from the watering places. As the fire diminishes the shouting grows fainter, and the song and the dance commence; while professional story-tellers narrate tales of f airy-land, or of the good old times long ago, when the kings and princes of Ireland dwelt amongst their own people, and there was food to eat and wine to drink for all corners to the feast at the king's house. When the crowd at length separate, every one carries home a brand from the fire, and great virtue is attached to the lighted brone which is safely carried to the house without breaking or falling to the ground. Many contests also arise amongst the young men; for whoever enters his house first with the sacred fire brings the good luck of the year with him."
Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, 'The Baal Fires and Dances', 1887

Midsummer Eve Customs and Superstitions in Dorset

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of Midsummer Eve (Eve of St. John the Baptist) in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-
"Dorsetshire does not appear to have followed the example of many other parts of England and of other European countries in the ceremonies which marked the advent of the summer solstice as recorded by Brand and other writers, such as, piling up and dancing round  or through bonfires, and other recognized festivities. It seems to have contented itself with those simple and domestic practices that are so  dear to the heart of the village maidens, who seek by " divination", or some form of " matrimonial oracle ", to learn what is to be their own fate or chance of happiness in the married state.
William Barnes, writing in Hone's Year Book in 1832, refers to one of the commonest or best known of these. After mentioning some of the various means and practices which were resorted to in his childhood in order to attain this object, and which required no particular day or season in order to be effective, he tells us (p. 588) :—

Hemp-seed throwing.—" Midsummer Eve, however, is the great time with girls for discovering who shall be their husbands ; why it is so, more than any other, I cannot tell, unless, indeed, the sign Gemini, which the sun then leaves, is symbolical of the wedding union. But, however that may be, a maiden will walk through the garden at midsummer, with a rake on her left shoulder and throw hemp-seed over her right, saying at the same time:—

'Hemp-seed I set, hemp-seed I sow,
The man that is my true-love come after me and mow.'
"It is said by many who have never tried it, and some who have without effect, that the future husband of the hemp-sowing girl will appear behind her with a scythe, and look as substantial as a brass image of Saturn on an old time-piece"

Barnes also weaves this superstition or charm into " Mrs. Mary's Tale " in Erwin and Linda, one of his Poems of Rural Life in National English " (1846), pp. 11 and 12 :—
"For once, when summer's shortest night
Came round, so slowly letting fall
Its sparkling dew below the light
The moon cast down upon the wall ;
The while the slowly-clanging bell
Struck twelve o'clock, and giggling maids
Stole out to try the well-known spell
That brings their unknown husbands' shades ;
Young Linda too was scatt'ring wide
Her hemp-seed, crying 'This I sow
'That he who takes me for his bride
'Should now come after me and mow.'
 And turning round her fair-neck'd head
With timid smile, and backward look,
She saw—and seeing, felt half dead—
A shape come slowly o'er the brook ;
And when she saw his scythe-blade's bow
Behind him gleaming by the moon,
She sank with one convulsive throe,
Against an elm-tree in a swoon."

Thomas Hardy gives a delightfully realistic account of the observance of this custom by the village maidens of the Hintocks in The Woodlanders (vol. ii, chapter iv), where, as they left their homes for the woods in which they were to try their fate, " a handful " (of hemp-seed) " was carried by each girl ".

Mr. Hardy — who is a keen observer of all that is archaic and quaint in the life of the Dorset peasantry—at the same time alludes incidentally to a somewhat similar species of divination by which girls were enabled to learn what were the trades of their future husbands, namely, by " hole-digging " at noon on the following day, St. John the Baptist's or Midsummer Day. No further details are given; and as I have not myself come across this particular form of divination I cannot give any information as to how it was actually carried out, beyond saying that it would seem to bear some kinship to that mentioned by Brand (i, 267), who cites Aubrey's Miscellanies (1696) for the statement that " on the day of St. John Baptist " as he was walking in the pasture at 12 o'clock he saw a group of young women on their knees " very busie, as if they had been weeding ".

"A young man told him that they were looking for a coal (or " cole " : an old, blackened root, often found under mugwort or plantains) under the root of a plantain, to put under their heads that night, and they should dream who would  be their husbands. It was to be that day and hour."

Crossed Shoes. — Barnes also gives another well-known " matrimonial oracle ", which consists in a. girl, on going to bed on Midsummer Eve, putting her shoes at right angles to each other in the shape of a T, and saying :—
"Hoping this night my true love to see,
I place my shoes in the form of a T."
When she will be sure to see her husband in a dream, and perhaps in reality, by her bed-side.

According to the Rev. Canon C. H. Mayo this couplet sometimes takes the form of a quotation :—

"I place my shoes in the form of a T,
Hoping this night my true-love to see,
In his apparel and in his array,
As he goes forth on every day."
Letters of Alphabet.—There is still another one mentioned by Barnes. " A girl, on going to bed, is to write the alphabet on small pieces of paper and put them into a bason of water with the letters downward ; and it is said that in the morning she will find the first letter of her husband's name turned up, and the others as they were left."

Death Omen. — Miss M, G. A. Summers, of Hazelbury Bryan, contributed to the " Folk-lore Column " of the Dorset County Chronicle in 1881 several interesting items relating to Midsummer Eve.

She stated that a curious old custom was still firmly believed in Dorsetshire, that if you sit in the church porch on Midsummer Eve you will see those who are to die during the ensuing year enter the church and not come out again ; whilst those who will have a serious illness will go in and return again. Also that she had been informed by a Dorset woman " with a most solemn face" that if you put some }^arrow gathered off a young man's grave under your pillow on Midsummer Eve you will surely see your future husband.

Miss Summers further remembered hearing a young woman in a neighbouring village say that she had laid out some bread and cheese and had sat up, as she had " heard tell how her young man's spirit would come and take some ".

This last is evidently that alluded to by Thomas Hardy in his Under the Greenwood Tree, where at the Christmas party given by the tranter Reuben Dewy, depicted in Part I, Chapter VIII, Mrs. Penny speaks of the occasion when one Midsummer Eve, when she was a young woman, she had sat up, accordin to the' time-honoured custom, to watch for the spirit of the man who was to be her future husband. She says : "I put the bread and cheese and cider quite ready as the witch's book ordered, and I opened the door and waited till the clock struck twelve. When the clock had struck, lo and behold I could see through a little small man in the lane wi' a shoemaker's apron on. In he walks and down he sits, and, O my goodness, didn't I flee upstairs, body and soul hardly hanging together! "

Though this was not the figure she approved or desired, as her conduct on this occasion showed, so effectual was the charm that she had prepared that she nevertheless in due course of time became his wife."
The Black Death enters Weymouth

It was also this time in the month over 600 years ago that the dreadful plague known as the Black Death swept into from Asia claiming a third of Europe's population in just two years. Its arrival to England through Weymouth on the 25th June 1348. Is documented in the Grey Friars Chronicle.
'In this year 1348 in Melcombe, in the county of Dorset, a little before the feast of St. John the Baptist, two ships, one of them from Bristol came alongside. One of the sailors had brought with him from Gascony the seeds of the terrible pestilence and through him the men of that town of Melcombe were the first in England to be infected.'
A victim of the Black Death
Villages and hamlets on the outskirts of Weymouth soon fell victim to the plague causing the villagers to abandon their settlements and seek refuge in other parts of the county; this caused the infection to spread over a wide area, until it eventually reached the major cities. The Death took a heavy toll on the people of Portland, that the quarries and fields ceased to be worked and the coastal defences were left deserted. Edward III, in 1352 ordered the movement of the islanders to be restricted. The bubonic plague was transmitted to humans by the bite of a flea, the flea itself being infected by the black rat upon which it lived. Both rats and fleas thrived in unsanitised conditions of the time. One bite from a flea could cause the most horrifying symptoms. The first sign being a blackish rash followed by large swellings in the armpit, groin and neck area. Preceding death the victim would develop a fever and begin to hallucinate. The bubonic plague continued to affect Europe for centuries, its last manifestation in Britain being the Great Plague of the 1660's.
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