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Friday, 20 March 2015

"Mad as a March Hare": The Customs and Traditons of Spring

The ‘Spring’ or ‘Vernal Equinox’, which was once called ‘Ostara’, occurs on either 20th, 21st or 22nd March when the sun enters ‘Aries’ according to the Earth’s orbit and the insertion of leap years. The Spring Equinox marks the time when the sun crosses the celestial equator northwards or the ‘half way point’ resulting in equal twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. At the equinox the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west after which the daylight hours grow increasingly longer until the sun reaches its highest point in the sky at the ‘Summer Solstice’, which occurs in June. 

The Oestra Hare in folklore and tradition
Have you ever wondered how the symbol of the rabbit became associated with the Easter Festival? The origin of the Easter Bunny probably goes back to the festival's connection with the pagan goddess Eostre. 

Eostre (sometimes spelt Oestre) was a fertility goddess from whom we derive the word "oestrogen" and she is closely associated with fertility symbols such as eggs. The rabbit is known as a highly fertile creature and hence an obvious choice for Easter symbolism.

In fact the use of the rabbit is probably a mistake - the Easter "bunny" is more likely to have been a hare, since it is the hare that is usually considered the sacred creature of Eostre.

Pagan fertility festivals at the time of the Spring equinox were common. It was believed that at this time, when day and night were of equal length, male and female energies were also in balance.

The hare is often associated with moon goddesses; the egg and the hare together represent the god and the goddess respectively.  The earliest known reference to our modern Easter Bunny tradition appears to be from 16th century Germany. In the 18th century, German settlers to America brought the tradition with them. The Bunny was known by them as Oschter Haws (a corruption of the German Osterhase ) and brought gifts of chocolate, sweets and Easter Eggs to good children. Often children would make up nests for Oschter Haws, sometimes using their Easter bonnets, and the Bunny would leave his treats there. 

Witch Hares

It is because of this strong connection with pagan traditions that Hares were strongly associated with witches and witchcraft in Christian times. People claimed that a witch could shape shift her form at night and become a hare. These solitary creatures, rarely seen, sometimes standing on their hind legs like a person, aroused suspicion.

When in distress they uttered a strange, almost human-like cry, which gave the animal a supernatural quality. For its behaviour would mimic that of a supposed witch. In this form she stole milk or food, or destroyed crops. Others insisted that hares were only witches' familiars.

Folk musician Seth Lakeman song 'The White Hare' tells the folklore tale of a witch who can transform into a white hare. See music video.

In Dorset there are many stories associated with  Witch Hares. In the Purbecks, the gateway at West Lulworth, known as 'Daggers Gate', is believed to mark a grave of a supposed witch who could transfer herself into a hare. It acquired its unusual name in 1789, after farmer Sam Varnell was stabbed and killed at the spot by the daughter of the supposed witch. The witches ghost is still said to haunt the area often taking the form of a hare

Rabbits, the Portland taboo word

These associations caused many people to believe hares were bad luck and best avoided. A hare crossing ones path, particularly when the person was riding a horse, could cause disaster.

Many people on Portland believe that even the rabbit is bad luck! Even to say the word could send Portlanders into a stupor, fearing what might happen (see previous blog entry Wallace and Gromit spook island). The fear of rabbits is based on the fact that quarry men would often see rabbits emerging from their burrows immediately before a rock fall. Such rock falls often injured and even killed quarry workers; therefore, it is understandable that rabbits became associated with bad luck.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

St. Edward the Martyr's Day

Stained Glass Window at
Shaftesbury Abbey of
St. Edward by Rupert Moore
The following is an extract taken from the 'Chambers Book of Days' March 18th 1864, with regards to the death of Edward the king of England who was brutely murdered near Corfe Castle. 
"The great King Edgar had two wives, first Elfleda, and, after her death, Elfrida, an ambitious woman, who had become queen through the murder of her first husband, and who survived her second; and Edgar left a son by each, Edward by Elfleda, and Ethelred by Elfrida. At the time of their father's death, Edward was thirteen, and Ethelred seven years of age; and they were placed by the ambition of Elfrida, and by political events, in a position of rivalry. Edgar's reign had been one continued struggle to establish monarchism, and with it the supremacy of the Church of Rome, in Anglo-Saxon England; and the violence with which this design had been carried out, with the persecution to which the national clergy were subjected, now caused a reaction, so that at Edgar's death the country was divided into two powerful parties, of which the party opposed to the monks was numerically the strongest. The queen joined this party, in the hope of raising her son to the throne, and of ruling England in his name; and the feeling against the Romish usurpation was so great, that, although Edgar had declared his wish that his eldest son should succeed him, and his claim was no doubt just, the crown was only secured to him by the energetic interference of Dunstan. Edward thus became King of England in the year 975.

The ruins of Corfe Castle Edward appears, as far as we can learn, to have been an amiable youth, and to have possessed some of the better qualities of his father; but his reign and life were destined to be cut short before he reached an age to display them. He had sought to conciliate the love of his step-mother by lavishing his favour upon her, and he made her a grant of Dorsetshire, but in vain; and she lived, apparently in a sort of sullen state, away from court, with her son Ethelred, at Corfe in that county, plotting, according to some authorities, with what may be called the national party, against Dunstan and the government.
The Anglo-Saxons were all passionately attached to the pleasures of the chase, and one day—it was the 18th of March 978 — King Edward was hunting in the forest of Dorset, and, knowing that he was in the neighbourhood of Corfe, and either suffering from thirst or led by the desire to see his half-brother Ethelred, for whom he cherished a boyish attachment, he left his followers and rode alone to pay a visit to his mother. Elfrida received him with the warmest demonstrations of affection, and, as he was unwilling to dismount from his horse, she offered him the cup with her own hand. While he was in the act of drinking, one of the queen's attendants, by her command, stabbed him with a dagger. The prince hastily turned his horse, and rode toward the wood, but he soon became faint and fell from his horse, and his foot becoming entangled in the stirrup, he was dragged along till the horse was stopped, and the corpse was carried into the solitary cottage of a poor woman, where it was found next morning, and, according to what appears to be the most trustworthy account, thrown by Elfrida's directions into an adjoining marsh.The young king was, however, subsequently buried at Wareham, and removed in the following year to be interred with royal honours at Shaftesbury. The monastic party, whose interests were identified with Edward's government, and who considered that he had been sacrificed to the hostility of their opponents, looked upon him as a martyr, and made him a saint. The writer of this part of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, who was probably a contemporary, expresses his feelings in the simple and pathetic words, 'No worse deed than this was done to the Anglo race, since they first came to Britain.'
Edward the Martyr Sign
Corfe Village

The story of the assassination of King Edward is sometimes quoted in illustration of a practice which existed among the Anglo-Saxons. Our forefathers were great drinkers, and it was customary with them, in drinking parties, to pass round a large cup, from which each in turn drunk to some of the company. He who thus drank, stood up, and as he lifted the cup with both hands, his body was exposed without any defence to a blow, and the occasion was often seized by an enemy to murder him. To prevent this, the following plan was adopted. When one of the company stood up to drink, he required the companion who sat next to him, or some one of the party, to be his pledge, that is, to be responsible for protecting him against anybody who should attempt to take advantage of his defenceless position: and this companion, if he consented, stood up also, and raised his drawn sword in his hand to defend him while drinking. This practice, in an altered form, continued long after the condition of society had ceased to require it, and was the origin of the modern practice of pledging in drinking. At great festivals, in some of our college halls and city companies, the custom is preserved almost in its primitive form in passing round the ceremonial cup—the loving cup, as it is sometimes called. As each person rises and takes the cup in his hand to drink, the man seated next to him rises also, and when the latter takes the cup in his turn, the individual next to him does the same."

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Clipping the Church and the Customs and Traditions of Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday, also called "Mothers' Day" in the United Kingdom and Ireland falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent (exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday). It is believed to have originated from the 16th century Christian practice of visiting one's mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day. Most historians believe that young apprentices and young women in servitude were released by their masters that weekend in order to visit their families. As a result of secularization, it is now principally used to celebrate and give thanks for mothers, although it is still recognized in the historical sense by some churches, with attention paid to Mary the mother of Jesus as well as the traditional concept 'Mother Church'. 

Church Clipping

Church of St. Laurence, Upwey, near Weymouth
The custom of ‘Clipping the Church’ as it is called, is a dance-like ceremony in which the parishioners join hands and move around the outside of the church in an unbroken ring often singing a traditional clipping hymn. The word "clipping" is Anglo-Saxon in origin, and is derived from the word "clyp-pan", meaning "embrace" or "clasp" and thus is an expression of devotion to the Mother Church, although the tradition is sometimes held on Easter Monday or Shrove Tuesday. As is so often the case with traditions like this, Clipping the Church finds its origins in pagan times and has probably descended from the Spring Equinox festivals.  Currently, there are only a few churches left in England that hold this ceremony like St. Peter's Church, Edgmond, and St. Mary's Church in Painswick.   

'Clipping the Church' at Upwey in 1970
The Church of St. Laurence at Upwey also revived this tradition in 1962.  An account of this custom was featured in a local newspaper 'Why they are 'Clipping' the Church', March 1970.

"The Mothering Sunday Celebration, pictured above is called Clipping the Church and was performed at Upwey Parish Church, Weymouth, yesterday for the eighth year after the revival of the tradition.

The Rector, the Rev. A. Leslie Jones, explained that the ceremony arose from an Epistle in the Bible which referred to the Church as the "mother of us all." The tradition was an "embracing" of the mother on the fourth Sunday in Lent.

About 100 people attended a short service before the ceremony which posies brought by the children were blessed and presented to their mothers.

Then the concregation went outside, linked arms and walked or danced around the church."

An earlier revival in nearby Preston featured a Clipping the Church ceremony in the Dorset Evening Echo 8th March 1961.

"The ancient custom of “Clipping the Church” was observed at the picturesque village church of St Andrew’s at Preston, Weymouth, yesterday – Mothering Sunday.

The ceremony was revived nine years ago, is intended to symbolise the family character of the Christian church.  The church was nearly filled and the service conducted by the new Vicar, Canon W. J. Smith, assisted by the Rev E.V. Tanner.

Children and their parents filed out of the main door, headed by the choir and joined hands to completely surround the church.

Moving round it continuously they sang the hymn “All things bright and beautiful.”


Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the traditions of Mothering Sunday (Mid-Lent Sunday) in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-
"Without attributing to Dorset folk the ideas of some old writers in giving this name to the fourth Sunday in Lent, namely, that whilst Roman Catholicism was the established religion in England it was customary for people to visit their Mother church on Mid-Lent Sunday and to make their offerings at the high altar, (See Brand, i, 92.) yet there are traces of a less ecclesiastical practice that at one time prevailed in some parts of the county at this time. The eating of " furmity " (fr. frumentum) a dish composed of steeped wheat, milk, currants, spice, etc. and boiled together—whether at the house of parents whom it was usual in some parts of England to visit on this day and to take them some little present of nice eatables, or otherwise—was customary at this time to some extent in Dorsetshire. We have the authority of the late Sir Frederick A. Weld, K.C.M.G.—at one time Prime Minister of New Zealand and, later, Governor of the Straits Settlements—for saying(Notes and Queries, Ser. v, v. 78) that in his own home at Chideock, in West Dorset, "furmity" made of boiled wheat and raisins, was eaten on their village feast day. I myself, many years ago, accepted some of this savoury dish at the hands of an old West Dorset lady, now dead, at this time of the year.

I have had no support from any Dorset source for the suggestion of certain scriptural writers (8 See Brand, i, p. 93 (n.). that this eating of " furmity " on Mothering Sunday may have taken its rise from the miraculous " feeding of the five thousand " by our Saviour as recorded in the Gospel for that day, or, perhaps, from the entertainment by Joseph of his brethren as related in the first lesson.
Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days March 6th 1864, details the tradition of Mother's day.
In the year 1864 the 6th of March is the fourth Sunday in Lent, commonly called Midlent Sunday. Another popular name for the day is Mothering Sunday, from an ancient observance connected with it.
The harshness and general painfulness of life in old times must have been much relieved by certain simple and affectionate customs which modern people have learned to dispense with. Amongst these was a practice of going to see parents, and especially the female one, on the present, such as a cake or a trinket. A youth engaged in this amiable act of duty was said to go a-mothering, and thence the day itself came to be called Mothering Sunday. One can readily imagine how, after a stripling or maiden had gone to service, or launched in independent housekeeping, the old bonds of filial love would be brightened by this pleasant annual visit, signalised, as custom demanded it should be, by the excitement attending some novel and perhaps surprising gift. There was also a cheering and peculiar festivity appropriate to the day, the prominent dish being furmety—which we have to interpret as wheat grains boiled in sweet milk, sugared and spiced. In the northern parts of England, and in Scotland, there seems to have been a greater leaning to steeped pease fried in butter, with pepper and salt. Pancakes so composed passed by the name of carlings: and so conspicuous was this article, that from it Carling Sunday became a local name for the day.
 'Tid, Mid, and Misera,
Carling, Palm, Pase-egg day,'
remains in the north of England as an enumeration of the Sundays of Lent, the first three terms probably taken from words in obsolete services for the respective days, and the fourth being the name of Midlent Sunday from the cakes by which it was distinguished.
Herrick, in a canzonet addressed to Dianeme, says

I'll to thee a simnel bring,
'Gainst thou go a-mothering:
So that, when she blesses thee,
Half that blessing thou'lt give me.'

Simnel Cake
He here obviously alludes to the sweet cake which the young person brought to the female parent as a gift: but it would appear that the term 'simnel' was in reality applicable to cakes which were in use all through the time of Lent. We are favoured by an antiquarian friend with the following general account of Simnel Cakes.

It is an old custom in Shropshire and Herefordshire, and especially at Shrewsbury, to make during Lent and Easter, and also at Christmas, a sort of rich and expensive cakes, which are called Simnel Cakes. They are raised cakes, the crust of which is made of fine flour and water, with sufficient saffron to give it a deep yellow colour, and the interior is filled with the materials of a very rich plum-cake, with plenty of candied lemon peel, and other good things. They are made up very stiff; tied up in a cloth, and boiled for several hours, after which they are brushed over with egg, and then baked. When ready for sale the crust is as hard as if made of wood, a circumstance which has given rise to various stories of the manner in which they have at times been treated by persons to whom they were sent as presents, and who had never seen one before, one ordering his simnel to be boiled to soften it, and a lady taking hers for a footstool. They are made of different sizes, and, as may be supposed from the ingredients, are rather expensive, some large ones selling for as much as half-a-guinea, or even, we believe, a guinea, while smaller ones may be had for half-a-crown. Their form, which as well as the ornamentation is nearly uniform, will be best understood by the accompanying engraving, representing largo and small cakes as now on sale in Shrewsbury.

The usage of these cakes is evidently one of great antiquity. It appears from one of the epigrams of the poet Herrick, that at the beginning of the seventeenth century it was the custom at Gloucester for young people to carry simnels as presents to their mothers on Midlent Sunday (or Mothering Sunday).

It appears also from some other writers of this age, that these simnels, like the modern ones, were boiled as well as baked. The name is found in early English and also in very old French, and it appears in mediæval Latin under the form simanellus or siminellus. It is considered to be derived from the Latin simile, fine flour, and is usually interpreted as meaning the finest quality of white bread made in the middle ages. It is evidently used, however, by the mediæval writers in the sense of a cake, which they called in Latin of that time artocopus, which is constantly explained by simnel in the Latin-English vocabularies. In three of these, printed in Mr. Wright's Volume of Vocabularies, all belonging to the fifteenth century, we have 'Hic artocopus, anglice symnelle,' 'Hic artocopus, a symnylle,' and 'artocopus, anglice a symnella;' and in the latter place it is further explained by a contemporary pen-and-ink drawing in the margin, representing the simnel as seen from above and sideways, of which we give below a fac-simile.

It is quite evident that it is a rude representation of a cake exactly like those still made in Shropshire. The ornamental border, which is clearly identical with that of the modern cake, is, perhaps, what the authorities quoted by Ducange v. simila, mean when they spoke of the cake as being foliata. In the Dictionaries of John de Garlande, compiled at Paris in the thirteenth century, the word simineus or simnenels, is used as the equivalent to the Latin placentæ, which are described as cakes exposed in the windows of the hucksters to sell to the scholars of the University and others. We learn from Ducange that it was usual in early times to mark the simnels with a figure of Christ or of the Virgin Mary, which would seem to shew that they had a religious signification. We know that the Anglo-Saxon, and indeed the German race in general, were in the habit of eating consecrated cakes at their religious festivals. Our hot cross buns at Easter are only the cakes which the pagan Saxons ate in honour of their goddess Eastre, and from which the Christian clergy, who were unable to prevent people from eating, sought to expel the paganism by marking them with the cross.

It is curious that the use of these cakes should have been preserved so long in this locality, and still more curious are the tales which have arisen to explain the meaning of the name, which had been long forgotten. Some pretend that the father of Lambert Simnel, the well-known pretender in the reign of Henry VII, was a baker, and the first maker of simnels, and that in consequence of the celebrity he gained by the acts of his son, his cakes have retained his name. There is another story current in Shropshire, which is much more picturesque, and which we tell as nearly as possible in the words in which it was related to us. Long ago there lived an honest old couple, boasting the names of Simon and Nelly, but their surnames are not known. It was their custom at Easter to gather their children about them, and thus meet together once a year under the old homestead.
The fasting season of Lent was just ending, but they had still left some of the unleavened dough which had been from time to time converted into bread during the forty days. Nelly was a careful woman, and it grieved her to waste anything, so she suggested that they should use the remains of the Lenten dough for the basis of a cake to regale the assembled family. Simon readily agreed to the proposal, and further reminded his partner that there were still some remains of their Christmas plum pudding hoarded up in the cupboard, and that this might form the interior, and be an agreeable surprise to the young people when they had made their way through the less tasty crust. So far, all things went on harmoniously; but when the cake was made, a subject of violent discord arose, Sim insisting that it should be boiled, while Nell no less obstinately contended that it should be baked.

The dispute ran from words to blows, for Nell, not choosing to let her province in the household be thus interfered with, jumped up, and threw the stool she was sitting on at Sim, who on his part seized a besom, and applied it with right good will to the head and shoulders of his spouse. She now seized the broom, and the battle became so warm, that it might have had a very serious result, had not Nell proposed as a compromise that the cake should be boiled first, and afterwards baked. This Sim acceded to, for he had no wish for further acquaintance with the heavy end of the broom. Accordingly, the big pot was set on the fire, and the stool broken up and thrown on to boil it, whilst the besom and broom furnished fuel for the oven. Some eggs, which had been broken in the scuffle, were used to coat the outside of the pudding when boiled, which gave it the shining gloss it possesses as a cake. This new and remarkable production in the art of confectionery became known by the name of the cake of Simon and Nelly, but soon only the first half of each name was alone pre-served and joined together, and it has ever since been known as the cake of Sim-Nel, or Simnel!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Barnes Night! Happy Birthday Rev. William Barnes

Rev. William Barnes
On this day 22nd February 1801, Dorset poet and dialectologist, Rev. William Barnes. was born in the village of Bagber, near Sturminster Newton.

Barnes wrote a large number of poems in the Dorset dialect and his works paint a simple and sincere picture of the life and labour of the south west of England.  His many books include 'An Outline of English Speech Craft', 'Poems of Rural Life in Common England', 'Poems of Rural Life' (two series) and 'Hwomely Rhymes'.  Barnes began his working life as a solicitor's clerk. He went on to become a successful teacher and headmaster and in later life, a priest. Dorset Folklorist John Symonds Udal was a close friend of Barnes and would often visit him at his home at Winterborne Came.

Lucy Baxter, when writing the life of her father William Barnes (1801-1886), says 'Another visitor was J. S. Udal, Esq., a barrister who used to find time for a visit to the Rectory as often as his duties on circuit brought him near Came. Mr. Udal was of some assistance to the Dorset poet in sending him new words for the Glossary, which was always enlarging itself under his hand, and he returned the service by collecting legends and superstitions for Mr. Udal’s contemplated work on the Folk-lore of Dorsetshire, for which, nearly ten years later, Barnes, at his request, wrote an introduction.'

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Pancakes and Football: The Customs and Traditions of Shrove Tuesday

The tradition of flipping the pancake
is often observed on this day
Today is Shrove Tuesday, Also known as "Pancake Day", Shrove Tuesday always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent in the Christian faith. Dates vary from year to year, but it usually falls in February, sometimes early March. It is the day of preparation for Lent, when the eating pancakes was made obvious by the need to up the eggs and fat, the eating of which were prohibited during the forty days of Lent.

Below: Shrove Tuesday 20th February 2007 at All Saints Church, Rectory Green, Easton, Portland, Dorset.

Shrove Tuesday in Dorset

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of Shrove Tuesday in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-
Lent-crocking. — Also known as Pancake Day. Dorsetshire was not behind other counties in the usual festive observances commemorative of this day. That especially applicable to its name of " Pancake Day " was the custom of " Lent-crocking " — the name speaks for itself — which obtained in many parts of the county.

The earliest reference to " Lent-crocking " that I can find from a Dorset source is from the pen of the Dorset poet himself, the Rev. William Barnes, in Hone's Year Book, p. 800 (ed. 1832), which, as it gives a very graphic description of the custom, racy as the soil, I give in full:—
"In some of the villages of Dorsetshire and Wiltshire the boys, at Shrovetide, still keep up a custom called Lent-Crocking, which originated in the carnival of Roman Catholic times, and consists in going round in the  evening to pelt the doors of the inhabitants with pieces of broken crockery.

" In Dorsetshire the boys sometimes go round in small parties, and the leader goes up and knocks at the door, leaving his followers behind him armed with a good stock of potsherds—the collected relics of the washing-pans, jugs, dishes, and plates that have become the victims of concussion in the unlucky hands of careless housewives for the past year. When the door is opened the hero, who is perhaps a farmer's boy, with a pair of black eyes sparkling under the tattered brim of his brown milking-hat, covered with cow's hair and dirt like the inside of a blackbird's nest, hangs, down his head, and, with one corner of his mouth turned up into an irrepressible smile, pronounces, in the dialect of his county, the following lines composed for the occasion, perhaps, by some mendicant friar whose name might have been suppressed with the monasteries by Henry VIII :—
'I be come a shrovin,
Vor a little pankiak,
A bit o' bread o' your biakin,
Or a little truckle cheese o' your own miakin.
If you'll gi' me a little I'll ax no more,
If you don't gi' me nothin I'll rottle your door.'(In later editions of his poems Barnes softened down the vowels " ia " of the rich Doric of the Blackmore Vale into " ea ". See Chapter II, p. 65 (n.)
"Sometimes he gets a piece of bread and cheese; and at some houses he is told to be gone, when he calls up his followers to send their missiles in a rattling broadside against the door. In Wiltshire the begging of pancake and bread and cheese is omitted; and the Lent-crockers pelt the doors as a matter of course.

"The broken pots and dishes originally signified that, as Lent was begun, those cooking vessels were of no use, and were supposed to be broken; and the cessation of flesh-eating is understood in the begging of  pancakes and bread and cheese."

In 1872 F. C. H. (the well-known Rev. Dr. F. C. Husenbeth) in Notes and Queries (Ser. iv, ix, 135) referred to a Dorset custom of boys going about at Shrovetide with potsherds to throw at people's doors. These were tolerated, but they were not allowed to throw stones. As they called at the various houses they used to sing this doggerel:—

" I'm come a-shroveing,
For a piece of pancake,
Or a piece of bacon,
Or a little truckle cheese
Of your own making.
Give me some or give me none,
Or else your door shall have a stone."

I replied (p. 208) calling attention to the interesting account of this custoin given in Chambers' Book of Days (1864, vol. i, p. 239), and there spoken of as existing in Dorset and Wilts. I added a second verse, as given in Chambers, which savours more of the old vernacular speech. Chambers also gives a first verse which varies somewhat from that furnished by F. C. H.

The second verse is as follows :—

" A-shrovin, a-shrovin,
I be come a-shrovin,
Nice meat in a pie,
My mouth is very dry !
I wish a wuz zoo well-a-wet
I'de zing the louder for a nut.

Chorus :   A-shrovin, a-shrovin,
We be come a-shrovin,"

I may say that at that time I was not aware that the account in Chambers, though not the verses, was taken directly from Barnes's description in the Year Book given above.

Many years ago the late Rev. W. K. Kendall, of East Lulworth, sent me some MSS. containing various references to Dorset customs and superstitions which he had met with. His remarks as to this particular custom are well worth giving. He says :—

" I am told by a Portlander that it is still the custom for boys on Shrove Tuesday to go round the villages throwing stones, etc,, at the doors of the houses. The following doggerel is sung :—

'Slit, slat, sling,
If you don't give me a pancake
I'll make your doors ring.'

" On this account Shrove Tuesday is called ' Pansherding Day'. This custom has been observed also at West Lulworth until very lately.

"In the parish of Berwick St. James also the children go a-shroving. On Shrove Tuesday they sing the following verses from house to house :—

We are coming shroving,
For a piece of pan-cake,
For a piece of chuckle cheese,
Of your own making.
Is the pan hot,
Is the pan cold,
Is the peas in the pot,
Nine days old?
Is the knives and forks whet?
Is the bread and cheese cut?
Is the best barrel tapped?
For we are come shroving.' "

The following account of the custom as occurring at Stalbridge, in the northern part of the county, is taken from the Rev. W. S. Swayne's pamphlet on the History and Antiquities of Stalbridge (1889), p. 36 :—

" On Shrove Tuesday evening the boys of the parish were accustomed to pelt the doors of the inhabitants with shards and tiles ; this was called keeping Pan-shard night.
" The traditional account was that when King Alfred raised his banner at Stourhead the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages were in this way summoned to join him. This custom died a natural death soon after the passing of Sir Robert Peel's new Police Act."

The Rev. Herbert Pentin, late Vicar of Milton Abbey, in the northern part of the county, contributes an interesting account of this custom as still practised in that parish to the Proceedings of the " Dorset Field Club " for 1904 (vol. xxv, p. 4). After telling us that the sports in Old Milton were badger-baiting under the cedar trees in the Abbey churchyard, cock-squailing, cock-fighting, and playing of fives outside the west end of the church, whilst bowls were played on the bowling-green and ringing was very popular, Mr. Pentin goes on to say :—

" During Lent the children went ' Shroving' and ' Lent-crocking'. On Shrove-Tuesday the children, carrying sticks, knocked at the doors of the principal residents and repeated this doggerel verse:—

' Please I've come a-shroving
For a piece of pancake
Or a little ruckle cheese
Of your own making.
If you don't give me some,
If you don't give me none,
I'll knock down your door
With a great marrow bone
And away I'll run.'

"The result of this threat was that the children were given half-pence, apples, eggs, a piece of pancake, or a piece of ruckle cheese. A ruckle cheese was a small sour-milk home-made cheese weighing about a pound. It could be rucked, i.e. rolled along the ground. Hence its name
(More generally known, perhaps, as " truckle-cheese ". (See Barnes's Glossary.) In the evening the ' Lent-crocking ' began. Those people who had not given the children anything when they came ' a-shroving ' were then rewarded by having pieces of broken crockery and pans and other missiles thrown at their doors. In this way real damage was often done.

" The practice of shroving still exists in the present village of Milton ; it is one of the customs which have survived the demolition of the old town. It exists in other parishes, but is gradually dying out."

See also a similar account by the same writer in Memorials of Old Dorset (1907, pp. 111-12).
Sometimes, it would appear, an attempt was made by the owner or occupier of the house whose door was so battered to derive some personal advantage out of " Lent-crocking" by a selfish limitation or variation of the old custom.

A correspondent (T. B. G.) in the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (1889, vol. i, p. 158), states that in the early days of the century a schoolmaster at Cerne was accustomed to permit each boy to hurl against the school door a log of wood, no matter what the weight; and great were the efforts to break through, or, at least, crack the venerable oak, well studded with iron. But nothing of the kind happened ; the only tangible result being the accumulation of a handsome pile of fuel for future use of the wily pedagogue.

But in later days, apparently, all owners of houses are not inclined to take so quietly the often unpleasant results that follow the attacks of disappointed " Lent-crockers " and appeal to the law for protection ; and, of course, however much one may regret from a folk-lore point of view that it should be so, when the law is invoked with that object custom must give way.

At all events this would seem to have been the result of the following case which I find amongst my notes, taken, I believe, from the Bridport News sometime in the " eighties " :—


"Eliza Jane Horn and Fanny English, young women were summoned by Elizabeth —— of Allweston, for wilfully injuring a door, doing damage to the amount of eight shillings.

"Complainant was the owner of a cottage occupied by a widow named Harriet Cooper, and about ten o'clock on the night of Shrove Tuesday defendants, in obedience to old-established custom, were full of the fun and frolic associated with the day of pancakes and fritters. Accordingly they sallied forth with a large stone jar as the 'pan-shard' to use in the event of meeting with no response to the cry of ' Gie us some pancake O ! '

"Arriving opposite the house the widow was alarmed with a bang and crash at the front door and shook with fear. It was a long time before she could muster up enough courage to go and see the cause of the crash; and when she arrived at the front door, the panel of which was broken with the blow, she saw at her feet the remnants of the jar; and in the road close by were the defendants, hugely delighted with their achievement.

"Defendants now denied that they did the mischief ; but four witnesses were called who stated that they saw them close by the house at the time it was done, and that no one else was there.

"The Bench thought that sufficient evidence had been given to prove guilt, and fined defendants six shillings and costs, as well as ordering them to pay eight shillings damages. After some protest the money was paid."


I do not suppose that the rural population of the western counties was more cruel or brutal in its amusements than those in other counties,—particularly in the midland or northern counties, where bull-baiting, dog and cock-fighting seems to have been very prevalent,—but the age was a rough one and the manners of the people uncouth. What wonder then if their amusements and customs sometimes followed suit!

The particularly cruel and barbarous amusement of " throwing at cocks ", or " cock-squailing ",—as it is called in the Dorset dialect,—was a common pastime on Shrove Tuesday and sometimes also, it is said, at Whitsuntide.

A spirited engraving of this so-called sport is shown in Hone's Every-Day Book (vol. i, p. 129), in which the bird,—a hen in this case,—is depicted lying wounded on the ground, tethered to a stake, and upbraiding, like Balaam's ass, those who had struck her.

George Roberts, the well-known Dorset historian and writer upon social subjects, in speaking of the cruelty of the seventeenth century and how it was fostered, alludes in his Social History of the Southern Counties (1856) to this custom. He says (p. 422):—

" When a young couple were blessed with offspring the mother, while early instilling the rudiments of virtuous instruction, did not fail to procure the means for early capability of keeping Shrove Tuesday in an orthodox manner. The village tailor made a cloth representation of a cock, which, being lined with lead, regained an erect position upon being knocked down by the juvenile cock-squailer. To practise upon a living bird was but the next step in the art."


"Cock-fighting" was another form of pastime,—less brutal and degrading, perhaps, than the last,— commonly practised at this time.

It seems to have been largely followed in the old grammar schools, and Roberts speaks (p. 423) of " cock-pence " being still paid in some grammar schools to the master as a perquisite on Shrove Tuesday.

Hutchins also (History of Dorset, iii, 197) refers to the custom of cock-fighting on Shrove Tuesday having been long established at Wimborne Grammar School, and only discontinued at the beginning of the last century; but as it is there dealt with at some length as rather constituting a local custom at Wimborne, I will reserve further notice of it for my chapter on Local Customs.

Kicking the Ball 

"Kicking the ball,"—to which the modern and highly scientific game of " football" was in the olden days entirely restricted,—was a pastime customary to Shrove Tuesday in certain parts of Dorsetshire,—though not, I believe, to any large extent.

From time immemorial, however, it would seem to have been indulged in at Corfe Castle by the quarrymen of Purbeck; but is so identified with their life and customs that I thought it better to deal with it in my chapter later upon Local Customs rather than treat it here as a calendar custom merely.

(i) Quarrymen's customs. — One of the oldest and most interesting amongst the customs of the Isle of Purbeck is that connected with the quarrymen of the district—the " Purbeck Marblers ", as they were anciently called. These quarrymen, who were resident in the districts of Corfe Castle and Swanage, were formed into a strong company or guild, to whom was granted a charter confirming all their rights and privileges. These were evidenced by a series of Articles of Agreement. Corfe Castle was the proper metropolis of the quarriers' country; though Swanage, being the place of shipment of the stone, the business tended more to that quarter. At one time, it is said, the general meeting was opened at Corfe, and adjourned to Swanage; but afterwards the meetings were held at Corfe and Langton respectively.

Marblers Football and Boots
displayed at the Corfe Museum
Hutchins (vol i, pp. 682-4) gives an account of the Marblers' • Company and of the articles of their charter, which account was taken from a paper by the late Mr. Oliver W. Farrer, which appeared in that interesting but short-lived—and now very scarce—publication, The Purbeck Papers, in 1859. Hutchins states that the early history of the company is involved in obscurity, the ancient records having been destroyed in a fire at Corfe Castle. They were governed by certain rules or articles of agreement, which it seems to have been customary to renew at intervals, for several copies, varying only in orthography, are extant. To one of these, in the possession of the only member of the company then resident in Corfe Castle, and one of the wardens, was attached a seal, purporting to be the seal of the Company of Marblers, but it was a heraldic  device, viz. On a pale three roses slipped proper. (The Roses of Kempstone in Corfe Castle bore "on a pale three roses slipped ".)

To this account of Mr. Farrer's I would refer those who desire a fuller account of the company and its constitution.
(References might also be made to Biggs's Isle of Purbeck, pp. 27-8 ; and for privileges and customs of Corfe to the late Mr. Thomas Bond's History of Corfe Castle (1883), p. 125.) In the Standard newspaper of 10th March, 1886, appeared a very good and succinct account of a meeting of the Purbeck quarrymen at Corfe Castle on Shrove Tuesday (their customary day of meeting) of that year. This account I, many years after, sent to the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (1907), vol. x, p. 249, with references to Mr. Farrer's article in the Purbeck Papers ; and as it expresses all that it seems to me necessary to state here about the Company and its customs, I reproduce it.

A photograph of Purbeck Marblers
kicking a football through the
streets of Corfe Castle, Dorset,
on Shrove Tuesday, 1938
"A curious old custom among the quarrymen of the Isle of Purbeck was observed yesterday at Corfe Castle. There is among the quarrymen a charter bearing the date 1551, which is rigorously obeyed in order to keep the working of the stone quarries in the Isle of Purbeck in the hands of the freemen. To be able to take up one's freedom one must be the legitimate son of a freeman. He must be 21 years of age, up to which time his wages belong to his parents.

"Once during the year the quarrymen used to meet at Corfe Castle Town Hall and there read the charter, and on that occasion, viz. Shrove Tuesday, ' free boys ' claim and take up their freedom. Yesterday morning a large number of quarrymen assembled in the Town Hall, Corfe Castle, and proceeded to the election of officers, after which about twelve freemen were sworn in. Each man has to sign the roll of freemen, pay a fee of 6s. 8d., provide a penny loaf made on purpose by the baker of the place, and buy a pot of beer. The man thus sworn in becomes his own master. Should any of the freemen desire to marry during the next year he has to pay to the stewards a ' marriage shilling ', and should he neglect to do this his wife loses all interest in the quarry and cannot take an apprentice to work for her. After the above business was transacted the ceremony of ' kicking the ball' commenced. The ball is provided by the man who was last married among the freemen, and is presented in lieu of the ' marriage shilling '. If it should happen that no freeman has married since the previous Shrove Tuesday the old football is used. The ball was taken from the Town Hall to a field at Corfe Castle, and there kicked about by any one who wished.

"These very novel proceedings terminated by the ball and a pound of pepper being taken to the lord of the manor as an acknowledgement to him in respect of the way to the River Ower."

(ii) Kicking the Ball.—The custom of kicking the football "to be provided by the man who was last married amongst the freemen ", is alluded to in the above account. In a later set of rules provision was made for the carrying of the ball to Ower—I believe on the following day, Ash Wednesday. I have seen it stated somewhere that in these degenerate days it was carried, not kicked, to its destination. The Bridport News in March, 1884, speaks of the annual custom of the Swanage Freemen " kicking the ball " as having taken place at Corfe on Shrove Tuesday. It says that the custom was one that had been kept up annually for generations past. The ball was taken to Corfe Castle, and kicked from the Castle grounds through Corfe on towards Swanage.
Below an extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days February 9th 1864, details the tradition of Shrove Tuesday.

Shrove Tuesday derives its name from the ancient practice, in the Church of Rome, of confessing sins, and being shrived or shrove, i.e. obtaining absolution, on this day. Being the day prior to the beginning of Lent, it may occur on any one between the 2nd of February and the 8th of March. In Scotland, it is called Fasten's E'en, but is little regarded in that Presbyterian country. The character of the day as a popular festival is mirthful: it is a season of
carnival-like jollity and drollery—'Welcome, merry Shrovetide!' truly sings Master Silence.

The merriment began, strictly speaking, the day before, being what was called Collop Monday, from the practice of eating collops of salted meat and eggs on that day. Then did the boys begin their Shrovetide perambulations in quest of little treats which their senior neighbours used to have in store for them—singing:

'Shrovetide is nigh at hand, And I be conic a shroving: Pray, dame, something, An apple or a dumpling.'

When Shrove Tuesday dawned, the bells were set a ringing, and everybody abandoned himself to amusement and good humour. All through the day, there was a
preparing and devouring of pancakes, as if some profoundly important religious principle were involved in it. The pancake and Shrove Tuesday are inextricably associated in the popular mind and in old literature. Before being eaten, there was always a great deal of contention among the eaters, to see which could most adroitly toss them in the pan.

Shakspeare makes his clown in All's Well that Ends Well speak of something being 'as fit as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday.' It will be recollected that the parishioners of the Vicar of Wakefield 'religiously ate pancakes at Shrovetide.'

Hear also our quaint old friend, the Water Poet—'Shrove Tuesday, at whose entrance in the morning all the whole kingdom is in quiet, but by that time the clock strikes eleven, which (by the help of a knavish sexton) is commonly before nine, there is a bell rung called Pancake Bell, the sound whereof makes thousands of people distracted, and forgetful either of manners or humanity. Then there is a thing called wheaten flour, which the cooks do mingle with water, eggs, spice, and other tragical, magical enchantments, and then they put it by little and little into a frying-pan of boiling suet, where it makes a confused dismal hissing (like the herniae snakes in the reeds of Acheron), until at last, by the skill of the cook, it is transformed into the form of a flipjack, called a pancake, which. ominous incantation the ignorant people do
devour very greedily.'

It was customary to present the first pancake to the greatest slut or lie-a-bed of the party, 'which commonly falls to the clog's share at last, for no one will own it their due.' Some allusion is probably made to the latter custom in a couplet placed opposite Shrove Tuesday in Poor Robin's Almanack for 1677:

Pancakes are eat by greedy gut,
And Hob and Madge run for the slut.'
In the time of Elizabeth, it was a practice at Eton for the cook to fasten a pancake to a crow (the ancient equivalent of the knocker) upon the school door.

At Westminster School, the following custom is observed to this day:—At 11 o'clock a.m. a verger of the Abbey, in his gown, bearing a silver baton, emerges from the college kitchen, followed by the cook of-the school, in his white apron, jacket, and cap, and carrying a pancake. On arriving at the school-room door, he announces himself, 'The cook;' and having entered the school-room, he advances to the bar which separates the upper school from the lower one, twirls the pancake in the pan, and then tosses it over the bar into the upper school, among a crowd of boys, who scramble for the pancake: and he who gets it unbroken, and carries it to the deanery, demands the honorarium of a guinea (sometimes two guineas), from the Abbey funds, though the custom is not mentioned in the Abbey statutes: the cook also receives two guineas for his performance.

Among the revels which marked the day, football seems in most places to have been conspicuous. The London apprentices enjoyed it in Finsbury Fields. At Teddington, it was conducted with such animation that careful house-holders had to protect their windows with hurdles and bushes. There is perhaps no part of the United Kingdom where this Shrovetide sport is kept up with so much energy as at the village of Scone, near Perth, in Scotland. The men of the parish assemble at the cross, the married on one side and the bachelors on the other: a ball is thrown up, and they play from two o'clock till sunset. A person who witnessed the sport in the latter part of the last century, thus describes it: 'The game was this: he who at any time got the ball into his hands, ran with it till overtaken by one of the opposite party: and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, he ran on: if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party, but no party was allowed to kick it. The object of the married men was to hang it, that is, to put it three times into a small hole on the moor, which was the dool, or limit, on the one hand: that of the bachelors was to drown it, or clip it three times in a deep place in the river, the limit on the other: the party who could effect either of these objects won the game: if neither one, the ball was cut into equal parts at sunset. In the course of the play, there was usually some violence between the parties: but it is a proverb in this part of the country, that "A' is fair at the ba' o' Scone."'

Taylor, the Water Poet, alludes to the custom of a fellow carrying about 'an ensign made of a piece of a baker's mawkin fixed upon a broom-staff,' and making orations of nonsense to the people. Perhaps this custom may have been of a similar nature and design to one practised in France on Ash Wednesday. The people there 'carry an effigy, similar to our Guy Fawkes, round the adjacent villages, and collect money for his funeral, as this day, according to their creed, is the burial of good living. After sundry absurd mummeries, the corpse is deposited in the earth.' In the latter part of the last century, a curious custom of a similar nature still survived in Kent. A group of girls engaged themselves at one part of a village in burning an uncouth image, which they called a holly boy, and which they had stolen from the boys: while the boys were to be found in another part of the village burning a like effigy, which they called the ivy girl, and which they had stolen from the girls: the ceremony being in both cases accompanied by loud huzzas.

These are fashions, we accompanied opine, smacking of a very early and probably pagan origin. At Bromfield, in Cumberland, there used to be a still more remarkable custom. The scholars of the free school of that parish assumed a right, from old use and wont, to bar out the master, and keep him out for three days. During the period of this expulsion, the doors were strongly barricaded within: and the boys, who defended it like a besieged city, were armed in general with guns made of the hollow twigs of the elder, or bore-tree. The master, meanwhile, made various efforts, by force and stratagem, to regain his lost authority. If he succeeded, heavy tasks were imposed, and the business of the school was resumed and submitted to: but it more commonly happened that all his efforts were unavailing. In this case, after three days' siege, terms of capitulation were proposed by the master and accepted by the boys. The terms always included permission to enjoy a full allowance of Shrovetide sports.

In days not very long gone by, the inhumane sport of throwing at cocks was practised at Shrovetide, and nowhere was it more certain to be seen than at the grammar-schools. The poor animal was tied to a stake by a short cord, and the unthinking men and boys who were to throw at it, took their station at the distance of about twenty yards. Where the cock belonged to some one disposed to make it a matter of business, twopence was paid for three shies at it, the missile used being a broomstick. The sport was continued till the poor creature was killed out-right by the blows. Such tumult and outrage attended this inhuman sport a century ago, that, according to a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, it was sometimes dangerous to be near the place where it was practised. Hens were also the subjects of popular amusement at this festival. It was customary in Cornwall to take any one which had not laid eggs before Shrove-Tuesday, and lay it on a barn-floor to be thrashed to death. A man hit at her with a flail; and if he succeeded in killing her therewith, he got her for his pains. It was customary for a fellow to get a hen tied to his back, with some horse-bells hung beside it.

A number of other fellows, blind-folded, with boughs in their hands, followed him by the sound of the bells, endeavouring to get a stroke at the bird. This gave occasion to much merriment, for sometimes the man was hit instead of the hen, and sometimes the assailants hit each other instead of either. At the conclusion, the hen was boiled with bacon, and added to the usual pancake feast. Cock-fights were also common on this day. Strange to say, they were in many instances the sanctioned sport of public schools, the master receiving on the occasion a small tax from the boys under the name of a cock-penny. Perhaps this last practice took its rise in the circumstance of the master supplying the cocks, which seems to have been the custom in some places
in a remote age. Such cock-fights regularly took place on Fasten's E'en in many parts of Scotland till the middle of the eighteenth century, the master presiding at the battle, and enjoying the perquisite of all the runaway cocks, which were technically called fugies. Nay, so late as 1790, the minister of Applecross, in Rossshire, in the account of his parish, states the schoolmaster's income as composed of two hundred merks, with 1s. 6d. and 2s. 6d, per quarter from each scholar.

The other Shrovetide observations were chiefely of a local nature. The old plays make us aware of a licence which the London prentices took on this occasion to assail houses of dubious repute, and cart the unfortunate inmates through the city. This seems to have been done partly under favour of a privilege which the common people assumed at this time of breaking down doors for sport, and of which we have perhaps some remains, in a practice which still exists in some remote districts, of throwing broken crockery and other rubbish at doors. In Dorsetshire and Wiltshire, if not in other counties, the latter practice is called Lent Crocking. The boys go round in small parties, headed by a leader, 'who goes up and knocks at the door, leaving his followers behind him, armed with a good stock of potsherds—the collected relics of the washing-pans, jugs, dishes, and plates, that have become the victims of concussion in the hands of unlucky or careless housewives for the past year. When the door is opened, the hero,—who is perhaps a farmer's boy, with a pair of black eyes sparkling under the tattered brim of his brown milking-hat,—hangs down his head, and, with one corner of his mouth turned up into an irrepressible smile, pronounces the following lines.

A-shrovin, a-shrovin,
I be come a-shrovin;
A piece of bread,
a piece of cheese,
A bit of your fat bacon,
Or a dish of dough-nuts,
All of your own makin!
A-shrovin, a-shrovin,
I be come a-shrovin,
Nice meat in a pie,
My mouth is very dry!
I wish a was zoo well-a-wet
l'de zing the louder for a nut!
Chorus—A-shrovin, a-shrovin,
We be come a-shrovin!

Sometimes he gets a bit of bread and cheese, and at sonic houses he is told to be gone; in which latter case, he calls up his followers to send their missiles in a rattling broadside against the door. It is rather remarkable that, in Prussia, and perhaps other parts of central Europe, the throwing of broken crockery at doors is a regular practice at marriages. Lord Malmesbury, who in 1791 married a princess of that country as proxy for the Duke of York, tells us, that the morning after the ceremonial, a great heap of such rubbish was found at her royal highness's door."

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Wolf Gods and Love Tokens: Customs and Traditions of Saint Valentine's Day

The 14th February is better known as 'St Valentine's Day' and it is without question the most popular day of the year for romance.

The custom of sending anonymous greeting cards to ones sweetheart or 'Valentine' is as popular as ever, yet the St Valentine's Day we know today actually evolved from the ancient Roman festival of 'Lupercalia', part of which was the choosing of sexual partners for the coming year by the drawing of lots. The names of all the eligible girls were placed in a vessel dedicated to the god 'Lupercus', and the boys each in turn pulled out a name to see whom fate had chosen for them.

Wolf God - Lupercus
'The Valentine Lottery' as it later became known experienced over the centuries ebbs and flows of popularity and unexpectedly became fashionable once again in the early Victorian era as a party game.

If a girl was courting but unlucky enough not to receive a Valentine greeting from her sweetheart today she would be deemed as 'Dusty' and therefore had to undergo the indignity of being swept down by either her Mother or companions with a broomstick or wisp of straw. The idea was to create as much embarrassment to the 'dusty victim' as possible as she then had to cast lots with the other girls in the usual manner.

St Valentine's Day in Dorset

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of St Valentine's Day in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:-

"Amongst my Dorset notes for this day I find one from the Illustrated London News in February, 1880, which states that on St. Valentine's day the maids suspend in the kitchen a nosegay of early flowers tied up with a "true-lover's knot" of blue ribbon.  It is not stated, however, what was the object or purpose of this act; though it is not difficult, I think, to believe that it indicated some manifestation or expression connected with the young women's attitude towards those subjects to which the lover's Saint's day is dedicated.

Somewhat akin to this, perhaps, is the belief that it is unlucky if a male is not the first visitor that comes to the house on St. Valentine's Day.
Formerly in Dorsetshire, as elsewhere, large numbers of " valentines " were exchanged between young people, a practice to which this day gave special licence ; some of these, especially those sent in ridicule, being both vulgar and wanting in good taste. A great improvement has, however, set in in late years with regard to this; and now the custom is mostly confined in regard to " valentines " to the exchange or sending of presents of a more useful or valuable nature.
Hone, in his Every-Day Book, vol. i, p. 118, records a custom which prevailed many years since in the West of England, and may well, therefore, be known in Dorsetshire, although I am not myself personally acquainted with it: —

" Three single young men went out together before daylight on St. Valentine's Day, with a clapnet to catch an old owl and two sparrows in a neighbouring barn. If they were successful and could bring the birds to the inn without injury before the females of the house had risen they were rewarded by the hostess with three pots of purl in honour of St. Valentine, and enjoyed the privilege of demanding at any house in the neighbourhood a similar boon. This was done, it is said, as an emblem that the owl, being the bird of wisdom, could influence the feathered race to enter the net of love as mates on that day, whereon both single lads and maidens should be reminded that happiness could alone be secured by an early union."
Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days February 14th 1864, details the traditions of St. Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day is now almost everywhere a much degenerated festival, the only observance of any note consisting merely of the sending of jocular anonymous letters to parties whom one wishes to quiz, and this confined very much to the humbler classes. The approach of the day is now heralded by the appearance in the print-sellers' shop windows of vast numbers of missives calculated for use on this occasion, each generally consisting of a single sheet of post paper, on the first page of which is seen some ridiculous coloured caricature of the male or female figure, with a few burlesque verses below. More rarely, the print is of a sentimental kind, such as a view of Hymen's altar, with a pair undergoing initiation into wedded happiness before it, while Cupid flutters above, and hearts transfixed with his darts decorate the corners. Maid-servants and young fellows interchange such epistles with each other on the 14th of February, no doubt conceiving that the joke is amazingly good: and, generally, the newspapers do not fail to record that the London postmen delivered so many hundred thousand more letters on that day than they do in general. Such is nearly the whole extent of the observances now peculiar to St. Valentine's Day.

At no remote period it was very different. Ridiculous letters were unknown: and, if letters of any kind were sent, they contained only a courteous profession of attachment from some young man to some young maiden, honeyed with a few compliments to her various perfections, and expressive of a hope that his love might meet with return. But the true proper ceremony of St. Valentine's Day was the drawing of a kind of lottery, followed by ceremonies not much unlike what is generally called the game of forfeits. Misson, a learned traveller, of the early part of the last century, gives apparently a correct account of the principal ceremonial of the day.
'On the eve of St. Valentine's Day,' he says, 'the young folks in England and Scotland, by a very ancient custom, celebrate a little festival. An equal number of maids and bachelors get together: each writes their true or some feigned name upon separate billets, which they roll up, and draw by way of lots, the maids taking the men's billets, and the men the maids': so that each of the young men lights upon a girl that he calls his valentine, and each of the girls upon a young man whom she calls hers. By this means each has two valentines: but the man sticks faster to the valentine that has fallen to him than to the valentine to whom he is fallen. Fortune having thus divided the company into so many couples, the valentines give balls and treats to their mistresses, wear their billets several days upon their bosoms or sleeves, and this little sport often ends in love.'

In that curious record of domestic life in England in the reign of Charles II, Pepu's Diary, we find some notable illustrations of this old custom. It appears that married and single were then alike liable to be chosen as a valentine, and that a present was invariably and necessarily given to the choosing party. Mr. Pepys enters in his diary, on Valentine's Day, 1667: 'This morning came up to my wife's bedside (I being up dressing myself) little Will Mercer to be her valentine, and brought her name written upon blue paper in gold letters, done by himself, very pretty; and we were both well pleased with it. But I am also this year my wife's valentine, and it will cost me £5: but that I must have laid out if we had not been valentines.' Two days after, he adds:

'I find that Mrs. Pierce's little girl is my valentine, she having drawn me: which I was not sorry for, it easing me of something more that I must have given to others. But here I do first observe the fashion of drawing mottoes as well as names, so that Pierce, who drew my wife, did draw also a motto, and this girl drew another for me. What mine was. I forget: but my wife's was "Most courteous and most fair," which, as it maybe used, or an anagram upon each name, might be very pretty.'

Noticing, soon afterwards, the jewels of the celebrated Miss Stuart, who became Duchess of Richmond, he says: 'The Duke of York, being once her valentine, did give her a jewel of about £800: and my Lord Mandeville, her valentine this year, a ring of about £300.' These presents were undoubtedly given in order to relieve the obligation under which the being drawn as valentines had placed the donors. In February 1668, Pepys notes as follows:

'This evening my wife did with great pleasure shew me her stock of jewels, increased by the ring she hath made lately, as my valentine's gift this year, a Turkey-stone set with diamonds. With this, and what she had, she reckons that she hath above one hundred and fifty pounds' worth of jewels of one kind or other: and I am glad of it, for it is fit the wretch should have something to content herself with.'

The reader will understand wretch to be used as a term of endearment. Notwithstanding the practice of relieving, there seems to have been a disposition to believe that the person drawn as a valentine had some considerable likelihood of becoming the associate of the party in wedlock. At least, we may suppose that this idea would be gladly and easily arrived at, where the party so drawn was at all eligible from other considerations. There was, it appears, a prevalent notion amongst the common people, that this was the day on which the birds selected their mates. They seem to have imagined that an influence was inherent in the day, which rendered in some degree binding the lot or chance by which any youth or maid was now led to fix his attention on a person of the opposite sex. It was supposed, for instance, that the first unmarried person of the other sex whom one met on St. Valentine's morning in walking abroad, was a destined wife or a destined husband. Thus Gay makes a rural dame remark:

        'Last Valentine, the day when binds of kind
        Their paramours with mutual chirping', find,
        I early rose just at the break of day,
        Before the sun had chased the stars away:
        A-field I went, amid the morning clew,
        To milk my kine (for so should housewives do).
        Thee first I spied—and the first swain we see,
        In spite of Fortune shall our true love be.'

A forward Miss in the Connoisseur, a series of essays published in 1751-6, thus adverts to other notions with respect to the day:

'Last Friday was Valentine's Day, and the night before, I got five bay-leaves, and pinned four of them to the four corners of my pillow, and the fifth to the middle: and then, if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. But to make it more sure, I boiled an egg hard, and took out the yolk, and filled it with salt: and when I went to bed, ate it, shell and all, without speaking or drinking after it. We also wrote our lovers' names upon bits of paper, and rolled them up in clay, and put them into water; and the first that rose up was to be our valentine. Would you think it?—Mr. Blossom was my man. I lay a-bed and shut my eyes all the morning, till he came to our house: for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.'

St. Valentine's Day is alluded to by Shakspeare and by Chaucer, and also by the poet Lydgate (who died in 1440). One of the earliest known writers of valentines, or poetical amorous addresses for this day, was Charles Duke of Orleans, who was taken at the battle of Agincourt. Drayton, a poet of Shakspeare's time, full of great but almost unknown beauties, wrote thus charmingly:

            TO HIS VALENTINE

            'Muse, bid the morn awake,
            Sad winter now declines,
            Each bird cloth choose a mate,
            This day's St. Valentine's :
            For that good bishop's sake
            Get up, and let us see,
            What beauty it shall be
            That fortune us assigns.

            But lo! in happy hour,
            The place wherein she lies,
            In yonder climbing tower
            Gilt by the glittering rise;
            Oh, Jove! that in a shower,
            As once that thunder did,
            When he in drops lay hid,
            That I could her surprise!

            Her canopy I'll draw,
            With spangled plumes bedight,
            No mortal ever saw
            So ravishing a sight:
            That it the gods might awe,
            And powerfully transpierce
            The globy universe,
            Out-shooting every light.

            My lips I'll softly lay
            Upon her heavenly cheek,
            Dyed like the dawning day,
            As polish'd ivory sleek:
            And in her ear I'll say,
            "Oh thou bright morning-star
            'Tis I that come so far,
            My valentine to seek."

            Each little bird, this title,
            Doth choose her loved peer,
            Which constantly abide
            In wedlock all the year,
            As nature is their guide:
            So may we two be true
            This year, nor change for new,
            As turtles coupled were.

            Let's laugh at them that choose
            Their valentines by lot:
            To wear their names that use,
            Whom icily they have got.
            Such poor choice we refuse,
            Saint Valentine befriend;
            We thus this morn may spend,
            Else, Muse, awake her not'

Donne, another poet of the same age, remarkable for rich though scattered beauties, writes an epithalamium on the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth to Frederick Count Palatine of the Rhine—the marriage which gave the present royal family to the throne--and which took place on St. Valentine's Day, 1614. The opening is fine

            'Hail, Bishop Valentine! whose day this is:
            All the air is thy diocese,
            And all the chirping choristers
            And other birds are thy parishioners:
            Thou marryest every year
            The lyric lark and the grave whispering dove:
            The sparrow that neglects his life for love,
            The household bird with the red stomacher:
            Thou mak'st the blackbird speed as soon
            As cloth the goldfinch or the halcyon--
            This day more cheerfully than ever shine,
            This day which might inflame thyself, old Valentine!'

The origin of these peculiar observances of St. Valentine's Day is a subject of some obscurity. The saint himself, who was a priest of Rome, martyred in the third century, seems to have had nothing to do with the matter, beyond the accident of his day being used for the purpose. Mr. Douce, in his Illustrations of Shakspeare, says:

'It was the practice in ancient Rome, during a great part of the month of February, to celebrate the Lupercalia, which were feasts in honour of Pan and Juno. whence the latter deity was named Februata, Februalis, and Februlla. On this occasion, amidst a variety of ceremonies, the names of young women were put into a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. The pastors of the early Christian church, who, by every possible means, endeavoured to eradicate the vestiges of pagan superstitions, and chiefly by some commutations of their forms, substituted, in the present instance, the names of particular saints instead of those of the women: and as the festival of the Lupercalia had commenced about the middle of February, they appear to have chosen St. Valentine's Day for celebrating the new feast, because it occurred nearly at the same time.

This is, in part, the opinion of a learned and rational compiler of the Lives of the Saints, the Rev. Alban Butler.

It should seem, however, that it was utterly impossible to extirpate altogether any ceremony to which the common people had been much accustomed—a fact which it were easy to prove in tracing the origin of various other popular superstitions. And, accordingly, the outline of the ancient ceremonies was preserved, but modified by some adaptation to the Christian system. It is reasonable to suppose, that the above practice of choosing mates would gradually become reciprocal in the sexes, and that all persons so chosen would be called Valentines, from the day on which the ceremony took place.'

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