Monthly Archives: January 2012

Customs demised: The cream of the well

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Picture the scene, waiting at the church with fresh buckets in hand, a collection of faithful villagers. The clock strikes 12 O’clock, it’s New Year’s and the race is on….to get to the holy well to draw what was called the Cream of the Well….the most valuable water available at that time of the year…

In Northumberland, Birtley’s Crowfoot well was one such site and the water was to be kept in a bottle, and as well as giving good luck was believed to stay fresh throughout the year. Three wells at Wark on Tyne taking the first draft would allow a person to fly or pass through a keyhole! Mackinlay (1893) notes that the tradition in Scotland, where it may have been stronger, where there was considerable rivalry between farm girls and on their way they would chant:

The flower o’ the well to our houses gaes, An I’ll the bonniest lad get. (This term flower of the well I shall refer to in a moment.)

In Wales the lucky lady was called the Queen, and this may perhaps indicate some pagan association with the tradition. The Welsh had a similar tradition and the water best between 11 and 12 on New Year’s eve was sprinkled into houses. Here it was known as the crop of the well and often a box covered with mistletoe or holly was used to contain it. Unlike that of Northumberland, the water would lose its powers until the next New Years although in some sites it would turn to wine.

On the Isle Of Man, it is reported by Roeder (1904) of the quarrel between neighbours over the Cream of the well:

 “Such as were envious of their neighbour’s success, and wished to draw away their prosperity, creamed the well they drew water from. This act was believed to be particularly cacious in ensuring a rich supply of milk and butter to the one who had cows, and performed the act on the well of those who also owned cows. All the utensils used in the dairy were washed with part of the cream of the well, and the cows received the remainder to drink. It was gone through in some districts on the last night of the year.”

The tradition was also undertaken in fishing communities where a handful of grass was plucked and thrown into the pail containing the water. This appears to be related to the related custom of Flower of the well, where it is said that by throwing a flower or grass on the spring to tell others that you had got their first. The furthest south example appears to be a Alconbury in Herefordshire where the St Ann’s Well, although the date has slipped. Here it was thought to be more effective in curing eye problems in the water being drawn from the well after midnight on Twelfth Night. The spring was said to produce blue smoke on this date

The tradition does not appear to be noted further south than the Herefordshire example above and mainly in areas affected by neighbouring Celtic areas such as Wales and Scotland. Similar traditions occur at Beltaine/May day further south indicating that the 1st of January was a rather unEnglish tradition. New year was more often celebrated in the spring in the South, although even in Scotland at some wells, the cream of the well could be obtained on the first Sunday of May..however this is another tradition to discuss at a later date.

 

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Customs revived: Nottinghamshire plough Monday plays

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Folk plays are an interesting area for folklorists. They appear to instil within them traditions and actions from a dark distance part that has been a good source for academics to discover their meanings and origin.

Once it appeared in the early-mid 20th century that they would be a thing of the past as everywhere it appeared they were dying out. However, nothing could be further from the truth at the start of the 21st century as they appear to be in rude health, with at least six renditions across Nottinghamshire over the week of Plough Monday in 2012 by five different groups.

Playing around

I spent the second week of the new year experiencing three different Plough Monday plays in the area and I have detailed my thoughts on them as well as rough copies of the plays as according to traditionally recorded scripts(The scripts are copied from the excellent Mastermummers website in which far more information can be found)

All three plays are versions of what are called Recruiting sergeant play and follow a common theme. Generally a character called Tom Fool is the first in and introduces the play sometimes as in the case of the Calverton play to the sound of a fiddle or a drum. Then the scene moves to a discussion between the recruiting sergeant, a farmer’s man and a ‘female’ character (dressed in drag and called Lady bright and gay). In this scene the farmer leaves his sweet heart to join the army and so spurned the ‘female’ character marries the fool and often a dance ensues. In the next scene in comes another ‘female’ character (again in drag and this time called Dame Jane) who then argues with the Fool that he has a baby with her out of wedlock. They too and fro until Beelzebub turns up and has an altercation with Dame Jane to which she falls down to the ground dead. A doctor is called (usually the fool who is happy to see the character dead…less alimony, offers more money for the doctor to go away) who through various quackery brings the character back to life. A song basically wishing everyone good health and wealth is sung as a plea to then extract money from the audience. Traditionally this money was ‘begged’ after all being plough men they weren’t very busy in the winter, but now days goes to charity or beer money!

The Calverton Plough Play

The final play I watched was in the rather busy environs of the Admiral Rodney in Calverton. The Calverton Play enacted by the CRAPPPs since 1978 is the oldest of the revival plays with only a 20 year or so gap. It was excellently performed and the 13 piece team clearly enjoyed their roles. Their script followed the Cropwell play script with again some adlibs and for those that got involved in watching were thoroughly entertained. Sadly I was unable to follow the team as they went of their three night 19 venue tour but clearly they took their responsibility with great enjoyment and with it so does the often confused onlookers.

The script in 2012

I have transcripted the script of the Calverton Play as heard in the Admiral Rodney. It gives an idea of the nature of all the plays, although variations exist between them and later posts will have more details on these.

Tom Fool: In comes I, Bold Tom Good evening ladies, gentlemen all. We have just come to taste your beer and ale. That the tell me is so ripe and so mellow. Good evening Ladies and gentlemen all

CROWD: Good evening

Tom Fool:. Good evening Ladies and gentlemen all

CROWD: Good evening

Tom Fool:. Plough Monday has just past which makes Tom Fool so bold as to call. But don’t take all I have to say, there’s plenty of more lads and lassies on the way. Some can dance, some can sing. So by your leave they shall come in Okum, Pokum, France and Spain, the Recruiting Sergeant just the same

Recruiting Sergeant: In comes I the Recruiting Sergeant. I have arrived here now. I have orders from the King. Enlist all jolly men that follow horses, cart, waggon or plough, Tinkers, tailors, peddlers, nailers. All the more to my advance. The more I hear the fiddle play. The better I can dance.

TOM FOOL and RECRUITING SERGEANT DANCE

Tom Fool: What, can you dance? I can either dance, sing or say. If you can either dance, sing or say. I shall swiftly march away.

Farmer’s man: Knock knock, in come I, that lost my mate, dripping tears are down my face. Try again. Pity my condition

CROWD: Ahh!

Farmer’s man: Aside: Come on we do this every bloody year! I say pity my condition and you give me a bit more sympathy that that… Pity my condition

CROWD: Ahh!

Farmer’s man: That’s sympathy. For I declare for a false young girl and I am in despair.

Lady: Behold the lady bright and gay. Good fortune and sweet charms.

Farmer’s man: Surely I have been tricked and broke PUSHES LADY TO THE GROUND THEN GETS UP

Lady: How scornfully I have been thrown from true love’s arms. He says as I won’t to him wed with him. He’ll let me understand. He will list all for a soldier. And go off t some foreign land.

Recruiting Sergeant: Come all you lads that have a mind for listening. List and do not be afraid. You shall have all kinds of liquors. Likewise kiss this fair pretty maid. If you’re not afraid and go with me you’ll go for we shall make a gallant show. Are you free hearted

Farmer’s Man: I am free hearted?

Others: Of he’s free hearted..

Recruiting Sergeant: Are you willing?

Farmer’s man: I am willing!

Recruiting Sergeant: In your hat I place a ribbon and in your hand a shilling.

Lady: No don’t take that shilling!

Farmer’s Man: Thank your sergeant for your offer before I stay longer…ASIDE where’s he gone! Oi! You’ve got my ribbon! If I stay longer I may fair worse, and dash you’re old wig (to Lady) ASIDE: Oh no my god it’s Paul Howard. If I stay long for this brown and saucy lady-boy

Lady: ASIDE Four years at Radar!

Lady: since my love has listed and entered volunteers. I neither mean to sigh for him or yet to shed one tear. CRIES. Aside to Tom Fool: come on!

Tom Fool: Do thou love me my pretty fair maid?

Lady: Oh Yes Tommy, to my sorrow

Tom Fool: And when shall be our wedding day

Lady: Tomorrow lad tomorrow

[All Four] And we’ll shake hands and we’ll make banns. And we’ll get wed tomorrow.

Threshing Blade: In come I old Threshing Blade. As all you people know. My old dad learnt me this trade some 90 years ago. I thrashed this part of the country and thrash that part too! And I will thrash you, Tommy lad, before I go

ASIDE: Cherry Tree drinker!

Sanky Benny: In come I. I can plough, sow, reap or go and I hope you masters will bestow all you can afford in my hopper-o. But not only that for I am Sanky Benny

ALL: Sanky .

Sanky Benny: And I have one and half yard of black and white tape that I will seeelllll you (to Tom Fool) for a penny

Tom Fool: Oh Sanky my old lad me old marrow. Now what have we got in the old line, anything soft and…hang on they’re sticking DRAWING UP SOME UNDERWEAR ON A STRING

ASIDE: That’s rude

Tom Fool: It’s only rude if someone’s in ‘em!These are hankies

Farmer’s man: In comes I, the Farmer’s Man,
Don’t you see my capping hand?
I go forth and plough the master’s land,
And turn it upside down.
How I straight I go from end to end.
I scarcely make a baulk or bend;
And to my horses I attend
As they go marching round the end.
Hov-ve, gee, wo! {cracks his whip.}

Dame Jane: In comes I, old Dame Jane, With a neck as long as a crane ; Dib-dab over the meadow. Once I was a blooming maid, Now I am a downright old widow. Long time I have sought thee, And now I have caught thee. Tommy, take the child.

Tom Fool: Jane!it’s none of mine. Who told you bring it here?

Dame Jane: Well the overseer of the parish told me to bring it to the biggest fool I could find, and I think you be him,for its eyes, nose, cheeks and chin, is as much like you as ever it can grin.

Tom Fool: Is it a boy or a girl?

Dame Jane: It is a girl.

Tom Fool: Ah ha well mine is all boys. Take it and swear it to the village pump, old rag-bag.

{Enter Beelzebub.}

Beelzebub: In comes I, Beelzebub, On my shoulder I carry my club,In my hand a wet leather frying pan ;Don’t you think I’m a funny old man? Is there any old woman that can stand afore me?

Dame Jane: I fear I can. My head is made of iron,My body made of steel,
My hands and feet of knuckle-bone,I think nobody can make me feel.Crack one

Beelzebub: If your head is made of iron,Your body made of steel,
Your hands and feet of knuckle-bone,I think I can make me feel, old girl! {knocks Dame Jane down.}

ASIDE: It’s like the cherry tree

Tom Fool: Oh, Beelzey! oh, Beelzey! what hast thou done? Thou hast kilt the old woman and limted [lamed] her son. Five pounds for a doctor, Ten to stop away, Fifteen to come in. {Enter Doctor.}

Doctor: I’m not coming in for less!

Tom Fool :You the doctor?

Doctor: Yes, me the doctor!

Tom Fool : How came you to be the doctor?

Doctor: By my travels.

Tom Fool: Where have you travelled?

Doctor: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales; back again to doctor old England ;
fireside, bedside, by my old grandmother’s cupboard-side, where I have had many a pound of pork pie in my time. Makes me so stout and my face to shine

Tom Fool: Very impressive but what diseases can you cure?

Doctor: Ah ha I can cure the ipsy-pipsy, palsy, and the gout,
Aches within, aches without,
Draw a leg, set a tooth,
And almost raise the dead to life again.

Tom Fool: Oh You do seem a very clever young man,
Perhaps then you should try your skill.

Doctor: Eh Right then

Doctor: Thank you, kind sir, and so I will. But first I must a feel  of the young lady’s pulse Her pulse beats exceeding fast ;
nineteen times to the tick of my watch once.
She is in a very low way; she will not get a deal lower without there is a hole dug for her.

Tom Fool: It’s his only joke.

Doctor: Give some of my whiff whaff and a tap on the head with my tiff taff. And one of my pills. Would you like to take one madam. Big round white one She’s to take one in the morning, one in the evening and swallow the box at dinner time. This will do her the power of good, cleanse her bones and clean her blood. But wait she is not dead

ALL: Not dead

No merely in a trance

ALL: Merely in a trance

So raise her up and let her dance; If she can’t dance we can sing,
So raise her up and let’s begin.

All dance a country dance, and sing various solo songs; then all sing together -}

[All]

ALL: Good Master and good Mistress, As you sit round your fire, Remember us poor plough boys, That plough through mud and mire. The mire has been so very deep, We travel far and near, We thank you for a Christmas box,
And a pint of your best beer

Bleasby Plough Play

The Rattlejag Morris organised an excellent series of events associated with a Plough Sunday blessing at Morton church. Sadly I missed this part of the custom but arrived in time to see the celebrations at Bleasby where a number of sword dancers, clog dancers and even a rhythm band assembled in this pleasantly mellow Sunday afternoon. The play enacted by Rattlejag Morris was performed in the street outside the Waggon and Horses pub. It was based on the Farnsfield play with an introducer, who had been drafted in from the Sword dancers and had to read much of it from a script (however it did not detract from the spectacle). It is worth noting that the character wore a jersey based on that once preserved in Nottingham costume museum.

Tollerton Plough Play

Tollerton’s Plough Play was last performed in 1952 and it was not until 2002 that it was restored. The basic script for what is called the Tollerton Play is as follows, with characters, the fool, recruiting sergeant, farmer’s man, lady, Dame Jane, Belezebub, Doctor and nurse (who was the prompt)  It differs by having an introducer who quietens the crowd and was an obvious good idea in noisy pubs. However, here I felt was the best atmosphere and the closest perhaps to that which would have accompanied that when done in the dark distant past. Although the pub was packed, everyone was there to see the play! The script was resonant of local in-jokes including a comment on a fire which burnt one of the character’s barn leaving one chicken (a plastic chicken in the play) and the Lady’s attempt to grab any man ‘he’ could for maximum embarrassment.

Ploughing a familiar furrow – What are these plays about?

Obviously at one time all these plays would have had the same characters and script and it is possible that the script became separated from the actions in the Puritan when they may have forgotten the words but remembered the mime of it probably adding verses to it at a later date. Some antiquarians saw that the play with its scene of death and resurrection had clear pagan overtones and represented the triumph of spring over winter, although why the recruiting aspect is in it is unclear. More recently this view has been discarded due to lack of evidence. It is possible that the original ‘play’ was simply the death of Beelzebub and his resurrection as this does rather sit as a discrete scene within the scene of the fool and his mistress and recruitment. Perhaps these last two were later cemented onto it to add familiarity and bawdy humour perhaps post Commonwealth, the recruiting section aping the Civil War and the bawdiness as a relief from the puritan’s restriction of it. However this is mere supposition..in the end we may never really know…

Image and text copyright Pixyled publications

Customs survived: The Haxey Hood game

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Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

364 days a year, one imagines people passes through the quiet village of Haxey (more correctly Westwoodside and Haxey and hence the town) quite unaware of its great day of celebration; a day which puts itself apart from early other village in the land, a day which is full of the strange and wonderful features that this blog is all about: the Hood game. The great event always falls on the 6th January (unless this is a Sunday and then it falls on the Saturday)

<b>Hood wink!<b/>

The basic premise of the event is a scrum, Rugby like, for the hood, a two-foot length of stout leather, rather than a ball, with the goal one of the village’s pubs  As such, the Hood game can be seen as a type of ‘street football’ as seen in other villages but it is much more than that, especially in colour and ceremony. Unlike any other ‘street football’ game it has obvious ‘organisers’ The Lord of the Hood and his Boggins and the Fool with his face blackenedin their red jackets and jumper s and hats festooned with feathers they make a striking sight…especially on the drab and colourless landscape of the fens in January.

Arriving around midday, the village looks strangely deserted..but if you enter one of the village’s four pubs you will find this Lord of the Hood and his Boggins  accompanied by another figure called the Fool in full song and sway and it is an evocative scene. The pub is so full it is almost impossible to move and the group sway in unison singing traditional folk songs:, Farmers Boy, John Barleycorn and Drink Old England dry as they psych themselves up with a mixture of machismo, beer and patriotism. Often the songs would end with the chant:

“Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

Which means

“House against House, Town against Town, if you meet a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”

After feeling suitably fortified the group then proceed to an old stone, what appears to be the base of a cross or mounting block outside St Nicholas parish Church (called the Mowbray stone). Here is perhaps the strangest part of the ceremony and therefore the most evocative of the day perhaps. From the stone, from the stone Fool with his tassled custom and face blackened, makes a speech of welcome holding the Hood ahigh. He states that running and throwing with the hood are disallowed. Nothing unusual about that perhaps, but whilst giving this oration damp straw is placed beneath him and he is smoked! As the speech continues a considerable amount of smoke is generated and this  `Smoking the Fool’, is believed to be a safer version of an older ritual of  watered down version of suspending the fool over a bonfire of smoking straw. The ‘newer’ method is said to be safer, although the flames were very real in 2009 when I am sure I saw the fool burn! Clearly the fool is aware of the danger and traditionally runs away before the talk and ceremonially captured…although he still gets to kiss every girl on the way to his sacrifice.

Once the speech is over and the fool smoked the  crowd begins its chant of:

 “Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

This tells everyone that the game is about to begin and a field on Upperthorpe Hill is the destination. Here any crops in the field appeared to be trampled indiscriminately although I was careful to gingerly tread over it. One wonders why this hill is chosen as it has a fantastic view across the fens to the Humber and it may have had some earlier significance.

To begin with the Lord of the Hood and his boggins doing some practice, mainly for children where the sacking versions of the hood are thrown and caught in the field for £2.

Then the leather hood is thrown up and the scum or rather sway begins….like a giant amoeba, this sway moves one way and then another but ultimately in the direction of the village and its four pubs, either of which is a goal. Along the way,as darkness sets, the sway becomes a large mass of steaming humanity guarded by the Boggins whose purpose is to prevent any property such as parked cars being enveloped and damaged in the ensuing madness. As there is no teams as such, indeed anyone visiting can join in and frequently do, it is difficult to see the motivation to get it into a said pub, but perhaps the teams do exist as bar regulars or else the glory is in being the one which gets it to the front steps. This event after much pushing and shoving, a great clouds of steam , is the ending of the game and once the landlord takes the Hood they will proudly display it until the following year. .

But what is it all about?

There are two origins of the custom, indeed both may be true…..

The ‘official story’

The official story dates from the 14th Century, is that the John and his wife Lady de Mowbray ( the Mowbray family held lands here ) whilst riding across Upperthorpe Hill when a gust of wind hit her silk riding hood. Nearby, there were thirteen farm workers working nearby who rushed to catch the hat. However, the one who caught it apparently was too shy to hand it back directly and thus gave it to a braver co-worker. Lady de Mowbray remarked that by doing so the man who caught it was behaving like a fool and the man who returned it a Lord. She appeared to like the idea and gave thirteen acres to the parish with the only stipulation being that the chase for the hood was re-enacted each year.

The pagan origin theory…

This story may have some origin in the truth but it appears to be a too convenient back story to explain some of the aspects of the story. It clearly has an older origin. Indeed, folklorists recognise some pagan traditions. Taking certain aspects…

Smoking the fool….is perhaps a vestige of a sacrifice. Certainly the kissing of girls on the way and escape are indications of this.

The Hood itself is said to be the hide of a sacrificed bull…but surely it’s the skin of the sacrificed fool! Perhaps the blackened face either a remembrance of the burnt evidence or to disguise who was the victim

Roasting the hood…..Certainly the tradition of roasting the hood soaked in ale in a spit in the fire has also has indications of sacrifice. The fact the ale is drunk by the people there .

Thirteen Boggins…witches covens are comprised of thirteen!

Link with plough Monday

The character of the fool is interesting. He is a character seen in the Plough Monday plays enacted in the midlands, and was particularly well recorded from the Gainsborough area where they were called Plough jags. Of course the main theme of these plays is resurrection and although the fool is not the one to die in these plays, but it may be significant. It is possible that at some point the plough play perhaps got amalgamated with a shrove tide football game or perhaps all plough plays were distilled from sacrifices.

Whatever its origin if you happen to be around in this region come the 6th; the Haxey Hood game is a must.

Remember

“Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

Image and text copyright Pixyled publications