Monthly Archives: September 2012

Custom survived: The Preston Guild


“Yeah about every Preston Guild”

A local Northern expression which was said to be earlier this year and made me think when was the next one. A bit of research quickly revealed it was 2012 and so I made my arrangements to witness the start of this unique custom.

The history

A guild is an organisation of all traders, merchants and craftsmen in the town. Originally established to establish support many went on to monopolise and control all trade in the town. This prevented others from working there and subsequently new comers were frequently not made welcome and rarely became members of the guild. To ensure that the town controlled membership, all members periodically were called to a court where they swore loyalty to the Guild and Mayor. During this they were checked and renewed membership allowing them to trade in the town after giving a fee and then admitted admitted as a Burgess (the special name for its members.) It was soon noticed that the need to renew and check membership would only be needed once a generation and such from 1542 it was held every 20 years. First records of its celebration dates from 1387, but the origins of the custom date from 1179, when the town was given a Royal charter by King Henry II granted Guild was an organisation of traders, craftsmen and merchants. As it had a monopoly of trade in the town and only its members could carry out a craft or business. Newcomers could only trade here with the permission of the Guild, and such approval was not given lightly.

With the renewing of membership being every 20 years soon, this soon became a celebration of the city and people would take the opportunity to meet socially, feast and undertake processions and such it continues today.

The proclamation

You knew something was in the air, there was hustle and bustle of people in the town, barriers were being put up and a party of people began to assemble outside the museum where the proclamation was to be read. Unfortunately the height of the museum meant that one could not see that proclamation well although fortunately a large display screen relayed it. After what seemed to be an age of rather strange lounge music covers of popular rock songs a choir assembled, the burgesses, invited guests, the bell man and of course the Mayor of the Guild. This was a temporary Mayor who oversaw the whole affair and considering how rare the event was a considerable honour. After a delightful rendition of the Guild Hymm sung admirably by the quire and sung well by some in the crowd too, surprisingly considering it cannot be sung more than three or four times in a person’s lifetime, the Mayor was introduced and to cheers the Guild was announced.

The Trades Procession

Unsurprisingly, the longest running event associated with the Guild is the Trades Procession. Records suggest it has been undertaken at least since the 1600s. Of course the members in this procession have changed, cotton for example rose in Lancashire in the 19th century but is now defunct, and today along with more traditional trades, are a number which I still was not sure what they did.

I overheard someone in the crowd say that they thought no-one would be interested in the Guild this year, but clearly Jubilolympic fever had spread and this was clear in the thousands who had congregated to see the procession and final proclamation.

The procession was the largest the Guild had ever done consisting of just under 100 floats and members. Some had done a considerable amount of effort with people dressed as giant sofas, drinks, a wedding party and one of the largest shopping baskets I have ever seen. The floats were associated with the stirring sounds of a number of brass bands. Perhaps the most evocative of processions were the trade unions carrying their vibrant and brilliant banners and underlining still the importance of protecting one’s livelihood in modern times. Free gifts were given out aplenty – balloons, free pencils, free water bottles, sweets, bracelets…when the funeral directors appeared I was worried at what they would hand out for free! The procession continued without break for virtually two hours, a continuous serpent like, through the town. At one point, a lady pushed her head from the back of the crowds and asked for a policeman, everyone thought someone had had an accident but apparently she was asking if there was some way to get across the procession to go to a shop on the other side!!?

Entertainment for all-Wot no Rave?

As if a time machine had landed in the delightful grounds of Avenham Park, three tents over two nights boasted the ability to take you back to the parties of Guild past. Dance the Charleston in 1922, remember the War with 1942, relive the 70s soul (and especially local specialicity Northern Soul) in 1972 and experience a bit of a mish mash for 1992. Surely 1992s music was the Rave and it was hinted at, but perhaps a Rave all-dayer is a bit too madding for the gentile folk on Preston. The eerie sounds of music past resonated around these parks and back streets like those ghosts of Guild’s past creating a very special atmosphere. Indeed being every 20 years there is a rather melancholic feel to the Guild and these events built rather successfully upon that.

The procession to the church

The next day the Guild Mayor and members of the Corporation wore their finest robes of office, attended by trumpeters, mace bearers and sergeants in traditional costume and all the other professions of note in the town, judges and service personnel, process from the Guild Hall to the Minster church to give thanks for the return of the Guild. The spectacle although not as considerable as the Trades procession gave some idea of what the Civic and Church parades of the following week may have been like, as sadly I could not stay to see the Civic, church or torch procession…however, the local press was very complimentary calling it ‘The Best guild ever’ and I for one were very pleased to have been able to get involved. Especially as I may not be around to see the next one.

copyright Pixyled publications

Custom revived: Wirksworth Clypping the church


Wirksworth is a proud ancient mining town lying not far from its more famed Peak district relatives Matlock and Matlock Bath, despite the proximity of these towns, Wirksworth appears to have a different feel about it and unlike the other two retains its customs. Well dressing thrives here, its ancient mining history is not forgotten with the biennial Barmote and a more recent tradition of church clypping.

Whether it has an older origin is unclear but it is known to have been undertaken every year since 1921 on the Sunday nearest to the 8th of September, but it’s association with the patronal day is doubtless medieval in origin. The word clyppan being Saxon for embrace. Today the ceremony is associated with the town’s festival, which is rather a quaint irony,considering that  the church would have been central and the reason.Midway through the service, the congregation poured out of the church, like ants, following the clergy singing a hymn. More and more people poured out and as the clergy moved around the circle was slowing formed like some sort of human strand of string. They leave singing the church’s one foundation and as the clergy circle around, the human chain, like a giant hokey cokey gets more formed people awaiting outside being drawn to it like paper clips in a chain held by a giant magnet.Even a baby in a pram was involved!

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What is clypping?

The purpose of clypping is to show affection to the church and show the love they have for their mother church. Watching the custom one cannot help feel that this is a much more ancient ritual and replacing this mighty church with a stone circle is not beyond credibility. Its great to see this perhaps millennia old custom surviving and being enthusiastically embraced (sorry!)

copyright Pixyled publications

Custom demised: Newcastle Under Lyme’s Mock Mayor


Mock mayors appear to be a common feature in English towns, indicating perhaps the joint characteristics of the English people a disregard for authority and a good sense of humour. In Staffordshire there were a number, of which that of Newcastle is the best known.

The custom was centred on the real mayor making ceremony, for as soon As soon as this had finished, the free man of the town, those not involved in government, gathered in the Market cross and chose a Mock mayor in a ceremony which resembled that which had gone on to select the real one!

Described by Joseph Mayer in 1850-1 in Proceedings of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire:

“His Mock Worship was, with all the gravity befitting such an occasion, summoned by the shrill sound of a Nanny goat’s horn, to appear before his brother town’s men and show cause why – always provided if he had any objection to that most devoutedly to be desired and that most glorious and honourable elevation to the state of Mayor of the Borough, with all the customary privileges of getting drunk, and finding himself publically as an example, &c,. Then with great stateliness of step, and severe magisterial countenance some well beloved fellow townsmen was conducted to top step, and there invested with those most  becoming and costly robes of state and that magic wand of office so capable of doing justice, on the person whose head it knocked.

The Mayor then introduces his wife to the gathering and commanded silence and the Town crier read after calling all to order with the ringing of his bell:

“O Yes, O Yes O Yes! This is to give Notice, First that by the advice of my Beadle, Mace bearers and Bum Bailiffs, I do hereby declare and proclaim that it shall be lawful for any man or set of men to put their hands into their breeches pockets if there be their purses and give and pay over to our exchequer any sum less than one hundred guineas, that shall deem to him or them fit in order that we may drink his or their jolly health in a quart of ale a –piece for which we as well our part as on yours promise him or them the distinguished honour of three huzzas, and may they live to do the like again next year.

Secondly- That we, after mature consideration, do allow any grocer – so he do it handsomely and pleasantly to his own feelings the never-to-be-appreciated and valuable privilege (which must be thought a sufficient reward unto him and his children for ever) of giving unto our revenue collectors, as much tobacco as he pleases; provided always and it is hereby declared, that the amount must not exceeded one hundredweight, but shall, at the same time be enough to serve all the old women, as well as our worthy selves.

Thirdly-that Morgan, the pipe maker, as his hereditary right, which he hereby acklodge may if he likes furnish us with saggar pipes to smoke the aforementioned tobacco with, in consideration whereof, we pledge our honour (here two squeaks from the nanny goat horn) that nobody else shall.

Fourthly-Our worthy Mayor giveth notice and commandeth that all canting, gin-drinking women he brought before him, that he may punish them with the bridle, kept by him for that purpose; and he recommendeth his brother freemen to eat plenteously of roast beef and plum pudding, to gain which they must work more and drink less; and further, that all persons found drunk in the streets after this notice will be put in the stocks for one hour and thirteen minutes.

Fifthly- and lastly- We do hereby say, as commanded by our beloved wife, for the benefit of all young maidens (after painful experience on our own part), that it is better to be married than single; and in proof of our firm conviction of the same, we do thus publically declare sign, and seal this our proclamation with a kiss. ‘

A long flourish on the Nanny-goat’s horn at the close of his performance, after which the procession had formed, and with her ladyship enthroned on a donkey, his Worship and the ‘goodlie companie’ marched through the principle streets of the town, collecting the revenue with jollification at the market cross in the evening.”

The nature of the proclamations clearly being aimed to ridicule the self importance of the Corporation, caused irritation which lead not only to the banning of the custom in 1830s but the putting of the mock mayor in the stocks.

However, the day was a big event and very popular with local school children, who would bar out their teachers or those in work claim a holiday. However, in 1833 the ceremony was revived, and in that year they were described by Mayer (1850-1) as:

“His worship is arrayed in a calf-skin tunic, fastened with a skewer around the neck, a black Staffordshire bull’s hide for a gown, and a sheepskin wig. In his dexter hand he holds his wand of office and his civic chain and glass are represented by horses’ s manes and the prison-door key, the latter emblematical of the reign of bailiffs. His worship is supported on the right hand by the Town clerk, a person of very knowing look, and quite alive to the tricks of the law, as is fully indicated by the expressive position of his left thumb. Under his other arm he holds the Charter of the Borough, which the good Burgesses, fearing parchment would not be lasting enough, have inscribed on the hide of leather. On the left side is the Bum bailiff alias Head Constable, which his truncheon about to dislodge a sweep, who in return is about to powder his Worship’s wig with his soot bag. The two figures right and left are Macebearers, as seen by the splendid cabbages which they carry; and the Bellman in his Phrygian cap and shaggy skin dress, is reading the proclamation.”

However, this revival was a final hurrah, as in the end the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 swept away all the rottenness associated with the real Mayor and the need for the custom and so it quietly died.