Custom demised: Forty Shilling Day

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A graveside dole

When William Glanville the Younger, who was William III’s treasury official, died on the 2nd February 1718, he left £40 annually for a rather unusual instructions for a graveside dole. The details of this bequest was to provide £2 to five poor boys of his Wooton, Surrey, parish. However it wasn’t that simply. To qualify for this sum there were very specific requirements and conditions.

A biblical knowledge

They had to place both hands on Glanville’s tomb in the parish churchyard, then recite by heart the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments. That might sound like enough especially in a largely illiterate population but Glanville put even more requirements down. Next they were to take up a bible and read aloud the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle of the Corinthians and write out two verses of this chapter in legible hand.

Despite being a quaint ceremony, perhaps, Glanville had created a time bomb of a custom. Firstly many boys could not read and write, especially the poor. Secondly, the Parish of Wooton is very small and to provide 5 under sixteen year olds each year would surely have been impossible. This second problem he had foreseen and stated that neighbouring and often larger parishes could provide their youths. What he didn’t foresee of course was that his anniversary would fall upon the coldest month in the year….not great for an outside ceremony! Although a tent was usually erected over it to prevent the rigours of the weather.

A dying custom

In correspondence with the vicar in the 1990s I was told that the custom had only recently fallen into abeyance. Despite advertisement locally unsurprisingly perhaps the combination of cold weather, the lack of biblical knowledge and the attraction of £2 in a widely affluent stockbroker-belt area saw it demise. The custom was moved to June in its last few years…but finally petered out. Reading and writing skills have improved but unfortunately the reluctance of boys do this had not. Perhaps in our more custom interested times it could be revived with adults! Any Morris men interested?

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