Custom demised: Little Edith’s Treat

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The small village of Piddinghoe has in the church like many others a benefactor’s board recording its local charities. Here however is a rather sad story which founded a unique charitable event – Little Edith’s Treat. Which despite its inclusion in nearly every calendar customs book, it is sadly now largely defunct.

The origins of the custom derive from a doting grandmother called Elizabeth Croft who after her husband died in 1866, took solace in the birth of her granddaughter in July of 1868. Sadly she died only a few months later in October and so distraught at her left £350, to be invested a sizable sum for a number of charities. The important bit of the plaque reads:

“The interest arising from £100 of the said stock to be known as ‘Little Edith’s Treat’ to be expended on the 19th of July in each year in a treat to the children of the national school of the said parish and in rewards more especially to the girls who are skilled in plain needlework and to the boys and girls who are neat in their dress in their habits and regular in attendance at church and school.”

The treats followed the same pattern each year: on the afternoon of her birthday or the nearest school day July 19th, the schoolchildren were told the story of the bequest, attended a church service and then taken to the open space called the Hoe to engage in various games and races, finishing with tea which in the days when food may have been scarcer was a life saver. Roud (2008) in his English Year tells us that the vicar would throw a handful of coins into the air and the children would scramble for them. Prizes and gifts would be distributed back at the school: boys for tidiness, attended school and church regularly and girls for needlecraft. In 1904 the total number of children rose to over 100. However, sadly after the school closed in 1952, and although the custom moved naturally to Sunday school, a fall in child numbers and decrease in the annual value meant the ‘treat’ became irregular and I was informed in the 1990s that it ceased as a formal event but money was available for one offs. Roud (2008) tells us that in 2000 some of the money paid for a Christmas party, so despite the loss of the actual day the gift still continues when there is enough money available. I am sure that Elizabeth Croft would approve.

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