Monthly Archives: November 2013

Custom contrived: Oasby Baboon Night

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“You want to go to Baboon Night” said Barry “Baboon what?” I said? “Baboon Night its near Grantham….they chase a baboon around the village.” He added. Now knowing Barry’s obsession with the word baboon, usually in the sense of ‘what a baboon’ I questioned its genuineness. I hadn’t heard of the custom and no…it was or is not April….I checked the internet and found it! On YouTube as below:

Oasby is a small village just outside what was once voted the most boring town in England, Grantham..however Baboon Night or more correctly Baboon Tossing Night is far from being dull and lightens, quite literally, a rather cold and dull Friday in November.

Baboon Night Oasby

Monkey at the bar!

Monkey business!

The custom is linked to a local legend; involving a pet baboon and the local land owner’s son who is said to have died at the hands of the monkey. The event dates back to 1723, when Sir Michael Newton, (relative of the more famous Isaac) kept a pet baboon at Culverthorpe Hall. It is said that when his son, Viscount Conningsby, was only only six months old, the pet threw from a window! What the instant reaction of the family is unrecorded by the son was duly buried in the chapel. The baboon? He appears to have been granted a mini mausoleum on an island on the estate. Although he was killed as a result of the incident I do believe.

Baboon Night Oasby (11)

Flaming torches at the ready…

Does anyone give a monkey?

Apparently so! For around 15 years ago, a local Morris team, who drank at the delightful Houblon Inn, thought it was a good idea to celebrate it or rather to drive the spirit of the creature out to placate the spirit of the young child. So they created their own custom and an eccentric one it is too! I was told by the organiser that the custom combines a number of customs, a sort of omni tradition including souling, fire based celebrations and riding the stang, indicating the folklore literacy of the organiser. The event always on the Friday when Children in Need is on is perhaps a rare example of such a folk custom being directly linked to a national TV event. Although no one appeared get the rather bizarre notion of a baby killing monkey being ‘celebrated’ on Children in Need night, although as it was clearly to remove the monkey I suppose it was defending it!

Baboon Night Oasby

Watch out there’s some Morris men behind you!

Monkeying around

I arrived early to find the pub festooned with small toy monkeys and gorillas. There was one on a seat in a nock, two over the fire, in a photo by the door, and even a picture of newsreader John Snow with one! On the bar was the one which was the main baboon (although it was a gorilla) and beside it was our ‘baboon’ having a quiet pint…no one batted an eyelid that a man in a monkey suit was at the bar.. Soon the Oasby Morris team arrived and everyone began gathering outside. Large specially made torches were lit. The Morris Men were organising themselves with one of them the baboon finder general carrying a horn. A child was selected to carrying the baboon on a stick…this year it was my eldest boy who proudly carried it aloft. The horn was blown to call forth the baboon….three blows and then it appeared! Off we went around the village: blowing horns, shouting and chasing a man in a money costume in our torchlight procession around the village.

Hunt the monkey

Hunt the monkey

Monkey say Monkey do!

At the pub we stopped and the chief Morris Man, Paul Kennedy, banged on the door to gain entry to the pub.

“Landlord, landlord, let us in there’s a monkey on the loose!”

The door opened and the landlord said:

“none shall enter until the monkey goes over”

So the attempt to throw the baboon begun…fortunately not the one we were chasing for his and our back’s sake, but the one my son had been carrying. So he had the first try…wooooooooooooo..ahhhh…a valiant effort but it simply rolled down the roof. A young girl tried and again it bounced down…finally an older youth had a go and it disappeared into the darkness! The baboon was vanquished. A great little custom and one which shows how something can be completely made up and sound genuine! I was a bit disappointed with the numbers compared to the video from 2008 where there appeared to be a lot more children.. perhaps it wasn’t as well advertised? I was told that one year soon after its creation, news of it reached the Sun and a 1000 people turned up! Despite the lower numbers, it still is supported locally and I feel sure it will continue as not only is it unique but its a great gift for a pun writer…!!

Get rid of he monkey!Toss the baboon!

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

 
Toss the baboon!
 
Get rid of he monkey!
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Custom survived: The Lewes Guy Bonfire Fawkes Night

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This November the 5th, as I stood warming myself at the considerable pyre at are our local bonfire celebrations, I was thinking it was a rather hollow experience. Don’t get me wrong, the effort was excellent: a brilliant spectacle of fireworks, a massive whirling and pulsating fun fair, a very welcome fire and even topped by a guy. Yet, there is something missing. The celebratory aspect has gone. It’s understandable, who 500 years on really celebrates the foiling of a plot?  Well plenty do, for several hundred miles away something all together more spectacular is going on….the Lewes Bonfire.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005. Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/ My photos from back there were a bit rubbish!

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005.
Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/
My photos were a bit rubbish!

Indeed its own website proclaims the ‘greatest bonfire celebrations in the world’ in ‘the bonfire capital of the world’. It’s been a long time since I experienced this grand event of Guy Fawkes celebrations, back in the early 90s, but I wouldn’t expect much has changed. Indeed a report in the 1930s described something not much different:

“The greatest of all bonfire celebrations is held at Lewes, Sussex and in 1929 no less than one hundred thousand torches were burned during the evening. Here the observance partakes of the character of a religious ceremony….the most historic is the Cliffe Society, which still uses a real eighteenth century ‘No Popery’ banner, and figures of Pope Paul IV and Guy Fawkes are carried in procession and burned. The effigies are filled with fireworks which explode when the fire reaches them…the processions start at 5.30 p.m., and each society in turn marches to the war memorial…the Cliffe Society, which alone retains the historic character of the proceedings, still uses the old eighteenth century Bonfire Prayers. Torchlight processions continue all the evening, and the effect is most impressive as the long lines of flaming torches wind through narrow, steep streets of the ancient town. The final scene takes place about 11.15 p.m., when each Society marches to an open place outside the town and burns its effigies. …lighted tar barrels were rolled through the main thoroughfares.”

Having said that it’s certainly moved on a bit since the account of 1733 which says:

“Nov ye 5th. Item pd ye ringers being ye day of Deliverance from ye powder plott 2/6d”

Or thankfully the use of live cats in the burning effigies anymore. However, as a custom it is hard to beat and the town comes alive. Indeed, there are some many parts of the Lewes Bonfire celebration, that you would need several years to experience them all.  I decided to follow the Cliffe Bonfire, the oldest of the Bonfire boyes. They never join the united parade and stand fiercely for their traditions.

It’s all his fawk!

Lewes takes its protestant heritage very seriously. Elsewhere, such as my local bonfire celebration all mention of point of it is forgotten. Speaking to the organisers of the event I was at this year even the Guy had to be fought for.  Here in Lewes, it is the impact of the Marian persecutions, as well as Guy’s foiled plot are remembered. These martyrs are recognised by the carrying of seventeen burning crosses. Pretty impressive and slightly shocking! Not only that but if you thought that only during an Orange March, in Belfast, would you see such a celebration of Protestantism, you’d be wrong. On arrival one of the main streets has a banner proclaiming ‘No Popery’. During the march, this banner is held proudly up again, as is declaring ‘the Glorious revolution of William of Orange and Mary’ itself on the 5th.  How do the Catholics feel about it? Understandably it has not been popular, in 1933 the town’s Mayor wrote to the society to ask them to stop it…they did not. Although theses traditional parts were only revived after World War One, they hold onto these elements which make them unique and controversial such as the burning of the Pope.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005. Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005.
Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/

Another guy

The burning or rather exploding of such effigies is a Lewes speciality, and boy, are they special. These put those Guys of old firmly in the shade and there worth certainly more than a penny! They are amazing and very well judged. Lewes has always been a supporter of the downtrodden and fighter against injustice. The making of effigies aside the Guy was to lampoon individuals who were against British interests or local notorieties…. including the local Catholic priest, Father Flood once….It’s all harmless fun! Remember that! When I was there it was the height of the Balkan’s conflict so it was not surprising that there was impressive effigy of Radovan Karadzic. As always a barometer for current hate figures yet always courting controversy, these effigies try to grab the zeitgeist of public feeling. For example in 2001, aptly perhaps, Osama Bin Laden was chosen… but let’s be fair so was George W Bush with fireworks in his ears! Other effigies have been Colonel Gadadafi, Rupert Murdoch and Rebecca Brookes, Cameron and Clegg (Lewes is a liberal constituency), during the expenses debacle, a MP beside Westminster was made in 2009, fat cats on a piggy bank for the banking crisis and so on! Their choice in 2003 of a Gypsy caravan was a bit more regrettable, and bizarrely a Nelson effigy was blown up in 2005! This year’s President Assad effigy was amazing by all accounts! Guy is not forgotten but here of course they do burn the Pope…they stress it’s not the current one, but the one who was responsible for the plot.

Fire up the imagination

Even more amazing are the costumes, and the Native American costumes are particularly impressive and have history as the local community supported the American natives…Roman centurions, traditional smugglers and Tudor dress add to the spectacle. by 1861 costumes included Bedouin Arabs, highwaymen, soldiers, sailors, clowns and North American Indians. During the 1870’s Pioneer groups became a regular feature, the first group to lead the Cliffe’s processions being members of the Cliffe Volunteer Fire Brigade. Reflecting Britain’s expanding Empire, firemen were superseded by Squads of Bengal Lancers and, leading up to World War One, by Indian Princesses. In 2013 even Doctor Who had a look in.

Fire and brimstone 

Back in those days, I didn’t have any idea of what exactly went on at the bonfire site except that the organisers gave a mock sermon. This is linked to 1850 which was a flash point. Pope Pius IX re-established the Catholic hierarchy in England, this led to the return of the Bonfire boys and within three years processions had started. By 1856, saw the introduction of the ‘Lord Bishop’ wearing full clerical uniform and gave a ‘sermon’. What a sermon! Dressed as bishops they gave a tirade about the evils of popery, not that it could be heard clearly, with all the hubbub. Then whizz! What was that? it couldn’t be? It was a fire work. People in the group were throwing fireworks, and no just bangers but it looked quite substantial ones. Now I realised why wore wielder’s masks. Then as the Bonfire prayer was proclaimed the crowd become more animated:

“Remember, remember the Fifth ofNovember
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the King!”
This part being  familiar to most, but in Lewes we add:
A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’cheese to choke him
A pint of beer to Rinses it done
A faggot of sticks to burn him
 
Burn him in a tub of tar
Burn him like a blazing star
Burn his body from his head
Then we’ll say old Pope is dead
 
Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!”
Then there was a crackling noise and the Milosovec effigy blew up sending sparks into the air followed by a barrage of fire works…then came the Pope to cheers and more chanting…its all harmless fun!Lewes Bonfire Night is a brilliant experience. Something that you would have thought would have died out. Would I go again? Yes but I don’t think I’d take the kids…its too mad! But if you follow this blog and have never been, you must…even if you are a Catholic! It’s nothing personal and it’s all harmless fun! Remember that! This video sums it up brilliantly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc1lwKfSQ1g  

Custom demised: St. Andrew’s Day squirrel Hunt

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St. Andrew’s Day is more regularly associated with parties associated with Scotland’s patron saint. but in parts of England, it was also a traditional day for hunting squirrels. Now days, the grey squirrel divides opinion, vermin or established interloper, but these accounts involve its more well thought of Red Squirrel. Now in decline and one wonders why. Hasted in his work on Kent records that  in the parish of Eastling on St Andrew’s Day:

” there is yearly a diversion called squirrel-hunting in this and the neighbouring parishes, when the labourers and lower kind of people, assembling together, form a lawless rabble, and being accoutred with guns, poles, clubs, and other such weapons, spend the greatest part of the day in parading through the woods and grounds, with loud shoutings.”,

It is clear that the custom was an excuse for bad behaviour, as the author notes and the squirrels perhaps need not worry much:

“under the pretence of demolishing the squirrels, some few of which they kill, they destroy numbers of hares, pheasants, partridges, and in short whatever comes in their way, breaking down the hedges, and doing much other mischief, and in the evening betaking themselves to the alehouses.”

Perhaps, the custom was more about making mischief than hunting squirrels after all why choose this date. In 1852 the Journal of the Archaeological Association noted the same custom in Derbyshire.

“At Duffield, a curious remnant of the right of hunting wild animals is still observed—this is called the ” squirrel hunt.” The young men of the village assemble together on the Wakes Monday, each provided with a horn, a pan, or something capable of making a noise, and proceed to Keddleston Park, where, with shouting and the discordant noise of the instruments, they frighten the poor little squirrels, until they drop from the trees. Several having been thus captured the hunters return to Duffield, and having released the squirrels amongst some trees, recommence the hunt.”

Again the custom appeared to be part of an older tradition associated with preparing for Christmas perhaps as it notes:

“At Duffield, the right of collecting wood in the forest is also singularly observed. The young men in considerable numbers collect together, and having taken possession of any cart they can find, yoke themselves to it, and preceded by horns, remove any trees or other wood from the various lanes and hedge-rows; this is done almost nightly, between Sep­tember and the Wakes, in the first week in November, when a bonfire is made of the wood collected on the Wakes Monday.”

Both these customs associated with the same activity and month suggests it was more widespread than it recorded. St. Andrew’s Day, passes by without any worrying wildlife….and that’s a good thing for those poor squirrels I imagine!