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!