Monthly Archives: June 2014

Custom survived: Flash Teapot Parade

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Flash a remote village on the borders of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire has a number of claims to fame. It is the highest village in England 1518 feet above sea level. Its location made it a town for counterfeiting, ‘flash money’; a more dubious claim to fame perhaps. A better claim to fame is that it is home to the Flash teapot parade, a far more wholesome claim and not just because it involves tea!

No flash in the pan

Sick or burial clubs were widespread across England in the days before the NHS when medical care or burial costs was expensive. The earliest mention of such a group is from 1767 with a Quarnford Club, and by 1846 the Flash Loyal Union friendly society was established and based at the Traveller’s Rest. By 1906 it became known as the Tea Pot Club by 1906 which had 700 members at its peak. This name is believed to originate from the means in which the money was stored as Doug Pickford (1992) in his Myths and Legends of East Cheshire and the Moorlands:

“people would keep their spare halfpennies and farthings in teapots….regular collections were made by an elected Committee and all proceeds kept in the tea pot. Whenever a family needed to use the monetary contents of the teapot, a committee member would call and empty the entire money onto the kitchen table. The collection would start again until the next person or persons needed to have the contents emptied.”

Such that the money was then given out to villagers in times of unemployment, sickness or bereavement. Like many Friendly Societies, each year they would have a church service and then parade and photos exist from the 1800s and 1940s showing assembled groups often carrying banners. Andy Collins, one of the organisers stated that members had to attend or pay a fine and would march with a local band starting alternatively from the Parish or Methodist church but always to the Traveller’s Rest and back for a tea, where she adds seed cake and ham sandwiches were eaten. Flash Teapot parade 2014 (130) Flash back

Doug Pickford in his Earth Mysteries of the Three shires makes an interesting observation, a teapot would have been an odd commodity for a remote community to have, and believes it has a more ancient origin from the Celtic Taoiseach (pronounced tea shock) for leader! This he believes may be more significant for when the find was dissolved no teapot was found!! A point I raised with one of the organisers, who thought it was interesting idea, although did say the teapots were those belonging to the individual members. It is an interesting point, perhaps greater research may reveal the answer. Flash Teapot parade 2014 (51) No flash pan!

The Tea Pot parade is the pivotal event in this remote village when eyes from outside look in and not to say they had been the highest village in the world! It is indeed a strange village, one a hamlet of disparate houses perhaps and a pub whose sign remembers Flash’s other claim to fame – counterfeit money or Flash money…did this swell that teapot I wonder. I arrived as the group was midway through their special, Tea pot church service, sitting in the churchyard was a blue striped teapot, a surreal object amid the graves. I decided to have a look at the well dressing and it was a fine one. The topic for this year, being an obvious and much to be repeated one across the season no doubt, WWI, but it was professionally executed with a delightful teapot tradition. Soon the vicar arrived and followed by his congregation he blessed the well in a simple service.  Then it was time for the parade, sadly the local brass band, usually the Leek and District Scout and Guide Band appeared to no longer attend, but a violinist and drummer provided some evocative and stirring music. The banners were collected by a large group of adults and children and proudly displayed ready for the off. Amongst them were the delightfully dressed Flash Rose Queen and retinue. Before they could go of course, the teapot had to be moved into pride of place…then we were off.  The procession moved majestically up the minor road, little traffic travelled down there, but I wonder what happened when we reached the much busier A53 where the Traveller’s Rest lay. As we reached the A53, the road was closed as we climbed to the Inn, around us the sky darkened, storm clouds gathered. Here the group downed banners and had a drink or two. Then the procession returned down towards Flash but stopping at the Village Hall for some tea. Flash Teapot parade 2014 (109) Storm in a teapot

This parade of course is a sort of facsimile, a copy but without an association with the group it was based on. Why? The fall, quite literally, of a notable newspaper magnate and the subsequent disappearance of millions of pounds of pension money, had a big effect. Why should that have an effect on a remote village and its custom? New laws on saving organisations had their impact and as such the small volumes controlled by the group could not be legally collected and so in 1995 the Flash Loyal Union friendly society was finally dissolved and its banner was laid over the church door. However although in 1995 the last authentic Flash teapot parade finished, 1996 saw it continue as a village tradition organised by the locals as a valid attempt to keep the custom alive. No doubt due to the remoteness of the communities here it continued for longer than most. This re-invention rather than revival was a conscious effort by Andy and some other local incomers and involved the children making banners and significantly a giant teapot! She also added that for several years a play was performed on how the society was formed. This sadly has lapsed. Of course, this being the Peak District, something was missing, then in 2006 a well dressing was introduced and this continues to this day. However, all in all, this custom remains a unique addition to the year’s calendar especially if you like a cuppa.

Find out when it is on…..

It’s not on Calendar customs yet

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Custom revived: Coventry Godiva Procession

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The legend of Lady Godiva is perhaps one of England’s most well known tradition, thus it is a shame how poorly it has been celebrated by its city, Coventry, fortunately things have changed.

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Bare back rider

I am sure we are all familiar with the legend, although perhaps many may not know that it dates from Saxon times. Basically the story relayed that Godiva, upset by her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia’s oppressive taxes, she decided to protest riding a horse naked, although the town folk supposedly agreed not to watch her to spare her dignity! The story of Peeping Tom who was the only one who looked and went blind came later. Both of whom are immortalised in the town’s clock of course.

Surprisingly it is not until the late 1600s that she was celebrated in a local procession. This is doubly surprising, firstly considering the fame of the event and it obvious association with processing and secondly that it arose, albeit post Commonwealth, in a period when such customs fell into abeyance.

Despite first being mentioned as a ride 150 years after the alleged event, the Godiva procession would become associated with a Trinity fair established by charter by Henry III in 1217, but although naturally a civic procession would have been associated with this, only four hundred years later in 1678 that we get the following first mention:

“In the Mayoralty of Mr Michael Earle, there was a new show on the summer, or Great Fair, of followers- that is boys sent out by the several companies, and each Company having new Streamers, and Lady Godiva rode before the Mayor to proclaim the Fair.”

From this smallish start the procession became a staple of the Coventry fair with Godiva leading the mayor, magistrates, Charter Officers, St George and the Dragon, bands, buglers, city guards and local societies, benefit societies and companies joined in a procession. A flavour of the grandeur can be seen in the order from 1809:

“Grand Procession of the Show Fair     Through Hay-Lane, Little Park street, St John’s Street, Much Park street, where the fair was proclaimed; Jordan-well, Gosford street, where the fair was proclaimed, Far Gosford-street, High Street, where the Bablake boys sang, Spon-street, west Orchard, where the Bablake boys sang; Well street, Bishop Street, Cross cheaping, where the Bablake boys sang, High Street, and returned through Hay Lane to Trinity Church yard.

Twelve Guards – two and two SAINT GEORGE in armour two bugle horns City Streamers, Two city followers, City Streamer, Grand band of music, belonging to the 14th Lt Dragoons, High Constable LADY GODIVA, City Cryer and Beadle on each side, Mayor’s Cryer, City Baliffs, City Maces, Sword and Mace, Mayor’s followers, The Right Worshipful THE MAYOR, Alderman, sheriff followers, sheriffs, Common council, Chamberlains and followers, Wardens and followers, Grand band of music, Belonging to the 1st Regiment of Warwickshire Local Militia”

The companies showed the diversity of trades in the city:

“Companies Mercers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Draper – Streamer, Master and Follower

Clothiers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Four drums and Fifes

Blacksmiths – Streamer, Master and Follower

Taylors – Streamer, Master and Follower

Cappers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Butchers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Grand Band of Music 0 belonging to the Stonely Volunteers

Fell mongers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Carpenters – Streamer, Master and Follower

Cordwainers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Four drums and fifes

Bakers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Weavers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Silk Weavers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Grand band of music

Woolcombers – Streamer, Master and Follower. Shepherd and shepherdess with dog, lamb etc Jason with the Golden Fleece and drawn sword Five wool sorters BISHOP BLAZE and woolcombers in their respective uniforms

Four drums and fifes.”

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The naked truth

You may think did a woman ride naked? Well yes, no, no in both cases. Remember this was not long after Shakespeare when the roles of women were done by men, so unsurprisingly the son of a James Swinnerton was the eponymous character in the first one. Of course it did not take long for a woman to take the role and from 1765 she was paid 15 shillings Naked? It appears that the first ‘naked Godiva’ was in 1842 wearing a tight fitting, flesh coloured dress. Actresses and dancers were usually employed and there were constant rumours that ‘this year she she’d be naked!’ certainly brought in the crowds leeringly hoping to see her naked.  Unfortunately for the local opticians this never happened but this decision was ultimately perhaps to precipitate the end of the procession. Fights ensued as people tried to see the nakedness and this:

“essentially popular, down to earth occasions, rich in local tradition, humour and ribaldry, often rowdyism”.

Resulted in probably the abandonment of the procession by the dignitaries, 1829 being the last one and considerable complaints, such as Mayor William Clark describing the event as one which:

“too long disgraced our city.”

In 1845 the Bishop of Worcester protested against:

“A Birmingham whore being paraded through the streets.”

This culminated in the production of a signed statement in the Coventry Herald in April 25th 1845 by all the main church leaders condemning the plan to:

“to get up a procession similar in character to those by which the streets of this City were disgraced in 1842 and 1844”.

This didn’t stop the procession but Godiva did wear:

 “a tunic of white satin….girdle of the same kind over her flesh coloured dress, with scarves thrown across her shoulders, a mantle, sleeves and a headdress with ostrich feathers.”

The notoriety of the events resulted in a slow decline in the custom, in 1854 there were rival Godivas and four years later even the fair was moved out of town. Then after 1862 they were held less frequently, by the 20th century every three or seven years usually to celebrate special occasions such as the coronation of Edward VII, George V and the Festival of Britain and as thus moved away from its traditional Trinity date. This appears to be the last and by the later part of the century a carnival replaced it, but what with changes in the economic environment this too died out.

Godiva rides again

Then in 1996 I happened to be reading a newspaper and discovered that the Godiva procession was being enacted. I travelled to Coventry to find out and there indeed there was, with many of the traditional elements described in early accounts. They clearly followed the 1809 order: we had St. George and his dragon, the Mayor and his fellow dignitaries had returned in his finery, local clergy and judiciary, roundheads, local organisations, including the car manufacturers and the town crier. At the head as in those old accounts was Godiva on her white horse held by a monk and woman clothed in Saxon costume.

Peeping Tom?

Was she naked? My eyes were safe…and the lens of the camera because it was clearly no, However, in the spirit of these things she wore a sheer body suit and a cloak. All of Coventry came out to cheer her on, the sun shone and a good time was had by all. Since then with the revival of carnival in 2000, the two have become entwined the carnival bringing some excellent tableaux and float.  The Fair has largely disappeared it has been replaced by a rock Festival, which is either in late June or early July with the procession on the Saturday before. Today all eyes are safe for Godiva is a figure upon a horse or a fully dressed women riding a car or both…although in 2012 became a giant puppet for the Olympics. Godiva is joined by acrobats, pyrotechnics, aerialists, musical bands to illustrate the diversity of the city and its great legend.

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Find out when it is on…..

It’s not on Calendar customs yet

Custom contrived: Fenny Bentley World Toe Wrestling Championship

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The custom started in 1974 when a then landlord read about the medieval custom of toe wrestling and has become one of the greatest contrived ‘chat down the pub’ events.

Fenny Bentley Toe Wrestling (172)

Best foot forward

I arrived at the pub to see a throng of people ready for the great event. The sun was shining and the feet were bare! For first off is the inspection of the feet..a trained medic inspected the feet looking for anything, a cut, wart or source infection…some were discarded. They looked downright defeeted! Those which made it through made their way to the Toedium a raised area under a tent where the arena would be fought.

Fenny Bentley Toe Wrestling (21)

Toed in the hole

The aim was to hit the opponents toe against the side by twisting their foot. Matches were the best of three, with both left and right feet being utilised.. Sounds easy!

“It’s a very demanding job as a referee. It looks like nothing, but it isn’t. You have to watch out for everything. You get some people, if they find they’re losing, they flick their toe out of the other’s grip. So you end up with a flick-off. People will do anything to win. So it might sound like a daft thing to say, but you’ve got to watch your flick-offs, as it were.”

Tournament referee Dave Mallor Ben Thrush InaPub website

However, the wrestlers have fully tight restrictions to be accepted. All hands must be flat on the floor, one foot in the air and any change in position is restricted, so no shuffling one’s bottom. Not easy hence the number of flick offs! These were when the foot slipped off! Quite often actually apparently adding to the tension.

Fenny Bentley Toe Wrestling (69)

Well healed!

Thus unsurprisingly, judging the contest was tricky and it was clear that there was a difficulty in actually keeping your toes interlocked came to the fore with a number of false starts and miscalls or flick offs as they were called. A mother and daughter pairing in particularly was quick fraught giving a whole new dimension to mother-daughter relationship. There was also some controversy in the Women’s final, with  Lisa ‘Twinkle Toes’ Shenton  fighting a Rebecca ‘Camille Toe’ Beech being quite aggrieved by what she thought was a mis-call…would it end in some real wrestling I wondered. Finally Camille Toe rather proudly picked up the trophy and her mates had a few drinks to celebrate.

A pep talk between champions!

A pep talk between champions!

Sock it to him

The champion once again!

The champion once again!

A fair crowd had assembled I asked around the competition had contestants as far away as Buxton and Burton on Trent…well this was a world championship. Where were the other nations I thought? The event has attracted a wide range of colourful characters and terrible puns – Twinkle toes, Camel Toe, The Toeminator etc etc….One of the most notable of these was Nasty Nash. Tattoo on his arm. Shaved head. He looked rather intimidating. He takes it very seriously… he wore the traditional wrestling garb, the black leotard…on his body not of his feet. He was the reigning Men’s World Champion, making the heats…it was down to the final.  After eliminating all opposition it came down to (toe) nail biting final and despite some flick offs…he won. After this he had to battle an Australian…I say Australian, I asked him later where he came from and he said Watford! World championship? Certainly the coverage is global with companies from Japan and South Africa covering it. I guess it takes much more to get them over! Of course as the landlord noted on the InaPub website:

“They’ll stay on afterwards and have a few drinks and a bit of banter, so we do good business on the day,”

And after all that’s the point!

Find out when it is on….

Calendar customs http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/world-toe-wrestling-championship/

Talk: A calendar of customs

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Traditions and customs with a special focus on Nottinghamshire

Wednesday 2nd July 2014

 

Happy Solstice. I am doing tales of the folk celebrations and customs I have attended and studied. If you are in the Nottingham area be good to see you.

Theosophical Hall on Maid Marian Way in Nottingham
(next door to the Salutation Inn) at 7.30 for 8.00pm
Talks usually finish around 9.30-10pm when we go to the Salutation pub next door for a drink and a friendly social chat

Admission is £4 (or £3.50 for Pagan Federation members and £2.00 for the unwaged)