Custom demised: Chalk Back Day


In an account in Notes and Queries in 1851 it reads:

“It is customary for the juvenile populace on the Thursday before the third Friday in September to mark and disfigure each other’s dress with white chalk, pleading a prescriptive right to be mischievous on ‘chalk-back day’.”

So reads this unusual custom described in the town of Diss, Norfolk. It continues being mentioned until 1900 suggesting an established custom. Roud (2008) suggests that the custom was associated with a fair which iswas held at the same time. This is hinted at Bridlington when:

 “the boys used to assemble on the church green, where the fair was held, each armed with a lump of chalk and each intent on chalking the backs as many of the other boys as possible. This often led to quarrels as the boys then had on their Sunday clothes.”

Similarly, in Ireland was Chalk Sunday which was a name for the first Sunday in Lent when local youths from the nineteenth century to the 1930s would chalk people’s backs, often people who were unmarried so that jibes could be made. Today chalk is not as readily available to children…many schools have gone to whiteboard markers or even interactive white boards..and interactive whiteboard day does not seem as easy!

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