St Luke’s Day, the 18th October passing by unheralded in the main – but if you were a dog and in Yorkshire or Manchester you may have been quaking with fear with your tail between your legs. Why? For this was dog whip day. Sometimes it is good these are demised customs.
Whipping up a frenzy
Dog whippers as the name suggested were employed to remove dogs from the church during a service or else keep them in control – some have suggested the whip may have also kept the congregation awake! Certainly this was the job of the dogwhipper at Claverley, Shropshire where:
“one Richard Dovey, in the year 1659, left certain property near the church on condition that eight shillings per year be paid out of the rent to a poor man to awaken sleepers in the church and to drive out dogs.”
Indeed, a quick glance of churchwardens account indicates that the job of dog whipper was a fairly common one, if the distribution of relics is any evidence. For there is Dog whipper’s marsh in Chislet and a ‘Dog Acre’ in Birchington, both Kent, Dog Whipper’s Pew at Wrenbury, Cheshire and even a Dog Whipper’s Flat at Exeter. Devon. Indeed, the title albeit defunct, may still exist at Southwell, Nottinghamshire. However, none of these appear to be associated with a calendar date.
A dog with two tales
Certainly, the use of the dog whipper to keep sluggards awake, as at Castleton 1722 might have been justified with this account by William Walsh’s 1897 Curiosities of Popular customs:
“Tradition explains that once in Catholic days a priest accidentally dropped the Eucharist while celebrating mass on this festival. It was snapped up and eaten by a dog. The dog was promptly killed, and all its brethren were doomed to a periodical flagellation in memory of the sacrilege.”
He also notes that:
“The same custom also existed at Manchester on the first day of Acres Fair, which was held about the same time.”
However, in Hull another story is told, in Notes and Queries 1st S. vol. viii. ID. 409, and the date slips back to the 11th, although of course this would still be St. Luke’s Day Old Style perhaps?
“Previous to the suppression of monasteries in Hull, it was the custom for the monks to provide liberally for the poor and the wayfarer who came to the fair held annually on the 11th of October; and while busy in this necessary preparation the day before the fair, a dog strolled into the larder, snatched up a joint of meat and decamped with it. The cooks gave the alarm, and when the dog got into the streets he was pursued by the expectants of the charity of the monks, who were waiting outside the gate, and made to give up the stolen joint.”
Or as Walsh puts it:
“he was intercepted by a crowd of suppliants at the gate, who beat him soundly and rescued the meat.”
It is added that:
“Whenever, after this, a dog showed his face while this annual preparation was going on, he was instantly beaten off. Eventually, this was taken up by the boys and, until the introduction of, the new police, was rigidly put in practice by them every 10th of October.”
Every dog has his day
Are these stories true? I doubt it, I believe they were probably concocted to justify the need to pay for the dog whipper and may have coincided with their annual pay day. Doubtless, the custom died out in the late 1800s when fortunately, a more animal welfare minded society developed and no observance of it survives today – unless Whip-ma-whop-ma gate in York does indeed celebrate it. It should be noted that 18th of October was also regarded as a day called Little Luke’s Summer and indeed as I compose this piece it is rather sunny outside