Monthly Archives: November 2014

Custom survived: Mischief or Mischevious Night

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Trick no Treat?

I remember sitting at home watching TV in early November, when suddenly it kept flicking over. Was I sitting on the remote? No. Was there something wrong with the TV? No! I opened the curtains and outside there was a young boy holding a TV remote. This was my introduction to mischief night, perhaps the most controversial of custom. Being a Southern I had never heard of it…we’re too soft for this sort of thing, it was a very northern thing. Opie and Opie’s (1959) map shows the strongest area being in Middlesborough and Leeds and these areas still are!

A night to remember!

The answer differs depending where you are. The majority of cases, it is the night before Guy Fawkes Night although in other parts of the county the name referred to the 31st October,  5th itself or even in many cases 30th April. Opie and Opie (1959) note of this custom:

“From coast to coast across northern England the eve of Guy Fawkes Day has become ‘Mischief Night’, a night of humour and hooliganism affecting most of Yorkshire, and parts of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. On this night children are half under the impression that lawlessness is permissible. Householders’ front doors are repeatedly assaulted with bogus calls, their gates removed, their dustbin lids hoisted up lamp posts, their window panes daubed with paint, their doorknobs coated with treacle or tied ‘sneck to sneck’, their evening newspapers (projecting from letter boxes) exchanged, their milk bottles placed so that they will be tripped over, their house-numbers unscrewed and fixed on to other houses, their windows tapped their backyards turned upside down and possibly ransacked for tomorrow’s bonfires, their drainpipes stuffed with paper and set alight, and their porchlight bulbs considered legitimate targets for catapults. Both villages and in great industrial cities youngsters bent on mischief roam the streets in happy warfare with the adult world.”                                                                                           

The origins of the custom are unclear, it may arise from the Lawless hours of the 1700s it is first mentioned in 1830s as a name but this again was the 30th April.  This argument over the date continues with some claiming the 30th October and others, the majority, claiming the 4th November, of course this may be due to the change in the calendars. However, other customs around this time year had an element of trouble making by farm hands so it may be older. Indeed, it appears to have largely died out in the 1950s. A typical report noted in Sutton’s Lincolnshire Calendar reported from Tattershall in 1920s:

“We tied a button to a piece of cotton and attched it to someone’s wiondow. They kept coming out to see who was knocking on the window. Another thing we did was to tie two door knobs together across the street, that caused a laugh”

From Lincoln 1950

“A firework through a letter box…its not just just kids of today that misbehave, it went on in my day too.”

Indeed a correspondent recording the 1960s stated:

“We were living on the Ermine Estate in 1960 and some fool blew off a manhole cover ….he tied a bundle of bangers together and set them off under a manhole cover; it bloew into the air but luckily no-one was hurt!”

The forms of mischief varied from the amusing:

“We used to write on car winscreens with my mothers lipstick FOR SALE. Also leave a letter for the milkman in an empty bottle ordering 24 pints of milk, great fun, no harm done. “

To:

“We used to egg and flour stuff (and people), flood people’s gardens…One year we wrapped up some chaps conifers with toilet role and set fire to them…We ran off singing the tune to chariots of Fire. It was one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done!!!”

To the usual

“I would always get egged and floured by the local boys on miggy night and once had my skirt stolen and thrown up into a tree!”

Responses were not great. Another account states:

Once when we were kids, instead of knock-a-door run we tied a blokes door handle to a lamp post so he couldn’t get out before we knocked on the door and ran away, We thought it was funny but the bloke went mad and snapped his door in half to get out and I still feel terribly guilty to this day”

A night to forget!

It appears by the 1970s-80s the custom had died out in a number of places but not apparently in Yorkshire:

“Oh yes I remember those days well – A long row of terraced houses in Grimethorpe – we tied all the door handles with washing line and smeared dog muck on door steps and then one of us would run up the street knocking on the doors while the gang would be in the middle of the street shouting at those who tried to open their doors to chase us. When they cut the line they would have the dog muck on their slippers to tread back into their houses – and of course we would run off to egg peoples windows, cut TV aerials, swap garden gates, tie tin cans to cats tails (not nice – regret that one). It’s funny tho I now like in Doncaster and it don’t seem to be much of a thing here but I bet it’s still going strong in Barnsley.”

Penetrators thought that:

“When I was a kid I actually thought it was legal – ‘coppers can’t arrest you on miggy night’ That was the folklore….”

But local people did not and still do not think that and as noted in a Worksop police report in 2003:

“Angry residents and police have condemned ‘mischievous night’ yobs who damaged their homes. The vandals caused damage estimated at thousands of pounds during a Tuesday night wrecking spree. Up to 16 garden walls and gateposts were knocked over by the youngsters who targeted properties on and around the Water meadows area of Worksop. The gang knocked over a 30ft long section of wall in Mr Jennings’ front garden: ‘I couldn’t believe it. I looked out of the window shortly before eight and it was fine. Then my wife looked out of the bedroom window about half an hour later, it had been knocked over.” Mr Jennings was busy re-building the wall yesterday, but said that he knew of many other properties that had been affected, including his next door neighbour who had part of a wall knocked over and a tree in the front garden damaged. He also said another pensioner had some wheelbarrows stolen during the evening’s activities. Neighbour Mike Clarkson was helping Mr Jennings rebuild the wall. He knows all too well about the damage caused. His garden wall was knocked over last year. Police confirmed they had received six similar reports of vandalism on Water meadows, Robinson Drive and Dunstan Close.”            

It’s understandable when a Leeds perpetrator notes:

“The worst thing I ever did on this annual night of shame was to place a rather special smelly delivery in a post box, when it should have been in a toilet. Poor postman.”

Indeed, much of the activity of the mischief makers is seen a wanton vandalism and yobbish behaviour. The Worksop Guardian notes:                             

‘They should give them the birch. This isn’t mischief it’s vandalism,’ said Geoff Jennings whose home came under attack…..‘There are 16 that have been affected to a lesser or greater extent than my house,’ he said. ‘It’s wanton vandalism which is going to cost a fortune to fix, never mind the stress it’s causing us…..We’ve had people trick or treating which was quite innocent, but this kind of damage is no joke..’

An account at Skegby notes some of the activities which they stated giving the origin of the custom, to “Plan our mischievous deeds, just as Guy Fawkes and his conspirators did long ago” and may explain its popularity in Yorkshire where Fawkes was born and traditionally the 5th was not generally celebrated.

Mischief Night - getty

Gate hangs well! Getty Images/Hulton Archive/Picture Post/Alex Dellow

“We decided to tie door handles together at a terraced house on crown street. We must have been heard giggling and whispering by the occupant, because as we knocked on the doors, a hand grabbed the back of my coat collar and I was shaken and released. We took to our heels and as if our tails were on fire, the man’s voice ringing in our ears…needless to say the two us never played that trick again……Another trick was the bull roar, we would stuff paper up the drain pipes and light the paper and run away. The draught used the paper to make a terrific roaring noise as it burnt in the pipe…..We also went window tapping. This entailed creeping into a garden with a pin tied on the end of the thread of a bobbin of cotton and then tying a bobbin of cotton and then tying a button further down the thread. The ideas was to stick the pin into the wooden window frame run out the thread, so that the button was near the glass and feed out the remainder of the thread, as we went to hide behind the garden fence or wall, we would pull on the thread and the button would tap on the window. If the occupant of the house came out to look what was going on , we would huddle silently until they went in and then we would crack up with giggles of laughter”                                                                                          

The police notes:

‘Mischievous night is OK if the young people involved are supervised by adults,” said Sgt Jenny Antill. “But these kind of incidents are not in good humour. They are quite simply acts of criminal damage. We will take action against people responsible.’

Certainly, a report by Nottinghamshire police of Carlton, Langold and Blyth reports:

 “Your Local Beat Team is also pleased to report that three of the potentially worst nights of the year for ASB, namely Halloween, Mischievous Night and Bonfire Night, were very quiet in the Carlton in Lindrick area.”

Interesting a poster on the Sheffield Forum under the controversial title ‘Are all Estate dwellers Estate Scum?’:

“I was bought up on a council estate in the 1960s / 70s in Nottinghamshire – in a place called Warsop, near Mansfield. There were ‘bad uns’ and the neighbouring streets had a reputation, but there did seem to be more limits of behaviour – you might get a bin set on fire on Mischief night, but that would be it in terms of arson. Possibly because the community was quite well knit and if you DID torch someone’s car you might not live to see the following morning.”

Mischief Night is perhaps one of those most unusual of surviving traditional customs. In our rather ‘youth-phobic’ culture and obsession with anti-social behaviour one which is likely to die out, hopefully, though if the pranks are toned down, the tradition could return to the light hearted attitude the victims had back in the 1950s!

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Custom revived: Stir Up Sunday

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“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The first sentence of this passage of the Common Book of Prayer appears to be rationale behind the establishment of a curious domestic custom, called Stir-up Sunday. This was a custom that arose to recognise the Sunday before Advent.

As most fruit cakes and puddings taste better let to stand it was a likely one to connect to the day, especially with the added pun of fruit in it! It is thought that as cooks, wives and servants going to church would hear this and after hearing this would rush home and make a pudding.

 Raisin to the occasion!

The custom involves the making of the Christmas pudding. This is traditionally made of 12 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and stirred East to West to represent the journey of the Wise Men. Each member of the family must stir the pudding and whilst doing it a wish is made.

The custom was said to have originated from Victoria and Albert however a London tradition associated with the day suggests it might have an older origin or else an older custom became fused to it. One of the only non-domestic traditions associated with the Day is the Temple Inn’s Queen’s Pudding. A newspaper report in the Mail from the 16th December 1944 record the legend:

The pudding is a link with the days of another Queen Elizabeth. It seems that Good Queen Bess was taking a stroll through the gardens of the Temple when the smell of cooking assailed the Royal nostrils. She, tracked the smell to the Middle Temple kitchen. .There she found the cook preparing a pudding for the judges, barristers, and students to eat that night. History doesn’t say if she rolled up her sleeves, but it does all ere that she stirred the pudding: The cook didn’t throw away? what was left over after the meal. He kept it, and used it as the base for the next pudding. His successors have been doing the same each year for the past350 years, so the chances of Queen Elizabeth getting any of the original pudding would be mighty slim.”

Although the author probably did not know much about atoms! Apparently some time obviously after this date I assume, someone threw away all the pudding or scoffed it all thus ending this 350 odd year old tradition. But then, a visit by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, provided the answer in the 1970s. A pudding was provided and she dutifully stirred it! However, in communication with the Temple they informed me that it had not been done for many years. I imagine the pudding was too good to not eat! But the loss was probably in line with the demise of the custom in general.

Bowled out

The custom is a domestic and private one, so it is difficult to gauge how it is upheld, however the rise of the shop bought pudding appears to have in the latter half of the 20th century saw the demise of the custom. My mother was a keen cook and she never prepared one.  A survey in 2007 stated that two-thirds of British children had never made a pudding from scratch and certainly as the 21st century continued the downward trend to its demise..and then in a culture of TV bake-off unsurprisingly it has returned and it is everywhere. In 2007 even the Government got involved. Celebrity chef from Raymond Blanc to Jamie Oliver being pulled in to save the pudding!  The later stating:

“Stir Up Sunday is a great way for families to start cooking together – it’s high time we brought the tradition back into our kitchens”

In the last few years I’ve been entering into the spirit. On the 23rd this year I opened the cupboard and compared with my ingredients list. Well I had the spices..that was it… so I hurried down to the shops. Struggling back through the rain I was ready and getting the bowl and scales, spoon and the most important ingredient – some young enthusiastic helpers – I set about it.

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They enjoyed measuring everything out, resisting all temptation of eating the dried fruit, cracking eggs and whisking. However, the stirring was a little beyond them especially working out the East to West..and they seemed to put off by the smell of the rum. Well at least it stopped them licking out the bowl. Then I poured the mixture into the bowl, then into a large saucepan, put on the lid and set it to steam. Two hours later or rather one and half later and I forgotten it and burnt the base…and I had a nice spongy pudding. I cut off the bit that was a bit burnt, that aside it tasted nice..the bits around it..not the pudding. No that was wrapped up put in a cupboard ready for Christmas! By this time of course I was on my own with the enterprise…they’ll be back in a month time to eat it no doubt!

I for once could see why a custom like this could die out! It was time consuming, but enjoyable and if I was to be honest much more expensive than buying a pre-made one. But money is not everything of course. Will the revival spread? Who’s to know, especially with 50% of young people not liking it! I was convinced mine would be nice but after all the proof of the pudding will be in the eating!

 

Custom demised: Cakin Night

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Cakin Night mask courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

Cakin Night mask courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

It’s always terrible to hear about the demise of custom, especially as its one which may have very ancient origins and dies out not in the Victorian times, nor after the First World War, neither the Second World War…but the early 1990s!

On the other side of the coin, we have the survival of Mischievous night may be alive and kicking – indeed going through a burst of perhaps unwanted energy, a similar native Hallowe’en custom appears to have disappeared – this is Cakin Night, Neet or Kay Kayling (the later taking the first three letters from a phonetic spelling of cake of course). The custom is still reported as current and alive in a number of sources, especially on-line but all avenues of enquiry suggest it is now extinct which is a real shame…but it is one which could easily be revived.

I have discussed before how Trick and Treat is not an alien interloper but a rebranding of something more traditional and Cakin Neet was testament for this. Clearly a separate and related custom emphasised for the fact it was always undertaken on the 1st of November – All Souls rather than the 31st. The custom does appeared to be a confused one in all accounts but it shows a tradition in flux, change and ultimate demise. Early accounts recall something very familiar.

On a scouting forum, Stocky scouts recalls:

“As a kid in the late 60’s early 70’s (seems so long ago when you look at it), we didn’t have Halloween or Trick or Treat. Our village had Cakin’ Neet. It was a very old tradition celebrated on November 1st where the children in the village used to go around dressed up to houses. The kids would sing the cakin’ song and then the householder would give them a bit of cake..”

This song went as follows:

“Cake, copper, copper, cake, copper, copper, if you haven’t got a penny, a half penny will do, if you haven’t got half penny, then God Bless you.”

As the poster notes:

“By the time I got round to doing it, it was money you got. It was an event we all looked forward to immensely….

Caking house visiting 1st November Stockbridge Copyright Ruairidh Greig

Caking house visiting 1st November Stockbridge Copyright Ruairidh Greig

The poster is not exactly correct, it was not just one village but the distribution was remarkably restrictive, if the last vestiges were to go by: Deepcar, Bradfield, Stannington, Dungworth and Little Matlock, small parishes on the west of Sheffield

Another forum contribution added:

In the 1960s, when I was a child, only the children carried on the custom in my village of Deepcar. We would wear home-made papier maché coloured masks and go door-to-door singing the ‘cakin neet’ song — this referring to the ‘soul cakes’ the ‘surrogate spirits’ formerly were given. The householders would have to try and guess who we were, and if they failed to guess right then they would have to give us a little money — in place of the ‘soul cakes’ of yesteryear.”

Cakin guisers 1960s courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

Cakin guisers 1960s courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

I was informed by a Steve Moxon on Facebook a fascinating personal account of the earlier form of the custom which shows it survived until at least the 1960s:

“I myself went out on what in Deepcar was known as ‘Kay Kay’ night, in the early 1960s with my younger brother, when we’d be somewhere between aged 7 and 10, I think. We had papier maché mask-making sessions in lesson time at Deepcar School specially for the occasion, so clearly it was a still a whole-community custom for children at this time. We sang the traditional ditty, obviously much truncated from what it had been:

‘Kay kay kay, Hole in mi stocking, hole in mi shoe, please can you spare me a copper or two, if you haven’t got a penny an halfpenny will do,  if you haven’t got an halpenny, god bless you’.

We received money from householders.”

What is interesting is the following comment which suggests perhaps a tongue in cheek attempt to dissuade children (akin to the tune on the ice-cream van means it has sold out!)”

“I think (if this isn’t a ‘constructed’ false memory) that if a householder accurately guessed who we were then they were not obliged to give us any money: but perhaps this was a myth adults told to make sure the kids upheld the tradition of being properly disguised — my dad disputes all this; he used to go out himself as a child in Stocksbridge, singing the very same ditty in the late 1930s.”

It is an interesting observation and an intriguing reason for the custom. The tradition was clearly supported locally and he added that:

“The masks we had, btw, were whole-face ones, with slits for the eyes, and I think they were painted red.”

And it is interesting that the local schools supported it, but this may not have lasted long. Perhaps a push for more curriculum work, change of ideologies, but what happened the custom changed. At least by 1974, captured by renowned photographer Homer Sykes,  it appears to have switched to just a fancy dress competition. Indeed oddly the last stages it appears to have developed into an adult custom, which is the converse of other customs. This was focused around three South Yorkshire pubs Robin Hood Inn, Little Matlock; Fox and Glove, Stannington; The Royal, Dungworth. This custom consisted of local adults in heavily disguised in costume who would then stand or move around the bar in silence as fantastically captured by Homer Sykes (http://www.anothermag.com/gallery/2459/photo50-at-the-london-art-fair/6), who notes on the Tate website his personal observations:

“Competitors concealed their identity by wearing a mask or fancy dress, which by tradition had to be of local significance. Having paraded silently from lounge to public bar and back again so their voices didn’t give their identity away, the competitors went upstairs to be judged. In this picture the judging had taken place and one participant, still disguised, was supping a pint of beer through a straw. I liked the neat surreal nature of the disguise. His gloves contrasted with the couple in their woollen jumpers, slacks and pointy collars.”

Cakin Guisers courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

Cakin Guisers courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

This was clearly a homage to the idea of children being rewarded if not recognised. It was possibly for the last time by David Bocking above, and a local search for personal photos so far has failed. Perhaps one of the last people to witness Cakin night was fellow folklorist John Roper. He noted that children were still involved contrary to Homer Sykes observations at other locations. He informed me that it consisted of:

“Fancy dress for adults and children with prizes  at the Robin Hood….adults only I seem to remember at the Crown and Glove ,Stannington  ; Halloween themed”

When it ended is not clear, but it appears The Robin Hood Inn was the last to stage one. David Clarke  (2000) in his Supernatural Peak District may have been the last to describe the custom, he writes:

“On one dark autumnal night every year the bar of s country pub in the hills to the north-west of Sheffield is transformed for half an hour into a scene from the pagan past. Hidden away at the end f a long and winding country lane and seemingly built right in the middle of nowhere, the Robin Hood at Stannington is one of the last places to celebrate the old Celtic festival of Samhain. Toy skulls and skeletons peer from windows, bats and spiders hang from the ceiling and in the bar gather a motley collection of locals dressed in a range of costumes which look as if they have been brought from the set of a ‘Hammer House of Horror’ film. These have included over the years hideous cowled witches, werewolves, Frankenstein and even the Devil himself. The characters simply stand and sit in eerie silence, creating a brief but unsettling atmosphere which harks back to earlier times. The faces of the ‘guisers’ are hidden behind elaborate masks which are central to the tradition, awaiting the judgement of the landlord which will break the spell and return the pub to normality.”

 When the Robin Hood closed the tradition died with it. Hallowe’en events have surpassed it, such as Sheffield’s fright night but enquiries thanks to Ron Clayton of Sheffieldhistorytours and East Peak Traditions and Bradfield Parish council state it is no more!

Why only here?

“When I went to secondary school I was astonished to find that the tradition was only in our village. Everyone else did Halloween. I think the tradition has more or less disappeared and replaced by Halloween – sad.”

Why the tradition survived here is unclear, but there has been considerable evidence of the survival of pre-Christian, Celtic beliefs in parts of Derbyshire. The date being focused on Samhain, the first day of the Celtic year and the spirits of the dead needed to be celebrated. The giving of cakes, soul cakes, placated these ghosts in the way that a wake ‘sin eats’ for the recently deceased. If this is so it is a shame that our only surviving native Hallowtide custom is no more.

Yet, the Royal is still thriving and discussion on the web suggests it’s popularly remembered….it could be ripe for a revival. If anything deserved it and could be done so simply it would be Cakin Night.