Custom demised: Cakin Night

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 (, 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.

4 responses »

  1. Pingback: Custom demised: Cakin Night | In search of traditional customs and ceremonies - Nemed Cuculatii

  2. I lived in Stocksbridge, and we did Kay Kay night every year at least until I was 10, that would take it into the early 80s at least. We dressed up as is already mentioned, but what hasn’t been mentioned is we always carried turnip lanterns – turnips with faces carved in them, held by string pierced and knotted into the hollowed out turnip wall. We were given a few pence, but I dont remember any mention of cake or of wearing masks. We also did mischief night.

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