Custom revived: Driffield Penny Scramble

Standard

“8 oranges, 1 pencil with 2 rubbers, 2 double dips, 6 long lollies, 2 packs of vimto skittles, 3 packs of chocolate coins,1 four finger  kitcat, 11 drumsticks, 3 packs of haribos, 16 individual chocolate Coins, 1 pack of jelly beans, 1 sweety hamburger (which i ate!!), 1 pack of cough sweets, 1 pack of crisps, 2 small packs of love hearts, 1 big pack of love hearts, 6 chunks of chocolate, 1 fizzer, 1 pack of rainbow drops.   The money in total: 15-10p = £1.50, 24-5p = £1.20, 2-20p = 40p, 1-50p = 50p, 51-2p = £1.02,104-1p = 1.04     Total =£5.66”

Melissa Wegg, Driffield

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The above account kindly made for me by one of the children who attended Driffield’s Penny scramble, a delightful, curious and little known custom held in the morning of the first working day in the New Year. Certainly the local Tourist information was no good…’I’ve search the internet and it appears to be on the 4th January.’ It wasn’t..and I am sure if I was emailing I would have been more than able to search for it too..why don’t TIC have local information anymore? anyhow, the custom has all the qualities of what is best about our calendar customs including the following slightly nonsensical  rhyme (written down in vernacular):

“Here we are at oor toon end, A shooldher o mutton, an a croon to spend. Hip! hip, hooray”

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Spend a penny

The weather was very sunny if a little chilly better than previous accounts which suggest that the hardy children have to contend with gales, rain and snow! When I arrived at the station there were only a couple of children and their adults, some police and the Town Crier – a pivotal figure in the event. Soon the officials turned up armed with a bag of sweets and coins. For although it was called a penny scramble – the children were really there for the sweets and other gifts. A practice was made, the children reminded of the chant and how to scramble.

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The range of gifts varied from venue to venue. Sweets were the common currency – not including the real currency – but crisps, canned drinks (fortunately not thrown), pencils, fruit and even cough sweets – well it was winter- were thrown. The coins themselves varied in price as can be seen in the above account and a considerable collection could be made. I think there were 42 stopping points ranging from local stores to Wilkos, from pubs to petrol stations, hair-dressers to health food shops. Fortunately none of the shops provided gifts according to their trade, although the dentists avoided sweets and of course the Nat West Bank gave money….the least amount if I remember. I am not sure if that was good or bad? At one point an elderly lady appeared and it was explained that she had annually contributed for many years…and duly gave out some substantial offerings of fizzy drink and crisps.

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Pick a penny up

The Driffield “scramble” was first recorded in the 1700s, but its exact origins are unclear. One theory is that it was established as a result of local visiting salesmen who used the device to attract trade! Throwing pennies is not unique to Driffield of course – although the other examples generally involve instigation of Mayors and are stationary…this is unique as it’s the children which move. I think is very unlikely as money is often associated with luck at New Year, and although the custom is now on the first working day, it would certainly been on the 1st. Furthermore the custom is not unique to the town. It is reported in Lang’s (1890) Folklore of East Yorkshire notes that Flamborough children:

“run after the vehicles which convey visitors to and from their picturesque neighbourhood.”

He notes their rhyme which was similar but not the same:

“Here we are at oor toon end, A bottle o’ gin, and a croon ti spend. If ya hain’t a penny, a hawp’ny’11 do; H ya hain’t a hawp’ny, God bless you ! Hip! hip! hooray!”

Sadly, the Flamborough tradition appears to have died out and so would have Driffield too it seems. It is reported that it nearly died out in the 1970s but was relaunched by the town council in 1981. However, this is at variant to my research which indicates it was revived in 1987 and yet an article in a 1996 edition of Northern Earth notes it had ceased. Whatever the truth the hiatus does not appear to have significantly affected it and it is certainly becoming more popular.

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Pennies from Heaven

I was told that in the 1980s, when older children were regular attendees, the scrambling could be rather boisterous and arms and hands often fell under the feet of scrupulous scramblers. Fortunately no more as the children were thoroughly well behaved and even shared it amongst them. This was especially evident with consideration of the smaller children of whom many of the offerings disappeared out of reach above their heads!

In older times the pennies were heated on shovels making their collection more difficult. This apparently had only just stopped. The only individuals who were put at risk were the adults who being taller than the children were in the firing line! I myself dodged an orange and I watched as a parent felt the full force of a packet of Haribos! The parents also visibly moved back when some vicious looking lolly pops were offered!

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The group of children grew and grew as we snaked through the streets. The final destination was a bit of a match from the main street, ending up as the Royal Oak pub, the traditional ending point. Here was the final chance…by now we’d lost some children, mainly because plastic bags can only take so much…and at one point a child’s hoard was dashed across the pavement as the bag broke. I suggested to one of the organisers perhaps they could get the local shops to sponsor some more durable bags. At the Royal Oak I spoke to the organisers and the publican. He remembered attending 60 years ago attending himself and promised to provide a more detailed account…sadly not in time to add to this blog.

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Nevertheless..Driffield’s Penny Scramble  is a great little custom: it does not need huge amount of organising but creates a great amount of good will. It allows trade and shops to give something back to their community and get rid of some of the then un-seasonal but still in date chocolate!

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One response »

  1. A similar thing happens where I come from, Livingston Station, near Bathgate when there’s a wedding. The father of the bride throws money from the wedding car when the bride is leaving her parents house. May be unique to West Lothian.

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