Monthly Archives: February 2015

Custom survived: East Hendred Shroving

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“Pit pat, pan’s hot,
Here we come a’ shroving
With a batcher up my back
A halfpenny is better than nothing.”

Ask anyone to name a custom associated with Shrove Tuesday – pancake making come top of the list, many say pancake racing, some may say football and a handful skipping…not many I would guess would suggest the oldest of shrove customs…the one more faithful to the reason for the day – Shroving.

Originally the purpose for Shrove Tuesday was to get shriven and be absolved of sins in preparation for Lent. One way in which you could absolve yourself of earthly desires was to give to charity and in many villages the less well off and often children would take advantage of this. As a result Shrove Tuesday became one of the begging days in the calendar and it became the duty of the local Lord of the manor to provide for the parishioners at this time.

Shrove off

Oxfordshire is fortunate to have a number of Shroving rhymes recorded by Percy Manning in his Stray Notes on Oxfordshire Folklore (Continued) for Folklore in 1904. He notes:

At Shrovetide, on the Tuesday, the children at Baldon go round the village begging pence, and singing the following song:

‘Pit-a-pat, the pan’s hot,

I become a Shroving.

Catch a fish afore the net,

That’s better than nothing.

Eggs, lard, and flour’s dear,

This makes me come a-Shroving here.

If the singers do not get any money given them, they go on as follows:

‘Pit-a-pat, the pan’s hot,

I be come a Shroving,

A bit of bread and a bit of cheese,

That’s better than nothing.

For eggs, lard, and flour’s dear,

So I be come a Shroving here. (1895.)

The following is from OAKLEY and ICKFORD, on the Buckinghamshire border of Oxfordshire :

‘Pit-a-pat ! the pan’s hot,

I be come a-Shroving;

A bit of bread, a bit of cheese

Or a cold apple dumpling.

Up with the kettle !

Down with the pan !

Give me a penny, and I’ll be on.’ (Circa 1897.)

At Islip in Oxfordshire, the children, on Shrove-Tuesday, go round to the various houses to collect pence, saying:

‘Pit-a-pat, the pan is hot

We are come a-Shroving ;

A little bit of bread and cheese Is better than nothing.

The pan is hot, the pan is cold;

Is the fat in the pan nine days old ?

O. HALLIWELL, Popular Rhymes (1849), pp. 245-6.”

Another is recorded by Brand’s Popular Antiquities:

“In Oxfordshire the following version has been met with:

‘Knick, knock, the pan’s hot,

And we be come a Shroving;

A bit of bread, a bit of cheese,

A bit of barley dompling

That’s better than nothing,

Open the door and let us in,

For we be come a-pancaking.’”

Ironically despite a more detailed recording of the custom than many other counties it misses what is now a significant one; the only surviving locally and perhaps the least known survivor of this tradition being found in a little known Oxfordshire village of East Hendred.  Here the squire of the manor at Hendred House for 100s of years has maintained a custom with the rhyme similar of course to above:

“Pit pat, pan’s hot,
Here we come a’ shroving
With a batcher up my back
A halfpenny is better than nothing.” 

Schools out!

The custom of course is not exactly like those described above, the children do not beg around the village but evidently at some time the Squire wanting to provide for the parish but prevent begging, established the custom of giving. This may have even been for adults but now is for children. Clearly the presence of two faith based primary schools, particularly the Roman Catholic, significantly established by a previous occupant of Hendred House, has helped.

Interestingly, unlike many other Shrove Tuesday customs which now do not occur when the date falls in half-term, this continues, although the numbers are usually less.  The children snake from their school for noon, shepherded by their teachers and parents down the drive to the house and in the courtyard. At arrival they chant their rhyme whilst waiting for their gift. I wonder how many of them understand the words?

Mr Hine, a local historian, informed me that he remembered when he was a child in the 1950s that the Headmaster from his C of E school went along and would attempt to stop them singing the line ‘a halfpenny better than nothing because he thought it might upset the Squire! Now no such sensitivities no longer exist! The Hine family have a tradition with the village and Mr. Hine told me his father also attended the custom and it had not changed in that time!

Inflation hits!

Sitting on the pebbled courtyard is a table stacked with trays of sticky hot cross buns. They looked delicious. The children gleefully accepted these although some were probably a bit bemused by the monetary gift; a penny. Mind you they should be grateful they would have originally got a half-penny! Not that that either has any real buying power..unless the class teamed together to buy a packet of crisps. Let’s hope it went to charity.

A small but curious custom but a rare one and hopefully with the support of both schools and the community it should survive..although I was surprised when researching it to find some local people had never heard of it..but then when you work and were never a child there that is likely I suppose.

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Custom transcribed: Chinese New Year

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“It is, we believe, important to record the arrival of such immigrant customs as the one described here. Whether it becomes an annual event or not remains to be seen, but such festivities certainly provide a day of colour and excitement at a somewhat grey and dull part of the occidental year.”

CSC_0654Take away

Without doubt one of the most colourful and successful custom to transcribe and become established in Britain from foreign shores is that of Chinese New Year. The first place to have a recorded tradition is London, which has spilled out from its natural home of Chinatown in Soho to a splendid series of events which colourfully dominate Trafalgar Square. This could be a custom survived, yet despite burgeoning Chinese and East Asian communities through the 1800s, the public celebration of Chinese New Year only dates from the 1960s because as Tony Man, of the London Chinatown Chinese Association many families were arriving in this country from Hong Kong. However these were small family affairs. Fortunately, an excellent account is made by Roy and Monica Vickery in their Chinese New Year celebrations in London 1971-1973 in Folklore. They note that the first public display was held in what had effectively become London’s Chinatown Gerrard Street. This was recorded in 31st January 1973 and was a traditional Dragon dance. They note:

“A large number of Chinese, mostly men in sober dress of waiters and restaurant proprietors were present. The dragon consisted of a large multi-coloured, garishly decorated mask with a young man inside. To the back of the mask was attached a decorated cloth tail under which a small number of youths moved in an attempt at unison with the occupant of the mask. As the dancers became exhausted they were replaced by others from a group who, aided by long bamboo poles, usually succeeded in preparing a way for, and keeping the crowd from the dragon. Music was provided by a small gang of percussionists and the party was completed by a teaser whose main function seemed to be leading the dragon from one offering to the next. These offerings consisted of bank notes  both unwrapped and wrapped enclosed in red packets – lettuce and other vegetables, tied to long pieces of string which hung, like fishing-lines, from the windows of Chinese shops and restaurants. The dragon often succeeded only in reaching the lowest objects on each string, the remainder being eventually lowered to it. The celebrations were carefully watched over by an older man who was obviously responsible for ensuring that the youngsters performed with a suitable sense of tradition. After eating one offering the dragon proceeded to the next establishment. The incoming year being the Year of the Boar, metallic statuettes of this beast were placed in the windows of many restaurants.”

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However this could have been a one-off because they record that:

“January 1972, the Year of the Boar gave way to the Year of the Rat. No public celebrations appeared to be prepared and on enquiring of Chinese friends why this was so, the answer received was that in Britain it was difficult to obtain the necessary people and properties for the traditional celebrations. However, it seems that this reason was only partly true. The Year of the Rat is traditionally an ill-omened one during which it is inadvisable to start new projects. Hence it is easy to understand why such a year might not be welcomed.”

Yet fortunately, in 1973 it was back now attracting an equal number of non-Chinese, celebrating the year of the Ox. The Vickery’s again record:

“The festivities commenced at noon when a number of imported fire-crackers were exploded in a car park at the end of Gerrard Street. As the air cleared two small boys emerged from the car park carrying a large red banner which with considerable and frequent police assistance preceded the beast, on this occasion a lion, throughout the afternoon. Then the predominantly bright pink, multi-coloured lion danced out into the lantern-hung street accompanied by a small band of percussionists. The lion, an elaborate mask over one man’s head with a second man dancing in its tail, was soon led to its first offerings by a teaser. This grotesque individual who wore a globular pinkish red mask, and a stuffed blue tunic giving the appearance of pregnancy, guided the lion with a straw fan. One restaurant ostentatiously displayed its offerings, which consisted of four ten pound notes and an equal number of oranges, in a plastic bowl on the pavement, but most establishments hung offerings from their windows. From other windows isolated groups of Europeans occasionally showered the lion with rice. So dense was the crowd that the lion took all after- noon to devour all the offerings presented to it and it was not until late afternoon that the crowds began to thin.”

One for me old China!

From this point onwards it would appear the celebration has grown from year to year, organised by the Chinese organisation, and with it becoming an all inclusive event. Helped by the formal recognition of Chinatown with red and gold bollards and other familiar motifs, London’s Chinese New Year is perhaps the best outside China. When I recently went the streets were thronged with all creeds and races, many tourists happily snapping away who had come especially to see the event – now the largest outside China. For although the streets of Chinatown that the celebration erupts with vibrancy and vigour, it has spread beyond into Trafalgar Square.

The first thing that greets you other than the numbers is the how one goes from the bland streets surrounding one enters a lively scene and a bizarre one-way system to control the crowds.  The typical high London premises are brought alive with banners, bunting and giant lanterns. Stalls line the streets selling food, Chinese gifts and even a stall called Labour for Chinese…surely being communists they all left wing?

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The sound is incredible. Every now and then small children can be seen secretly making older residents jump by throwing fire crackers on the ground with great enthusiasm. But it is the sound of the drums and symbols excitedly rattling its Lion which danced up and down entering local restaurants to bring good luck..attempting to eat pieces of cabbages, the green providing good luck, on the way and hoping to impress the audience, if the crowds give it room by its acrobatic action. Watching this splendid beast one can be reminded of other native house visiting customs and how similarities can be drawn.

There are other significant Chinese communities in the UK and other celebrations, however the oldest and surely most colourful is that of London. However not everyone feels the celebration is great. Venetia Newell in her article for Western Folklore, A Note on the Chinese New Year Celebration in London and Its Socio-Economic Background notes that Jabez Lam, of the Chinese Advice and Information Centre believed:

“What you’re seeing in Gerrard Street has nothing to do with New Year as the Chinese know it. All that celebration is artificial, a pantomime put on for tourists and English people by wealthy restaurateurs. In China it takes several days to celebrate New Year. There’s ritual cleaning of the house, shops are closed for 2-3 days; all business stops. Families get together, visit their elders, pay respects. It’s impossible to do those things here. 90% of Chinese people in Britain work in catering. They have to work flat-out on New Year’s Day. It’s no fun at all if you’re a waiter in a restaurant. On this day the restaurants are the busiest they ever get . . it’s hard for the workers who get no rest.”

Custom demised: The Whipping Toms

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“‘Whipping-Toms’ began at one o’clock. Two, three, or more men, armed with cart-whips, and with a handkerchief tied over one eye, were let loose upon the people to flog anyone within the precincts of the Newark, a bellman giving the signal for the attack. They were not by custom allowed to whip above the knee, and anyone kneeling down was spared.”

So writes Thoresby in his 1791 The History of Leicester. A topical post perhaps what’s in the cinema! In Leicester city centre is a rather strange plaque which records the bizarre Shrove Tuesday custom of Whipping Toms. Why would these men whip people? Another account explains why:

“This was known as the ‘Whipping Toms’.  It began with the primeval game of hockey, played between two crowds of men and boys armed with sticks having a knob or a hook at the end, and were played with a wooden ball, the ends of the Newarke forming the goals. At about 1 o’clock in the day appeared the ‘Whipping Toms’; three of them were in blue smocked frocks and carrying long wagon whips, with whom were three men carrying small bells. They proceeded to drive out of the Newarke the crowd of men and boys who had been playing the game of hockey.”

One of the theories purported for the origins of the custom is that it commemorated the expulsion of the Danes from Leicester in the 10th century. Although unlikely a connection with the Danish custom of Hocktide is perhaps more likely as the custom involved the extortion for money as well. – two pence which many gladly gave! However, the date is confusing!

The Whipping Toms also liked to line people up and whip up and down the line. Often people attempted to avoid the whipping by wrapping material around their legs. However, the whipping clearly got out of hand and the ‘victims’ would attempt to protect themselves with sticks and fight back. Unsurprisingly it often got a little out of hand as the author above notes:

This proceeding, as may well be imagined, soon resulted in what would be described in more modern language as ‘a certain liveliness’, and the disorder became so great that about the year 1846, the corporation obtained parliamentary powers to bring it to an end.”

On the 16th February 1847 an Act of Parliament officially ended it and the last Whipping Toms put up a valiant fight – quite literally – but it was gone. Today the only record is the plaque on one of the corner pillars of the railings surrounding the De Montfort University’s Hawthorn Building.