What makes England such a fascinating country is the survival of many odd customs and ceremonies and I find none so curious as the dole or charity. This is perhaps the least well know of such surviving charities and it is not included as far as I am aware in any countrywide customs works, although it is now I notice on the excellent Calendar customs.
Finding the actual time of the distribution was tricky. A quick piece of research suggested 10.30, another 11, I contacted the church who informed me that it was associated with the Good Friday service…in reality after some singing and a part of the Easter story the distribution happened at 10.17!
At this time the congregation processed down the path to the sensory garden. In 2013 the white stuff apparently was not limited to flour – but now and it appeared to have limited numbers meaning even a driver passing by got some- however, the fine weather meant there was a large enough group – one per family!
In 1559 a William Turton left lands in Hexley in the neighbouring Denby parish. This was to be used to provide a quarter of rye to the poor on Good Friday morning. The benefactor’s board removed from the tower and placed in the aisle for easy reading records:
“In Memory of Charitable Benefactors to the Parish of Peniston. Imp. William Turton Gent gave to the free school of Penistone to be paid out of lands lying in the Township of Denby the yearly some of 3 9 4. Also one Quarter of Rie to the Poor of the Parish of Peniston to be distributed yearly on Good Friday.”
Tony Foxworthy (2008) in his Customs of Yorkshire tells us that some years ago the custom was revived. When this was he does not make clear, speaking to the church warden he stated he could not remember when it was not given out in his 70 years!
The sum of three pounds and four shillings (now three pounds and twenty pence) was provided annually for the dole from the Charity Commission and was used to buy flour. Howard Peach (2010) Curious Tales of West Yorkshire tells us sixty bags in all. I was not sure it was that many, but it was of Tesco’s finest with a choice of Self-raising or plain. Foxworthy (2008) tells us:
“The recipients are mainly children with a few adults. Their attendance is more of habit than by poverty. It is good to see that quite a number of older residents attend, who were in their youth, receivers of the dole.”
The custom has gone through a number of changes. It was once given out on the Town Hall steps, now the town hall, in the guise of the Mayor, comes to the church.
For those with no a lot of dough
The vicar stated that the charity was for the poor and needy and asked anyone who was rich to put their hands up!! No needy people appeared, but not long ago fellow folklorist John Roper was told that he was not allowed to take photos as people did not to be pictured collecting charity!
What is interesting about this custom is that although it did move from rye to flour, it did not make the jump to say cakes or hot cross buns considering the recipients of the dole- children. Many looked very confused when given the flour and some tried to taste it! The parents quickly jumped in and said ‘we’ll make some cakes with this latter’ and broad smiles appeared.
The Penistone flour ceremony is a little known custom and low key perhaps but that is its appeal. Nearly every Parish in England had a dole like this, indeed had several, very few survive..so it is excellent to see this ceremony survive into the 21st century especially as Foxworthy (2008) notes:
“Sadly over the past few years the numbers have dwindled, but even when it was suggested that small charities should merge, the Penistone Council requested that this one should be retained.”
Fortunately it continues a simple custom but one of the few survivors.