Monthly Archives: April 2015

Custom survived: Good Friday Bun Hanging at The Bell Horndon on the Hill

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DSC_0938 DSC_1091 DSC_1094What do you do with your hot cross bun on Good Friday? I presume you’ll say eat it…not unless you work in the Bell Inn Hordon on the Hill, a delightful ancient 15th century inn in a surprisingly remote and unspoilt part of south Essex. Here they hang one!

Visiting on Good Friday…the first thing you notice is the crowd. Is it always like this? Probably not everyone is checking their phones…but not this time for their Facebook feeds but checking how close it was to the hanging time – 1pm! The second thing you notice are the buns…over a hundred…109 in 2015! They are of varying qualities.

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The earlier ones testament of the conditions of the pub…blackened by the century of cigarette and fire smoke. Generations of the future might well be puzzled at the difference between these and the post-smoking ban buns I wonder. Some are broken and wrapped in clingfilm..others are more curious. There are four with blackened poppies inserted within…retrospectively referring to the World Wars no doubt. Those of the War years look a little unnatural and upon closer inspection these wouldn’t make a nice snack…being made of concrete. That raised in 2006 is also a little unusual. For the 100th anniversary a wooden one was made.

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Greatest thing since sliced bread?

It is thought that in 1906 Jack Turnell became the landlord on Good Friday and so celebrate he hung a bun, having one left over…and from this rather singular act a tradition was born. However, a more plausible theory akin to this is that to advertise his new tenure he offered the buns, which was so successful a venture, he thought celebrate it. Of course this is not the only pub which hangs a hot cross bun…there are two others..and it is likely that the instigators were aware of an older tradition regarding bread and loaves backed on Good Friday. It was a widespread custom…for example a correspondent of Maureen Sutton in her Lincolnshire Calendar notes:

“You must always back your hot cross bun on Good Friday, and because that’s a holy day your bun will have magic properties…keep one back in case anyone in the family becomes ill during the following year..”

And as far south as Dorsetshire, John Symonds Udal wrote noted in 1922 Dorsetshire Folklore:-

“Good Friday Bread: It is generally believed that the bread baked on Good Friday never gets mouldy; and in some parts it is used as a charm or talisman in order to make other bread ‘keep’.”

And indeed, the custom of hanging was a much more widespread domestic one if William Hone’s everyday book is to believed

“In the houses of some ignorant people a Good Friday bun is still kept for luck and sometimes there hangs from the ceiling a hard biscuit like cake of open cross work baked on a Good Friday to remain there till displaced on the next Good Friday by one of similar make and of this the editor of the Every Day Book has heard affirmed that it preserves the house from fire no fire ever happened in a house that had one.”

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A brake (bread) with tradition?

The allotted time came and the manager of the pub came out and gave a brief history and talked about the Inn. He noted that traditionally the oldest resident of the village was hoisted up and attached the new bun to the beam. Not this year….this year it was decided that local ‘unsung hero’ Mike Tabbard, would do it. After an introduction justifying why he should do it…Mr Tabbard climbed the step ladder and reaching across attached the bun…and that was it..a brief event but a significant one.

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One a penny, two a penny…of these ones are free!

But that was not all, for after the ceremony, the staff appeared with trays heaving with freshly baked glistening hot cross buns. Three hundred in all! For many years these were baked in the high street bakery, but that has now long gone. Fortunately, the pub is one of the top 25 foodie pubs in the UK and can make a bun. Indeed,  these really were not only hot but delicious…the best buns I have tasted.

When is it on? It’s not on Calendar customs yet..I’ll change it when it is.

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Custom Contrived: The Race of The Boggmen

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The Suffolk-Essex boarders are a remote place full of delightful small villages many stocked with photogenic old black and white houses and old pubs.  Delightful they may be…but Suffolk is a county devoid of many calendar customs. Great Finborough may not be up there with Lavenham, Kersey or Clare but it boasts something none these have…an old tradition. Or is it? Not really..and one may have had some doubts over the authenticity of the story. Really the Race of the Boggmen is the grand-daddy of the ‘devised by blokes down the pub’ so frequently come across these days…

Bogg off!

The story behind this unique custom is based on an old country tradition that the sowing season begun on Good Friday. The Good Friday in 1887, a Joseph John Hatton was dismayed by the drunkenness of the team of six men, who were he hired Good Friday, being was so annoyed to find his labourers brawling, that he fired them there and then. But of course he still needed labour. Soon to hear about it was a team of men from nearby village of Haughley who appeared and so Hatton had a problem. Two teams were available, and ready to work, which one was best? There’s only one way to find out….race! The man that came up with this idea was a James Boggis of Oulton who happened to be staying at Boyton Hall. He suggested that if they threw the employment contract into the air, the first team to get the contract over the threshold of the pub in Great Finborough was the winner and got it! Fortunately, the Great Finborough team won..

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A bit racy!

The method work and typical when local villages loved rivalry so it was continued as a custom but it appeared to have been forgotten around the First World War, when many agricultural workers went to Flanders and never came back. So it would until a Trevor Waspe doing building repairs found a copy of the contract from 1897.  Now one might be a bit suspicious if it wasn’t for the survival of photos of the teams from 1903 in the pub! The contract reading, parts of which were difficult to read:

“The document made on the Holy Easter Monday in the year of Our Lord Eighteen hundred and ninety six in the reign of Our Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria shall thence for and for the ensuing year…some six strong and goodly men…the contract being for the setting of peas, beans, potatoes and others…”

Beneath this are a list of all the winners starting with that James Boggis finishing with a John Roper 1914/5 a sad poignant name for the list perhaps.

Off to a running start

I arrived around half an hour before the big event. The day was filled beforehand with some great little events such as egg and spoon racing and egg throwing…rolling hasn’t got here yet.

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The contestants were dressed according to old agricultural tradition and a flagon was being handed around…these contestants were a little ‘tired and emotional’ already. Then around three the landlady of the pub appeared and called the traditionally dressed lads to the green opposite where the organiser explained the rules

“Only the leader can score. Keep to the path”

That was it. The leader was identified by a white cross drawn upon his face. The group were certainly ‘tanked up’ as they cavorted around throwing each other to the ground and practising their tactics. Soon the truck arrived which would carry them to Boyton Farm. I hitched a ride in the pick-up which was had perhaps the strangest load- the racers – rather drunk and noisy.

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They arrived noisy at Boyton Farm and the runners poured out of the back of the truck before it had even stopped. In previous years I told that they used to travel in a horse box – imagine your surprise seeing them falling out of that. Once out the organisers, flowers in hand, to placate the elderly lady who owns the farm…after a bit of a debacle last year perhaps…however like all drunk people I wasn’t sure what one of them was doing with the farm’s duckpond would have been appreciated. However, the lady of the farm placated the grouped moved to the start of the path in-line with Great Finborough church. Here the group stood in a semi circle waiting. Haughley on one side, Finborough on the other, for the throw in..although getting a group of inebriated lads in order was difficult, especially as some might not have been from Haughley but it was managed! Hands were shook. The lady of the farm then raised her hand and the contract went into the air, the men reached for it and one grabbed in…then it disappeared into a scrum.

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There was much too and fro and throwing at the start with a number of the contestants ending up unceremoniously in the manurey silage…then in a flash one grasped it and they were off. I jumped back in the truck and was quickly back to the pub…not that quickly it appears for as soon as I jumped out and thanked them, the first runner appeared…then another..then another followed by cheers and claps from the crowd. Despite the pub being just around the corner they arrived at the green opposite where an almighty scrum occurred…the contract appearing and disappearing a number of times..

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Then quick as a flash, catching me unaware, the leader of the Great Finborough team broke free with the contract and barging past crossed the threshold. It was over..bar for some drunken swaying…a great event despite it’s remarkable shortness – from start to finish the race was only  3.08 to 3.23!….no London Marathon but then people aren’t usually drunk on that and I don’t usually laugh that much on that too..

When is it on?…http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/great-finborough-race-of-the-bogmen/

Custom revived: Battle Abbey Marbles and scramble Championship

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“I always wondered why so many people in the country districts of Sussex should devote themselves to marbles on Good Friday, till I discovered that the marble season is strictly defined between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; and on the last day of the season it seems to be the object of every man and boy to play marbles as much as possible: they will play in the road at the church gate till the very last moment before service, and begin again the instant they are out of church. Is it possible that it was appointed as a Lenten sport, to keep people from more boisterous and mischievous enjoyments?”

 The Rev Parish (1879) A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect

When William fought Harold on the slopes of Senlac over 1000 years ago…and built the imposing Battle Abble…little did he know that edifice’s shadow would be another mighty battle. …of marbles. Oddly, marble competitions appear to be a Southern speciality with at least three locations vying for epicentre of marble madness. Battle despite being little known, may indeed be the oldest recorded it was revived first in 1928, the current revival dating from 1948 but there is evidence of a record least from 1902.

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Lost your marbles

It may come to as a surprise to some readers but there is a marbles season…and it was very strict – Ash Wednesday to Good Friday noon – Marbles Day in Sussex as Simpson (1965) in her Folklore of Sussex notes a number of villages and towns (Battle, Brighton, Burgess Hill, Cuckfield, Ditchling, Seaford, Southford and Streat) although the author is unaware of the revival in Battle. Furthermore until recently the time was very strictly adhered with hot cross buns and marbles being given out to the children. For of course this was and is a game for adults I should add and there was a traditional dress, a white Sussex smock or brown, fishermen’s smocks. These were worn on the day until the 1950s and one of the great characters of the game, a Frank Anderson, has his smock preserved in Battle Museum. Nowadays one of the most colourful of the event today are the fancy dress costumes and they are pretty incredible: Monopoly cards, Where’s Wally, amongst the more obvious priests and vicars, Lego characters, Angry Birds, Dad’s Army to Vegetables, Kate Middleton and country bumpkins. The Lego characters were absolutely incredible difficult to play with no doubt…

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No donkey dropping

The organisers have certainly created a great atmosphere with the addition of an Easter Bonnet parade and there was certainly a lot of laughter when I turned up with teams practising and winding each other up. The game used to be played against Netherfield and the Good Friday event was the championship which arose from tournaments throughout Lent. Now it involves local pub and other organisation teams – with amusing names. Each team enters five players and in recent years the numbers have grown considerably. Despite perhaps an outsiders view of the frivolous nature of the custom…it is deadly serious. Top hated official umpires watch carefully the game, take note of positions and record scores. There’s an clear no donkey dropping…an odd term which had to be explained to me. The marble was not allowed to be dropped but rolled, which is odd because at ‘the other world championship’ I am sure they were allowed a ‘nose drop’!

This is more moveable than at other locations, a fact quite noticeable when heavy rains hit and less picturesquely the game was moved inside. The board is a long one and half way along is a circle. Iona Opie (1955) describes the rules:

“First player knuckles down at the edge of ring and shoots his tolley to knock one or more marbles right out of the ring. If he succeeds and his tolley remains in the ring, he shoots again. If he fails, but his tolley remains in the ring it stays there until his turn comes around again, when he shoots from wherever it happens to be. If in the meantime his tolley has been knocked out of the ring by his own or the opposing side, he is ‘killed’ and is out of the game.”

One notices the word ‘he’ for only in 1972 did women have had a chance to enter! In their own tournament of course..no mixed teams. However the rules in Battle are different.  Tony Foxworthy in is Customs in Sussex notes:

“within the circle on the board 15 marbles are placed, and each team try and knock the marbles outside the circle. The team that knocks eight or more marbles out of the circle are the winners and move on to the next team. This goes on until each team id beaten and only two teams are left to fight it out, with the result that the winning team is declared the champions for that year.”

The marbles used by the players looked very similar perhaps they were provided, no-one was to be losing their oval sulphide going to Keepsies….bitter memories.

Pick up your marbles

Despite the seriousness of the competition, there is a practice board to develop your skills and sadly I quickly found my skills were nothing compared to an eight year old… but I only knew the marbles played on drains and that was many years ago. Team after team were eliminated, with the top hatted scorers taking note and the game watched by eagle eyed bowler hatted umpires –  all dressed in black. Then there was a great cheer when the Cricket Club (I think they were a real cricket club rather than in fancy dress!) won and held aloft the cup, medals were given..it was over for another year.

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After the game, it’s the children’s and any adult to scramble for marbles – 1000 or so’ fortunately tossed into the air underarm, I am sure any other way would have resulted in some cranial damage.  – the excitement of the children was clear.  It as I say a great event, local in flavour but very welcoming of outsiders…and very popular despite the drizzle there were hundreds there and over 70 children entered the bonnet competition – as each got an Easter egg that’s a lot of eggs! Roll on next year.