Monthly Archives: May 2015

Custom survived: Mollicar Sing

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One minute it was UK null points…and a disappointing result for the Eurovision and the next a whole different musical experience..the Mollicar Sing.

Songs of praise

The origins of the Sing are difficult to find. Group singing in the open is not unique to this small part of Huddersfield, especially at Whitsun, but this would appear to be the oldest and the only one woodland based. Why? The accepted view was that the local choir in 1903 were looking for somewhere peaceful and isolated to practice choose these woods. Were they too noisy? Or did they want to scare the local wildlife? As three locations are chosen over a distance of two miles in the remote wilds behind the urban edifice of Huddersfield, one feels it may be older. The singing in these three prescribed locations is highly suggestive of a rogation activity perhaps. The West Yorkshire Federation of Women’s Institutes recorded in 1996:

“The annual event on Whit Sunday was first held in 1900. It was started by the Zion Chapel, Almondbury, later amalgamated with the Wesleyan church. The work always started at 7.30 am mainly through the Mollicar…with singing of hymns at allotted places through the walks. The woods were there best, with new green folliage and birds in full song. The sing finished about 9am, and in earlier years Mr. and Mrs. Gostridge of Farnley Hey boundary provided the breakfast – ham and eggs for the grown ups and bantam eggs for the children.”

If you go down to the woods today your sure of a big surprise

Given copious notes of the location I thought I wouldn’t get lost…usually one would have associated such instructions for a rave, but this was a more acceptable musical experience, but I did. But in a way that was quite rewarding for I soon found the group’s location by the sound of their voices singing ‘praise ye the Lord’ echoing through the sun soaked woods. Tracing my tracks back I soon discovered the origin of those dulcet sounds in a small field before the woods. They looked a little surprised. I introduced myself. The conductor said Early…no sorry I was late. I’d misheard him he was a Mr. Michael Early…starting at 7.30 a.m on a Sunday morning, a very befitting name for such an antisocial custom you might think..but despite the early morning everyone was very welcoming and full of that Yorkshire vim and vigour other counties can never match it seems! I was given a hymn sheet which included a selection of well known Wesleyan works, some more familiar than others.

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When Whitweek and Late Spring bank holiday coincide may be good for the working folklorist but not for the custom…a lot are on holiday, last year there were around 40 and we’ve even had 100s, I was told, the Sunday I went 15…still they made up for it well, a few joined mid route. They weren’t letting numbers dampen the experience. They sung with all their hearts singing in a gallery fashion at points a mechanism much beloved of the counties carols.

It was interesting to hear that the choir had differing associations, the older ones had only being going a few years it seemed compared to some of the younger ones, two had been all their life it appeared over 60 years attending when babies and every year since which is a remarkable feat.

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Singing from the same hymn sheet

After singing in the outside we moved to the woods walking through broad waves of bright bluebells and the smell of ransoms. In fact in one wood and out into another, the Mollicar, and here in a specific place the group stopped and returned to their repertoire. As the morning I went was a mixture of sunshine and showers it was fortunate we were inside the shelter of the woods when it decided to rain…the sound of the tapping on the leaves creating a sort of polite percussion. When the rain stopped the other sounds of nature become evident. These sounds of the enveloping canopy complimented the chorus..the tweets of nesting birds, the calls of the occasional cuckoo and the wooing of a wood pigeon. Who wouldn’t want to swap the claustrophobic confines of chapel to experience it. Sadly despite one rather bemused dog walker there was little in the way of an audience.

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Song of life

The final singing point affording the group a view which was in the heart of all Huddefieldians..that of Castle HIll. It was shrouded in a glowing mist that morning that gave it an ethereal atmosphere. Here the choir finished off with ‘guide me O thou great Jehovah’ and ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ two I felt confident enough to join in with. Finally a short prayer was given and the Doxology was song the event was over…and the group dispersed to various cars and houses doted around. Sadly as Mr Early noted the breakfasts were a much missed thing of the past.

Whatever your religious view…there’s something life affirming and enriching about experiencing all that nature has and singing thanks for it. There would be no null points from me, full marks. I recommend that as next year is the 200th anniversary of the local Almondbury Methodists it would be great to see the numbers swell…

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Custom revived: Wath upon Dearne Bun throwing

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Throwing things at the general public appears to be a sub genre of custom. You could spend the large part of the year having anything ranging from pennies to pies, chocolates to cheese! However, the most favoured forms of preferred projectile is bread..one of the least known perhaps purveyors of baked ballistics is that of the Wath upon Dearne.

Wath upon Dearne Bun Throwing 2015 (127)

The current custom is a revival suggested it appears by a local historian cum baker…doesn’t every town have one, called Tim Binns. Eschewing a previous publicity attempt of making a giant pie, which fed 480 people…after all giant pies in Yorkshire aren’t unusual, the team behind the Wath festival in 1980 looked to an old custom for revival. They unearthed the WIll of a Thomas Turk which provided money so that 40 dozen penny loaves should be thrown from the “the leads of the Church” on St Thomas Day … forever”. Of course the shrewd reader will say that St Thomas day is in December…but a sensible change in date doesn’t deter a good revival, after all you wants to be on top of a church tower in such a windy cold and slippery time of the year?

Almighty bun fight

Of course distributions of bread doles are not unusual. Throwing them from church towers is..why? Was it that the poor here were particularly athletic or rather more uncouth and unclean? Perhaps the later and distribution the dole this way would avoid any contact. Let us hope it was not for some perverse pleasure of its instigator who might have liked the idea of his town folk scrambling in the soil for sustenance. Whatever the truth the more virtuous Victorians clearly didn’t like the fighting for food which ensued and in 1870 banned it…although the charity still continued in a more genteel and perhaps less genuflecting fashion.

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Our daily bread

The modern custom has all the familiar elements – Morris dancers, procession and associated festivities. I arrived as the Harthill Morris entertained the crowds with some fleet of foot dances. At 11.30 the Vicar arrived dressed in a Georgian attire with bowler. She was accompanied by her ‘lawyer’ similarly attired. She took great pleasure in reading out the Will giving a sideways wry smile and a wink to the line ‘to the Women who takes me to bed’ and one wonders what the story is behind the ‘natural born daughter’.

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In the church the full benefaction, one of a considerable number for such a parish, can be read:

“1810 July 24th Thomas Tuke Esquire bequeathed the interest of £4 to be distributed in Penny Loaves at this church on Christmas Day by the church wardens. Annually forever.

However, as can be seen no mention of throwing bread, but that was outlined in the Will. At the church the will is read again and the bread basket attached to a rope and pulled up onto the narrow church tower…hopefully to join more above! The Morris dancers filled the void whilst a large crowd fronted by large numbers of chattering children, nervously eager to catch this free lunch. The church struck 12 and all heads looked up. Then the heavens opened and the rather surreal and not a bit too scary sight of flying tea cakes could be seen above us. Kids scrambled feverishly grabbing the buns…In front of me a small boy had one bounce off his head, another landed fair and square in his hood. Despite being so large and so many actually catching them was easier said than done. I managed to grab one, or rather it landed in my hands by accident! Looking around some children were clearly more skilful and agile and had collected 10.

 

Custom contrived: St. Richard Festival, Droitwich

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The Richard festival illustrates how an ancient feast day can be used to create a local event which celebrates the town’s claim to fame – it’sbrine pits in a manner which incorporates all the classic aspects of a May festival: Morris Men, maypole dancing, historical reenactment and err… classic cars.

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The town had some history of celebrating these brine pits. John Leland in his Itinerary, written around 1540 gives the legend:

Some say that this salt springe dyd fayle in the tyme of Richard de la Wiche Byschope of Chichester and that after by his intercession it was restored to the profit of the old course. Such is the superstition of the people. In token whereof, or for the honour that the Wiche-men and saulters bare unto this Richard their cuntre-man, they used of late tymes on his daye to hang about this sault spring or well once a yeere with tapestry, and to have drinking games and revels at it.”

John Aubrey noted that:

“on the day of St Richard the Patron of ye Well (i.e.) saltwell, they keep Holyday, dresse the well with green Boughes and flowers. One yeare sc. Ao 164-, in the Presbyterian times it was discontinued in the Civil-warres; and after that the spring shranke up or dried up for some time. So afterwards they kept their annuall custome (notwithstanding the power of ye Parliament and soldiers), and the salt-water returned again and still continues.

This appears to have been an early record of well dressing in the country, albeit not as elaborate as those of Derbyshire today and simply arches over the well to give thanks. When this custom fell into abeyance is unclear, but it was probably around the Reformation, although according some sources his statue, erected 1935, was dressed on the 3rd April until the 1990s but details are difficult to find.

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A new custom ready salted

What exists today is a celebration with a modern twist, not exactly a revival, but an concoction of what these events should have. it combines elements of the traditional custom with modern twists. Arriving in the town one comes face to face with Morris Men whacking sticks close to vintage Morris Minors. The cars are indeed such a big attraction they’ve taken over the billing and the event us renamed St Richard’s Boat and Car Festival, and these cars rather surreally spreads through the quaint streets of the town.

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However the wells are not forgotten. The replica Upwich pit and a brine pump in town are imaginatively dressed in honour of the saint with a model of a swan made of flowers and other flower dressing. In the last few years a local Probus 87 group, a local business group, have reenacted the blessing. Now a group dressed as friars wind their way from the church carrying a banner with the saint and a floral cross. At the well a ‘bishop of Chichester’ blesses the pit. After such a traditional aspects it’s back to the puppets, boats, classic cars…all in all a splendid advert for the town.