Monthly Archives: June 2015

Custom survived: The Nepton Distribution Barking

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I have travelled and do, travel quite bit around the country visiting, experiencing and photographing old, curious and unique customs and ceremonies. I am sure if you are a follower – you’ve noticed and enjoyed!

Yet what I did not realise until recently that being enacted every year not far from my home town was a custom just as curious and old – the Nepton Distribution, a charity organised by the Poulters, a London Livery company.

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The only way is Essex

Essex has had a bad press in recent years – and often it is portrayed as vacuous, lacking any finesse or class – but scrape beneath the surface and proper pomp and circumstance can be found. Each year St. Margaret’s Church is visited by the Poulters and local dignitaries to visit the Tomb of a local worthy, Nepton and provide local people with the proceeds of his endowment.

I was informed that the custom is the longest unbroken monetary charity in the country after the Maundy Money, which if it is correct makes its lack of notice even more surprising. The money was provided by the Will of Ann Nepton, who in January 1728 set up a trust using a property in Dunning’s Alley , which after the death of her son, passed to the Company of Poulters’ who would pay forever £40 per annum to the poor people of Barking in the county of Essex those that;

“shall be the most industrious and that do not receive Alms or reliefe of the said parish”.

The property was finally acquired by the North London Railway Company and was the Great Eastern terminus site in 1865.

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In Barking on a journey

In 1890 when Ilford split from Barking it was decided that the Master and Clerk would visit both and distribute £20. This money is now topped up by the Charity fund of the Poulter’s company. It was ordered that the Master and Clerk should wear their gowns and announce:

A Committee representing the Court of the Worshipful Company of Poulters London appears here for the   purpose of paying to the Poor of this Parish the sum of £40 under the will of Ann Nepton.”

After an introduction and welcome by the town’s Mayor and then the Master of the Poulters, a local dignitary, a Mr. Glenny read out the names. Hands were raised and voices heard and a small envelope with money was hand delivered. Every now and then no one answered – absent – and the distribution went on. Records show how these distributions have fluctuated in line with the profit made on the endowment and changes in inflation:

“1771-1774      £22

1801               £34

1802-1804     £28

1822-1823     £50

1836               £30”

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 Barking mad!

The irony of this custom being enacted in my home town was that I have been generally unable to attend and having thought it would be of interest to spread the knowledge of this little known custom further, I sent a reporter – my father. However, I had forgotten, he had forgotten..and had fell asleep – only to be woken by a piece of paper which had the details of the custom. Noting it had yet occurred he speeded off to it. He made it and thanks to him for the photos and details. He was warmly welcomed by the Poulters and was the only person not part of the distribution.

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Once the distribution was over there was a more solemn task, The second part of the custom involved paying respects to the benefactor. In the churchyard is a notable table tomb, the burial place of the Barking benefactor, Thomas Nepton

“Beneath this Tomb are deposited the Remains of Mr. Thomas Nepton. Formerly of this Parish, who departed this life On the 26th day of September 1724 in the 49th year of his age. Also of Mrs. Ann Nepton Wife of the above, who departed this life On the 2nd day of May 1728 in the 64th year of her age. This tomb was repaired & beautified in the year 1825 by an order of the Court of Assistants of the Worshipful Company of Poulterers, London made on the 31st day of March in the same year to which Company the above named

Thomas and Ann Nepton gave & devised considerable Estates in Trust for Charitable purposes.”

The beneficiaries, led by the clergy, Master of Poulters and other dignitaries made their way to the tomb where prayers were said and a wreath laid. A solemn thanks. Although the upkeep of the tomb was the responsibility of the company, the wreath laying only begun in 1975. The third part as stipulated by the will was a supper – I did not get my father a ticket for that, but he appeared to enjoyed it and he too was surprised it had gone on without his knowledge.

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Indeed the custom is perhaps now unique. There were many similar charities and doles. Many survive. Yet few appear to have a real impact. Here where 160 local people are the beneficiaries – 60 from Barking and 60 from neighbouring Ilford – there’s a real feeling that the people attend out of need. Certainly the attendees were well known to the distributors. Perhaps in the 21st century that is a bitter pill to take, but the people were good humoured and appeared to enjoy the ceremony of it – as well as the Nepton’s continuing generosity.

When is it on? It’s not on calendar customs yet but it’s usually in the first week of June.

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Custom revived: Damask Rose Ceremony Leceister

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With worldwide eyes upon the city of Leicester this year with the unique reinterrment of Richard III, hopefully this much maligned city might attract many more tourists. However, if these visitors are looking for the survival of traditions, unlike other neighboring towns, Leicester is sadly lacking. Gone have the Whipping Toms and the ride to Black Annis have long since vanished. Yet there is one old curious tradition which is virtually unique, only having one parallel custom surviving in London. However, it is little known or frequented, and although it has a recent ropey revival and re-revival looks destined to stay – the ceremony of the Damask Rose.

A rose by any other name…DSC_0160yes

The Ceremony of the Damask Rose has as stated only one surviving companion custom – Knollys Rose, however such rents called Quit rents were very common across the country A quit rent was a token rent, established to recognise still the ownership of the property but given as a gift. As can be seen across the country, both rose rents are given in June usually on a date close to the 24th June. The date of course, is significant as it was a quarter day, when rents were paid on this date, therefore it is not usual to find that quit rents were paid, in particular the giving of a rose which were common in gardens and would also provide a sweet smell for posies at this smelliest time of the year.

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A thorny subject

Leicester’s ceremony is newer than its London counterpart dating only from the 17th century. It is now associated with a pub, the old Crown and Thistle Inn in the urban back streets of the city in Loseby Lane. When the rent was set this area was very different, the land was part of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Newarke an establishment founded by the Duke of Lancaster which then transferred to him at the Reformation. A small section of this land, in Fee Farm where the pub now is was purchased by a local shoemaker, James Teele and Elizabeth his wife, on the 24th February 1637 for 40/- and held as noted below:

“To bee holden of Our said Soveraigne Lord the King his heirs and successors as of his honour of Leicester in the site of his Highness Dutchy of Lancaster by fealty only in free and comon soccage and not in Capite; Yielding and Paying therefore yearlye into the Maior of the Borough of Leicester for the time being one Damask Rose at or upon the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist and also yielding and paying all chief rents yearlye yssueing or goeing a forth of the same.”

What is not noted above was that affixed to the price of a rose were at first a groat and then four pennies, Victorian bun pennies and there was some concern that when we went decimal the supply would run out..however the then owners Ind Coope brewery stated that held several years supply. Interestingly it was noted that:

“Mr Smith said that the Treasurer’s department would not like to allow the ceremony to come to an end as it was one of the few old customs left. The pennies, once collected went with the rest of the Corporation’s rent money and the rose ended up in a vase on the city treasurer’s desk.”

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Dead headed!

Ever since that date it is said that the Lord Mayor would come and collect the rent, continuing when the Town Hall was opened in 1876 requiring a further distance than the nearby guildhall! Then disaster….when the pub was converted to an O’Neill’s Irish theme Bar, the custom appeared to vanish. This according to some sources was in 1999, others 2001. Indeed I tried to trace the survival of the custom around this time to be greeted with a rather non-plused response

A rose rose again

Then I was ideally researching it again and coming across the Lord Mayor’s website noticed it was on the 24th June 2011 sadly I was reading it in July. The revival is excellently captured in the following blog extract emphasising now how immediate a revival can be!:

“Update 6:30pm: Lord Mayor tweets that he’ll see what he can do: https://twitter.com/LeicesterMayor/status/19498460378 Update 28/07/2010: Lord Mayor discussed this on BBC Radio Leicester (34mins in) and apparently O’Neill’s are up for bringing it back: http://twitter.com/LeicesterMayor/status/19721471851 Update 15/11/2010: Leicester Mercury reports that the custom will be brought back next summer. Thanks to the Lord Mayor and O’Neill’s. Update 24/06/2011: The damask rose ceremony was held again after a 10 year absence.”

Mind you they’d be a lot of roses to pay in back rent! I awaited for the date in 2012, nothing on the website…contacted O’Neill’s they suggested it wouldn’t happen this year…I believe the football was blamed. Then in 2013 a revival was on the cards.

A rose amongst the thorns

In 2013 I missed it as I did in 2014. In 2015 I was better prepared. Awaiting outside the Town Hall at quarter to one, soon the Gild of Freeman of the City dressed in their red robes appeared and a few minutes later, The Lord Mayor, Cllr Ted Cassidy and the Macebearer. As the clock approached one, the group led by the Macebearer begun to process to the pub. They snaked through the streets to the bemused faces of shoppers and bus drivers and onto Loseby Lane. Here some local people were prepared; the florist was thanked for the rose (good to see a local source) and the group massed either side of the old door to the pub. The Macebearer approached the door and akin to Parliament’s Blackrod banged on the door, although not with the mace..a few moments later, the landlord, Steve Thorn (ironically appropriately named) appeared, dressed in 17th century clothing. The dressing in old clothing appeared to have been more of a feature of the custom in its dying days if this photo is an indication – perhaps the bar staff were no overly keen to get involved. More importantly, the landlord help a bar tray with the rose and the glistening old pennies. The Lord Mayor examined the pennies but they and the rose were handed back! Not only was no back rent provided but the rent returned…they must have plenty of flowers in the Town Hall!

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There were smiles all around by those attending even though clearly it was rather pointless as for a rent ceremony no rent was actually collected. Yet in a city sadly bereft of customs it’s great to see this one revived and embraced by the two groups and hopefully it’ll blossom!

When is it on? It’s not on calendar customs yet but it is always the 24th June

Custom demised: Love Divination on Midsummer

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imageMidsummer was one of the days in the year where the lovelorn could discover details of their future lovers. There were many widespread customs. One under the cover of midsummer moonlit was to throw hemp or fern seeds over the shoulder and hopefully see your future husband saying:

“Hemp seeds I sow, Hempseed I mow, And the man who is my husband to be, let him follow me and mow.”

and the other to form the dumb cake. A midsummer method being in Charles Dicks (1911). ‘Weather and Folk Lore of Peterborough and District.

Dumb Cake. On Midsummer Eve three girls are required to make a dumb cake. Two must make it, two bake it, two break it, and the third put a piece under each of their pillows. Strict silence must be preserved. The following are the directions given how to proceed: The two must go to the larder and jointly get the various ingredients. First they get a bowl, each holding it and wash and dry it together. Then each gets a spoonful of flour, a spoonful of water and a little salt. When making the cake they must stand on something they have never stood on before. They must mix it together and roll it. Then they draw a line across the middle of the cake and each girl cuts her initials each on opposite sides of the line. Then both put it into the oven and bake it. The two take it out of the oven, and break it across the line and the two pieces are given to the third girl who places a piece under each pillow and they will dream of their future. Not a word must be spoken and the two girls after giving the pieces to the third girl have to walk backwards to bed and get into bed backwards. One word or exclamation by either of the three girls will break the charm. Should a gale arise and the wind appear to be rustling in the room, during the baking or latter part of the preparation, if they look over their left shoulder they will see their future husbands. In some districts the pieces of cake are eaten in bed and not put under their pillows but nothing must be drank before breakfast next morning. Another variation is that two only make the cake and go through the same form as the preceding, only they divide it themselves, then each eats her portion and goes to bed backwards as in the first case and nothing must be drank or a word spoken. An uncooked dried salt fish eaten before going to bed in silence and walking backwards and getting into bed the same way, causes ones future husband to appear in a dream with a glass of water in his hand if a teetotaller, or a glass of beer if he is not one. Nothing must be drank before breakfast. An old woman said she had tried it over 40 years ago and her husband brought her a glass of beer and he was not an abstainer but rather the reverse.”

Often plants were used as noted in Devon:

“if a young woman, blind-folded, plucks a full-blown rose on Midsummer day, while the chimes are playing twelve, folds the rose up in a sheet of white paper and does not take out the rose until Christmas, it will be found fresh as when gathered. Then if she places the rose on her bosom, the young man to whom she is to be married will come and snatch it away.”

The custom was widespread being recorded in Wiltshire, to Herefordshire using Orpines Sedum telephium. John Aubrey records a custom in Wiltshire in his Gentilisme and Judaiseme. He notes that:

“the maids, especially the cook maids and dairy maids would stick up in some chinks of the joists etc,. Midsummer men, which are slips of orpines. They placed them by pairs, one for such a man, the other for such a maid his sweetheart, and accordingly as the orpine did incline to, or recline from ye other, that there would be love, or aversion, if either did wither, death.”

Nowadays the love lorn peer into the horoscopes…little has changed