Monthly Archives: April 2016

Custom survived: Lichfield’s Court of St. George

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[Slideshow]

Currently, towns and villages are awash with St. George’s day celebrations, this is a recent thing. For many years the day went without notice, bar a few scouts groups, but keeping the flame alight during those dark days was St. George’s court, Lichfield. A custom which continued since at least 1600.

If there was a competition to name the place outside of London with the most traditions in England, I am sure Lichfield would win it. What with commemorations of their greatest son, Samuel Johnson to the Sheriffs ride, with all sorts of pancake tomfoolery and mock courts and processions in between, Lichfield is the place to be. But despite these rich traditions, there it has never paraded in any pomposity but lays on the laughs. This is not to say it treats these traditions with a lack of respect, but have realised or such customs to survive they have be enjoyable.

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Under ancient regulations set up by Edward VI, Lichfield’s mayor was also Lord of the Manor and thus was entitled to call a Court Baron and View of Frank Pledge.

Frank Pledge was a system whereby small groups of people were bound to and mutually responsible for one another. Court of View of Frankpledge meant that male subjects of over fourteen years swore allegiance to the King and if any disputes arose within the group the court settle by the View of Frankpledge. Nice idea but totally defunct, but that does not stop Lichfield. Each year officials are appointed and a jury selected and sworn in. None of the attendees take the job seriously although the ale taster was very happy to fully fulfil his job! This was no jingoistic flag waving overtly patriotic event though comical plastic St. George’s Day hats were made available and everyone wore a red rose. No one was making a point…well actually they were…

Court up with it

I arrived at the Guildhall to find nearly all the seats were gone…this is a popular fixture, often people go each year. Why? Well it is not to see court matters as the event is purely ceremonial and has no powers at all! A roll call of all citizens who should attend is read out, most of which do not attend..especially on a week day but are fined a groat…let me see I do have one somewhere!

The court consists of the Mayor, sheriff, the steward, High constables, Pinners, Ale Tasters, Bailiff, Dozeners and Pinlock Keepers are there giving their reports for the year. Such strange names you may say what did they do? Well Commoners – took care of the common lands, Pinlock Keepers tended stray animals, and Dozeners maintained general order in the ward of the city assigned to them…or they should do, all they hear now are complain..comically of course!

The Court started like any normal court, with the audience being called for order and the court standing for the ‘judge’ except most were wearing plastic St. George’s Day hats. A jury stood to hear complaints although they did not appear to take action.

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Court in the act

The first to take the stand to read their report were the high constables. Amongst a number of comical observations and an obvious in joke reference to a spate of wallet thefts, a valid point was made. Being very pertinent to readers of this blog ‘why does to cost to police a procession but it’s free for a riot?’

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In stormed the ale tasters waving their flags and proclaiming independence for Market Street even waving their own currency. They again worked excellently a comical team and it was evident they were regularly looked forward to. A Laurel and Hardy-esq pair of characters – one even donned a moustache and the other scratched his head to emulate them too – their discussion riddled with local political jokes was rapturously received. A pint was poured for the ‘judge’ and the clerks as they discussed their grievances. The pint was found to be more than adequate.

At the end refreshments were served and the loyal toast raised and then ended a great hour or so of entertainment…but no actions taken…I think?

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Custom revived: Badajov Day, Nottingham

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imageApart from the Tapas Bar in the city centre there might not be many people who would see a connection between Spain and Nottingham, but for the members of the defunct Sherwood Foresters there is a very important link – Badajoz – a small city on the western edge of the country. Why? This is because the regiment commemorate the brave act of Lieutenant James MacPherson of 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment, later to become the Foresters with a simple but important act.

A Day to remember

The 6th April 1812 is a date firmly embedded in the calendar of the Foresters, now amalgamated into the Worcestershire regiment. The day called Badajoz Day. It is a day where the regiment remembers whether away or home by the raising of a red jacket upon a flag pole. Why? The day marks a turning point in the Peninsular War, where after four years of conflict, The Duke of Wellington’s resources and forces were perhaps at a low ebb – Badajoz an important citadel and castle, called the Keys to Spain, but weather and lack of experience amongst the force were stumbling blocks. The Napoleonic forces had the upper hand. The British forces had been there since 16th April but had been thwarted by the might of the French with bombing and constant rounds of fire. Then at 10pm on the 6th, then Easter Sunday, a group of the 45th in Picton’s 3rd division led by the aforementioned James Macpherson placed ladders against the castle to attempt to scale over. However, these were far too short so Macpherson called upon the men to lift him higher upon it. He managed it but was ‘rewarded’ by a musket ball hitting him in the ribs. He fell and landed unconscious in a ditch. Where he failed, a Corporal Kelly was more successful and hearing that the defences had been breached, Arthur Wellesley encouraged the force to fight on. Macpherson, himself recovered and following the men over into the castle captured the Tricolour and raised his own red tunic, as no union flag was available, to show the castle had fallen and that the siege was successful.

Details concerning the enacting of the custom are difficult to trace, but it is thought to have been undertaken every year from that date, certainly the earliest recorded in 1814.  Reports appear of the custom in 1932, and 1947 in the media. The Guardian Journal report on April 8th 1963 ‘The last Sherwood Forester’s Badajoz Day celebrations at Normanton Barracks. It reports:

“On the Sunday a tunic was raised by Sgt Bill Bates who was escorted by two soldiers wearing uniforms of 1812. And while the ceremony took place a bugler sounded the Forester’s Regimental Call.”

I was informed that the custom moved to the Army Recruitment office on Maid Mario Way at some point. The custom apparently ceased in 1970 when the Sherwood Foresters were amalgamated with the Worcestershire regiment. It appears to have been revived in 1999 when it moved to the castle but I am unsure if that is correct.

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Send it up the flag pole and see who salutes it

On the 6th I arrived at the gates at 10 o clock in the morning. A small group of old soldiers were there waiting and after being admitted with the Mayor and a local commanding officer they enter. The event started with a parade of nine old soldiers assembled at the bottom of hills and slowly processed up the hill behind their rolled up banner to the Castle Green where the flag pole had been erected….difficulty that day because of a prevailing wind.

Before the raising of the tunic the citation was read:

“Badajoz Day – 6th April 1812

Badajoz Day marks the successful storming of the Spanish city and castle of Badajoz on 6 April 1812.

On this day, Lieutenant James MacPherson of 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment ran his scarlet jacket up the flagpole when the castle was captured, in the absence of a Union flag.

During the battle Lieutenant James MacPherson was one of the first men to break through onto the castle ramparts. Whilst climbing a ladder up the castle wall he found himself face-to-face with a French soldier. Before MacPherson could offer any resistance he was shot, but the musket ball struck a silver button on his waistcoat and glanced off. MacPherson and his colleagues pressed on and he made his way to the Keep. Once there he tore down the French flag and raised his jacket to let his superiors know that the walls had been scaled.

In 1812, England was at war with France and Badajoz was a fortress town in western Spain, three miles from the Portuguese border.

The capture of this town was said to be vital to both the British and the French as it guarded the vital route to Madrid, central to French control of the Iberian Peninsula.

The 45th Regiment was one of only three Regiments to serve for the duration of the campaign between 1808 and 1814.

The British victory at Badajoz and the part played by Lt MacPherson and the 45th Regiment was crucial to the ultimate victory in the Peninsula War.”

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Then as bugler called the last post the tunic was raised and saluted and a two minute silence undertaken. The soldiers then marched past the post and saluted it. A poignant, little known and unique Nottinghamshire custom..long may these old soldiers remember their regiment and this heroic act.

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Custom demised: Eynsford Arbour Day

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A common claim made by people is that British culture is being taken over by US ones – however, not all US customs that have come over have survived – Arbour Day – is one of those. Its establishment in the Victorian period was sporadic across the country and it appears the only place it set down roots – so to speak – was the picturesque village of Eynsford, England.

Arbour Day was established as an annual custom to encourage the planting of trees and it appears the town of Eynsford took it on in a unique fashion. This was promoted by Mr. E. D. Till who was keen to plant trees not only as commemorations but acrostically, meaning spelling out words or sentences.

The custom began in 1897, as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. This involved not only planting an orchard of apple trees but a series of different species, spelling out a motto, utlising poetry, Robert Brownings ‘Rabbi Ben Ezra’ stating:

“The best is yet to be: The last of life for which the first was made.”

The trees that were known being:

“Turkish Hazel Horse Chestnut Elm (Wych) Beech Elm Sycamore Thorn (American) llex (Holly) Sloe Yew Elder Turkish Hazel T? Oak Beech (Purple) Eucalyptus Turkish Hazel Hickory Eucalyptus Lime (Common) Acacia (False) Sycamore Tilia x europaea 0? (Horse Chestnut) Fagus (Beech) Laburnum llex (Holly) Fagus (Beech) E? Fagus (Beech) 0? Robinia W? Holly llex (Holly) Cypress Hickory Tilia petiolaris H? E? F? llex (Holly) R? S? Tilia x europaea Walnut Acacia (False) S? M? Acacia (False) D? Elm (Wych)”

This being a row of fifty-two trees set along the main street from the railway to the village centre. Furthermore, the successful defence of Kimberly, Ladysmith, and Mafeking, battles of the South African Wars, were similarly commemorated. 1n 1902, four years after the Queen’s death, in a nearby meadow ambitiously were planted a line of thirty trees of no less than twenty-two species. The initial letter of each tree spelt out a line from Tennyson’s ode to the Queen:

“She wrought her people lasting good.”

Over a quarter of mile of trees were planted. Around the War memorial four trees read:

“ L(ime),O(live), V(eronica) and E(Im)”

What has happened to the trees?

Of his tribute to Victoria’s 1902 memorial only the Sycamore survived the rest being felled to provide playing fields for the Anthony Roper Country Primary School. However, of the trees of her Jubilee memorial, a number survive. These being:

“Horse chestnut, Elm, Beech, Thorn, Ilex, Oak, Beech, Lime, Sycamore, Tilia, Horse chestnut, Fagus, Fagus, Robinia, Holly, Hickory, Tilia, Ilex, Tilia, Walnut, Acacia, Elm”

But they don’t make any sense now!!

Despite Eynsford’s enthusiasm and the support of the fledgling R.S.B.P who tried to name it Bird and Arbour Day, Arbour Day didn’t really catch on. Awbridge, in Hampshire, a festival was organised in 1902 in Awbridge Hampshire and Touchen End, Berkshire although neither were in April. E. D. Till, won a prize from R.S.P.B. for an essay on the best means of establishing Bird and Arbor Day in England the custom died out. Whether it was the lack of room in Eynsford or the death of its founder – Arbour Day never caught on or returned from US soils. Today a National Tree Day is established in December but this has failed to capture the uniqueness of Till’s acrostic cleverness.