Category Archives: Berkshire

Custom contrived: Apple Day

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An Apple a Day

Apples and the British. We do love an apple! Whether its plucked from the tree, in a sauce for pork or fermented in a cider, there’s something quintessential about apples and the British. We’ve sung to give good crops and bobbed at Halloween so it is about time they had their own custom.

National Apple Day is a contrived custom which has spread remarkably quickly. Started in 1990 on the 21st October. Like the trees themselves they have grown and grown! Its unusual compared to some contrived customs because firstly it has spread and secondly it was the establishment on one organisation, Common Group, an ecological group established in 1983

The rationale by the initiators the Common Ground was to celebrate the richness and variety of the apples grown in the UK and by raising awareness hopefully preserve some of the lesser known types, hopefully preserving old orchards and the wildlife associated with them

Apple of your eye

The Common Ground website describes how by reviving the old apple market in London’s covent garden the first apple day was celebrated:

The first Apple Day celebrations, in the old Apple Market in London’s Covent Garden, brought fruit to the market after 16 years’ absence. Forty stalls were taken. Fruit growers and nurseries producing and selling a wide variety of apples and trees rubbed shoulders with juice-and cider-makers, as well as writers and illustrators with their apple books.

Representatives of the WI came laden with chutneys, jellies and pies. Mallorees School from North London demonstrated its orchard classroom, while the Hertfordshire & Middlesex Wildlife Trust explained how it manages its orchard for wildlife. Marks & Spencer helped to start a trend by offering tastings of some of the 12 ‘old varieties’ they had on sale that autumn. Organic growers were cheek by jowl with beekeepers, amidst demonstrations of traditional and modern juice presses, a calvados still and a cider bar run by the Campaign for Real Ale. Experts such as Joan Morgan identified apples and offered advice, while apple jugglers and magicians entertained the thousands of visitors – far more than we had expected – who came on the day.”

From the seeds…

From that first Apple Day, it has spread. By 1991 there were 60 events, growing to 300 in 1997 and now 1000s official and unofficial events, mainly but not wholly focusing on traditional apple growing regions such as Herefordshire. It has grown to incorporate a whole range of people to include healthy eating campaigns, poetry readings, games and even electing an Apple King and Queen in some places festooned with fruity crown. In Warwickshire the Brandon Marsh Nature reserve stated in 2016:

Mid Shires Orchard Group are leading a day celebrating the wonders of English apples. Learn about different varieties, taste fresh apple juice and have a go at pressing (you can even bring your own apples to have turned into juice for a donation).

Things to do on the day:

  • Play apple games •Learn about local orchards •Discover orchard wildlife •Enjoy the exhibitions •Explore the Apple Display • Buy heritage apple trees.”

Whilst a Borough Market, London, a blessing is even involved:

“Borough Market’s neighbour Southwark Cathedral will also celebrate the day with a short act of harvest worship in the Market, accompanied by the Market’s choir.”

Apple Day shows us that however urban our environment we can still celebrate our rural connections and with the growing number of events it is clear Apple Day is here to stay!

Custom demised: Eton Ram Hunting, Berkshire

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Schools begin again soon but amongst the curious rituals of the new term, none are as bizarre as that which – now would be done during school holidays – the hunting of a ram on Election Saturday. The College had an ancient claim upon its butcher to provide a ram on the Election Saturday, to be hunted by the scholars. In his 1847 History of Buckinghamshire, Lipscombe notes:

“the animal having been so pressed as to swim across the Thames, it ran into Windsor Market, with the boys after it, and much mischief was caused by this unexpected accident. The health of the scholars had also suffered from the length of the chase, or the heat of the season. The character of the sport was therefore changed about 1740, when the ram was ham-strung, and, after the speech, was knocked on the head with large, twisted clubs.”

An account in the Gentleman’s Magasine of 1731 notes:

“Monday, Aug. 2 was the election at Eton College, when the scholars, according to custom, hunted a ram, by which the Provost and Fellows hold a Manor.”

Eton was not alone with its custom, East Wretham in Norfolk also had a harvest related hunting the ram. John Blomefield in his 1831 History of Norfolk notes:

“When the harvest work was finished by the tenants, they were to have an acre of barley, and a ram let loose in the midst of them; if they caught him, he was their property but if he escaped then the Lord claimed him”.

Surprisingly at a school, this rather cruel act was not unique, for as Henry S. Salt in his Blood Sports at School – The Eton Hare-Hunt notes:

Even in the nineteenth century such sports as bull-baiting, badger-baits, dog-fights, and cat and duck hunts, were “organised for the special edification of the Eton boys.”

However, views on such barbarity were changing even Liscombe noted:

But the barbarity of the amusement caused it to be laid aside at the election in 1747, and the, flesh of the ram was prepared in pasties The dish, however, still continued nominally to grace the Election Monday.”

Salt also notes:

“It is a curious fact that the large majority of Etonians, though nowadays a bit ashamed of the ram-hunt and other sporting pleasantries of a bygone period, do not in the least suspect that their beloved hare-hunt belongs in effect to the same category of amusement. Thus, Sir H. Maxwell Lyte, in his history of the school, referring to the earlier barbarities, remarks that “it is evident that in the time of Elizabeth cruelty to animals was not counted among the sins for which penitents require to be shriven.” But what, it may be asked, of the time of George V.? It is entertaining to find the Eton College Chronicle itself referring to the ram-hunt of the eighteenth century as a ‘brutal custom’; and remarking that Etonians were “only so barbarous.” Once!”

I for one see this as one ancient custom not necessary to revive.

 

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 demised: Mace Monday at Newbury

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“Why, dant’e know the old zouls keep all holidays, and eat pancakes Shrove Tuesday, bacon and beans Mace Monday, and rize to zee the zin dance Easter Day ?”

Palmer’s Devonshire Dialogue 1837

So records a curious lost Berkshire custom. The custom was associated with the election of a Mock Mayor at Newbury, called the Justice of Bartlemas despite being elected over a month before that date! The event as is usual with Mock Mayors (see Mock Mayor of Woodstock) the event was associated with a public house – the Bull and Dog. Brand’s Popular Antiquities (1853) informs us that:

“THE first Monday after St. Anne’s Day, July 26, a feast is held at Newbury, in Berkshire, the principal dishes being bacon and beans.”

Hone’s Everyday Book (1827) states that after this feast:

“In the course of the day, a procession takes place; a cabbage is stuck on a pole, and carried instead of a mace, accompanied by similar substitutes for other emblems of civic dignity, and there is of course plenty of rough music. A ‘justice’ is chosen at the same time, some other offices are filled up, and the day ends by all concerned getting comfortably ‘how come ye so.”

How come ye so equated to drunk! Sadly all this frivolity died out around the 1890s but if it was better known I am sure many would be keen to see a revival!

Custom demised: Midsummer scouring the White Horse of Uffington

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scouring“The Old White Horse wants setting to rights,

And the Squire has promised good cheer;

So we’ll give him a scrape to keep him in shape,

And he’ll last for many a year.”

The White horse of Uffington is a considerable enigma. Thought to be over a couple of millennia old, but how such a fragile monument could survive the centuries is perhaps confusing. The simple answer is by ritual stripping or scouring of the horse. The first reference to regular cleansing of the horse to keep its shape occurs in the 17th century when we are told that inhabitants of local villages had an obligation:

“to repair and cleanse this landmark, or else in time it may turn green like the rest of the hill and be forgotten”.

Thomas Cox’s ‘Britannia’ of 1720, recorded the stripping of this horse of weeds was done each Midsummer and it became a great celebration with feasts and frolics. He notes:

“the neighbouring parish have a custom, once a year, at or near Midsummer, to go and weed it in order to keep the Horse in shape and colour, and after the work is over they end the day in feasting and merriment”.

The ceremony was probably religious in nature to begin with but by the 18th century, revelry had taken over. In Thomas Hughes’ ‘The Scouring of the White Horse’ he describes this celebration as country fair. The fair was attended by acrobats, musicians and a skittle alley. There were flower-bedecked booths and stalls which sold a wide range of odd items from gingerbread, to toys, nuts to ribbons, knives to braces and straps. Alcohol was freely available of course which added to the frivolity. During the day competitions were run such as cudgel fighting, climbing a greasy pole, sack racing. As well as strange activities such as finding the silver bullet in the flour and even a pipe-smoking marathon with prizes ranging from a gold-laced hat to half-a-guinea or a gallon of gin. All this entertainment obviously would cause problems and as such a  huge white tent  was set up to house the county police.  An eighty-four-year-old  man called William Ayres of Uffington, tells of this events, stating of the horse racing:

“Well now, there wur Varmer Mifflin’s mare run for and won a new cart saddle and thill-tugs — the mare’s name wur Duke. As many as a dozen or moor horses run, and they started from Idle’s Bush, which wur a vine owld tharnin’-tree in thay days —a very nice bush. They started from Idle’s Bush, as I tell ‘ee, Sir, and raced up to the Rudge-waay; and Varmer Mifflin’s mare had it all one way, and beat all the t’other on ‘urn holler. The pastime then wur a good ‘un — a wunderful sight o’ volk of all sorts, rich and poor. . . . “

Other events are described:

“There wur running for a peg too, and they as could ketch ‘un and hang ‘un up by the tayl, had ‘un. The girls, too, run races for smocks — a deal of pastime, to be sure, Sir. There wur climmin’ a grasy pole for a leg of mutton, too; and backsoordin’, and wrastlin’, and all that, ye knows, Sir.”

Baskerville claimed it was an ‘obligation’ but the festival or ‘pastime’ was probably the chief incentive. In 1738, Wise said that the games and merrymaking had lost their ‘ancient splendour’ and, by the end of the 18th century, the festivities had become a mere profit making enterprise with many regular stalls and fee-paying contests. Something of its grandeur was, however, popularly revived in Victorian times.

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A midsummer Solstice festival

“Another geaam wur to bowl a cheese down the Mainger, and the first as could catch ‘un had ‘un. The cheese was a tough ‘un and held together.”

Early references suggest the midsummer solstice as the original festive season at Uffington. Certainly the rolling of cheeses is significant, folklorists have often draw a connection between this sport and the turning of the year, the cheese representing the sun and thought to boost its power! Hughes also describes the practice of chasing after a wheel rolled down the manager and Jackson’s Oxford Journal in 1780 notes that a horse’s jawbone was used to ride down!

The stripping away of tradition

Unlike many customs which decline and finally disappear, the festivities were stopped in 1857 when 30,000 rowdy people turned up offending the Victorian sensibilities of the day. After the First World War, the horse became rather overgrown and by 1922 it had almost been overgrown and in the Second World War it purposely covered over. The cleaning of the horse being taken over by the National Trust who own the land, except in a nod to the old ceremony, some several hundred people climbed the hill one bank holiday to help re-chalk the horse. The date was of course difference and the partying absent but it was good to see the Trust recognise the importance of the figure to its community.

Custom survived: The Hungerford Hocktide

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Hungerford Hocktide was one of those well known colourful customs which has always been on my to do list and despite living in both Bristol and London (Hungerford is mid way between the two) I never managed it, mainly because it falls on a weekday, a Tuesday two weeks after Easter Monday….so this year I thought I would.

Calling all commoners to the court.

Turning up in the morning, I thought that I had made a mistake picking this time to visit, the wind howled down the street taking with it a sharp and penetrating rain which looked like it may in for the day making the observation of the Tuttimen’s progress less than pleasurable and certainly not very photogenic. Yet in these unpleasant conditions quite a throng of observers had assembled, the usual press and TV crews, this year one being the team behind Ade in Britain with its host, comedian Ade Edmondson As the bell of the Town Hall struck 8 am, the Bell Man and the Horn blower, this year a lady, arrived on its balcony and blew the horn to call all the commoners to the court. She disappeared back into the building, but this was not the end of the duties for the Bell man, who surging against the wet terrain and started his perambulation of the town to visit key locations to call for the commoners to enter the court. These commoners, one should add are being those who live in the main street of the town and in Sandford Fee, a one point a separate hamlet but now indistinguishable from the main town and own houses in these areas. For Hungerford is unique in both retaining this ancient privilege of owning the common, fishery rights, various properties such as the John O Gaunt Inn and their own Town Hall, unique in the country. Returning to the Bell man this year being a sort of last minute replacement after the sad death of the iconic figure of Mr. Tubbs who not only had continued the tradition for 50 years was at his death thought to be last in a long line of bell man in his family…until his nephew offered to take on the role for 2013.

The ancient court

At 9 o’clock those appointed Tuttimen (and before you ask women have and can do it I believe) waiting across the road in the Three Swans cross to join the tutti girls, a group of school girls specially released for the day with their chaperone, whose roll is to give out sweets and balloons to small children. Their original role apparently was to give out ale and so I would presume they were a bit older than they are now…Once crossing the road, they are met by the Town’s constable (the equivalent of the Mayor) who then after being given their flower bedecked poles topped by an orange and joined by the orange giver, they are told to go about their business and their first stop was the shop across the town hall, where followed by Ade Edmondson and film crew they squeezed into the shop and claimed their first kisses of the day.. These tutti men or tithing men, whose role was to collect a tithe from all commoners, but this  now consists of a kiss, which may also link to the binding custom. They are accompanied by another top hated character the Orange giver. His role is probably the most recent of the associated characters on this day, oranges of course were not available in the 14th century, and probably dates from William of Orange (who is said to have heard he has King in Hungerford).

Meanwhile….

The ancient court begins, and I returned back to the town hall to witness it. Perhaps the most sombre of the day’s events but of course the whole reason for the day, this consists of reading those entitled to claim rights to the common, the fishery and use of the facilities covered by the then now charity. The court consisted of a series of readings of the frankpledge, those commoners not present being fined with the bell man calling here and slamming a penny coin on the table in symbolism of this now it would appear unenforceable fine. During the meeting an importance decision was the election of new officers to this court: the constable (returned), Portreeve (rent-collector), baliff (market toll collector), water bailiffs, ale tasters (traditionally last year’s Tuttimen), common overseers, keepers of the common coffer and blacksmith. These people, who despite in some cases a considerable amount of hard work and effort such as clearing the common and being involved in legal disputes, are not paid. These officers put forward the week before at what is called the Macaroni supper and were elected in the meeting with the end man and middle man being asked to stand forth and concur.. However, despite this possible frivolity that such an ancient court could have, there is after-all a real Mayor in the town, the reading and discussion of the counts brought to observer the importance of this court and its relevance in discussion of the issues of running a fishery, the lease of the pub, ensuring the common was functioning and that the town hall was a suitable venue….clearly the cost of a new kitchen being a bit of a bone of contention!

The Tutti men go about your business

To return to the Tuttimen, I had missed the staged climbing of the ladder to receive a kiss from a commoner, in this case the wife of one of the Tuttimen. Of course by this stage they were a long way off finishing. Every house is visited on the day which does not finish until 9 pm, but is punctuality by good hospitality at each house or business (when they were in that is!). I found generally people were very welcoming to this tradition and indeed some organised parties when the Tuttimen arrived. Surprisingly in some cases people appeared a little unaware of the custom, the occupier of the Indian restaurant was most bemused…although the fish and chip shop was very pleased to see them with most welcoming with some gratis chips although the couple eating there did appear rather non-plused! . Of course at each house, the Tuttimen and their orange given filled their tankards….with a mixture of alcohol and this continued all day…

The Hocktide luncheon

Sadly I was a bit too disorganised to get a ticket for this event and so investigated the possibility of viewing it from the balcony which I was told that would be alright. However, I felt immensely privileged, when I was informed  that there may be the possibility of a ticket. The meal was excellent and the company was superb. The meal begun again with a minute’s silence for the passing of the noted bellman, and then with an excellent amusing grace by the colourful vicar (more of him later) and was then punctuated by toasts namely to their founder the Duke of Lancaster (or the Queen as most of us know her as!).Other notable sections the ale tasters proclamation concerning the quality of the ale be fine and the presentation of the Plantagenet punch with its recipe known only to a few and clearly the descendent of a loving cup or wassail ceremony with the sharing of the drink. The constable introduced in amusing fashion his top table, the vicar introduced as being in the dictionary between vibrator and vice. He then distributed then as an unexpected extra gift, a silver coin minted especially for the Jubilee. The meal formally ended with a talk by Lady Carnarvon, whose nearby Highclere Castle is associated now with the hit TV show Downtown Abbey. She spoke of the similarities with the problems of visitors and TV crews……after the meal came the

Shoeing the colts

Colts is referred to in other Court leets and in particular during beating of the bounds and other hocktide events (such as Reach fair now moved to Mayday), but as far as I am away this shoeing is a unique custom here in Hungerford. Certainly most bizarre element of the whole day and certainly the most enjoyable. The manor’s blacksmith dons his leather apron and with hammer, horse shoes and nails shoes the colts or those who had never been to the luncheon before, which this year was a sizable list of names, including me, and shows that interest in the traditions in the town continues through new comers and the younger people… Women faired okay and most were offered a chair to sit down on and then raising their leg, the blacksmith tapped the shoe into their shoes until they quietly called out ‘punch’ but the men! This was when the excitement begun. It was traditional to fight or try to run away and such grappling, grabbing, half nelson’s and sitting on were all in the process, the later mainly done by the larger than life character of the vicar again! I watched some of the members of my table be dragged before the blacksmith I was rather daunted when told by one of the Tuttimen, that when he was done the previous day the vicar was so enthusiastic that he upended him and he banged his head on the floor and was concussed being taken to see the doctor! But the moment came, and realising that I needed my fee money rushed across to the cash machine and caught up in a terrible rain storm!!!! You’re not going are you because we’ll find you they said…..Soon, I was grabbed on one side by the vicar and struggled for all my worth kicking and was turned upside down with my feet flailing in the air at which point the vicar jumped on my chest and I was laying on the floor…with the sound of the horse shoe into my foot I shouted punch although it was difficult to remember to say this as I was laughing so much.

Anchovies on toast and back with the Tuttimen

After the luncheon it was back over to the Three Swans where the traditional anchovies on toast was made available, perhaps in celebration of the fishery rights of the manor…and still the Tuttimen and orange giver went on their business….it finally became a delightful evening and the sun was glinting down the high street, I bumped into the Tuttimen again who appeared to be now rather staggering and working towards the need of a wheel barrow, offered by the lady who owned the house I was invited into with them.

What is hocktide about?

Hocktide is believed to get its name from the Saxon word ‘hock’ meaning ‘in debt’ and is believed to date from the reign of Etherlread in 1002 after a victory against the Danes or the death of Harthacnut in 1042. As neither were associated with the week after Easter, the first November and second June, it appears confusing why these are suggested. Furthermore, these are secular events and it does appear to have been associated with raising money for the church in many places. In many places roads were closed off by ropes and fines levied. There is a clear link between this and Easter heaving or lifting and perhaps the two customs were linked in the past and as Hocktide died out, the custom was transferred to Easter. In Hungerford this was granted by John of Gaunt in 1364 within whose vast Duchy of Lancaster estates the town lays. He gave a horn, now only used on special occasions, an ancient hunting horn. This is now replaced by a 1634 edition which still has the inscription “John a Gaun did give and grant the Riall of Fishing to Hungerford town from Eldren Stub to Irish Stil, excepting som several Mill Pound (ponds)” All in all, in all my encounters with ceremonies and traditions I never come across a more friendly and welcoming place than Hungerford. Everyone welcomed me in and offered me nibbles and drinks at their houses and made me feel very welcome. I am sure I will return to Hungerford and hopefully on Hocktide now that I am no longer a colt to be shoed..