Category Archives: Memorial

Custom contrived: The White Peace Poppy

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Each year on the run up to the 11th November, there is a sea of red poppies but occasionally one comes across a white poppy and a fair few people look down on this flower but its association with Remembrance is almost as old as the more familiar red one. In 1926 a member of the No More War movement mooted the idea that pacifists should make and distribute their own poppy which would differ from the red one not only in colour but the centre would read ‘No More War. As such its plan was a remembrance of all victims of war, challenging militarism and a commitment to peace; whereas the red poppy would be remembering the military dead – which it remains symbolising. Despite the idea it was not developed and the Co-operative Women’s Guild were the first to sell white poppies in 1933 and then the Peace Pledge Union also begun distributing them in 1936 with wreaths being laid in 1937.

Interestingly white poppy sales rose in 2010 and in 2014 the 110,000 topped the previous sales of 80,000 in 1938. 

Up the Armistice centenary  there was a noticeable rise in the adoption of the white poppies as noted by the Coop News website

“According to PPU, the number of shops and other outlets known to be selling white poppies has risen by almost a third. Some Co-op Group supermarkets and Co-operative Bank branches also sell the poppies. Schools have made 70 orders for the white poppies schools pack, more then double the figure in 2017. The PPU received 34 orders for the new White Poppies for Churches pack as well.

In the end, the Armistice resulted in a record 122,385 being sold.

“Of course we are very pleased to have distributed so many white poppies but it is the meaning behind the symbol that matters. If everyone who wears a white poppy takes action against militarism and war, and works for peace and active nonviolence, that would be a fitting memorial to the millions of civilians and combatants whose lives have been wasted in war.””

This is however not to say that the rise of the white poppy has not and continues to not have its controversy and whilst the Royal British Legion has no opinion on whether it should be red or white poppy worn, plenty of others appear to have spoken on their behalf – unofficially I’d add. As early as the 1930s some women lost their jobs for wearing them. Yet in Northern Ireland where the red poppy is associated with the British; those seeking unification can accept the white poppy with no issue. Local debates have arisen such as that between the then Bishop of Salisbury, John Baker in 1986 who when asked about the appropriateness said:

“let’s not be hurt if we see a white poppy…there is plenty of space for red and white to bloom side by side.” 

This however resulted in Robert Kay the Salisbury MP disagreeing and even bringing then British PM Thatcher into the debate who said during Prime minister’s question time that she had a “deep distaste” for the symbol. This created much attraction and doubtless more adherents to the white poppy cause despite several negative articles in The Daily Star. 

This debate appears not to be disappearing yet even as late as 2014, at the Aberystwyth War Memorial,  white poppy wreaths were binned and in 2018 a similar report perhaps from Somerset when:

“A white poppy wreath laid at the Bath War Memorial on Remembrance Sunday has been ‘pinched’ – for the third year in a row. The wreath was laid by Bath Quakers, who had called for it to be ‘respected’ ahead of the commemoration.However, the wreath has disappeared again – and in record time. The group said it was gone within 24 hours of the ceremony, having previously taken ‘a week or so’ to vanish.”

This resulted in an open letter:

“Dear Editor, On Sunday 11th November, Bath Quakers will again be taking part in the ceremony at the Bath War Memorial. With the respectful acknowledgement of the British Legion, we have laid a white poppy wreath for the last two years. Each time the wreath has been removed in the days after the event. We are hurt by this action and would like to take the opportunity to explain the origins and purpose of the white poppy. It was launched in 1933, a few years after the red poppy, by the Co-operative Women’s Guild. These were wives, daughters, sisters and cousins of soldiers killed and wounded, who were challenging society to prevent this kind of catastrophe happening again. They were seeking to find other ways to resolve conflict and an end to all war. Proceeds from the sale of white poppies fund peace education work. Our white poppy wreath is laid out of respect for all people killed, maimed, wounded and traumatised by war, civilians and military personnel from all sides involved in conflict. Many people wear both the white and red poppy. This year Bath Quakers will be laying two attached wreaths, one white and one red, to convey the complexity of this issue. It demonstrates our respect for the event and all participants, and our compassion for fallen military personnel and their families. At the same time it confirms our remembrance of all victims of war and our determination to work for the peaceful resolution of all conflicts. We hope that this year our wreath will be respected and remains where it is laid.”

Whilst St Mary’s Torquay make a point of stating on their social media:

“Come and see these incredible creations by our local Yarn Fairies – a poppy for each person remembered on the War Memorial and a ring of 24 white poppies for the 21 children and 3 teachers killed when St Mary’s was destroyed by enemy action on the 30th May 1943.  May they all rest in peace.”

 

Yet the conflict over white and red continues with a regular appearance of some aggrieved MPs or newspapers looking for copy, and the unfortunate link with the term ‘snowflake’ with equal amounts of those in the entertainment world supporting it. Michael Morpurgo, children’s author writing in a Radio times article: 

“Wearing the red poppy for me is not simply a ritual, not worn as a politically correct nod towards public expectation. It is in honour of them, in respect and in gratitude for all they did for us. But I wear a white poppy alongside my red one, because I know they fought and so many died for my peace, our peace. And I wear both side by side because I believe the nature of remembrance is changing, and will change, as the decades pass since those two world wars.”

I shall leave the last word to poet Professor Benjamin Zephaniah

“Rise above the wars The folly of endless fight, Let’s try making love, Let’s make our poppies white.”

Custom demised: Lost November 5th rhymes

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Many of us are familiar with the bonfire rhyme or bonfire prayer:

“Pray remember

The Fifth of November,

Gunpowder treason and plot;

For I know no reason

Why Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Hollo boys! Hollo boys! Hurrah.”

Which has become a children’s nursery rhyme as well

If you attend an event in Sussex you will also here the following verse no doubt:

“A penn’orth of bread to feed the Pope,

A penn’orth of cheese to choke him;

A pint of beer to wash it down,

And a good old faggot to burn him.”

But across the country there were local variants many recorded in Alexander Andrew’s 1783 Long ago-A Journal of Popular Antiquities which appear to have been largely lost. In Derbyshire:

“Remember, remember,

Th’ fifth o’ November,

Th’ gunpowder plot,

Shall ne’er be forgot!

Pray gi’s a bit o’ coal,

Ter stick in th’ bun-fire hole!

A stick an’ a stake,

For King George’s sake—

A stowp an’ a reel,

Or else wey’ll steal.”

In Lincolnshire:

“Remember, remember

The fifth o’ November!

Guy and his companions’ plot:

We’re going to blow the Parliament up!

By God’s mercy we wase catcht,

With a dark lantern an’ lighted matcht!”

 Northamptonshire the following was chanted:

“Gunpowder treason!

Gunpowder treason!

Gunpowder treason plot!

I know no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fox and his companions

Did the scheme contrive,

To blow the King and Parliament

All up alive.

But, by God’s providence, him they catch,

With a dark lantern, lighting a match!

Hollo, boys! hollo, boys! make the bells ring!

Hollo, boys! hollo, boys! God save the king! Hurrah.”

In Clifton in Nottinghamshire the following was recorded:

“Please to remember

The fifth of November.

Old Guy Faux

And gunpowder plot

Shall never be forgot,

While Nottingham castle

Stands upon a rock!

In Oxfordshire:

“The fifth of November,

Since I can remember,

Gunpowder treason and plot;

This was the day the plot was contriv’d,

To blow up the King and Parliament alive;

But God’s mercy did prevent

To save our King and his Parliament.

A stick and a stake

For King James’s sake!

If you won’t give me one,

I’ll take two,

The better for me,

And the worse for you.”

In Poor Robin’s Almanack for the year 1677 is the following:

“Now boys with

Squibs and crackers play,

And bonfire’s blaze

Turns night to-day.”

In some parts of the north of England the following song is sung:

“Happy was the man,

And happy was the day,

That caught Guy

Going to his play,

With a dark lanthorn

And a brimstone match

Ready for the prime to touch.

As I was going through the dark entry

I spied the devil.

Stand back! Stand back!

Queen Mary’s daughter.

Put your hand in your pocket,

And give us some money

To kindle our bonfire. Hurrah.”

All these variants appear to have disappeared as a standard was written down and spread around via media sources – a trend that continues today!

Custom contrived: Queen’s Birthday service and procession, Southwell

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This year being a jubilee year the celebration of Queen has been everywhere, from shop windows to suburban streets, the country has been on full on royal revels and rejoicing. However, one town has been celebrating the Queen annually for much longer. This is Southwell. Southwell is a very picturesque small town which as I have said before should have more traditions especially considering the delightful ancient minster.

The Queen’s birthday surprisingly is not celebrated much in the United Kingdom, bar a gun salute and Trooping the Colour. However, in much of the Commonwealth it is annually celebrated and is indeed a national holiday in such places. Not so here, so Southwell’s tradition is on the Sunday closest to the Queen’s official birthday in June.

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It’s my birthday and I’ll have two if I want to!

Indeed although Elizabeth II’s real birthday is in April, the tradition of celebrating a set date irrespective of who the king or queen is, is older. This set monarch’s birthday has been celebrated in the United Kingdom since the reign of King George II in 1748 being subsequently determined by  at first the British Empire and then the Commonwealth of Nations and the date set by each country depends on that country although to make use of supposed good weather in the northern hemisphere June is set.

Originally Queen Elizabeth II’s was the same as her father the second Thursday but was changed in 1959, and since then her Official Birthday has since then been celebrated on the second Saturday of June. Southwell undertake it usually the day after.

Queening up for the day

The service starts with a procession of the dignitaries attending this civic event and in the bright June sunshine it is an eye catching spectacle. Just a way down from the entrance of the Minster, mace bearer lead the Queen’s representative in the county, the Lord-Lieutenant, the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, officers of the local army and judges in their ceremonial robes. They processed through the Minster archway and were created by the dean and church officials for the final procession into the church for the service.

How long the service has been undertaken I have been unable to fully discover but one of the local attendees suggested since the silver jubilee, another said the 80s, however the earliest newspaper account I can locate is from 1994 but it is clear that it was already been established by then:

“SWORD CARRIED TO SERVICE TRADITION was broken on Sunday when Mrs Richard Abel Smith, the first woman High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, took part in the Queen’s official birthday service in Southwell Minster. Instead of wearing her ceremonial sword, it was borne in front of her by grand-daughter Amelia Beaumont (6), who travelled from Ireland for the occasion. The sword was used by Mrs Abel Smith’s father, General Sir Douglas Kendrew, when he was Governor of Western Australia. Preacher at the service was the Bishop of Southwell, the Rt Rev Patrick Harris, and prayers were led by the high sheriff’s chaplain, the Rev Keith Turner, Vicar of Linby-cum-Papplewick. The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry were ushers and Nottinghamshire Constabulary Band provided music before and after the service.”

Little did I know but I was to attend the last one before the national Covid lockdown. The year after it went digital and was reported more than any time before by the press. An article on the Southwell Minster website, the Queen’s Birthday Service: A Unique Celebration of Public Service in Nottinghamshire, reported that the then High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Dame Elizabeth Fradd, explained that:

“The Queen’s Birthday Service is usually a grand occasion at Southwell Minster but this year, like so much else, it will take a very different form. It will also have a new significance as a result of the pandemic and the public’s renewed appreciation of the value and importance of public service in all its forms.”

The Queen’s representative in Nottinghamshire is the Lord-Lieutenant, Sir John Peace, who said:

“What I see in local communities, across Nottinghamshire and across the country is an unprecedented crisis; what provides room for hope is the commitment to work together for the common good. Front line workers of all kinds deserve the public’s praise and appreciation but it is just as important to recognise the immense contribution of those behind the scenes. As Her Majesty said in her speech to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day: ‘We will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us’. Following Her Majesty’s lead, this online service will be an occasion for us to demonstrate our pride in all aspects of public service and common endeavour. I invite everyone to join us online for this special celebration.”

Southwell’s Queen’s birthday celebration may be a small custom but it is certainly unique and worthy of attending.

Custom survived: Building bonfires for Guy Fawkes

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“Don’t you Remember,
The Fifth of November,
‘Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,
I let off my gun,
And made’em all run.
And Stole all their Bonfire away.”

Charlton in Otmoor – 1742

Bonfires and Guy Fawkes Night are synonymous so much that the name Guy Fawkes appears to be disappearing and it is now called bonfire night. But why did bonfires become associated with a remembrance which you would think would not want to celebrate with the very thing which was avoided!

The association is early as soon after the King’s escape, his council encouraged the celebrate with bonfires which were “without any danger or disorder” in 1605. One of the earliest recorded being in Dorchester, by the 1670s in London it had become an organised fire festival by the London apprentices such that in 1682 London’s militia were forced to intervene in when violence ensued and such that the following year bonfires were banned in the capital. When James II came to the thrown, fireworks were banned and the government attempted to reduce the celebrations of the day. It was unsuccessful and when he was deposed in 1688, William of Orange actively encouraged its celebration except keeping the ban on fireworks. In Nottinghamshire earliest reference of Guy Fawkes celebrations appears to 1743 as noted in the borough records. The forest ground in Nottingham is still the location of one of the largest Bonfire night celebrations, and records in 1830 and 1890 record bonfires. Celebrations appear to often cause conflict. In 1834 two shots were shot into the Wing Tavern. A report also notes:

“The anniversary of Guy Fawkes was celebrated in Newark by the ringing of bells, a large bonfire in the market place and plenty of squibs, crackers etc. Blunderbusses, guns and pistols were let off….during the evening to the annoyance of everyone walking the street.”

In a diary written by a William Moss of Mansfield (who worked as a Cooper) is the following entry for 5 November 1841:  

“Gunpowder Plot; but I think it is almost forgotten at Mansfield.  I have neither seen squib nor cracker, nor anything of the kind.  There is one bonfire at the top end of Stockwell Gate and I know not of any more in the town”.

Going ‘chumping’ was a Nottinghamshire term for collecting sticks and deadwood from hedges called ‘chump’ for Bon fires. A Bill Morely recalls the rivalry between local groups which was focused on bonfire night antics, and it is worth quoting at length:  

“Bonfire Night, and the time leading up to it, had its rituals, amazing to look back on (no nonsense about Hallowe’en in those days; I don’t suppose I heard of it until my teens). When the lead-up to Bonfire Night started, the estate split into three gangs: us, that is those who lived on or near the top end of Danethorpe Vale, Collin Green and Edingley Square, a slightly more formal square near the bottom of Caythorpe Rise. Opposite our house, by the wall of the Firs where I was born, was Hooley Street (leading to the orchards which are now Elmswood Gardens), where Hall Street had their bonfire – another gang. So the four gangs built their bonfires, and guarded them against attack from the others. Usually it was the young ones like me who were left to guard the fires whilst the bigger kids went about their business of collecting, or scouting for the enemy, or maybe just clearing off. Sometimes you’d find when you came home from school that the entire bonfire had gone. It wasn’t other gangs though; it was the council, which didn’t want the fires on its property. The most infamous of these council raids was in 1945 or ’46. The day before, or actually on November 5, (incidentally, all bonfires were on November 5, no rubbish about spreading them over three or four weeks like today) the council took Collin Green’s bonfire away. Well, with the returned soldiers saying, according to legend and no reason to disbelieve it, stuff like, “we didn’t fight a war to come home and find our kids can’t have a bonfire”, and the like, they dismantled the garden gates round the Green – all council property, of course – and rebuilt the bonfire with them. And everyone approved, even my very respectable parents. But back to the gangs: there was always a hollow in the middle of the fire, and we sat in there, ready to ward off the enemy coming to nick our fire, or possibly set fire to it. Bit stupid being inside it, of course. And there were pitched battles on the streets of the estate. The members of the other Greens were often friends, but, for a couple of weeks, we’d fight them. The fights were always the same, throwing grass-sods and sticks at each other, and always on the roads of the estate. What did the adults do? Nothing. What did they think, especially those without children? I can’t remember anyone getting hurt, and we didn’t throw stones, so perhaps we unconsciously realised it was a ritual not reality, but there were real frissons of fear and aggression. Collin Green was our main enemy. In fact, as far as I remember, all our actual fights were with them. This was all on a ‘respectable’ estate; these days it would either be much worse and seriously violent, or it just wouldn’t happen. However, we were really frightened of the Hall Street gang (did it really exist?). Hall Street had some fairly rough older boys, or so we thought, but again some of the younger kids from there were friends of mine at school. Anyway, the real fear was that Hall Street would come, and we were seriously scared of that. Did they ever? We certainly never had one of the pitched battles with them. On Bonfire Night, all the boys (girls too) came to the bonfire (on which there’d be a guy) with long poles, on the end of which were tightly bound rags, in flames and we’d set the fire going by thrusting the burning torches into it. I remember the anguish of whether I’d get there in time for the start. My mother seemed to take ages to get the rags sorted out, as no doubt the other mothers did too. Again, there was no penny-for-the-guy stuff, round our way anyway, though the guy was probably another thing to defend in the last two days. The fire always seemed to burn very fast, the guy vanishing in a few minutes, and then it was more or less over, and, no, we didn’t put potatoes or chestnuts in the fire, it was just a fire, nice and primitive.”

These large informal street fires became a thing of the past when in the 1960s the police, local authorities and fire brigade combined to prevent them and in 1963 27 organised sites were provided. In the 1990s regular sites were established in across the country from those set up to raise money for preservation railways such as that done by the Quorn railway (Leicestershire) and various ones to raise money for scouts, WIs and schools. 

Why bonfire?

Historians have often suggested that Guy Fawkes Day served as a Protestant replacement for the ancient Celtic Samhain festival. Another theory is that it transferred from Crispin’s Day celebrations. Over time the bonfire has changed of course. In 2005 David Cannadine commented on the encroachment into British culture of late 20th-century American Hallowe’en celebrations, and their effect on Guy Fawkes Night:

Nowadays, family bonfire gatherings are much less popular, and many once-large civic celebrations have been given up because of increasingly intrusive health and safety regulations. But 5 November has also been overtaken by a popular festival that barely existed when I was growing up, and that is Halloween … Britain is not the Protestant nation it was when I was young: it is now a multi-faith society. And the Americanised Halloween is sweeping all before it—a vivid reminder of just how powerfully American culture and American consumerism can be transported across the Atlantic

Despite the changes there is something still attractive to people and very well attended. People still have the primeval need to feel the warmth of the bonfire.

 

Custom demised: Ringing the bells on Guy Fawkes Night

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Ringing Photos

Across the country churches were expected to celebrate the foiling of the Gun Powder Plot. Nottinghamshire in particular has a large number of reported cases.  At East Bridgford, Gunpowder treason ringers would ‘clash or fire’ the bells in commemoration. Holme Pierrpoint churchwarden’s account notes in 1688 “payment to Gonpowder treason ringing” , and that in Gedling:

“22nd Nov 1708. Agreed that betwixt the three towns of the parish of Gedling that there be an allowance at the common usuage of ye parish for ringing of three shillings for ye fifth November”

In Worksop in 1617 it notes money was given “for ringing on ye gunpowther days”. In 1747 2s and 6d were given to Nottingham for ‘Gunpowder Treason with 6d given for candles for ringers.  Found in the Parish Constables accounts for East Leake, 1791: “5th Nov paid for Ale Gunpowder plott”

Rickinghall (Suffolk) churchwardens’ accounts of November 5th 1814 when beer was bought for the ringers, probably for ringing the bells for Guy Fawkes Nigh

In Backwell (Somerset) it is recorded in the church wardens accounts that:

“Spent upon ye ringers ye 5th November 1698 – 12/6d”

Little Cornard (Essex) records that in

“1731 when five shillings was paid to the bell ringers for their efforts on Guy Fawkes Night.”

The Penistone bell-ringers active on 5th March 1696 were paid eight shillings to ring the bells. That same year, 4s 6d was paid for ‘A bel-rop and 2d for bringing it home’.

When the last time any of these bells were rung is unclear but it may link to the removal of Guy Fawkes as a national holiday  

Custom contrived: Battle of Hastings re-enactment

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‘I don’t want to spoil the end but Harold loses in the end!’

Britain is proud of its history and indeed it is a great money spinner – thousands travel to see sites associated with historical events and sometimes these historical events come to the visitors and barring a time machine – the only way is via the battle re-enactment. The Battle of Hastings is perhaps the most famous of these and well-known. 

1066 and all that!

The very first re-enactment was organised back in 1932 and called a pageant. It was organised by a Gwen Lally and impressively attracted 2600 re-enactors. In an article for the Sussex Agricultural Express Lally told the that she and her partner Mabel Gibson:

“had felt definite psychic influences in the Abbey grounds at late rehearsals…I think that the monks were probably not displeased with us, for we were doing them no dishonour in making those lovely scenes live again”.

This was apparently a one off and is remembered by a commemorative pamphlet displayed at Battle Abbey. A regular re-enactment would not begin until understandingly English Heritage saw the commercial possibility in a regular event. This would take place at first every two years and then annually since 1984 on a weekend date closest to the 14th  October; the date closest to the actual event. Then every five or six years  it has been the site of major re-enactments. At the 2000 re-enactment, called “Hastings 2000”, about 1000 reenactors on foot 100 cavalry and between 50 and 100 archers from 16 different countries took part. That year was nearly a washout as the BBC website attests:

“She said: “Fortunately the battleground – on Senlac Hill – is high ground and in no danger of flooding.”

Not that a bit of rain would affect anyone I’d say and it would add to the reality of it. Certainly the participants really take the re-enactment serious. The air is awash with the sound of clashing swords and maces. Bodies flung against each other as the arrows flew over head. This event is heavily choregraphed but there is a real authentic feel to the conflict. Of course we are all know the outcome but that does not detract from the excitement of the event. Those doing are doing it for real almost it seems. However, not as much that the time I watched that Harold would have a chance to win…oh no this is strict to script Harold will be losing!

Walk to Victory…er defeat

There has become over time at the big events a re-enactment of the walk from Stamford Bridge to Hastings as recorded by the BBC in 2006:

“Members of a group called The Vikings, who call themselves Britain’s largest Dark Age re-enactment society, preceded the battle by restaging Harold’s dash back to Sussex.

They left York on 21 September in full period costume, passing through Nottingham, Leicester, Luton, London and Kent, before arriving in Battle on Friday.”

Again adding to the realism of the event the re-enactors being tired as were Harold’s men on the actual event.

Eye eye!

Of course we know what is going be the key thing to look out for and so does the re-enactor playing Harold as the BBC website recorded in 2006

“Roger Barry, who faced inevitable defeat as King Harold II, said he had studied the Battle of Hastings for a long time.

On acting out his character’s death, the 49-year-old soldier from Salisbury in Wiltshire said: “I have down my person somewhere an arrow or part of an arrow.

“On cue, I will clasp my eye with the arrow over it and fall gracefully to the ground.

“It’s a bit of bummer really, but sadly that’s the way it is. It’s fun, win or lose.

As I say we all know the outcome like watching a movie over and over again, there is some comfort in seeing how that inevitable end will happen! Certainly the crowds of 30000 would agree and has become one of the largest re-enactment of its kind. 

 

 

Custom survived: Harvest festivals

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As the autumn draws in, it is difficult to avoid piles of produce piling up at churches, community halls and schools, all of these being collected for annual harvest festivals which bring colour and poignancy to the drawing days.

Shine on harvest moon

For the medieval period the harvest was a major event. Every village would celebrate bringing in the harvest usually in some harvest home event and quite often a large harvest supper – with much feeding, drinking and associated activities. It was these associated activities which caused many within the church to look at supressing these events. However, others realising the need for a moment of reflection at this time looked for other alternatives.

Thus unlike other customs the origins of the custom is well recorded. It was in 1843 that the Reverend Robert Hawker established a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. The custom was firmly established as Christian event adopting Victorian hymns such as We plough the fields and scatter, come ye thankful people come and all things bright and beautiful. The church was decorated with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service a tradition which continues today. The service remained a local event until 1854 when the Revd Dr William Beal, Rector of Brooke Norfolk was the first to hold a Harvest Festival. He noted his aim was to:

to put a stop to the disgraceful scenes which too often characterise the close of harvest, and to the system of largess, which gives rise to cases of the grossest description.”   The Times at the time stated more politely that:  “The attempt to put an end to the system of public-house harvest feasts, in which neither wives nor children can join, appears in this instance to have been eminently successful.”   

Another early adopter of the custom was Rev Piers Claugton at Elton Huntingdonshire in or about 1854. By 1875 the Lincolnshire Chronicle recorded St Mary’s Church at Stamford indicating in 20 years how far it could spread.

Reap what you sow

An earlier account is recorded at Plumtree in 1880 in The Nottinghamshire Guardian where a new organ had been installed and attracted considerable interest:

“The service commenced with the harvest hymn, “Come, ye thankful people, come”, sung as a processional. Tallis’ Festal Responses were used in the service, the first part of which was intoned by the Rev. A. Marshall rector of Heythrop, Oxon, and formerly curate of Plumtree; the latter part being taken by the Rector. The first lesson was read by the Rev. F. Sutton, rector of Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire; and the second lesson by the Rev. H. Seymour, rector of Holme Pierrepont. The Proper Psalms, 144  and 147, and the Canticles were sung to Single Anglican Chants. The anthem was “Ye shall dwell in the land” (Stainer), the bass solo in which was sung by the Rev. A. Marshall, and the treble solo by Archibald White, of S. Werburgh’s Church, Derby.”

It continued with:

“A very eloquent and able sermon, which was listened to with marked attention by an appreciative congregation, was preached by the Rev. the Hon. Wm. Byron from the text “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” – Ephesians 4:3 – from which, connecting it with the events of the day, he delivered a most admirable and practical discourse on the beauty and necessity of harmony and concord in the parochial and domestic life.”

It was recorded that:

“The church was very tastefully decorated with the usual flowers, and fruits, and corn, and produce, which are so general at our Church Harvest Festivals. Plumtree is now amongst the most beautiful of our Notts. churches, and is well worthy of a visit by all who value a hearty service, and appreciate beauty of colouring and artistic design in ecclesiastical decoration.”

By the 1900s it had spread considerably both geographically and ecumenically being described in Horsham Sussex’s Congregation church:

“which was very tastefully decorated for the occasion with flowers, fruit and vegetables”

In the Sheffield it is recorded in Daily Telegraph Sheffield that it was already being described as the:

 “The harvest festival season in Sheffield is now in full swing. In churches and chapels all over the city preachers are drawing the old familiar themes.”

The Berwickshire News and General Advertiser recorded that Etal church:

“was beautifully decorated with fruit, flowers, corn, and vegetables, by Rev. R. and Mrs Simpson.”

Throughout the 20th century it had become firmly established as part of the church’s calendar across the various denominations. Today the focus may have moved from celebrating directly the village harvest to a general celebration of thanksgiving for ‘our daily bread’ to recognising the need of others beyond. So nowadays the displays of food with inedible gourds and sheaths of wheat is far more about ‘arrangements’ than providing food.

Custom survived: Lichfield’s Dr Johnson’s Birthday commemoration

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The picturesque city of Lichfield could win a prize for the most traditional calendar customs and ceremonies a number of which I have detailed in this blog. One of these is an annual celebration of their most famous son, the poet, essayist, lexicographer and all around scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson. The man who gave the world the first real dictionary A Dictionary of the English Language.

Born in 1709 it too nearly 200 years for the city to formally recognise him however when in 1903 the Lichfield City Council first started their September birthday celebrations. A society was founded in 1910 the year after the bi-century of the author’s birth which was remembered with a big celebration.

The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.

In 1909 it was reported in Lichfield Mercury that;

“From Wednesday , Sept . 15 , to Sunday , Sept . 19 , 1909 , Lichfield gave itself up with great enthusiasm and éclat to the celebration of the two – hundredth anniversary of the birth of its most illustrious citizen , Dr . Samuel Johnson . 

For months before the preparations had been going on , and they culminated in great and brilliant gatherings which will without doubt be historic in the annals of the ancient and loyal City”. 

The order of the day has not changed much over the years:

12  Noon .  Great gathering of citizens in the Market  square , when the Children of the schools of the City will assemble to take part in the celebra tion .

Tableaux illustrative of the genius of Dr . Johnson will be placed in prominent positions in the Market square , representing  Literature ,   Poetry ,   and the  Drama . 

Address by the Sheriff .

Presentation of silver and bronze medals to the scholars of the respective schools in the City . The medals will be awarded for proficiency in the English language , English history and biography , general knowledge , and good conduct . 

Two hymns of Joseph Addison , the famous essayist , son of Lancelot Addison , Dean of Lichfield , and one of the eminent scholars of Lichfield Grammar School , will be sung on the occasion .

4 p . m . to 6 p . m . – Reception by the Mayor and Mayoress in the Guildhall . ”

7 30 p . m . – The Anniversary Johnson Supper , at the George Hotel . Speaker , Mr . W . Pett Ridge .

A man may be so much of everything that he is nothing of anything.

However, despite the big celebration for the 220th anniversary the Mayor of Lichfield stated that:

‘He was a great a man, and he was still a great man today: but there were so many who knew so little about the greatness of their fellow citizen.”

And it goes on to state that not many people knew of him. However, one cannot say that now as the town on Saturday morning was buzzing with people in the town perhaps encouraged by the free birthday cake available in the Birthplace museum. As noted in the 300th anniversary the events were:

On Friday September 18, Dr Johnson’s birthday, there will be a spectacular light and sound show in the Market Place, with live performances suitable for all the family.

The celebrations continue on Saturday with a ceremony in Market Square with live music, followed by cake at the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum. A special book fair will also take place at Wade Street Church Hall on Saturday in honour of Dr Johnson’s love of books.”

When I arrived the Mayor and various other dignitaries and a group of local children assembled around the statue of Johnson on his plinth where a metal step ladder was also placed.

The assembled group of children begun to sing and the Mayor and guest of honour came forward to a podium and drew the audience to the importance of the great man and came forward with a wreath which was placed on the moment. Then the city celebrated with some local bands and of course…some Morris dancers.

Custom contrived: Yorkshire Day

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“Today is Yorkshire Day. Not many people know that, as a very non-Yorkshire person likes to say, and probably not many Yorkshiremen either know or care. It is almost as artificial as Father’s Day, which, as all thrifty northerners know, was created to sell more greetings cards.”

The Times 1991

In 1974 the then Government made the decision to change some county boarders and remove some counties such as Rutland altogether. Yorkshire perhaps was one of the worst hit – the old Ridings were gone, South Yorkshire appeared taking some of Derbyshire with it and Hull was created with north Lincolnshire its own county of Humberside. Understandably many people were not happy with the changes and 20 years later some of the changes were overturned.

Such an act is often a catalyst for a custom and proud Yorkshire people were keen that the historic ridings of Yorkshire were not forgotten and in 1975 the Yorkshire Ridings Society celebrated their first Yorkshire Day as a protest in the city of Beverley on the 1st of August.

The first of August was chosen because it has already been celebrated for many years by the Yorkshire regiments in itself a custom in its own right called Minden Day. The Yorkshire Society every 1st of August since 1985 there has been a civic gathering of Lord Mayors, mayors and other civic heads in different Yorkshire towns and cities. Naturally starting in York, nearly every town and city in the three original Ridings have taken part.

On Yorkshire Day a ‘declaration of integrity’ is read out by members of the society which reads:

“I, (insert name) being a resident of the (West/North/East) Riding of Yorkshire (or City of York) declare:

That Yorkshire is three Ridings and the City of York, with these Boundaries of (which is the current year stated minus 851) years’ standing; That the address of all places in these Ridings is Yorkshire; That all persons born therein or resident therein and loyal to the Ridings are Yorkshiremen and women; That any person or corporate body which deliberately ignores or denies the aforementioned shall forfeit all claim to Yorkshire status.

These declarations made this Yorkshire Day God Save the Queen!”

Around this declaration have arisen all sorts of local events and festivals to celebrate Yorkshireness beyond civic processions and declarations. In 2013 Yorkshire born and bred celebrities came together to give a rousing rendition of the county’s traditional folk song On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘At with Brian Blessed rapping a section!

In 2020 it was Rotheram’s opportunity but virtually of course! Indeed the threat of the Coronavirus did not stop the celebration with Welly wanging, making Yorkshire Parkin and online Yorkshire pudding. In fact the 1st was used by many Yorkshire museums and heritage sites as the day they reopened after lockdown.

Denis Kilcommons: Yorkshire Day - Denis Kilcommons - YorkshireLive

It’s not all flat caps and whippets?

Yorkshire people are proud of their heritage as this local newspaper account notes:

The ‘Official Yorkshire Day Civic Celebration’ now adds pomp and circumstance to a day of pride for a county which is like a nation within a nation: having its own flag, its own language, own anthem (almost) and its own culture. It is undoubtedly the biggest gathering of ‘first citizens’ and civic leaders in the UK and probably one of the biggest in the world.

The problem with any celebration of a county or indeed a country can that it falls into the trap of enforcing stereotypes as noted by Arnold Kellett from the Yorkshire Dialect Society in Grand day for the white rose county in the The Times. 1 August 1998.:

“We have to be careful not to overdo it, but regional distinctiveness adds colour. I’m against a grey uniformity spreading over everything, which is the way the world is going.”

Indeed, an what would appear to have been a largely ignored ‘contrived’ custom is now more and more embraced to celebrate the uniqueness of the three counties – just don’t mention it in Lancashire!

Custom survived: St Bartholomew’s Founder’s Day and Bun Race, Sandwich Kent

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Sandwich is a town where you would expect there to be many traditions. One of the Cinque ports, many traditions have arisen from its long association with sea. In a small chapel and its associated almshouse community is one of the most enjoyable.

Legend has it that on the 24th August 1217 the town received a considerable amount of money from a sea battle held off the coast. This they used to build St Bartholomew’s Chapel and a hospital for sixteen men and women to inhabit. It would probably have been envisioned as a place of refuge for pilgrims latterly as it is today becoming an almshouse for the elderly.

Sandwich did not forget this great sea battle’s bounty and it appears that St Bartholomew’s Day became a day of importance in the town with the Mayor and civic dignitaries processing to the chapel for a special patronal founder’s day service – a founder’s day with a difference.

A prickly decision

One of the roles of the service is the selection of a new Master for the coming year. This is called pricking out. During this process a list of all those living in the almshouse – called brothers and sisters – is laid out and a silver bodkin  is used to run over the names and selects the person who will be in charge for the next twelve months. However the role of the Master is fairly mundane being a sort of care taker!

Typically you might say for August, the weather was wet and horrible. I arrived to watch a rather soggy civic procession arrive at the chapel to meet the brothers and sisters within. I slipped into the chapel, just about finding some room, to see the pricking out ceremony and hear the oath which went:

“I – (insert name) will me as I ought to be true and faithful unto the hospital and all things shall do, to my best of my power, for the most weal, proper and commodate of the same hospital and at the end of the year, a true and just account shall make all of things, wherewith I shall have to do belonging to the hospital for this year following.”

Not a bun fight!

After the ceremony as Charles Kightly records in his 1986 Ceremonies and customs of Britain:

“The ceremonies then conclude in livelier fashion, with local children racing around the chapel for a reward of a currant bun a piece.”

Outside there were a fair number of parents and young children waiting the race – the chapel could never have accommodated all of them and I wondered how the race had arisen. Did it arise as a way to encourage a well behaved congregation or to encourage more attendees? Both struck me as odd as it was clear that the service had a rather private feel about it and large numbers of children may have equally ruined the atmosphere I would imagine!

The dampness and drizzle did not put the participants. They lived up in the designated place beside the chapel. As it began to rain, the Mayor blew a whistle and the kids were off

The mayor protected by an umbrella gave out the buns to an out of breadth congregation of grateful children of many sizes. Many covered in mud and soggy! The adults who attended were given a hard paste biscuit with the hospital’s seal and the date 1190 – it did not look as nice as the bun! It was over as soon as it started and the crowd dispersed for another year.

How did the Bun race originate? The bun race is an interesting custom. A bit like those no winners or losers sports day everyone gets a prize! Everyone gets a bun! Why a race? Perhaps the custom arose as a dole for wayfarers and as these slowly disappeared some one came up with the idea of a race. The race symbolising the race to Canterbury’s St Thomas’s shrine. When it arose is not clear either and I have been unable to find it out. Kightly suggests it can only be less than a hundred years old – but that was in 1986 – with 34 years elapsed I imagine it qualifies now!