Category Archives: Mock Mayor

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 revived: Gloucester Day and the Mock Mayor of Barton

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“Dulce est Desipere in Loco”

It is delightful to play the fool occasionally, so reads the motto of the revived Mock Mayor of Barton. How appropriate!

Gloucester over it!

Land use around train stations in the UK is always less than promising. Only a handful of cities and towns can boast a good vista from the station. Gloucester isn’t one of them! The buildings around both train and bus station are no great advert for much of the beauty and fine architecture that can be found in the city: hideous concrete slabs, boarded up windows and row after row of charity shops and cheap shops. There must have been some nice architecture there…perhaps the war removed it, but the post-War did much to ruin it. So it might seem strange that a city which appears to be going through a patriotic revival ignores this part. Ho hum..a few  streets in of course and we enter the Gloucester of the postcard, but it’s a shame our post war architects could not have been more imaginative, but I digress.

Siege mentality

Gloucester Day celebrates the lifting of the 1643 Siege of Gloucester, when the city survived after an onslaught of the Royalist forces in the first English Civil War. Strangely despite celebrating what could be conceived an anti-Monarchist event, the custom survived until around the nineteenth century. It was arrived in 2009 by the colourful figure of Alan Myatt, the Town Crier and forms part of the Gloucester History and Heritage Week.

The new Mock mayor

Double Gloucester

Not only is Gloucester Day is celebrated on the day but there is a Morris meet, called Hands Around Gloucester and more interestingly the revived Mock Mayor of Barton. This too is believed to date from the Civil War. It is said that that after the siege Barton was removed from the city and so as a response decided to mock them and elect their own mayor. However, in a contributor to Jennings’ Gloucester Handbook suggests an age  “more ancient than the Mayors of Gloucester”, possibly deriving from an old moot called Halimote of Barton.  Certainly, the mock mayor did have a ‘court’, which would be held in various pubs doubling for the town hall: the Old Vauxhall and lastly the Bell Inn, and as noted a coat of ‘arms’. He also had some armorial insignia which survived in a wine merchant of Bell Lane in the 1880s, but now cannot be traced. The mayor would have duties such as visiting the Cotswold Olympics and the Cheese Rolling. The mayor could also inflict penalties, comical though they may be. Generally, the offender would be forbidden to:

 “shoot ducks, fowls, donkeys, pigs, or any game whatever, or fish in any river, running stream, ditch, pool, or puddle, with many other pains also”. 

Any resident of Barton who had lived there for two years would be eligible and were selected through some mistake or blunder:

“through want of judgement or absence of mind, made some blunders of an amusing nature before he could be named to the ‘Court’”

Once appointed he could not shake off this ‘honour’ and Duart-Smith (1923) notes that:

 “one of the elected mayors had impounded his own pigs by mistake, believing them to be his neighbour’s” 

Another member was inducted because he sowed soot to grow chimneys and another setting up a expensive fenced in piggery forgot to include a doorway! Interestingly, it is reported in the Gloucester Standard of c.1889 – 90 that despite the mockery of the position, some notable individuals became mayors such as a solicitor, the editor of the Gloucester Journal, a Russian Consul, and a timber importer and indeed once the City Mayor at that of Barton were one and the same. What caused the custom to disappear is unclear, but it probably considering its association with hostelries became associated with drunks and antisocial behaviour.

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Another month another Mock Mayor

At 11.00 in the morning the members of the Mock Mayor’s mayor making entourage assembled behind the museum and what a motley bunch: Morris dancers, goats, a colourful burger, sword bearer, and a whole range of eccentrics who resembled the Monster Raving Loony Party. With the sword beater menacing in front they were off to a confused Gloucester shopping public, some of who appear unaware that if a procession comes along get out the way!! They passed the real Mayor, councillors and local MP near St. Michael’s Tower, upon which the sword bearer undertook a circular dance, probably if not intentionally intending to show contempt to them much in way they did at Woodstock. The newly elected Mock Mayor being carried on a bike powered trailer and sat comically upon a metal beer barrel. After circling around the parade came back to near the tower where a stage was erected, here the other civic party awaited. The electee, sword bearer and burger climbed on stage, and some slights and comical I jokes came flying out. After the Mayor making proclamation which ended with an up yours, the more comical politicians had a say…I mean the local MP and real Mayor to recognise the valuable work behind the trivial ness done by the mock mayor. All the platitudes over the group processed down to the nearby church and here the Morris were there again holding aloft their staffs, they formed an arch under which the groups flowed for their thanksgiving service. For a few hours normality resumed, but then…

Off we go again

DSC_0264If one parade was not enough wait a few hours and another, larger one comes along at 2.00. This was the Gloucester Day parade. Back with the Mock Mayor, minus the Morris who congregated at the cross road near St. Micheal’s Tower, ready to dance as the group went by. These parades appear to have a formula:civic dignitaries + religious groups/Scottish bands+~ knights or Romans to its credit Gloucester’s parade added a bit more to this formula including cross dressers from the gay community, masons, a giant pig, those goats again, the Waits a revived medieval group of musicians, as well all lead by the town crier. I didn’t notice the Gloucester flag much touted from a few years back, but it was a flurry of colour and a barrage of beats. Perhaps not as comical as the mock mayor procession…but well worth a few and where else do you get two processions a day!

This re-instated custom certainly is impressive and undertaken which such enthusiasm it difficult to believe it is only been revived since 2009!

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Custom revived: Old Woodstock Mock Mayor

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DSC_2344The Old Woodstock Mock Mayor is a little known custom which appears to have been ignored by books on calendar customs, but it is a classic example of the reason behind the establishment of this perhaps most English of traditions – taking the mickey!

The rise, fall and rise of a custom

The election of the Mock Mayors in this case was a response to the newer Woodstock over the stream! This is because Old Woodstock was until 1886 in the parish of Wooton when an independent of the borough of “new” Woodstock arose and so the custom developed as mockery of the Borough authorities in the new Woodstock who had by 1776 built themselves a new Town Hall and so they responded with this light hearted repost.

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The first formal recognition of the custom appears to be linked with the mace which is inscribed:

“This Mace was made at the Sole Expense of Charles Lewellyn Perkins Esq. Mayor of the ancient village of Old Woodstock – Anno Domini 1786”

The custom continued it appears without break until 1928.

Why the custom died out in 1928 is unclear, but it was probably due to the First World War. However, whereas in most cases this would bring the end of the custom it was revived in 1954. This new Mayor wore a crimson gown made out of a 19th century blanket, a chain of curtain rings and a top hat. The event was associated with the Rose and Crown and unlike today it never crossed into New Woodstock. Evidence suggests that originally the custom was associated with the Wootton Parish Feast Day which was the 19th September, but this revival moved it to August Bank Holiday. The event saw a Beauty Queen and Flower show as well. The revival was short lived and although it saw its first female Mayor, a Miss K. Castle, with the installation of Mr Frederick Warmington in 1958, the custom lapsed and so for 25 years he remained the reigning Mock Mayor!

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A local writer recalled in 1973:

“It seems unlikely that those ceremonies will ever be started again in view of the fact that Mayors and Borough Councils will disappear in 1974. Also the changes in population mobility will leave fewer people to remain interested in purely local affairs since many are newcomers to the district.”

Despite these joint fears, the later unnecessary for ‘foreigners’ have embraced the custom and although Woodstock became a Town Council it retained its Mayor.It was revived by the Rose and Crown, it has moved locations and dates a number of times to settle at the Black Prince, since the former’s closure. Despite the 25 year break, the custom appeared to grab the zeitgeist and has continued ever since as a charity and community event. The ceremony used to take place in September and consisted of a dinner at the Rose and Crown and a cricket match: the Mayor being usually selected for his drinking capacity, but the closure of the Crown moved it to the

Mock up Old Woodstock mock mayor

Like other Mock Mayor the regalia which resembles that of the real Mayor but at half the price. However, this regalia appeared to have become a bit more sophisticated: a Mayoral chain chained from curtain rings to mechano metal pieces, a black top hat, a robe of office said to be made from a 19th Century red blanket. The mace did consist of a holly stick entwined with a large cabbage stem capped by a crown but is now a more sophisticated three sided wooden mace. Clearly the mock mayor is more serious matter now! Despite what could easy be described as a local event, this is a tradition with all the regulars: coconut shy, plate breaking, Punch and Judy and Oxfordshire favourite Aunt Sally.

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At the allotted time a motley bunch appeared made up of the Mock Mayor, his deputy, a constable, Town Crier, Mace bearer, two flag bearers and an inexplicable Saxon Warrior an odd dressed group if ever there was one. Then the ‘town’ cryer with his blue frock coat and black tricorn hat asked those intending to stand or those representing those intending to stand to join in the hustings….there was a bit of an embarrassing silence. Then a few people stood up to appeal for election, in 1993 one candidate promised to bring the Olympics to Blenham Park and promised good weather. I’m not sure which was more probable. In 2013, the crowd appeared a little reticent although one candidate, perhaps the crowd knew it was a fix! Of those who stood one candidate suggested they would investigate fracking…at New Woodstock whilst a young boy boldly proclaimed he would make the village more interesting…he didn’t win!

After the hustings the committee huddled in the corner to agree what had already been agreed – and selected the new Mock Mayor. Previously the adjourned to a room in the pub and white smoke was sent up. The outgoing Mayor caused the newly appointed to kneel to which he then knighted him and passed on his robes. It was made clear that the new Mock Mayor had already been selected, making a mockery of the whole custom- perhaps due to the ducking aspect and whole ‘health and safety’ its best they know who it is…a random member might not be so happy with the impromtu swim!

Mock a doodle do!

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The newly selected mock mayor and his entourage then called upon the audience to join them in their procession…or perhaps march in protest to the New Woodstock Town Hall. This was an odd route across the road from the pub, in through a gate and into the spacious grounds of Blenheim Palace and up hill…fighting the wind to the top of the hill where the New Woodstock physically and metaphorically reign over them! On the way, the mace bearer stopped at the gates and like Blackrod in parliament tapped the door with a silver cane…slowly the doors opened and the group marched forth to their goal the Georgian Town Hall. At the Town Hall stood a more obvious Trumptoesque Mayor bedecked with the finery of his mayoral red robes and chain, one could understand previous generations being annoyed by the pomp of this new Town! Here the Town Crier called for a dance between the Mayor and Mock Mayor

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Mock turtle soup….

The climax of the ceremony is the ducking of the Mock-Mayor. Although this was a bit confusing because although there was a ducking stool set up, the process appeared to consist of simply throwing him in the water. The ducking signifies the Mayor and the Corporation turning their backs on and declaring their independence from the “other” Woodstock by crossing the boundary line. A similar ducking of a Mock Mayor occured in Birmingham in a local holy well and it is possible that this part of the procedure is the oldest part…did it signify a water sacrifice? Despite its rather frivolous nature, Old Woodstock’s Mock Mayor is the closest to the true nature of the mock mayor tradition across the country – still metaphorically raising its two fingers at the New Woodstock…Or should I say both two fingers…its W oodstock after all!

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Custom demised: Newcastle Under Lyme’s Mock Mayor

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Mock mayors appear to be a common feature in English towns, indicating perhaps the joint characteristics of the English people a disregard for authority and a good sense of humour. In Staffordshire there were a number, of which that of Newcastle is the best known.

The custom was centred on the real mayor making ceremony, for as soon As soon as this had finished, the free man of the town, those not involved in government, gathered in the Market cross and chose a Mock mayor in a ceremony which resembled that which had gone on to select the real one!

Described by Joseph Mayer in 1850-1 in Proceedings of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire:

“His Mock Worship was, with all the gravity befitting such an occasion, summoned by the shrill sound of a Nanny goat’s horn, to appear before his brother town’s men and show cause why – always provided if he had any objection to that most devoutedly to be desired and that most glorious and honourable elevation to the state of Mayor of the Borough, with all the customary privileges of getting drunk, and finding himself publically as an example, &c,. Then with great stateliness of step, and severe magisterial countenance some well beloved fellow townsmen was conducted to top step, and there invested with those most  becoming and costly robes of state and that magic wand of office so capable of doing justice, on the person whose head it knocked.

The Mayor then introduces his wife to the gathering and commanded silence and the Town crier read after calling all to order with the ringing of his bell:

“O Yes, O Yes O Yes! This is to give Notice, First that by the advice of my Beadle, Mace bearers and Bum Bailiffs, I do hereby declare and proclaim that it shall be lawful for any man or set of men to put their hands into their breeches pockets if there be their purses and give and pay over to our exchequer any sum less than one hundred guineas, that shall deem to him or them fit in order that we may drink his or their jolly health in a quart of ale a –piece for which we as well our part as on yours promise him or them the distinguished honour of three huzzas, and may they live to do the like again next year.

Secondly- That we, after mature consideration, do allow any grocer – so he do it handsomely and pleasantly to his own feelings the never-to-be-appreciated and valuable privilege (which must be thought a sufficient reward unto him and his children for ever) of giving unto our revenue collectors, as much tobacco as he pleases; provided always and it is hereby declared, that the amount must not exceeded one hundredweight, but shall, at the same time be enough to serve all the old women, as well as our worthy selves.

Thirdly-that Morgan, the pipe maker, as his hereditary right, which he hereby acklodge may if he likes furnish us with saggar pipes to smoke the aforementioned tobacco with, in consideration whereof, we pledge our honour (here two squeaks from the nanny goat horn) that nobody else shall.

Fourthly-Our worthy Mayor giveth notice and commandeth that all canting, gin-drinking women he brought before him, that he may punish them with the bridle, kept by him for that purpose; and he recommendeth his brother freemen to eat plenteously of roast beef and plum pudding, to gain which they must work more and drink less; and further, that all persons found drunk in the streets after this notice will be put in the stocks for one hour and thirteen minutes.

Fifthly- and lastly- We do hereby say, as commanded by our beloved wife, for the benefit of all young maidens (after painful experience on our own part), that it is better to be married than single; and in proof of our firm conviction of the same, we do thus publically declare sign, and seal this our proclamation with a kiss. ‘

A long flourish on the Nanny-goat’s horn at the close of his performance, after which the procession had formed, and with her ladyship enthroned on a donkey, his Worship and the ‘goodlie companie’ marched through the principle streets of the town, collecting the revenue with jollification at the market cross in the evening.”

The nature of the proclamations clearly being aimed to ridicule the self importance of the Corporation, caused irritation which lead not only to the banning of the custom in 1830s but the putting of the mock mayor in the stocks.

However, the day was a big event and very popular with local school children, who would bar out their teachers or those in work claim a holiday. However, in 1833 the ceremony was revived, and in that year they were described by Mayer (1850-1) as:

“His worship is arrayed in a calf-skin tunic, fastened with a skewer around the neck, a black Staffordshire bull’s hide for a gown, and a sheepskin wig. In his dexter hand he holds his wand of office and his civic chain and glass are represented by horses’ s manes and the prison-door key, the latter emblematical of the reign of bailiffs. His worship is supported on the right hand by the Town clerk, a person of very knowing look, and quite alive to the tricks of the law, as is fully indicated by the expressive position of his left thumb. Under his other arm he holds the Charter of the Borough, which the good Burgesses, fearing parchment would not be lasting enough, have inscribed on the hide of leather. On the left side is the Bum bailiff alias Head Constable, which his truncheon about to dislodge a sweep, who in return is about to powder his Worship’s wig with his soot bag. The two figures right and left are Macebearers, as seen by the splendid cabbages which they carry; and the Bellman in his Phrygian cap and shaggy skin dress, is reading the proclamation.”

However, this revival was a final hurrah, as in the end the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 swept away all the rottenness associated with the real Mayor and the need for the custom and so it quietly died.