Category Archives: Political

Custom contrived: Pride

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I am planning to be controversial here! What decided what we call a custom? I wonder why folklorists happily describe the Leek Club parade as a custom and not say Pride, or once Gay Pride…yet Pagan Pride, a modern custom clearly based upon it is happily recorded in sites such as Calendar Customs…it is after all underlined by the same idea, a need to recognise the importance of the group and make everyone aware of it…the same reason behind the Club Walks as well of course. Furthermore it is a commemoration of an event another common custom theme. The dictionary definition supports the view:

“a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.”

So I would reason that Pride (by the way no longer Gay Pride apparently as it includes such a range of sexualities and genders that that name is largely redundant) has a rightly place in a calendar of customs as it has many similarities – it is commemorates, it recognises…and like many customs it is colourful….very colourful in fact! Plus you might add that one of the themes, transvestism has already been largely covered by this blog!

So in a year which has seen some big legal changes in marriage equalities it worth considering this parade, which has gone from militant march to a crazy colourful carnival which has spread beyond its London confines to the provincial town of Manchester, Derby, Nottingham and beyond.

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Pride in the name of love

The first Pride was undertaken in 1972 on the 1st July. This date was chosen as the nearest Saturday to the date of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of Greenwich Village New York. This was a different time of course, in the wake of the more liberated swinging sixties…only in 1967 had the country seen legal changes and as Peter Tatchell, long-time activist notes:

We got mixed reactions from the public – some hostility but predominantly curiosity and bewilderment. Most had never knowingly seen a gay person, let alone hundreds of queers marching to demand human rights.”

Yet despite these reservations 2000 people attended the march continued, year after year. Through the 1980s when the Government introduced Section 28, when it became more militant…and on to the 1990s it was augmented by a large festival like party full of music.

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This is the most interesting thing about it, how Pride has changed over that relatively short time. Some may lament the change from Political to Party and the development of the Pink Pound with it! So it is clear that the Pride has turned from a march to a parade to carnival. Gone it appears have many of the political problems that created it perhaps – Section 28, equal rights, the need for acceptance, even the dread of AIDs once the all-conquering ‘Gay Plague’ as the media termed it, has become manageable. So gone have many of the militant banners and in its place more a celebration.

Pride no prejudice

One of the first things you notice are the hawkers – they appear to be a regular feature of many a custom these days – whether it is flashing lights at Guy Fawkes,  Flower garlands at Hastings Jack in the Green and here Rainbow flags, whistles and garlands…I do wonder whether these people turn up at Neo-Nazi rallies and what they bring!? After much honking and whistling and a cheer when the Fire brigade came by…the parade formed.

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Amongst the parade is the ultimate juxtaposition of characters: some rather amusing drag acts, vicars, police and football fans. The flying of the rainbow flags, blowing of whistles and the sound of pounding drums. The parade is clearly there to be seen! People line the route and fly their flag, laugh, smile and cheer it on – how things have changed from the 1970s!

Indeed as the parade passes the obvious thing that should strike the observer is that amongst the drag acts, colour and flag waving, is the obvious ordinary nature of the people…after all there is no real difference and if that’s the message we get that can surely be a good thing.

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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: Caister’s Palm Sunday Gap Whip

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In a glass frame in the church is a curious relic – the Gad Whip. An account in the Book of Days notes:

“Until it was discontinued in 1847, a singular ceremony took place annually in this church, by the performance of which certain lands in the parish of Broughton, near Brigg, were held. On Palm Sunday, a person from Broughton brought a large whip, called a gad whip, the stock of which was made of wood, tapered towards the top. He came to the north porch about the commencement of the first lesson, and cracked his whip at the door three times; after which, with ceremony, he wrapped the throng round the stock of the whip, and bound the whole together with whip cord, tying up with it some twigs of mountain ash; he then tied to the top of the whip-stock a small leather purse, containing two shillings, (originally 24 silver pennies) and took the whole upon his shoulder into the Hundon choir, or chapel, where he stood in front of the reading desk until the commencement of the second lesson; he then waved the purse over the head of the clergyman, knelt down upon a cushion, and continued in that posture, with the purse suspended over the clergyman’s head, till the end of the lesson, when he retired into the choir. After the service was concluded, he carried the whip and purse to the manor house of Hundon, where they were left.”

An odd procedure and one which had a few complainants.

Banning the custom

It is reported in the May 24th 1836 copy of the Hertford Mercury and Reformer that:

“A petition by Sir Culling Eardley-Smith of Bedwell Park, Hertfordshire, was put before the House of Lords Temporal and Spiritual , to get the practice in Caistor stopped on the grounds that it was a superstitious practice… Sir Culling had even applied to the Bishop of Lincoln to get it stopped but he had not done so. Sir Culling wanted the Lords to investigate the Bishop of Lincoln for this scandal.”

However, this petition was unsuccessful and it did not cease until 1847 when the land which paid for the custom was sold. A common source for the stopping of customs.

The origins of the custom

“generally supposed to be a penance for murder by the Lord of the manor, the Lord would have paid a penalty to the Lord of a neighbouring manor had it really been murder.”

Despite the article’s noting that the custom derived from the penance for murder, that seems unlikely. One possible origin is seen in the purse and its thirty silver pieces – does this refer to the betrayal of Judas? However, the whip is problematic if so..More likely is that considering the date that it is associated with the custom of the Procession of the Ass, a custom which has been revived across the country. The whip was probably used to move the Ass symbolically or actually! The name is further evidence being derived from the term goad for driving horses.

 

Custom demised: Jack O’ Lent

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“you little Jack-a-Lent, have you been true to us;”

Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor

Aside the obvious Christian observation of the day, Ash Wednesday, is little else noted. However certainly from the Tudor period onwards, and possibly earlier, a curious custom was widespread across the country. For at the beginning of Lent, communities would make a straw figure called Jack O Lent which was paraded through the streets and abused. Often made up of straw and castoff clothes, he would be burnt, shot at, or thrown down a chimney to much merriment and pleasure.

By Tudor and Elizabethan times it was well known, as noted by Shakespeare who quotes it twice, for Falstaff remark later in the Merry Wives states:

“how wit may be made a Jack-a-Lent, when ’tis upon ill employment!”

Beaumont and Fletcher’s A Tamer Tam’d  in 1606-7 state:

“If I forfeit, Make me a Jack o Lent and break my shins, For Boys to hurl three throws a penny at thee.”

And in the Coxcomb 1608-10:

“Come, I’ll lead you in by your Jack a lent hair, go quietly, or I’ll make your crupper crack.”

A Shakespearian actor, Elderton, even recalled the custom in a ballad called Lenton Stuff:

“When Jakke a’ Lent comes justlynge in,
With the hedpeece of a herynge,
And saythe, repent yowe of yower syn,
For shame, syrs, leve yowre swerynge:
And to Palme Sonday doethe he ryde,
With sprots and herryngs by his syde,
And makes an end of Lenton tyde”

Who was Jack?

Generally it is thought that the image was said to be Judas Iscariot, but it may have an older and deeper meaning. Considering the time of year it may be a pagan figure who’s ritual abuse would record the turn of the year, a Winter god who dies when Spring is reborn. Sadly, as Ronald Hutton (1996) in his Stations of the Sun notes there does not appear any pre-Tudor note but its widespread discussion suggests an older origin. What is particularly interesting is the prevalence of the custom in the city of London and indeed he was seen in pageants. Such as pageant of Easter 1553 had him on his death bed, with a priest shriving him of sin and a wife begging a doctor to save his life for a thousand pounds, as a Lord of Misrule, representing the feasting of Easter looked on. Certainly, this is a symbolism that supports the Winter-Spring iconography. When Henrietta Maria made her entry into London, on June 16th 1625, a ballade called ‘Jack of Lent’s Ballad’ was constructed recalling such rich pageantry. Indeed, Jack O Lent figures highly through Jacobean to Restoration times if his numerous literary references are to be believed as a figure of worthlessness and ridicule. In 1611 John Crooke’s Greene’s Tu quoque notes of it

“for if a Boy, that is throwing at his Jack o’ Lent chance it hit me on the shins.”

Ben Jonson, in his 1633 Tale of a Tub, makes light of someone in need of begging by stating:

Thou cam’st but half a thing into the world,

And wast made up of patches, parings, shreds;                                                      

that when last thou wert put out of service, 

Travell’d to Hampstead Heath on an Ash Wednesday 

where thou didst stand six weeks the Jack of Lent, 

For boys to hurl three throws a penny at thee 

To make thee a purse.”

In Francis Quarles Shepherd’s Oracles dating from 1646

“How like a Jack a Lent, He stands for Boys to spend their Shrove-tide throws, Or like a puppit made to frighten crows.”

Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene note in the Old Comedy of Lady Alimony of 1659:

“Throwing cudgels, At Jack a lents or Shrove Cocks”

However, as figure of ridicule and pageantry it appears to disappear, certainly from London, probably as a result of Puritanism’s effect on Lent. However, it appears to survive elsewhere in name and occasionally in physical form until recent times. In Oxfordshire children would cry at least until the 17th century:

“Harings, harings white and red,

Ten a penny Lent’s dead,

Rise dame and give an egg,

Or else a piece of bacon,

One for Peter two for Paul

Three for Jack a Lents all,

Away Lent throw away.”

Elsewhere, mention is made of shying a Jack O Lent at Minehead by Palmer in Folklore of Somerset (1976). Oddly, in one case a permanent Jack O Lent existed. This was at Midsomer Norton, where a church effigy of the Gourney family was the subject of local egg and rock throwing when he ended up in the vicarage garden after the old church was demolished.  Whether in any cases it was paraded as such is unclear.  However, such parades may have been widespread. A mention is made of him in supposedly a similar procession at Worcester according to Chamberlain accounts of 1653. More significantly on Nickanan night in Cornwall and a parade of a Jack O Lent is noted in Polperro Cornwall as late as 1876. Indeed, in Lincolnshire the custom survived until the 1920s, when a Swineshead man in recalls perhaps the last Jack of Lent:

When I was about 15 years old, 70 years ago, they used to make an effigy of Judas from straw and hang it up on Boston market place near the old stocks. The idea was for folks to throw a clod of muck at it for betraying Jesus. If any of it was left at the end of Lent it was torn down or set on fire to: that was to make sure it got finished properly.”

This may not be strictly true of course, as the last although again not perhaps called as such burned away in Liverpool in the incendiary custom of Burning Judas, although Steve Roud (2008) in his The English Year believes this association to be a latter one…probably the Liverpool custom has the same origin but were not related. Perhaps we will never know…

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Custom survived: The Lewes Guy Bonfire Fawkes Night

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This November the 5th, as I stood warming myself at the considerable pyre at are our local bonfire celebrations, I was thinking it was a rather hollow experience. Don’t get me wrong, the effort was excellent: a brilliant spectacle of fireworks, a massive whirling and pulsating fun fair, a very welcome fire and even topped by a guy. Yet, there is something missing. The celebratory aspect has gone. It’s understandable, who 500 years on really celebrates the foiling of a plot?  Well plenty do, for several hundred miles away something all together more spectacular is going on….the Lewes Bonfire.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005. Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/ My photos from back there were a bit rubbish!

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005.
Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/
My photos were a bit rubbish!

Indeed its own website proclaims the ‘greatest bonfire celebrations in the world’ in ‘the bonfire capital of the world’. It’s been a long time since I experienced this grand event of Guy Fawkes celebrations, back in the early 90s, but I wouldn’t expect much has changed. Indeed a report in the 1930s described something not much different:

“The greatest of all bonfire celebrations is held at Lewes, Sussex and in 1929 no less than one hundred thousand torches were burned during the evening. Here the observance partakes of the character of a religious ceremony….the most historic is the Cliffe Society, which still uses a real eighteenth century ‘No Popery’ banner, and figures of Pope Paul IV and Guy Fawkes are carried in procession and burned. The effigies are filled with fireworks which explode when the fire reaches them…the processions start at 5.30 p.m., and each society in turn marches to the war memorial…the Cliffe Society, which alone retains the historic character of the proceedings, still uses the old eighteenth century Bonfire Prayers. Torchlight processions continue all the evening, and the effect is most impressive as the long lines of flaming torches wind through narrow, steep streets of the ancient town. The final scene takes place about 11.15 p.m., when each Society marches to an open place outside the town and burns its effigies. …lighted tar barrels were rolled through the main thoroughfares.”

Having said that it’s certainly moved on a bit since the account of 1733 which says:

“Nov ye 5th. Item pd ye ringers being ye day of Deliverance from ye powder plott 2/6d”

Or thankfully the use of live cats in the burning effigies anymore. However, as a custom it is hard to beat and the town comes alive. Indeed, there are some many parts of the Lewes Bonfire celebration, that you would need several years to experience them all.  I decided to follow the Cliffe Bonfire, the oldest of the Bonfire boyes. They never join the united parade and stand fiercely for their traditions.

It’s all his fawk!

Lewes takes its protestant heritage very seriously. Elsewhere, such as my local bonfire celebration all mention of point of it is forgotten. Speaking to the organisers of the event I was at this year even the Guy had to be fought for.  Here in Lewes, it is the impact of the Marian persecutions, as well as Guy’s foiled plot are remembered. These martyrs are recognised by the carrying of seventeen burning crosses. Pretty impressive and slightly shocking! Not only that but if you thought that only during an Orange March, in Belfast, would you see such a celebration of Protestantism, you’d be wrong. On arrival one of the main streets has a banner proclaiming ‘No Popery’. During the march, this banner is held proudly up again, as is declaring ‘the Glorious revolution of William of Orange and Mary’ itself on the 5th.  How do the Catholics feel about it? Understandably it has not been popular, in 1933 the town’s Mayor wrote to the society to ask them to stop it…they did not. Although theses traditional parts were only revived after World War One, they hold onto these elements which make them unique and controversial such as the burning of the Pope.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005. Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 5 November 2005.
Website: http://www.andrewdunnphoto.com/

Another guy

The burning or rather exploding of such effigies is a Lewes speciality, and boy, are they special. These put those Guys of old firmly in the shade and there worth certainly more than a penny! They are amazing and very well judged. Lewes has always been a supporter of the downtrodden and fighter against injustice. The making of effigies aside the Guy was to lampoon individuals who were against British interests or local notorieties…. including the local Catholic priest, Father Flood once….It’s all harmless fun! Remember that! When I was there it was the height of the Balkan’s conflict so it was not surprising that there was impressive effigy of Radovan Karadzic. As always a barometer for current hate figures yet always courting controversy, these effigies try to grab the zeitgeist of public feeling. For example in 2001, aptly perhaps, Osama Bin Laden was chosen… but let’s be fair so was George W Bush with fireworks in his ears! Other effigies have been Colonel Gadadafi, Rupert Murdoch and Rebecca Brookes, Cameron and Clegg (Lewes is a liberal constituency), during the expenses debacle, a MP beside Westminster was made in 2009, fat cats on a piggy bank for the banking crisis and so on! Their choice in 2003 of a Gypsy caravan was a bit more regrettable, and bizarrely a Nelson effigy was blown up in 2005! This year’s President Assad effigy was amazing by all accounts! Guy is not forgotten but here of course they do burn the Pope…they stress it’s not the current one, but the one who was responsible for the plot.

Fire up the imagination

Even more amazing are the costumes, and the Native American costumes are particularly impressive and have history as the local community supported the American natives…Roman centurions, traditional smugglers and Tudor dress add to the spectacle. by 1861 costumes included Bedouin Arabs, highwaymen, soldiers, sailors, clowns and North American Indians. During the 1870’s Pioneer groups became a regular feature, the first group to lead the Cliffe’s processions being members of the Cliffe Volunteer Fire Brigade. Reflecting Britain’s expanding Empire, firemen were superseded by Squads of Bengal Lancers and, leading up to World War One, by Indian Princesses. In 2013 even Doctor Who had a look in.

Fire and brimstone 

Back in those days, I didn’t have any idea of what exactly went on at the bonfire site except that the organisers gave a mock sermon. This is linked to 1850 which was a flash point. Pope Pius IX re-established the Catholic hierarchy in England, this led to the return of the Bonfire boys and within three years processions had started. By 1856, saw the introduction of the ‘Lord Bishop’ wearing full clerical uniform and gave a ‘sermon’. What a sermon! Dressed as bishops they gave a tirade about the evils of popery, not that it could be heard clearly, with all the hubbub. Then whizz! What was that? it couldn’t be? It was a fire work. People in the group were throwing fireworks, and no just bangers but it looked quite substantial ones. Now I realised why wore wielder’s masks. Then as the Bonfire prayer was proclaimed the crowd become more animated:

“Remember, remember the Fifth ofNovember
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, ring bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God Save the King!”
This part being  familiar to most, but in Lewes we add:
A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’cheese to choke him
A pint of beer to Rinses it done
A faggot of sticks to burn him
 
Burn him in a tub of tar
Burn him like a blazing star
Burn his body from his head
Then we’ll say old Pope is dead
 
Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!
Hip Hip Hoorah!”
Then there was a crackling noise and the Milosovec effigy blew up sending sparks into the air followed by a barrage of fire works…then came the Pope to cheers and more chanting…its all harmless fun!Lewes Bonfire Night is a brilliant experience. Something that you would have thought would have died out. Would I go again? Yes but I don’t think I’d take the kids…its too mad! But if you follow this blog and have never been, you must…even if you are a Catholic! It’s nothing personal and it’s all harmless fun! Remember that! This video sums it up brilliantly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc1lwKfSQ1g  

Custom demised: The Rhyne Toll

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img11 Every three years, the Manor Chetwode, in Buckinghamshire a property of the Chetwode family met at a Court Leet during which the Lord could levy a yearly tax, called the ‘Rhyne Toll,’ upon all cattle found within this liberty, between the 30th of October and the 7th of November. An Elizabethan document records the reading of the order of the day:

“In the beginning of the said Drift of the Common, or Rhyne, first at their going forth, they shall blow a welke shell, or home, immediately after the sunrising at the mansion house of the manor of Chetwode, and then in their going about they shall blow their home the second time in the field between Newton Purcell and Barton Hartshorne, in the said county of Bucks; and also shall blow their home a third time at a place near the town of Finmere, in the county of Oxford; and they shall blow their horn the fourth time at a certain stone in the market of the town of Buckingham, and there to give the poor sixpence; and so, going forward in this manner about the said Drift, shall blow the home at several bridges called Thorn borough Bridge, King’s Bridge, and Bridge Mill. And also they shall blow their horn at the Pound Gate, called the Lord’s Pound, in the parish of Chetwode.. .. And also (the Lord of Chetwode) has always been used by his officers and servants to drive away all foreign cattle that shall be found within the said parishes, fields, &c., to impound the same in any pound of the said towns, and to take for every one of the said foreign beasts two pence for the mouth, and one penny for a foot, for every one of the said beasts.’ All cattle thus impounded at other places were to be removed to the pound at Chetwode; and if not claimed, and the toll paid, within three days, ‘ then the next day following, after the rising of the sun, the bailiff or officers of the lord for the time being, shall blow their home three times at the gate of the said pound, and make proclamation that if any persons lack any cattle that shall be in the same pound, let them come and show the marks of the same cattle so claimed by them, and they shall have them, paying unto the lord his money in the manner and form before mentioned, otherwise the said cattle that shall so remain, shall be the lord’s as strays.’ This toll was formerly so rigidly enforced, that if the owner of cattle so impounded made his claim immediately after the proclamation was over, he was refused them, except by paying their full market price.”

By the 1800s, changes had occurred such that toll begun at the more sociable nine in the morning instead of at sunrise, and the horn is first sounded on the church hill at Buckingham, and gingerbread and beer distributed among the assembled boys, sadly the girls received nothing. This was repeated at another area of the liberty and the toll would collect two shillings a score on all cattle and swine passing on any road. Then on the 7th November, at twelve o’clock at night you could travel free as the toll closed.  The tenants of the land also has to pay one shilling. Before the coming of the railway the toll raised £20, but declined to £1 5s after as a consequence all cattle and sheep went that way.

Origins

The area was covered by an ancient wood called Rookwoode, said to be famed for giant boar and no one was safe who passed through it. Finally, the Lord of Chetwode, decided to remove the boar and entered the forest. A local song records:

“Then he Mowed a blast full north, south, east, and west, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; And the wild boar then heard him full in his den, As he was a jovial hunter. Then he made the best of his speed unto him Wind well thy horn, good hunter; Swift flew the boar, with his tusks smeared with gore, To Sir Ryalas, the jovial hunter. Then the wild boar, being so stout and so strong, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; Thrashed down the trees as he ramped him along, To Sir Ryalas, the jovial hunter. Then they fought four hours in a long summer day, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; Till the wild boar fain would have got him away, From Sir Ryalas, the jovial hunter. Then Sir Ryalas he drawed his broadsword with might, Wind well thy horn, good hunter; And he fairly cut the boar’s head off quite, For he was a jovial hunter.”

News of this deed reached the King, who granted to him, and to his heirs forever the full right and power to levy every year the Rhyne Toll. This it appears to have continued until the 1880s and as far as I am aware anyone can travel this day free of charge through this quiet Buckinghamshire village.

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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