Category Archives: Rental

Custom survived: Colchester Oyster Proclaimation

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Customs which are firmly attached to a specific date are today a rarity; many have now slipped the more convenient nearest weekend – but not Colchester’s Oyster Proclamation, itself a bit of a rarity being an Essex custom. Firmly fixed to the first Friday in September originally the first of September. Why September? Well this is the first month with an R in it!

Now there is another aspect which means witnesses the custom can be a problematic – it is held on a boat in the middle of the estuary. However, this year for logistical reason it returned to shore.

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Shellfishly does it!

Dating from 1540 it is a colourful event full of the right level of pomp but not pompous. Afterall you cannot think yourself too important when you are swaying in the sea. Indeed, The Times in 22nd September 1928 recorded:

“The company were about to drink a toast in gin, in accordance with ancient custom, when the table containing the tiny glasses, filled win gin, overbalanced ad fell, crushing to the deck, together with the small cakes of gingerbread provided for the occasion. Amid hearty laughter fresh supplies were soon forthcoming and the ceremony concluded in the time honoured fashion.”

An article in the Daily Mail suggests the custom can be even more fraught with problems noting:

The oyster-opening ceremony has taken place on the sea for more than 400 years – but not this year and possibly not next year. Mrs Lewis said it was uncertain whether the tradition would even return to the water next year, when she is out of office – because of health and safety. She said: ‘The jury is still out on that one. If the next mayor wants to go back on the water, there are a couple of health and safety issues that need to be addressed. ‘The mayor nearly fell overboard last year so we had to look at the risk anyway.”

The Daily Mail had more to state:

“But because last year’s mayor almost fell into the water as he moved from boat to boat, the ceremony – which dates back to 1540 – was instead staged on land. 

And to make matters worse, the current mayor, Conservative Sonia Lewis, suffers from seasickness, further scuppering any chance of holding the ceremony on the water….Speaking about the decision, Mrs Lewis said: ‘I have never been able to attend the opening of the fisheries because of my inability to tolerate tidal waters. I confirmed on more than one occasion that I was prepared to stand down from the ‘opening of the Colchester oyster fisheries’ this year.”

So that year a Mayor nearly overboard, a seasick and a non-oyster eating Mayor made that year’s event one a memorable one in its possible 2000 year history – a claim deriving from the Roman’s love of Oysters and the significant presence in the Colchester area. Certainly it can be traced back possibly further than its 16th century record possibly to the time when the town confirmed in 1189 by King Richard I that to raise money for a crusade, its control of fishing ‘from North Bridge up to Westness was established. It is worth noting however, the Mayor came over her dislike of oysters stating:

“She had said she would not eat the oyster, describing herself as ‘more of a fish and chip girl’ but she dutifully quaffed it down with a grimace.”

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Being on land does create another obstacle. Part of the ceremony was the Mayor to dredge in the first catch of Oysters…unless he was planning to scout around on the beach or have a long net, that was not going to happen. The solution was to get a local oyster chef in and to give the Mayor the first oyster on a plate to eat.

I was informed that it was alright to attend and take photos and that it would be in the Country Park. Making my way there it was not difficult to work out where it would be happening – a small white marquee at the end of the park near the sea – planned just in case it was wet!

Inside was a hive of activity, a man was shucking oysters in remarkably quick time whilst nearby a lady was carefully filling glasses of gin and another cutting slices of gingerbread. Soon all the attendees turned up with the Mayor and at the allotted time they assembled on a bank overlooking the bay. The curious spectacle of the Sergeant with his mace and the Mayor in full regalia attracted quite a few onlookers. Then the bell was rung and the proclamation read. A toast to the queen and the Mayor tasted the first oyster of the season.

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Gingerly with the gin and gingerbread? .

Soon as the proclamation was made trays of gin and tonic and gingerbread where handed around. I didn’t partake of the G and T but the gingerbread was delightfully moist and flavoursome. I asked why it was gin and gingerbread. No one was sure but it was suggested that the ginger in the gingerbread settled the stomach on a stormy sea and the gin masked the fumes of the boat!

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The ceremony it appears has to be checked out by her majesty herself. Before it a letter is sent to The Queen. In 2004 it is said to have read:

“According to ancient Custom and Charter dating back to Norman times, the Mayor and Councillors of the Colchester Borough Council will formally proclaim the Opening of the Colne Oyster Fishery for the coming season and will drink to your Majesty’s long life and health and request respectfully to offer to your Majesty their expressions of dutiful loyalty and devotion.”

She couldn’t attend but it  was a great pleasure to attend this year’s proclamation, eat the gingerbread and be for once able to hear what is said rather than trying to hear it from the shore.

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Custom demised: Yarnton Lot Meadows Ceremony, Oxfordshire

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In this quiet Oxfordshire village each July all eyes would be on their meadows. Here survived until fairly recently, a peculiar and potentially ancient custom which would allocate these meadows, called Lot Meadows, according to the drawing of balls – called Mead Balls.

Balls up

These meadows were arranged in 13 lots. There were divided in strips called customary acres which covered as much land as one man could mow in a day or ‘man’s mowth’. The balls represented by these inch in diameter balls, made of cherry or holly wood were inscribed with the name of each lot and of which 4 belonged to the neighbouring Begbroke. The names were thought to represent the names of tenant farmers: Boat, White, Dunn, William, Water Molly, Green, Boulton, Rothe, Gilbert, Harry, Freeman, Walter Jeoffrey and Parry. Traditionally the organisers, called the Meadsmen would proceed to a certain spot in the meadow where the balls were to be draw, but at later times they met at the Grapes Inn in the village.

Here a ball was drawn from the ball and its name proclaimed and as this is done a man would scythe six feet of hay and another would cut the initials of the winner. This was repeated until all the lots were drawn and which point the Meadsman would write down the owners of each strip.  Disputes would occur. A report records that:

“There is a record of one disagreement over trespassing after the lots had been drawn and a fight resulted. This was in 1817, in the reign of George III, and in the ancient warrant for the arrest of the participants the Sheriffs are entreated to keep them safely, so that you may have their Bodies before us at Westminster’. To Westminster they went for their trial and careful record of their expenses they kept, even down to two shillings and ten-pence for the hire of a coach!”

To distinguish the boundary, men would tread up and down the edges and this was ‘running the treads’.

Having a Field Day

The cutting of the meadows themselves developed into a popular intense one-day custom with large quantities of plum puddings and plum pudding being consumed. The day ended with some subsequently rather drunken races for the honour of ‘securing a garland’ which would be proudly displayed in the church.  It was not always good humoured; as riots and one man died as a result in 1817. Consequently, the vicar gave a severe sermon that Sunday and the mowing was spread over three days to even out the alcohol!

Blackballed!

Despite a survival from the Norman conquest and its survival post fatality, numbers dwindled and then in 1978 as a consequence of the area becoming a nature reserve. The balls and the Meadsmen survive however, the latter being a hereditary title should the meadows return to service!  Until then the fields at this time of year are a blaze of local wild flowers and I suppose this can easily replace the loss of an ancient custom.

Custom demised: The Byzant Ceremony Shaftesbury Dorset

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In Shaftesbury museum is a curious relic from a lost bygone custom. The structure an ornate shaft was called the byzant and a curious ceremony which maintained ancient rights for the town. The custom being at first on Holy Cross Day, the first Sunday after the 3rd of May, being in 1622 transferred to the Monday before Holy Thursday, or Ascension Day.

Many people visit Shaftesbury for its picturesque hill top setting, especially taking in the famed Gold Hill, but this location caused problems for the town as it did not have a reliable water supply. Yet, at some point someone in the settlement came to an idea at nearby Enmore Green at Motcombe was a water supply which could be utilised.

However, the town could not just take the water some sort of tribute would have to be established with the giving of gifts. Thus arose the Byzant ceremony. The custom dates back to at least 1364 and its first written account is 1527 as below:

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A detailed written reference is in A compleat history of Dorsetshire c 1716. Its name possibly derived from a middle-eastern tradition of royalty giving a special coin called the bezant at religious events. Although it appears the coin was replaced with something clearly ceremonial, the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham, whose land the spring lay, still received more functional gifts. John Symmonds Udal in his 1883 article in Dorset County Chronicle state::

“raw calves head, and a pair of Gloves, which his Steward receives distributing at the same time among the People twelve Penny Loaves and three dozen of Beer.”

The former probably from a quit rent and the later to provide for hospitality. The Byzant ceremony thus developed into a celebration with the attendees singing and dancing their way to the spring, a distance of half a mile or so. Before them would be the town officials, the Mayor and council, and in front of them would be two officials. One carried a calf’s head which carried a purse of money and another carrying the ornate Byzant or prize-besom covered with ribbons, flowers, feathers and jewels. John Symmonds Udal (1883) state:

“The mayor and burgess of Shaftesbury…dress up a Prize-Besom, as they call it (somewhat like a May Garland in form)”

Chambers in his Book of Days describes the byzant as:

“A frame four feet high was covered with ribbons, flowers, peacock’s feathers, jewellery, and gold and silver coins, from which the last name was taken, a bizant being an ancient gold coin, and the amount, probably, of the original water tax.”

Once at Enmore Green, the gifts and byzant were handed over. The Lord would receive the ornate staff but then hand it back. As John Symmonds Udal (1883) notes:

“The prize-besom, which was worth usually £1500 being adorned with plate and jewels borrowed of the neighbouring gentry) is restored to the Mayor and brought back again to the Town by one of the officers with great solemnity.”

Despite the futile nature of the ceremony the village of Motcombe could still refuse access if it did not happen. After the ceremony the attendees would make their way back, rather tiringly up the hill to Shaftesbury.

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Sadly practicalities dominated and thus when an artesian well was established on the hill providing a reliable source of water the need to fete Enmore Green was gone but that may not have been the sole reason for its demise. The ritual really died out in 1830, being abolished by the Marquess of Westminster when he purchased the Motcombe estate. The decision was not popular at Enmore. Udal 1922 Dorsetshire folk-lore notes:

“ on the Tuesday and during the week after the custom, a fair was held at Enmore green, a hamlet of Motcombe, in which the wells were situate, and further that the people filled up the wells with rubbish, being disgusted, that the custom had been abolished.”

The protestations fell on fallow ground and now the only remembrance ended up in Shaftesbury museum. Thanks to Claire Heron for the photos!

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Custom revived: Damask Rose Ceremony Leceister

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With worldwide eyes upon the city of Leicester this year with the unique reinterrment of Richard III, hopefully this much maligned city might attract many more tourists. However, if these visitors are looking for the survival of traditions, unlike other neighboring towns, Leicester is sadly lacking. Gone have the Whipping Toms and the ride to Black Annis have long since vanished. Yet there is one old curious tradition which is virtually unique, only having one parallel custom surviving in London. However, it is little known or frequented, and although it has a recent ropey revival and re-revival looks destined to stay – the ceremony of the Damask Rose.

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The Ceremony of the Damask Rose has as stated only one surviving companion custom – Knollys Rose, however such rents called Quit rents were very common across the country A quit rent was a token rent, established to recognise still the ownership of the property but given as a gift. As can be seen across the country, both rose rents are given in June usually on a date close to the 24th June. The date of course, is significant as it was a quarter day, when rents were paid on this date, therefore it is not usual to find that quit rents were paid, in particular the giving of a rose which were common in gardens and would also provide a sweet smell for posies at this smelliest time of the year.

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A thorny subject

Leicester’s ceremony is newer than its London counterpart dating only from the 17th century. It is now associated with a pub, the old Crown and Thistle Inn in the urban back streets of the city in Loseby Lane. When the rent was set this area was very different, the land was part of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Newarke an establishment founded by the Duke of Lancaster which then transferred to him at the Reformation. A small section of this land, in Fee Farm where the pub now is was purchased by a local shoemaker, James Teele and Elizabeth his wife, on the 24th February 1637 for 40/- and held as noted below:

“To bee holden of Our said Soveraigne Lord the King his heirs and successors as of his honour of Leicester in the site of his Highness Dutchy of Lancaster by fealty only in free and comon soccage and not in Capite; Yielding and Paying therefore yearlye into the Maior of the Borough of Leicester for the time being one Damask Rose at or upon the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist and also yielding and paying all chief rents yearlye yssueing or goeing a forth of the same.”

What is not noted above was that affixed to the price of a rose were at first a groat and then four pennies, Victorian bun pennies and there was some concern that when we went decimal the supply would run out..however the then owners Ind Coope brewery stated that held several years supply. Interestingly it was noted that:

“Mr Smith said that the Treasurer’s department would not like to allow the ceremony to come to an end as it was one of the few old customs left. The pennies, once collected went with the rest of the Corporation’s rent money and the rose ended up in a vase on the city treasurer’s desk.”

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Dead headed!

Ever since that date it is said that the Lord Mayor would come and collect the rent, continuing when the Town Hall was opened in 1876 requiring a further distance than the nearby guildhall! Then disaster….when the pub was converted to an O’Neill’s Irish theme Bar, the custom appeared to vanish. This according to some sources was in 1999, others 2001. Indeed I tried to trace the survival of the custom around this time to be greeted with a rather non-plused response

A rose rose again

Then I was ideally researching it again and coming across the Lord Mayor’s website noticed it was on the 24th June 2011 sadly I was reading it in July. The revival is excellently captured in the following blog extract emphasising now how immediate a revival can be!:

“Update 6:30pm: Lord Mayor tweets that he’ll see what he can do: https://twitter.com/LeicesterMayor/status/19498460378 Update 28/07/2010: Lord Mayor discussed this on BBC Radio Leicester (34mins in) and apparently O’Neill’s are up for bringing it back: http://twitter.com/LeicesterMayor/status/19721471851 Update 15/11/2010: Leicester Mercury reports that the custom will be brought back next summer. Thanks to the Lord Mayor and O’Neill’s. Update 24/06/2011: The damask rose ceremony was held again after a 10 year absence.”

Mind you they’d be a lot of roses to pay in back rent! I awaited for the date in 2012, nothing on the website…contacted O’Neill’s they suggested it wouldn’t happen this year…I believe the football was blamed. Then in 2013 a revival was on the cards.

A rose amongst the thorns

In 2013 I missed it as I did in 2014. In 2015 I was better prepared. Awaiting outside the Town Hall at quarter to one, soon the Gild of Freeman of the City dressed in their red robes appeared and a few minutes later, The Lord Mayor, Cllr Ted Cassidy and the Macebearer. As the clock approached one, the group led by the Macebearer begun to process to the pub. They snaked through the streets to the bemused faces of shoppers and bus drivers and onto Loseby Lane. Here some local people were prepared; the florist was thanked for the rose (good to see a local source) and the group massed either side of the old door to the pub. The Macebearer approached the door and akin to Parliament’s Blackrod banged on the door, although not with the mace..a few moments later, the landlord, Steve Thorn (ironically appropriately named) appeared, dressed in 17th century clothing. The dressing in old clothing appeared to have been more of a feature of the custom in its dying days if this photo is an indication – perhaps the bar staff were no overly keen to get involved. More importantly, the landlord help a bar tray with the rose and the glistening old pennies. The Lord Mayor examined the pennies but they and the rose were handed back! Not only was no back rent provided but the rent returned…they must have plenty of flowers in the Town Hall!

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There were smiles all around by those attending even though clearly it was rather pointless as for a rent ceremony no rent was actually collected. Yet in a city sadly bereft of customs it’s great to see this one revived and embraced by the two groups and hopefully it’ll blossom!

When is it on? It’s not on calendar customs yet but it is always the 24th June

Custom revived: The Fairlop Fair

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There you are just about to write a piece about a demised tradition…and lo it gets revived! The Fairlop Fair is one of these!

It’s my party!

Tradition has it that the fair begun in an unusual way. Virtually all fairs in England start with either ancient unknown origins or from a charter. No this one. No it started from a private party. It is said that in the 1720s landowner, Daniel Day decided to have a party on the first Friday in July for his friends whilst they collected his rents. This was under an ancient oak called the Fairlop Oak. This feast of bacon and beans then precipitated into something bigger. By 1725, more people joined in and soon stalls appeared! These sold at first innocent products- gingerbread men, toys, ribbons, puppets and these grew so much that in 1736 some were prosecuted for liquor selling and gambling!

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The fair was certainly an event first and fair after. Day liked to make an event of it. He was an eccentric and it was his tradition to arrive at the fair on horse drawn boat with much fanfare from some musicians. The fair grew and grew and by 1750 over 100,000 people were attending from across London and such that in 1765 it was reported that:

“a great number of people meet in a riotous and tumultuous manner .selling ale and spirituous liquors and keeping tippling booths and gaming tables to the great encouragement of vice and immorality.”

In 1767 a bough fell from the tree and Day saw that as an omen and fashioned it into his coffin. Not even death of its creator Day had an effect. Not even the authorities banning it in 1793. The Fairlop Oak fell in 1820 this did not even stop it! Not even the loss of the wood around it and its conversion to arable land in 1851. The Fair continued with controversy for in 1839 the Religious Tract Society counted 72 gaming tables and 108 drinking booths.

 Fair enough

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Despite all these issues the Fair continued to 1900…then nothing is heard until 2011! The organisers are to be congratulated in creating an event which distilled the feeling of the fair with various acts. Back was the original beanfeast. Costumed characters abounded…lots of beards particularly. In memory of the booths which consisted of the ‘living skeleton’ and the ‘real live mermaid’ we had the Fairlop Freak Show presented by the beared ladies and booths with a dancing mermaid. A story boat recreated Mr Day’s traditional boat on wheels! This arrived from Mile End and held candlelit tours! It is a splendid vehicle. There were strolling players, particularly the Highwaymen and musicians in costume which gave a real genuine flavour to the proceedings. Traditional aspects abound such as Tug of War, palmists and jugglers.  A fantastic dragon which was so real looking you could be mistaken it was real!

Of course there were fairground rides – small scale and traditional in nature and some modern aspects – singers and dancers- but after all the original fair would have moved with the times.

But gone were the gambling stalls of course until a few years time perhaps!

Custom demised: Jack of Hilton and his curious tenure

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Jack (2)

In the Ashmolean museum in Oxford is a very strange effigy called Jack of Hilton. It was once the property of the manor of Essington between Wolverhampton and Walsall was subject to a strange feudal service custom from the neighbouring Lord of Hilton. An account by topographer Plot (1686) describes it as:

“a hollow brass image, about a foot high, representing a man kneeling in an indecorous posture. …..There were two apertures, one very small at the mouth, another about two-thirds of an inch in diameter at the back..”

Why the holes? Well the structure is what is called an Æolipile, named after Aeolus the Greek God of air and wind, for such a device would spin when heated due to the force of pressure by water. In a way it was the precursor of the engine. An account of one describes it as:

“an instrument consisting of a hollow metallic ball, with a slender neck or pipe, arising from it. This being filled with water, and thus exposed to the fire, produces a vehement blast of wind.”

Jack of Hilton would hold more than four pints of water, of which the Plot notes:

“which when set to a strong fire, evaporates after the same manner as in an Aeolipile, and vents itself at the smaller hole at the mouth in a constant blast, blowing the fire so strongly that it is very audible, and makes a sensible impression on that part of the fire where the blast lights, as I found by experience”

Plot (1686) adds:

“Now the custom was this. An obligation lay upon the lord of the adjacent manor of Essington, every New-Year’s Day, to bring a goose to Hilton, and drive it three times round the hall fire, which Jack of Hilton was all the time blowing by the discharge of his steam. He was then to carry the bird into the kitchen and deliver it to the cook; and when it was dressed, he was further to carry it in a dish to the table of his lord paramount, the lord of Hilton, receiving in return a dish of meat for his own mess.”

Whatever this custom was about is unclear, and it is certainly unique in the country. It is possible that the figure is quite ancient although the museum dates it to 1300. An author in the Mirror of the 18th century notes:

“Besides Jack of Hilton, which had been an ancient Saxon, image, or idol, Mr. Weber shows, that Pluster, a celebrated German idol, is also of the Aeolipile kind, and in virtue thereof, could do noble feats: being filled with a fluid, and then set on the fire, it would be covered with sweat, and as the heat increased, would at length burst out into flames….Some late authors have discovered the extraordinary use to which the frauds of the heathen priesthood applied the Aeolipile, viz. the working of sham miracles.”

So perhaps the custom has very ancient origins. Sadly no-one appears to have investigated. Similarly I question why he is so positioned if the steam only leaves his mouth at force and no where else!

Custom survived: Redcliffe Pipe Walk

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“For the health of the soul of Robert Berkeley, who gave to God and the church of St. Mary Redcliffe and its ministers the Rugewell and conduit. AD 1190 Erected.”

So reads the tap head beside that ‘most beautiful church in England’ (according to Elizabeth I and who’s to argue?) and when Robert Berkeley gave this gift, back in 1190, one wonders if he would have been amazed that some 800 years on, those same church ministers, several generations on of course, would ensure that the supply was still available by this annual custom. I wonder whether he would have been impressed that some 800 years, that his direct descendent would be joining the annual walk to reinforce the ownership of that water, as for the first time possibly ever a member of the Berkley family attended the walk, a Mr. Charles Berkeley from the impressive Berkeley Castle (although it was his father who lived there!). A point I was quickly aware would be a good bargaining point for any naughty children on the walk. Behave! This man has a castle and dungeon he could throw you in. It worked!

Well meaning!

I lived for many years in this crown of the South West, but surprisingly never joined the party which have continued this fine if perhaps defunct tradition. Bristol weather is not always the best and any custom taking place outside at the end of October looks like one which might be prone to the vagaries of the weather! However, I checked the weather it suggested overcast with sunshine, fine by me.

A lot of water under the bridge

The Redcliffe pipe walk is the oldest observed custom of its kind. It survived the Reformation, a time when many church related endowments would be lost or transferred. However, at some point the inspection appears to have fallen into abeyance and was revived in 1928s as a report in a newspaper records as ‘after a lapse of some time’. One assumes it died out at the First World War, a common time for such ceremonies to die out a result of the loss of men in that terrible conflict. A similar custom was established to check the more substantial Temple Conduit which died out in 1835. Why is unclear, but around this time the Corporation would be establishing their water works. If the Redcliffe custom died out then, it seems strange that it would be re-established almost 100 years later, unless there was some need to re-emphasise some other endowment or right associated with the original gift. We really don’t know. Even when a bomb hit through the pipe line, the custom never ceased. Even when the flow became a trickle or ceased filling the tap head the custom never ceased. So it seems likely that a big event, the War being most likely. Since the late 1920s it has continued unbroken and as I have accepted the World Wars as being acceptable gaps in an over 100 year tradition I shall with this one.

The pipe walkers

The pipe walkers are ready!

Well met

I arrived early and headed for St. Barnabus Church, Knowle where the walkers would traditionally in recent times gather for refreshments and soon was made very welcome. As soon as ten o’clock arrived we all congregated in an area behind the church. The group, 24 in, made up the surveyor, the vicar, churchwardens, and large number of curious bystanders. Here the leader of the group, the aforemention church’s surveyor introduced himself and gleefully asked who was new to the walk..I wasn’t the only ones there was quite a few! We would  find out why later. He also introduced the vicar of St. Mary Redcliffe who led us in a prayer for the provision of water and in memory of the vicar of St Barnabus’s church who was presently ill.

Well thought of

From the vantage point we made our way into the allotments where the spring, called the Huge Well, still arises. We were shown the possible actual site of the well and a part of a conduit which had recently collapsed and revealed the channel beneath. As we stood surveying this site: it began to rain!! Very typical Bristol. However, as soon as we walked a few places to the well head chamber: it stopped! This was especially opened by the surveyor and we all peered in to this considerable stone lined chamber. One wonders what went through the mind of Mr. Berkeley’s descendent as he peered 800 years of reflecting on the everflowing gift. It was a good photo opportunity I thought to mark the event.

Mr Charles Berkeley, the descendent f the original benefactor.

Mr Charles Berkeley, the descendent of the original benefactor.

Here though I was asked to say a few words myself. Why? I by virtue of my other main interest (and blog) I was the well expert! I said a few words. I hope they were okay, although I did rather put my foot in it with my discussion of St. Anne’s well nearby…but that’s for another blog.

Inspecting the huge well

Inspecting the huge well

Walking on water

From this well head, a pipe line was laid travelling about two miles to a tap conduit head near the church of St. Mary Redcliffe. And of course we were there to survey it, the check at regular points that the pipe was still there and that access was still present. A two mile walk over the pipe, which was fortunately it was all downhill! For the next few 100 yards we travelled without any indication of a pipe, indeed the talk was more like a mass trespass through gardens and allotments, pass chickens and chard, raspberries and radishes…it wasn’t until we reached a garden on Raymend Walk that we saw our first real pipe laying under a metal manhole cover and flows through a Victorian metal pipe, replacing the lead and probably even wooden one of old. The family who owned the garden were very accommodating and offered the group apples from the tree. I asked them if they knew they’d be a yearly congregation of pipe walkers each year when they bought it! Fortunately they did. From here we had a bit of a detour as the surveyor worried that a wall on the route might be too prone to collapse to allow 20 odd people to pass it…but did this detour invalidate the claim I wondered! We still checked the stone, labelled SMP, which obviously reasserted the claim!

Through the allotments we go!

Through the allotments we go!

A bumping journey

Soon we arrived at Victoria Park, here the water filled a maze based on a labyrinth in St. Marys. It looked fairly clean and small shrimps disported themselves within it…but not sure I would drink it. At this point it was revealed why it was important to know who the newcomers were. At a larger pipe boundary stone the surveyor called forward newcomers to be bumped on the stone. This is probably the most traditionally part of the walk, often done of course at beating of the bounds, when mainly children were done. At first he said there were too many of us and he’d only do the children…however, this caused a bit of a ripple of indignation and so he offered anyone that wanted to be bumped would be done. I of course offered myself up. Followers of this blog will know that I’ve had a vicar on my chest being shoed at Hungerford Hocktide and this was much gentler. So I was lifted one…two…three. The vicar carrying me this time didn’t inflict any bruises. Also bumped was Mr. Berkeley. I am not sure his predecessor would have approved of the commoners manhandling him but of course this Berkeley thoroughly enjoyed it..and no-one would be sent to that castle dungeon.

The pipe inspected.

The pipe inspected.

All ages bumped!

All ages bumped!

The descendent gets bus bumps!

The descendent gets the bumps!

Pipe down we’re nearly there!

after the bumping, we examined another pipe. This one being much deeper, being reached by a ladder, and apparently had a tap where previous surveyors would take a sip. I noticed no-one appeared to volunteer this time. Then we regrouped and went under the railway, in the early 20th century we would go over the railway and the group had the power to stop the trains! Fortunately, we didn’t risk it. We were close to the final tap head and deep into the buzzy thrall of Bristol a big change from these peaceful allotments. Crossing the Avon, and two major roads, one could be forgiven in forgetting we were following a pipe, but soon at the church we saw the tap head.   Charles Berkeley was impressed by this tap head with its fine Lion mouth. Another good photo opportunity, as this descendent peered into the source of water which was of great benefit to the people of Bristol.  Nothing flowed from this tap, but above it the final manhole cover revealed oily irony water. I jokingly offered Mr. Berkeley a sip. He politely refused.  The arrival at the church was very welcome as was the spread of sandwiches, cakes and very refreshing tea topped off by a nice choir, welcoming us in song!

A custom which involves a long walk might not be everyones cup of tea but the Redcliffe Pipe Walk is an enjoyable experience coupled with some friendly folk. And perhaps it’s this sense of camaraderie which despite there being a lack of water and purpose the walk continues.

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– images copyright Pixyled Publications

 
Mr Charles Berkeley inspects the tap.

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: Knollys Rose Ceremony

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014A bridge too far

The ceremony dates back to a indiscretion undertaken by Sir Robert Knollys who in the 14th century owned a property on Seething Lane. I say he, it was really his wife Lady Constance (make of that what you wish) for he was off fighting the French alongside John of Gaunt! Legend tells that she was so annoyed by chaff dust blowing from the threshing ground nearby that she bought that property turning it into a rose garden which was okay..Planning permissions were fine for this. However, she also built a bridge to avoid the mud. This was more of a problem!

A thorny problem

The City decided Knollys had to pay for the lack of permission but realising he had not only fought in France but was also pivotal in helping the King in the Wat Tyler rebellion, a hefty penalty would be a bit ungrateful. Not only this, but Knollys was close friend of the Mayor, Sir William Walworth. So they decided that he and his heirs present a rose at Midsummer from his garden to the Lord Mayor. Then permission was given to ‘make an haut pas of the height of 14 feet’ across the lane

A rose by any other name…

This is not the only rose rent. The ceremony is part of what is called a quit rent, a token rent, established to recognise still the ownership of the property but given as a gift. Other examples exist in the county, but I will focus on these rose rents. The date of course, is significant above, it was a quarter day, when rents were paid on this date, therefore it is not usual to find that quit rents were paid, in particular the giving of a rose. A number of rose rents existed of which this is the last true survivor perhaps.

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Rose to the occasion

Surely after so many years the penalty would have paid. It appeared to have ceased in 1666, doubtlessly after it was burnt down in the great fire. Yet despite the rose rent being paid already for nearly 300 years and doubtlessly paid in full, it was revived in 1924 by the noted vicar of All Hallows by the Tower, Tubby Clayton. Why is not clear perhaps he was proud of the flowers in the garden.

Never promised you a rose garden

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The ceremony is enacted around midsummer and after finding out from the church I decided to witness this ceremony in the 1990s. I waited around 10 o’clock in the garden and soon a small procession appeared of vicar, verger, parishioners, Knollys descendents and members of Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, the later who organise it. The procession consisted of cushion bearer and a number of individuals dressed in the finest ceremonial robes. The cushion being an altar cushion from the church. I was pleased to see the picking of the rose was not taken too lightly: a number of roses were inspected carefully. Too much greenfly. Too many uneven petals. Too few petals…just right. The perfect red rose was selected, cut and then pinned to the cushion by the Master of the Watermen. After getting the members of the procession together they then processed to the Mansion House.  To give a rose to the Mayor this already belonged to the city! I am always amused how such strange ceremonies rarely affect London residents and very few individuals battered an eyelid as a man carried a rose on a cushion accompanied with ceremonially robbed attendants. We soon arrived at the mansion house, where to my surprise I easily slipped in to witness the final part of the ceremony. Sadly my flash wasn’t working, but I did get some video. Here waiting for the rose were the winners of the Doggett Coat and Badge (a ceremony I have yet to record!) in their fine red uniforms guarding the Lord Mayor. The rose was dutifully handed over and gratefully received by the Mayor. And that was it…except I think there was a lunch afterwards. I didn’t manage to get invited to this?!

The ceremony of Knollys rose is one of those customs which typifies the eccentric British: colourful, solemn and completely pointless. And all the best for that!

Custom survived: The Hungerford Hocktide

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

Calling all commoners to the court.

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

The ancient court

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

Meanwhile….

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

The Tutti men go about your business

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

The Hocktide luncheon

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

Shoeing the colts

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

Anchovies on toast and back with the Tuttimen

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

What is hocktide about?

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