Category Archives: Sussex

Custom survived: Ebernoe Horn Fair

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What could be more quintessentially English; a large village green, the sound of leather on wicket, cries of Owzat and a sheep roasting! The latter is perhaps not the most English but this game of cricket is not all what it appears either!

Ebernoe is a small village, so small it is difficult to define as a village which each 25th July since 1864, a revival after a long lapse, the village come together to celebrate the Horn Fair. A correspondent to Folklore recorded its popularity in an 1950s edition:

everyone goes, by car, bicycle, bus or push-chair, and on Shanks’ pony up the steep track through scrubby woodland to the hill-top common where the hamlet encircles the open ground.”

All’s fair in horn fair

The origins of the Horn Fair are difficult to pin down, particularly as the only places it is recorded is in this village and Charlton near London. In the olden days the day was one of considerable ribaldry as it is believed to be derived from a custom of celebrating cuckoldry which would happen at the fair as it was probably a more riotous affair with dressing up. All this has gone but it is the roasting of the sheep whose head was traditionally presented that is significant.

That’s not cricket!

Indeed it is an odd association – cricket and a sheep roast – but one which is closely protected. There’s only been one interruption from 1940 until 1954 although this didn’t affect the cricket and a pair stag antlers were used as a suitable replacement so its not really a break – the cricket must go on!

There is a fair, a fun fair albeit a small one . It was described in Folklore as:

“with roundabouts and swings, hot-dogs and china dogs.”

The China dogs have gone but everything else survives!

Turning up on the day what first impresses you is the normality of the custom the cricket and the roast could be like any village fete where roasts have become common place, but there is something curiously ancient about this sanitised custom. The scene today is no different than that described by Stanley Godman in his 1957 article Horn Fair in Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society:

“It is a specially fattened sheep, roasted whole. A pit is dug in the ground, four and half feet long, and three feet deep. A big wood fire is lighted inside this trench and kept burning until approximately one and a half feet of cinders and hot ashes have accumulated. The carcass is rubbed with salt, red pepper and oil . . . A long pole is driven through the carcass and fixed in such a way that the sheep turns with the spit . . . the sheep is cooked for at least four hours and turned once every fifteen minutes. It is basted with oil at least once every half hour .”

Round the horn!

At the end of the day all the attendees assemble by the club house. The horns are given to the highest scoring batsman although it is no longer the head of the sheep roasted on the spit rather a specially mounted one. The reasons for this maybe explained in an account by a Mr A.W. Smith, in Folklore he states that a:

“spectator’s dog…a year or two ago ran off with the head pursued by the butcher (in white coat and straw hat) brandishing his knife, and a string of shouting onlookers determined to avert a disaster.”

Although its more likely to be health and safety concerns! This notwithstanding organisation has not changed since it was reported in Folklore which recorded:

The head is presented by a local notability with a suitable speech, of which the most memorable that I myself have heard was made by the parson of the parish, a man of striking presence. Holding in one hand the head – a horrid object prudently provided with a wire handle – he proclaimed ‘We men of Ebernoe know where the men of – [who had won rather too often] are going – and jerking his free thumb over his shoulder, we are giving them the Horns to help them get there !”

Ebernoe had won the year I turned up too and its best turned up to collect the head from the local lord residing at Petsworth I believe. Then sheets are handed around and the Horn Fair song is sung:

As I was a-walking one fine summer morn,

So soft was the wind and the waves on the corn.

I met a pretty damsel upon a grey mare,

And she was a-riding upon a grey mare.

‘Now take me up behind you fair maid for to ride.’

Oh no and then, Oh no, for my mammy she would chide,

And then my dear old daddy would beat me full sore,

And never let me ride on his grey mare no more.”

‘If you would see Horn Fair you must walk on your way,

I will not let you ride on my grey mare today,

You’d rumple all my muslin and uncurl my hair,

And leave me all distrest to be seen at Horn Fair.

‘O fairest of damsels, how can you say No?

With you I do intend to Horn Fair for to go,

We’ll join the best of company when we do get there,

With horns on their heads, boys, the finest at the Fair.”

Stanley Godman in his article Horn Fair in 1957 for the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society attempted to find out more of the song’s origins he noted:

Thanks to the kindness of Miss Marie Slocombe it is now possible to specify the Country Magazine programme which led to the revival of the Horn Fair song at Ebernoe. It was broadcast on May 28th, 1950, and the song had been sung to Mr. Collinson two weeks before. As Mr. Collinson said, Jimmie Booker was a trug-basket maker. He had learnt the craft in East Sussex and carried it on until his death in 1951. In the broadcast the song was sung by Cyril Tucker. Mr. Morrish of Great Allfields Farm, Balls Cross, near Ebernoe, heard the broadcast and obtained permission for the song to be sung at the Horn Fair. In August, 1955, Mr. Morrish told me that when he first introduced it to the Ebernoe people in 1951, one of the company, Mr. Tom Stemp, then aged 75, said he could well remember it being sung by an old Ebernoe woodman, David Baker, who died in 1943 at the age of eighty. This was valuable confirmation of the song’s former association with Ebernoe, though, as will appear below, it cannot lay sole claim to it. Tom Stemp, who remembered the song, first played for the Ebernoe Horn Fair cricket team in 1900 and in 1954 his son was captain of the team. Such family traditions are still strong in this remote place, isolated geographically, with its school, church and cottages hidden behind a thicket, independent spiritually and (in normal times) to a great extent, materially. Another well-known Ebernoe family, the Holdens, have been associated with the Fair since 1876. Ephraim Holden, who died in 1954 at the age of 87, had attended every year since he was nine.”

Horn of plenty?

It is clear that there is some underlying belief in the horns. It is indeed recorded that even if the day was beset with thunderstorms that was thought to be good for the crops and that it was the day to sow cabbages!

In the piece on Another English Head luck custom notes:

“A horned sheep was roasted whole in a pit of embers with the head projecting over the end, so that the horns are not damaged. It was ‘lucky’ to baste the sheep which, when cooked, was de capitated. The rival cricket teams, from Ebernoe and a neighbouring village, dined on the mutton, while spectators had mutton sandwiches. After the match the winning team got the head which they hung in their favoured pub. In a letter to me Miss Dean-Smith commented: It is not a horn fair as the term is generally understood …. It is not a patronal feast… the presentation of the horns suggests something more significant.”

Of course, it could all be some Victorian vicar’s embellishment but in a way there’s no better way to spend a warm July day and think of its origins!

Custom survived: Arundel’s Corpus Christi Carpet of Flowers

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Sitting high above the town of Arundel forming a skyline with its equally impressive neighbouring Castle, is the Catholic Cathedral. The site is impressive enough but go inside around the date of Corpus Christi and you will see a unique spectacle. A carpet that leads between the aisles towards the High Altar, the oldest such carpet in Britain.

Swept over the carpet

Corpus Christi Carpets of flowers are often outside displays and ca be found across Catholic southern countries such as Spain and Italy. The most famous carpet of flowers is in the town of Genzano near Rome and it is said that Duke Henry saw this whilst on holiday close by. So impressed was he that he decided to encourage the custom at Arundel in 1877. Originally these flowers were picked from the Duke’s garden being picked on the morning of the feast by his estate workers. Nowadays, the demand to see the flowers has resulted in it being lad earlier in the week to allow more visitors to see it. Indeed the visitors swell the Cathedral during the days and it is full with people leaning over pews to get a greater look or contorting, bending and standing in curious ways to get the best photo.

Do tread on the carpet

The reason for the carpet is like other carpets to be walked over. To the lay person’s eyes this seems a terrible thing to do the hours. Corpus Christi (the body of Christ) is a Catholic feast day which celebrates the ritual of the Eucharist on the eighth Thursday after Easter. As a feast it was lately adopted in the Christian faith in the 13th century and did not survive into the Reformation, returning to England with the Catholic faith. In the ceremony, the importance of the Sacred Host representing the body is emphasised by the use of a carpet of finery. Despite shocked faces it is intended they walk on it – despite taking two days to lay!

Carpet bagging

The custom looked in peril when in the mid-1950s, the Norfolk Estate begun to reduce its ground staff, but the headteacher of Tortington Park Girls School offered to supply flowers. Her school gardeners and some pupils would then help lay the carpet. However, when in 1969 the school closed the carpet again seemed in peril! Fortunately, in 1970 the Cathedral stepped in and since ladies from the parish obtain the flowers from nurseries, supplemented by donations from local people’s gardens.

Each year the carpet boasts a different design often taken from the focus the church is given by the Papal authority. However notable special events are recorded such as the celebration in 1990, the silver jubilee of the formation of a new diocese of Arundel and Brighton back in 1965 and 150th anniversary of Saint Bernadette’s apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes.

Laying the carpet

The flowers have their stems removed so they can lie flush to the ground, are sorted in colours and shades. An evergreen foliage background is used. Originally the carpet was 98 foot long going right up to the altar but now it has lost five feet to enable visitors to walk around the carpet.

The designs are lined out in chalk on a black paper and templates are used to outline the more intricate shapes used and maintain the symmetry as the flowers are laid.

Flowery procession

Of course, it is not just the carpet but the full celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, a festival of prayer, sacrament, song, procession as well as the flowers.

The climax being the solemn High Mass. When I attended this mass, the Cathedral was full with no space hardly to sit. Those non-Catholics rather lost in ritual awaited for the moment. Then at the end of this mass that the Blessed sacrament is carried down and over the carpet by the Bishop. It’s a shame they have to walk on it could be overheard from behind but after all that was the reason for it.

The procession then makes its way outside where a special canopy awaits. For many years this processional canopy was that presented by Henry XVth Duke of Norfolk and was first used in 1883. Now a more modern but no less splendid one is used. Beneath this canopy the Host in its golden monstrance is carried.

This procession is led by a cross bearer followed by a banner of the Sacred Heart. This is followed by girls dressed in white carrying posies and then boys carrying sprays of flowers and wearing sashes. Once the petal strewers walked backwards in respect and reverence now the girls do, often those who have had their first Holy Communion.

All along the route speakers are affixed to the walls and the voices of the priest back in the cathedral can be heard as they continue the mass, everyone is the town is enveloped in the ceremony.

In the procession banners are proudly carried which show Blessed sacrament, Mary Mother of Jesus and depict saints associated with the church as well as local parish organisations. Amongst them Knights of the order of chivalry and of the Papal order of Gregory XVI. These include the Order of the Knights of Malta wearing black cloaks with white Maltese crosses who walk nearest the sacrament, the Knights of St Gregory in green, and the Knights of Holy Sepulchre white caped with red Jerusalem cross. Once the procession has travelled down the street it enters the castle and around the gardens to assembly in the quadrangle of the castle. Here there is the continuation of the Mass, here the people gathered are blessed by the sacred host. After the Benediction the congregation leave the castle and process back to the cathedral. Back at the cathedral a second Benediction is celebrated with the Sacred Host is transferred to the Cathedral’s finest monstrance, a wedding gift to Henry Duke of Norfolk in 1904 and apparently every Catholic contributed 1d to its purchase. The mass is long, longer than some could cope with and many had disappeared after the castle benediction – the carpet now looking a little worse after its second trampling – it’ll soon be swept away for next year!

Custom revived: May Garland, Lewes, Sussex

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“The first of day is garland day, so please remember the garland; we don’t come here but once a year, so please remember the garland.”

May garlands were made across the country, but Sussex at the time appeared to be a stronghold as noted by Henry Burstow in Horsham in his 1911 Reminiscences of Horsham:

May Day, or Garland Day, was a very jolly time for us youngsters, not only because it was a holiday, but also because we used to pick up what seemed to us quite a lot of money. Early in the morning we would get up our best nosegays and garlands, some mounted on poles, and visit the private residents and tradespeople. We represented a well-recognised institution, and invariably got well received and patronised. People all seemed pleased to see us, and we were all pleased to see one another, especially if the day was fine, as it now seems to me it always was. At Manor House special arrangements were made for our reception, and quite a delightful old-time ceremony took place. Boys and girls gaily decked out for the occasion, a few at a time used to approach the front door, where a temporary railed platform was erected, and there old Mrs. Tredcroft, a nice-looking, good-hearted old lady used to stand and deal out to each and every one of us kind words and a few pence, everyone curtseying upon approach and upon leaving. Old Mrs. Smallwood, who lived in a quaint old cottage in the Bishopric, always used to go round on May Day with an immense garland drawn on a trolley by two or three boys. On the top of her little model cow, indicative of her trade — milk selling. Gaily dressed up herself in bows and ribbons, she used to take her garland round the town, call upon all the principal residents and tradespeople, to whom she was well known, and get well patronised.”

Lewes too had a strong tradition of May Garlands and an account by Lilian Candlin recalled her mother that her mother born in 1870 to Simpson that:

“Went early to the Daisy Bank a grassy slope opposite the old Fox inn at southernmost on the 1st of May to gather wild flowers…the flowers were made into a garland which she took around the neighbours who gave her a penny or a cake for the site of it.”

However, not everyone was happy to entertain children going around houses and what was tantamount to begging. It is said that to prevent the children begging a Mayor of the town J. F. Verrall established a tradition in 1874 instigated a competition with cash prizes. It became a more respectable outlet for the children’s enterprise as well as encouraging a love and knowledge of wild flowers. Jacqueline Simpson (1972) in her Folklore of Sussex thus records that:

“In Lewes around 1875-85 children used to go to Castle bank, where their garlands would be judged by a panel of ladies, and the best rewarded a shilling and the children had a half day holiday for the occasion.”

However, it may have been a short lived competition or else the begging was too attractive for Simpson (1973) records that as late as the 1920s children went door to door in Lewes the old way!

When the custom died out is unclear but it was clearly an extinct custom by the time Simpson writes about it in her book. Around the same time Lewes dance troop, Knots in May were being established and fast forward to 1980 and the group had revived the custom.

May rain?

I experience Lewes May Garland on my attempt to visit as many May customs over the May bank holiday in 2016. That may bank holiday a heavy mist laid in the air, then becoming a humid swell which deposited a fair amount of rain. I arrived there is good time and made my way up to the castle, where a mother and her little girl were awaiting with a small garland. I thought that the rain would quite literally put a dampener on it, but soon one by one, more and more elaborate May Garlands appeared – one even being carried by two masked Green Man (or rather Boys). The organisers are to be congratulated for bringing back the real feeling of May Day and over 30 garlands, one of which was I thought was a Jack in the Green, but might have been a fish instead! Some had figures in them recalling the dolls, said to be the Virgin Mary, put into the traditional garland.

May the best garland win

Once all the children and their garlands had arrived they were lined up in the shadow of the castle where the Mayor surveyed them. Broad smiles and anticipation were evident in the faces of the children including the two rather non-plused boys. There was some whispering from the Mayor and soon a decision was made, a decision as had been done back in those first May Garland awards.

Of course the other spectacle here are the Knots in May dancing troop. Holding up their own hoop garlands they weave in and out of each in a hypnotic fashion. Then came the Long Man Morris who gave a sturdy performance. At this point I checked my watch…I had to be off to Rye for the Hot Penny Scramble, for another post.

A delightful revival and one it would be nice to see encouraged elsewhere attached to Morris dancing out at May Day. A real opportunity of encouraging both community involvement and making children understand the heritage of the day off from school!

When is it on?

http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/lewes-garland-day/

Custom revived: Battle Abbey Marbles and scramble Championship

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“I always wondered why so many people in the country districts of Sussex should devote themselves to marbles on Good Friday, till I discovered that the marble season is strictly defined between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; and on the last day of the season it seems to be the object of every man and boy to play marbles as much as possible: they will play in the road at the church gate till the very last moment before service, and begin again the instant they are out of church. Is it possible that it was appointed as a Lenten sport, to keep people from more boisterous and mischievous enjoyments?”

 The Rev Parish (1879) A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect

When William fought Harold on the slopes of Senlac over 1000 years ago…and built the imposing Battle Abble…little did he know that edifice’s shadow would be another mighty battle. …of marbles. Oddly, marble competitions appear to be a Southern speciality with at least three locations vying for epicentre of marble madness. Battle despite being little known, may indeed be the oldest recorded it was revived first in 1928, the current revival dating from 1948 but there is evidence of a record least from 1902.

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Lost your marbles

It may come to as a surprise to some readers but there is a marbles season…and it was very strict – Ash Wednesday to Good Friday noon – Marbles Day in Sussex as Simpson (1965) in her Folklore of Sussex notes a number of villages and towns (Battle, Brighton, Burgess Hill, Cuckfield, Ditchling, Seaford, Southford and Streat) although the author is unaware of the revival in Battle. Furthermore until recently the time was very strictly adhered with hot cross buns and marbles being given out to the children. For of course this was and is a game for adults I should add and there was a traditional dress, a white Sussex smock or brown, fishermen’s smocks. These were worn on the day until the 1950s and one of the great characters of the game, a Frank Anderson, has his smock preserved in Battle Museum. Nowadays one of the most colourful of the event today are the fancy dress costumes and they are pretty incredible: Monopoly cards, Where’s Wally, amongst the more obvious priests and vicars, Lego characters, Angry Birds, Dad’s Army to Vegetables, Kate Middleton and country bumpkins. The Lego characters were absolutely incredible difficult to play with no doubt…

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No donkey dropping

The organisers have certainly created a great atmosphere with the addition of an Easter Bonnet parade and there was certainly a lot of laughter when I turned up with teams practising and winding each other up. The game used to be played against Netherfield and the Good Friday event was the championship which arose from tournaments throughout Lent. Now it involves local pub and other organisation teams – with amusing names. Each team enters five players and in recent years the numbers have grown considerably. Despite perhaps an outsiders view of the frivolous nature of the custom…it is deadly serious. Top hated official umpires watch carefully the game, take note of positions and record scores. There’s an clear no donkey dropping…an odd term which had to be explained to me. The marble was not allowed to be dropped but rolled, which is odd because at ‘the other world championship’ I am sure they were allowed a ‘nose drop’!

This is more moveable than at other locations, a fact quite noticeable when heavy rains hit and less picturesquely the game was moved inside. The board is a long one and half way along is a circle. Iona Opie (1955) describes the rules:

“First player knuckles down at the edge of ring and shoots his tolley to knock one or more marbles right out of the ring. If he succeeds and his tolley remains in the ring, he shoots again. If he fails, but his tolley remains in the ring it stays there until his turn comes around again, when he shoots from wherever it happens to be. If in the meantime his tolley has been knocked out of the ring by his own or the opposing side, he is ‘killed’ and is out of the game.”

One notices the word ‘he’ for only in 1972 did women have had a chance to enter! In their own tournament of course..no mixed teams. However the rules in Battle are different.  Tony Foxworthy in is Customs in Sussex notes:

“within the circle on the board 15 marbles are placed, and each team try and knock the marbles outside the circle. The team that knocks eight or more marbles out of the circle are the winners and move on to the next team. This goes on until each team id beaten and only two teams are left to fight it out, with the result that the winning team is declared the champions for that year.”

The marbles used by the players looked very similar perhaps they were provided, no-one was to be losing their oval sulphide going to Keepsies….bitter memories.

Pick up your marbles

Despite the seriousness of the competition, there is a practice board to develop your skills and sadly I quickly found my skills were nothing compared to an eight year old… but I only knew the marbles played on drains and that was many years ago. Team after team were eliminated, with the top hatted scorers taking note and the game watched by eagle eyed bowler hatted umpires –  all dressed in black. Then there was a great cheer when the Cricket Club (I think they were a real cricket club rather than in fancy dress!) won and held aloft the cup, medals were given..it was over for another year.

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After the game, it’s the children’s and any adult to scramble for marbles – 1000 or so’ fortunately tossed into the air underarm, I am sure any other way would have resulted in some cranial damage.  – the excitement of the children was clear.  It as I say a great event, local in flavour but very welcoming of outsiders…and very popular despite the drizzle there were hundreds there and over 70 children entered the bonnet competition – as each got an Easter egg that’s a lot of eggs! Roll on next year.

Custom survived: Hythe Venetian Festival

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Fete worse than….

There can be nothing more pleasant than sitting on the bank of a river and watch a carnival parade especially if it’s on the water! Every two years, the town of Hythe celebrates the fact that it never needed its military canal with a Venetian Fete, made up of a tableaux of 40 decorated floats in various themes, which gently drift pass to one’s amusement.
That’s not cricket!

I believe a local legend associates the original fete back in the early 1800s to not needing their Royal Military canal, a great engineering feat constructed to fight Napoleon. Although there is tradition that a carnival of sorts was enacted in the mid 1800s it was not until 1860s or 1890 according to some accounts, that a parade of illuminated boats was organised by a local worthy Edward Palmer. The name Venetian was what he used to report the event and despite it being quite unlike a real Venetian festival, the name stuck and even more bizarrely being connected with the town’s cricket week! This odd idea was a good one, because although three fetes were held in 1891, local people were reluctant to so after a small interregnum, it was established in 1894 as a way to raise funds for the first Hythe Cricket Week.

Not really a 100 years?

I’ve been a bit cheeky here, because there is not a complete custom from 1890 until today, however as the two main gaps were WW1 and WW2, I think they are respectable times to have had a break. Furthermore, the years over which the custom has been kept up add up to 100 years anyhow!

Nearly met its fete?

Soon after the First World War, the lack of labour and overgrown nature of the canal meant it did not restart until 1927 despite the Cricket week starting in 1919 and then even then its survival was ropey! However, despite being a colourful activity in times of blandness perhaps, local opposition to the fete was great in the late 1920s…the canal being closed for eight hours was not popular with local people! Yet it came back with vigour in 1934 and gained considerable support and continued with a gap in WW2 until today.

The effort made today is considerable especially as it is all done for charity and by volunteers. Local organisations, schools and groups make great efforts to produce a colourful and amusing display. In late 1990s when I visited some of the highlights were a floating castle with knights, two spitfires, a Viking longboat, a submarine, some rock and rollers dancing on the water and a sinking Titanic…remarkably all based around a simple raft at the most and yet all looked different! Recent tableaux have been even more remarkable with a Noah’s ark, street on water and robots. Many of these displays are charming and quaint during the day…but come to life at night dazzling brightly in the balmy summer evening with their flashing and glowing lights, as well as the potential unsafe nature of some of their dancing in the dark on the water. It may not be anything like what they do in Venice and with local charm of the amateur that’s a good thing, Kent does it much better.

Hythe Venetian Fete5

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: Little Edith’s Treat

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The small village of Piddinghoe has in the church like many others a benefactor’s board recording its local charities. Here however is a rather sad story which founded a unique charitable event – Little Edith’s Treat. Which despite its inclusion in nearly every calendar customs book, it is sadly now largely defunct.

The origins of the custom derive from a doting grandmother called Elizabeth Croft who after her husband died in 1866, took solace in the birth of her granddaughter in July of 1868. Sadly she died only a few months later in October and so distraught at her left £350, to be invested a sizable sum for a number of charities. The important bit of the plaque reads:

“The interest arising from £100 of the said stock to be known as ‘Little Edith’s Treat’ to be expended on the 19th of July in each year in a treat to the children of the national school of the said parish and in rewards more especially to the girls who are skilled in plain needlework and to the boys and girls who are neat in their dress in their habits and regular in attendance at church and school.”

The treats followed the same pattern each year: on the afternoon of her birthday or the nearest school day July 19th, the schoolchildren were told the story of the bequest, attended a church service and then taken to the open space called the Hoe to engage in various games and races, finishing with tea which in the days when food may have been scarcer was a life saver. Roud (2008) in his English Year tells us that the vicar would throw a handful of coins into the air and the children would scramble for them. Prizes and gifts would be distributed back at the school: boys for tidiness, attended school and church regularly and girls for needlecraft. In 1904 the total number of children rose to over 100. However, sadly after the school closed in 1952, and although the custom moved naturally to Sunday school, a fall in child numbers and decrease in the annual value meant the ‘treat’ became irregular and I was informed in the 1990s that it ceased as a formal event but money was available for one offs. Roud (2008) tells us that in 2000 some of the money paid for a Christmas party, so despite the loss of the actual day the gift still continues when there is enough money available. I am sure that Elizabeth Croft would approve.