Category Archives: Trade

Custom revived: The Whitebait Festival

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The days when we all lived in clover, With whitebait, can never revive, I assure you,” said Lawless, “they’re over, But, oh, keep the licence alive.”

Such were the lines from ‘Punch‘ to have two politicians who were commenting on the end of the great Whitebait Feast.

The consumption of baby sprats and herring – commonly called Whitebait – was such a popular dish in Essex that it attracted much ceremony which included members of parliament and even the prime minister!

Raise to the bait

The association with an annual feast apparently is associated with those who funded the Barking Breach, a costly anti-flood venture which was built in 1707. This begun with the host Sir Robert Preson, the Dover MP inviting distinguished guests to his fishing cottage nearby. Then in 1766, the first Whitebait Feast first took place in Dagenham, this was largely a private affair, often attended by politicians and marked the end of the parliamentary season on or around Whit Sunday. The politicians would process by boat to the party. A regular attendee was the then Prime Minster, Pitt the Younger. He was concerned that the venue was too far too London and as such it moved to Greenwich. However this being a political activity there were two locales: the Trafalgar Tavern (for the Liberal members) and the Old Ship Tavern (for the Tories). The last such Dinner was held in 1894 a closure forced by the lack of Whitebait, a consequence of the Thames pollution rather than any political falling out.

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Baited breathe

Then Southend Chamber of Commerce, Trade and Industry revived it in 1934. The improvement in water quality in the Thames has resulted in spawning occurring not far from Southend pier. Of this first revived feast the Times reported:

“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds; whitebait ill-cooked is much nastier than salt cod, and many are the people who do not like whitebait because they have never tasted whitebait worthily cooked and served.”

The custom consisted of an official opening ceremony with the catch blessed at from the end of the pier with the bringing in of the first catch. This catch was then taken to the feast. However a few changes have been made – since the burning down of the pier – the event has moved to the Bawley below Cliff’s Pavillion. The Mayor of Southend, other important people of the town and the ministers of the five different denominations attend. Arriving a few moments earlier one has to peer into the nearby restaurant where the whitebait feast occurs – tickets available from the Round Table – but don’t expect any prime ministers. Here the party assembled and then vicar and mayor carrying a basket of whitebait in a white cloth. Gingerly making their way to the water’s edge, the vicar said a few words and together holding the fish and nearly dropping them they threw them back!  Then the group went to a local restaurant to enjoy the Whitebait – although this is only the first course I would imagine!

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Sadly despite the blessing – much of the whitebait is caught 100s of miles away in the Baltic..and I am not sure the blessing gets that far!

Custom survived: Folkestone’s Blessing the sea and fisheries

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God bless you!

The ceremonies of blessing the sea and fisheries are perhaps one of the best examples of a Christianisation of a pagan ritual. They originated as early man’s way of giving thanks to ensure good harvests for the next year. Yet, it is clear that they are part of the ‘revived’ or rather ‘cleaned’ harvest thanksgiving ceremonies, which have become quite familiar, thanks to this revival or rather adoption by the church perhaps, in the mid-1800s. Found around the country in a number of maritime locations (even in locations where fishing has become a matter of academic history). Kent, being a county surrounded on two sides by sea naturally it has a fair number of these ceremonies. Traditionally they were help around Ascension Day or during the three days of ‘Rogationtide’ (during which beating the bounds ceremonies would also be undertaken), many have moved to either dates nearing Patronal saints (Fishermen saints Peter or James), or when tourists are more frequent!

 

 

 

Folkestone’s ceremony claims to be the oldest continually undertaken still surviving. One of these occurs in the ancient fishing town of Folkestone, being associated with the chapel of St. Peter, dedicated to the town’s fisher folk with fine views of the harbour.

The earliest traceable record is an account in the Folkestone Express of July 8th 1883. However, according to Mr. Fisher of Folkestone St Peter’s Church, this ceremony may have already been of some age then. This is because, the report laments that it was a depressed event with a low tide and sluggish boats. Traditionally it was held in the old fish market. At the time he notes that there must have been 100 boats in the inner harbour. Photographs of the 1920s show a large number of smocks attending. The Folkestone Herald of July Seventh 1906, noted an addition to the traditional service in the form of prayers. It added:

“that it may please Thee to bless the waters of the sea that they may bring forth fish abundantly.. bless and preserve the fishermen of these waters…and lift their minds to heavenly desires.”

Something fishy?

In 1935 was the last year to be held in the old fish market, and since it has been held overlooking the harbour. The parish priest had worked hard to have all the old hovels removed and replaced by the terrace housing which remains to today.

In a press report of 1958, it noted that it was then attended by the Bishop of Dover, the Rt. Rev. L. Meredith, and the Mayor, F. W. Archer as well as other members of the Corporation, Choristers, Scouts, members of the Old Contemptible and the Royal Naval Association and children dressed in traditional fishermen’s clothes.

In this report it was sadly noted that service lacked the gaiety of previous years as the little fisherman’s cottages were not bedecked with flags and nor were the boats in harbour decorated as they were for previous occasions. Furthermore, no fishermen were to be found in the procession. A 67 year old fishermen, Bill Harris who had fished the waters from Folkestone some 50 years, noted that: ‘Things had certainly changed’, he could remember those times when the harbour was full of fully decorated boats and all the houses were flying flags and bunting. He bemoaned that no-one was interested. The then Bishop said that Blessing the Fishermen, fell into two groups those which do it for fun and those who did it for a life’s work. He said that:

” It is those who devote their whole lives to fishing in the sea that we are asking for God’s continued blessing this afternoon.’” 

This blessing attracted television coverage from both the BBC and ITA, and the service was performed by Bishop Noel Hall, formerly Bishop of Vhota Nagpour, India with two Deacons of Honour (Rev. W. H. Bathhurst Vicar of St. Saviours) and Rev. J. Meliss (curate of Folkestone Parish church). The ceremony was conducted by the Rev. H. J. L. Stephens (Vicar of St. Peters).

The lack of fishermen was what doubtless prompted the event to be renamed ‘blessing the sea’ rather than ‘fisheries’ and by doing so saved this the oldest of such blessings. Tony Foxworthy (2008) in Customs in Kent describes it well:

“The evening starts with service in St. Peter’s church. After the service a procession is formed consisting of a local band in the lead followed by the children of St. Peter’s primary school, with the girls carrying small posies of flowers, and the boys carrying a large model of a fishermen’s boat. Following the children comes the church choir then the processional cross, then the clergy and local dignitaries like the Mayor, the Mayoress and local councillors, then the invited guest preacher, usually a local Bishop. The procession winds its way to the harbour where a large crowd has assembled. The fisheries are then blessed by the visiting Bishop, who then leads to a short service and addresses the hundreds of people attending this very picturesque custom.”

 

The custom retains a very colourful and evocative feel especially as the clergy process down from St. Peter’s Church, (usually on the first Sunday after St. Peter’s Day (29th June), at around three o’ clock). Also attending this ceremony, are the Lord Mayor and his barker. After a series of hymns, and readings, the sea is blessed by splashing holy water and shaking incense over the harbour railings.

 

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 demised: Weyhill Sheep Fair

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“To Wy and to Wynchestre I wente to the feyre.”

So does Langland record Weyhill Fair, in Piers Plowman, in 1377, the largest and most important livestock fair in the country. One of the features were the establishment of booths to sell produce and so many hops from Farnham were sold that they became known as Farnham row.  Like many great fairs despite an ancient provenance it was like others a charter fair…like others it did attract fringe activities – hiring of labour, a pleasure fair, bull baiting and even mummers and mystery plays.

Ancient fair

Twelve twenty five is the fair’s earliest reference being called Fair of Le We then. However this is not a charter. Indeed, the lack of a charter is perhaps because the fair was very ancient lying as it does on ancient crossroads which crisscrossed tin merchants, gold transporter and even pilgrims from as far as way as Cornwall, Kent and the Continent. Laying also on three parishes and three estates helped it escape the need for a Charter. For when in Andover town folk claimed a right to hold their own fair, by 1559 Royal charter, the fair owners claimed that the rules did not apply to their fair!

Court fair

As it grew into the 19th century the volume of trading grew exponentially. Cheeses from all over Wessex were sold and around 100,000 sheep were sold in one day.  Irish horse traders were accused of putting everyone in danger by showing off ‘charged up and down, and over hurdles’. Lawlessness was a common problem and so large was the fair that by the 16th century it was necessary to set up a Court of Pie Powder. This a common feature of large fairs was a court which provided quick settlement on disputes and could punish lawlessness. Wife selling was a custom associated with many fairs and one immortalised by Thomas Hardy in his 1886 The Mayor of Casterbridge. Renamed Weydon Priors one of his characters, Henchard, sells his wife for five guineas. Wife selling was not unknown in the days before divorce was relatively easy and affordable. An account records that a man called Henry Mears bought Joseph Thomson’s wife for 20 shillings and a Newfoundland dog – he was originally asking 50 but the account states both parties were happy. I am not so clear as the wife’s opinion.

The fall of the fair

The 1800s was perhaps the final heyday of the fair. By the end of the 19th century it was in decline. William Cobbett in his Rural rides visited the Fair in 1822. He had been a regular attendee for 40 years previous and found it already depressed:

“The 11th of October is the Sheep Fair. About £300,000 used, some few years ago, to be carried home by the sheep-sellers. Today, less perhaps, than £70,000 and yet the rents of these sheep sellers are, perhaps as high, on average, as they were then. The countenances of the farmers were descriptive of their ruinous state. I never, in all my life, beheld a more mournful scene.”

Reports suggest that despite being still the biggest fair in the South in 1867 each year less and less hops and cheeses were being sold.  Sheep and cattle continued to be trade until just after the Second World War. In 1948 only 1400 sheep were sold – a far drop from the 100,000s. The rapid progress of modernity, better roads, rail and communications meant such large meetings were unnecessary. Although the pleasure fair continued to thrive as in many places. In 1957, the last livestock auction was held and then so few animals were sold that the auctioneers deemed it unprofitable. So the fair stopped and unlike other fairs such as Nottingham Goose fair so did the pleasure fair. The booths were bought by a building company Dunnings Associates using them for storage. They themselves went bankrupt and the buildings fell into disrepair. The site is now a light industry site with the Fairground Craft and Design Centre continuing the name and tradition of selling.

Custom demised: Paul Pitcher Day

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Two men wearing mining attire look at one-another in this black line drawing. Both wear dark clothing and mining helmets. The man on the right holds a long tool.In Cornwall the January 24th  the Eve of the Conversion of St. Paul was celebrated as a holiday for miners. It is noted in Notes and queries from 1874:

“There is a curious custom prevalent in some parts of Cornwall of throwing broken pitchers and other earthen vessels against the doors of dwelling-houses on the eve of the conversion of St. Paul, thence locally called Paul pitcher-night. On that evening parties of young people perambulate the parishes in which the custom is retained, exclaiming as they throw the sherds, ‘St. Paul’s-eve, and here’s a heave.’”

According to John Brand’s Popular Antiquities (1870) he states that:

“The boys of Bodmin parade the town with broken pitchers, and other earthenware vessels, and into every house, where the door can be opened, or has been inadvertently left so, they hurl a ” Paul’s pitcher,”  exclaiming, “Paul’s Eve, And here’s a heave.” According to custom, the first “heave” cannot be objected to; but upon its repetition the offender, if caught, may be punished.”

This would suggest that the custom had an element of boundary perambulation possibly mixed with begging, although no money appears to have been extorted, but likely to be related to the luck giving akin to first footing. The folklore journal of 1886 notes that these pots were often filled with broken sherds and rubbish and after it was destroyed a new one would be purchased and thence filled with beer!

Robert Hunt (1903) in his Popular Romances of the West of England notes that St Paul’s had an association with tin miners. He notes that he possibly came over with the Phoenicians. Gwennap claims that St Paul preached there and obtained tin from Creekbraws mine, a belief supported by the local Methodists. He is also said to have preached to Dartmoor miners where a cross now sits on the road to Plympton to Princes-Town. Of course was noted for his persecution of Christians and in particular St Steven’s stoning. By stoning pots on the Eve of his Conversion, were they symbolising his bad deed before redemption?

 

 

 

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.

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Custom demised: Shaking St Peter’s Chains

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Congleton Wakes held on the 12th August was associated with a certainly unusual and probably unique custom called St Peter’s Bells or Chains. The Monthly Packet noted:

“On the Wake Sunday, from time immemorial until several years ago, an extraordinary musical performance aroused the inhabitants from their sleep very early in the morning. The instruments were horse collars hung round with numerous bells of peculiar shape; these collars were placed on men’s shoulders and, walking through the streets of the town, the men shake the collars vigorously and thus cause the bell to emit a loud noise. Formerly, a heavy chain was used; the bells were an innovation introduced a few generations ago.”

As the church was dedicated to St. Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in chains) the custom was doubtlessly pre-Reformation. This view is certainly supported by Coward in his 1903 Picturesque Cheshire notes:

In the town hall…..we may find a curious relic of Congleton, a broad leather belt adorned with big metal bells, which are known as St. Peter’s Chains. At the feast of the church, “St. Peter ad Vincula,” it was customary for the priests to parade in this belt, rattling the chains or chiming the bells, whichever you like to call it.”

Coward (1903) adds that:

“At the Reformation these chains passed into the hands of a family of chimney-sweeps, who for three hundred years held hereditary possession, claiming the right to make a noise with them on the feast day.”

According to Raven’s 1907 The Bells of England this was:

“at midnight on the vigil, girt about with leather belts to which were suspended a number of crotals…….and ended with an address at the Market Cross on the approaching festival and the lessons to be drawn from it.”

 However despite surviving the Reformation its demise was sealed by the very actions of those who had maintained it. For as Coward (1903) he continues:

 “perambulated the town, followed by a noisy crowd, chanting a proclamation which ended in an admonition to the Congletonians to get as drunk as possible during Wakes week.”

 Raven’s 1907 The Bells of England similarly is dismissive noting:

 “these bells, or “chains,” became diverted from their original intention, and the performance became degraded to mere incentive to drunken jollity, rather than to a reverent recollection of the great Apostle.”

 Not only this but there appeared to have arisen an argument between two sides of the family for carrying the chains and as a result some degree of conflict and time in goal. Coward (1903) notes:

 “At last the town clerk wisely settled the dispute by compensating each party with a gift of ten shillings, and at the same time gaining possession of the chains; the trouble was stopped, and now the belt and bells are retained as a curiosity, and the peace of Congleton is no longer upset by drunken rows.”

However, the town has become bereft of its most interesting custom! Fortunately they survive in the town’s museum.

Custom survived: London Cart Marking

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cart1London has many customs, often associated with the livery organisations. One of the oddest of these considering its name and vintage is the Carman fellowship which despite its modern sounding name has existed since 1277. This was constructed to exercise rights over carts and carriers rather than modern cars…but it is the later which are mainly marked today.

The medieval world and modern collide

By the 16th century, the Carmen formed:

‘the Fraternyte of Seynt Katryne the Virgyn and Marter of Carters’

to:

‘clense, purge and kepe clene’

the streets of sewage  and made available car-rooms where licenses to trade were available. , and carry goods at a reasonable price. They acquired ‘carrooms’ or stands to ply for hire, effectively licences to trade. By the turn of the 20th century there were 111 licences held by 16 Carmen with 89 car-rooms. However, these declined as the carts disappeared and then in 1965 all but 1 were abolished when the Police recognising that the surviving 18 contravened parking regulations.

Marking my car

By the 1600s, it was agreed the City’s arms should be marked on a brass plate and numbered accordingly with a letter reference for the year much as registration plates do . By 1835, 600 were marked and subsequently every vehicle is marked at the Guildhall every year.

I cannot remember when I found about the event, but it was back in 1996 I believe. I arrived at the Guildhall where the Keeper of the Guildhall, Cartman and the Lord Mayor were awaiting, there were few visitors although they were not discouraged despite being in the Guildhall Yard.

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Dude where’s my cart?

Then came a cavalcade of car(t)s as really there were very few cars…but the first up was an old horse drawn wagon, a more traditional vehicle. The Master cartman appeared to inspect it and then the Keeper of the Guildhall appeared. He placed on some gloves provided by the Glovers’ Company and then with a red hot brand held it up against it..or rather a wooden plaque.  Then in came a vintage van, with smiles all around it was repeated. The old vehicles were much the flavour of the event, but then it became a little surreal..a police car was marked with some degree of glee by the Master Carman  perhaps in memory of 1965! Then things got a little larger. A bus came in and then a lorry. I wonder whether they had paid the community charge to come in for this.  Perhaps as a bit of an in joke, a refuse truck arrived at the end as in the Lord Mayor’s Show. To which the Lord Mayor happily rose to the challenge and pushed the brand onto the plaque.  Then after the car(t)s were marked the Lord Mayor, Master Carman and Wardens stood on their rostum and the vehicles processed past and then they raised their hats in tribute. All in all an interesting event…the best of our colourful traditions slightly pointless and very surreal!

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Custom revived: Coventry Godiva Procession

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The legend of Lady Godiva is perhaps one of England’s most well known tradition, thus it is a shame how poorly it has been celebrated by its city, Coventry, fortunately things have changed.

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Bare back rider

I am sure we are all familiar with the legend, although perhaps many may not know that it dates from Saxon times. Basically the story relayed that Godiva, upset by her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia’s oppressive taxes, she decided to protest riding a horse naked, although the town folk supposedly agreed not to watch her to spare her dignity! The story of Peeping Tom who was the only one who looked and went blind came later. Both of whom are immortalised in the town’s clock of course.

Surprisingly it is not until the late 1600s that she was celebrated in a local procession. This is doubly surprising, firstly considering the fame of the event and it obvious association with processing and secondly that it arose, albeit post Commonwealth, in a period when such customs fell into abeyance.

Despite first being mentioned as a ride 150 years after the alleged event, the Godiva procession would become associated with a Trinity fair established by charter by Henry III in 1217, but although naturally a civic procession would have been associated with this, only four hundred years later in 1678 that we get the following first mention:

“In the Mayoralty of Mr Michael Earle, there was a new show on the summer, or Great Fair, of followers- that is boys sent out by the several companies, and each Company having new Streamers, and Lady Godiva rode before the Mayor to proclaim the Fair.”

From this smallish start the procession became a staple of the Coventry fair with Godiva leading the mayor, magistrates, Charter Officers, St George and the Dragon, bands, buglers, city guards and local societies, benefit societies and companies joined in a procession. A flavour of the grandeur can be seen in the order from 1809:

“Grand Procession of the Show Fair     Through Hay-Lane, Little Park street, St John’s Street, Much Park street, where the fair was proclaimed; Jordan-well, Gosford street, where the fair was proclaimed, Far Gosford-street, High Street, where the Bablake boys sang, Spon-street, west Orchard, where the Bablake boys sang; Well street, Bishop Street, Cross cheaping, where the Bablake boys sang, High Street, and returned through Hay Lane to Trinity Church yard.

Twelve Guards – two and two SAINT GEORGE in armour two bugle horns City Streamers, Two city followers, City Streamer, Grand band of music, belonging to the 14th Lt Dragoons, High Constable LADY GODIVA, City Cryer and Beadle on each side, Mayor’s Cryer, City Baliffs, City Maces, Sword and Mace, Mayor’s followers, The Right Worshipful THE MAYOR, Alderman, sheriff followers, sheriffs, Common council, Chamberlains and followers, Wardens and followers, Grand band of music, Belonging to the 1st Regiment of Warwickshire Local Militia”

The companies showed the diversity of trades in the city:

“Companies Mercers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Draper – Streamer, Master and Follower

Clothiers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Four drums and Fifes

Blacksmiths – Streamer, Master and Follower

Taylors – Streamer, Master and Follower

Cappers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Butchers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Grand Band of Music 0 belonging to the Stonely Volunteers

Fell mongers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Carpenters – Streamer, Master and Follower

Cordwainers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Four drums and fifes

Bakers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Weavers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Silk Weavers – Streamer, Master and Follower

Grand band of music

Woolcombers – Streamer, Master and Follower. Shepherd and shepherdess with dog, lamb etc Jason with the Golden Fleece and drawn sword Five wool sorters BISHOP BLAZE and woolcombers in their respective uniforms

Four drums and fifes.”

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The naked truth

You may think did a woman ride naked? Well yes, no, no in both cases. Remember this was not long after Shakespeare when the roles of women were done by men, so unsurprisingly the son of a James Swinnerton was the eponymous character in the first one. Of course it did not take long for a woman to take the role and from 1765 she was paid 15 shillings Naked? It appears that the first ‘naked Godiva’ was in 1842 wearing a tight fitting, flesh coloured dress. Actresses and dancers were usually employed and there were constant rumours that ‘this year she she’d be naked!’ certainly brought in the crowds leeringly hoping to see her naked.  Unfortunately for the local opticians this never happened but this decision was ultimately perhaps to precipitate the end of the procession. Fights ensued as people tried to see the nakedness and this:

“essentially popular, down to earth occasions, rich in local tradition, humour and ribaldry, often rowdyism”.

Resulted in probably the abandonment of the procession by the dignitaries, 1829 being the last one and considerable complaints, such as Mayor William Clark describing the event as one which:

“too long disgraced our city.”

In 1845 the Bishop of Worcester protested against:

“A Birmingham whore being paraded through the streets.”

This culminated in the production of a signed statement in the Coventry Herald in April 25th 1845 by all the main church leaders condemning the plan to:

“to get up a procession similar in character to those by which the streets of this City were disgraced in 1842 and 1844”.

This didn’t stop the procession but Godiva did wear:

 “a tunic of white satin….girdle of the same kind over her flesh coloured dress, with scarves thrown across her shoulders, a mantle, sleeves and a headdress with ostrich feathers.”

The notoriety of the events resulted in a slow decline in the custom, in 1854 there were rival Godivas and four years later even the fair was moved out of town. Then after 1862 they were held less frequently, by the 20th century every three or seven years usually to celebrate special occasions such as the coronation of Edward VII, George V and the Festival of Britain and as thus moved away from its traditional Trinity date. This appears to be the last and by the later part of the century a carnival replaced it, but what with changes in the economic environment this too died out.

Godiva rides again

Then in 1996 I happened to be reading a newspaper and discovered that the Godiva procession was being enacted. I travelled to Coventry to find out and there indeed there was, with many of the traditional elements described in early accounts. They clearly followed the 1809 order: we had St. George and his dragon, the Mayor and his fellow dignitaries had returned in his finery, local clergy and judiciary, roundheads, local organisations, including the car manufacturers and the town crier. At the head as in those old accounts was Godiva on her white horse held by a monk and woman clothed in Saxon costume.

Peeping Tom?

Was she naked? My eyes were safe…and the lens of the camera because it was clearly no, However, in the spirit of these things she wore a sheer body suit and a cloak. All of Coventry came out to cheer her on, the sun shone and a good time was had by all. Since then with the revival of carnival in 2000, the two have become entwined the carnival bringing some excellent tableaux and float.  The Fair has largely disappeared it has been replaced by a rock Festival, which is either in late June or early July with the procession on the Saturday before. Today all eyes are safe for Godiva is a figure upon a horse or a fully dressed women riding a car or both…although in 2012 became a giant puppet for the Olympics. Godiva is joined by acrobats, pyrotechnics, aerialists, musical bands to illustrate the diversity of the city and its great legend.

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Find out when it is on…..

It’s not on Calendar customs yet

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.