Category Archives: Warwickshire

Custom contrived: Apple Day

Standard

An Apple a Day

Apples and the British. We do love an apple! Whether its plucked from the tree, in a sauce for pork or fermented in a cider, there’s something quintessential about apples and the British. We’ve sung to give good crops and bobbed at Halloween so it is about time they had their own custom.

National Apple Day is a contrived custom which has spread remarkably quickly. Started in 1990 on the 21st October. Like the trees themselves they have grown and grown! Its unusual compared to some contrived customs because firstly it has spread and secondly it was the establishment on one organisation, Common Group, an ecological group established in 1983

The rationale by the initiators the Common Ground was to celebrate the richness and variety of the apples grown in the UK and by raising awareness hopefully preserve some of the lesser known types, hopefully preserving old orchards and the wildlife associated with them

Apple of your eye

The Common Ground website describes how by reviving the old apple market in London’s covent garden the first apple day was celebrated:

The first Apple Day celebrations, in the old Apple Market in London’s Covent Garden, brought fruit to the market after 16 years’ absence. Forty stalls were taken. Fruit growers and nurseries producing and selling a wide variety of apples and trees rubbed shoulders with juice-and cider-makers, as well as writers and illustrators with their apple books.

Representatives of the WI came laden with chutneys, jellies and pies. Mallorees School from North London demonstrated its orchard classroom, while the Hertfordshire & Middlesex Wildlife Trust explained how it manages its orchard for wildlife. Marks & Spencer helped to start a trend by offering tastings of some of the 12 ‘old varieties’ they had on sale that autumn. Organic growers were cheek by jowl with beekeepers, amidst demonstrations of traditional and modern juice presses, a calvados still and a cider bar run by the Campaign for Real Ale. Experts such as Joan Morgan identified apples and offered advice, while apple jugglers and magicians entertained the thousands of visitors – far more than we had expected – who came on the day.”

From the seeds…

From that first Apple Day, it has spread. By 1991 there were 60 events, growing to 300 in 1997 and now 1000s official and unofficial events, mainly but not wholly focusing on traditional apple growing regions such as Herefordshire. It has grown to incorporate a whole range of people to include healthy eating campaigns, poetry readings, games and even electing an Apple King and Queen in some places festooned with fruity crown. In Warwickshire the Brandon Marsh Nature reserve stated in 2016:

Mid Shires Orchard Group are leading a day celebrating the wonders of English apples. Learn about different varieties, taste fresh apple juice and have a go at pressing (you can even bring your own apples to have turned into juice for a donation).

Things to do on the day:

  • Play apple games •Learn about local orchards •Discover orchard wildlife •Enjoy the exhibitions •Explore the Apple Display • Buy heritage apple trees.”

Whilst a Borough Market, London, a blessing is even involved:

“Borough Market’s neighbour Southwark Cathedral will also celebrate the day with a short act of harvest worship in the Market, accompanied by the Market’s choir.”

Apple Day shows us that however urban our environment we can still celebrate our rural connections and with the growing number of events it is clear Apple Day is here to stay!

Advertisements

Custom survived: Atherstone’s Shrove Tuesday Football

Standard

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Atherstone is a curious town, setting on the ancient Watling street, about give or take 100 miles from London, famed for its hats and now a great place for books…it one of those British towns which has gone through many phases but never aspiring to be a metropolis – happy to be a small county town. A small proud county town it is at that – justly proud of its Ball Game. There are of course a number of such games, and I have covered Hallaton and Sedgefield in my accounts..there’s something a bit to coin a term often used in football ‘ a bit special’ about this one!

A load of balls?

In 1999 the town proudly celebrated the 800th anniversary of the event. However, this is perhaps a bold claim. Locally they will tell you that the town was granted the game in 1199 on the accession of King John. However, details are scant if that. Indeed, the claim seems to rest upon the vague suggestion of a Ralph Thompson who wrote in 1790:

“It was a match of Gold that was played betwixt the Warwickshire lads and the Leicestershire Lads on Shrove Tuesday; the Warwickshire Lads won the Gld. It was in King John’s reign…Atherstone, being the nearest town to the place where they play’d it, it is and has been a custom to turn a Foot Ball up Atherstone on Shrove Tuesday every Year since that time.”

What time? No date is given. Hugh Hornby in his excellent compendium of football games Uppies and Downies states that even if John did grant it on his accession he didn’t become king until the 6th of April! Never mind. It is certain that the Game has a long origin and was certainly continually played from the 1700s and despite the absence of any mention of the custom in the 1700s we can assume it happened.

DSC_0288 (2)

Game over?

In the early 20th century many Shrove tide games were quashed. An 1835 Highways Act prevented Football played in the street had attempted to stem them and combined with the potential drinking and civil unrest which could ensue, one by one across the country the red card was shown and the game stopped. When in 1901 the Warwickshire County Council tried to move in on the game, then then Chairman of the Parish Council in a meeting on the issue, a Mr. C Orton asserted:

“the custom had been observed so many years that it had become to be looked upon as a kind of charter by the working classes and not only by them but by others as well.”

And it was observed by a Mr. H. E. Vero that:

“The reason that football kicking has been stopped in other towns was because the tradespeople objected to it, but in Atherstone they did not.”

The meeting apparently concluded to support the custom and continue removing panes of glass from the gas lamps. The game went ahead, despite Warwickshire Country Council’s wishes and so it has been – ironically that same council trumpet it as a tourist event – how times have changed! The game continued unabated until in 1974 an committee was established to organise it and focus the action in Long Street and prevent the rampage around the town and then in 1986 established players were used a stewards. Indeed the focus in one street meant that unlike other more rural shrovetide games it was saved from a ban in 2001 foot and mouth outbreak and continued through both World Wars.

DSC_0227

Kick about

One of the reasons why it has remained I believe because unlike its counterparts it is far more a spectator sport. The ball is much larger and hence more visible in the scrum, it is focused on more place and more importantly everyone gets a chance to kick it. For during the first 90 or so minutes the game seems quite complexing – is this a ‘game’ or not? Why is no one trying to score? During this time all and sundry are given a go. I saw children of all ages getting involved, women – including quite an elderly one I feared might fall over and even a policeman! There’s no competition only for catching it and returning it and often a steward is on hand to make sure anyone who wants a kick has a go. This is clearly a great way to engender both interest and inclusion and whether or not any of the kickers really get involved in the game is irrelevant they had a kick – added to the apparent luck of doing so – its eagerly taken on.

DSC_0478

Jumpers for goal posts

I must admit to having a soft spot for Atherstone’s football and its only one of two I have been to more than once because of its accessibility. The last time I went I had come fresh from a pancake race elsewhere to be confronted with another just about to start down Long Street by the Major and other local dignitaries. A nice addition. Indeed, Atherstone’s Shrove Tuesday is not just about the Football it developed another custom to compliment it – a sweet presumably originally a penny scramble. With the addition of the pancake race it could be seen to be developing a shrove tide triathlon!

DSC_0425 (2)

The sun was bright and the white walls of the Angle Inn glistened its warming rays as a crowd of youngsters gathered beneath it. In the windows shadows can be seen. The children below appeared to move closer and stand eyes gazing up and hands ready. Soon a plastic pot appeared and a hand. Then a hand full of sweets and then to cheers below the sweets were cast upon the crowd. The children ducked, dived and tussled below. As more and more sweets descended the crowd went crazier and crazier. The face of the children more determined and fevered. It was quite intense and after a while it was clear that some of the younger children were dragged out of the mix. In the distribution was a giant Golden penny I saw it go out…but didn’t see it after, but presume the lucky child returned it for the £10 prize. The scramble was a clever device, a way both to attract fresh blood to the football, get them trained for the future and possibly satisfy their need to get into the throng.

DSC_0419

Golden balls

Then at 3 pm a new face appeared at the window. The children had dispersed and those that hadn’t were quickly removed. Now a new crowd arrived. Often burly men, clothed in rugby shirts and old jeans and trousers, probably ritually worn each year for the game. The guest of honour appeared holding the ball. A cheer went out and people positioned themselves. Interesting I noticed a few likely characters standing a drift from this throng..biding their time and conserving their energy for the right time to pounce on the ball. For unlike other Shrove football competitions and similar, there are no goals and unlike others there is a time limit. The winner? They who should have the ball when the horn is sounded. It was thus wise to wait. Then after a pep talk from one of the organisers asking for good conduct the ball was held ready to be through, attached to it three ribbons and off it went. The ribbons did not last long as the ball made its first appearance from the throng a few minutes they were gone grabbed by the attendees and again latter exchanged for their £10 prize money.

Then around 4.30 the crowd became to thicken and the ball’s direction changed. The game had really begun as the first attempt was made to take control. A big kick sent it down the street to a waiting pair of hands. The crowd surged towards it. It soon disappeared. The ball surfaced again. The crowd separated into participants and observes. The throng rushes downhill as the ball is kicked out of sight. I rushed down as a wall of people are looked against a wall with the ball somewhere within. The ball breaks free and is kicked again up the street. It does not go far as the throng and ball bow to gravity and roll further downhill. A steward steps in and a break occurs to refocus back to prevent it spilling too far. The ball is seen for a fleeting moment and then its gone. Too and fro. Piles of bodies encase the ball. Then it is out off and with it the crowd. Those watchers appear then to make their move, fresh of energy then enter the fray, ready to put their full weight and effort taking possession. Then the horn sounds, a cheer is let out, but the scrum does not disperse readily the scene is brightened by the reflective coats of the stewards, who now gently peel the bodies from each other to release the ball and the winner. Weary, bruised, shirt torn, sweaty the winner emerges, a smile beams across his face – he’s won – the ball looks a little worse for the encounter, its flat and devoid of any spherical appearance. Everyone is off to celebrate and it is over for another year.

Custom demised: Bringing in the Yule Log

Standard

 

“Come, bring with a noise,

My merry, merry boys,

The Christmas log to the firing;

While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,

And drink to your heart’s desiring.

With the last year’s brand
Light the new block, and

For good success in his spending,

On your Psaltries play,
That sweet luck may

Come while the log is tending.”

Robert Herrick 1591-1674

In the cold depths of winter nothing is heartening that a blazing fire ranging in the hearth. So important was the provision of this vital winter fuel that a whole custom arose around it – the bringing in the Yule log – a tradition with confusing origins as well. Today ask someone in the UK what a Yule log is and they will direct you to a cylindrical chocolate cake with or without a plastic Robin, but go back over 100 years ago and most people would have been familiar with it. An account from Belford in Northumberland summarises it well:

“the lord of the manor sends round to every house, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the Yule Logs—­four or five large logs—­to be burnt on Christmas Eve and Day.  This old custom has always, I am told, been kept up here.”

The collection and bringing in was all part of the ritual of course. In Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire, the Yule block was drawn into the house by a horse on Christmas Eve. This is one of the earliest accounts in England when a Sarah Chandler remembered:

“Beginning with Christmas Eve in the year 1759 my third year, I perfectly remember on that day being carried by Thomas, an old man servant to my grandmothers…the object of my visit on that particular day was to see the Yule block drawn to the house by horse, as a foundation for the fire on Christmas Day and according to the superstition of those times for twelve days following, as the said Block was not to be entirely reduc’d to ashes till that time had passed by.”

John Udal (1922) in his work on Dorset Folklore noted:

“It was customary in many farmhouses on Christmas Eve for a large block of wood to be brought into the kitchen, and an immense fire having been made up, the farm labourers would come around and sit around it, or as many as were able would crowd into the chimney corner, and drink beer and cider. This was what was usually called the Christmas brown.”

Ella Mary Leather (1912) in The Folklore of Herefordshire records:

“lasted for twelve days, and no work was done.  All houses were, and are now, decorated with sprigs of holly and ivy, which must not be brought in until Christmas Eve.  A Yule log, as large as the open hearth could accommodate, was brought into the kitchen of each farmhouse, and smaller ones were used in the cottages.  W——­ P——­ said he had seen a tree drawn into the kitchen at Kingstone Grange years ago by two cart horses; when it had been consumed a small portion was carefully kept to be used for lighting next year’s log.  ’Mother always kept it very carefully; she said it was lucky, and kept the house from fire and from lightning.’  It seems to have been the general practice to light it on Christmas Eve.”

In the West Riding, while the log blazed cheerfully, the people quaffed their ale and chanted:

“Yule!  Yule! a pack of new cards and a Christmas stool!”

In Shropshire, where it was called the brand or brund and could be oak, holly, yew or even crab tree and rollers and levers would be used to set it into the hearth of the fireplace.  Evidence for the force needed to drag this weighty log could apparently be seen in the rutted floor stones of Vesson’s farm at Habberley in 1895.

Yule meet again

In Gutch’s 1912 County Folk-lore of East Riding of Yorkshire notes an interesting practice recorded at Filey where besides the Yule log a tall Yule candle was lit on the same evening or in some cases holes bored in it to produce flames, this was the case in 1900 in Herefordshire where the bron or brund was bored twice in the middle so that flames would come out earning the name Christmas Candle.

Keep the fires burning

County Folk-lore of Lincolnshire by Mrs. Gutch and Mabel Peacock (1908) describes at Clee, that:

 “when Christmas Eve has come the Yule cake is duly cut and the Yule log lit, and I know of some even middle-class houses where the new log must always rest upon and be lighted by the old one, a small portion of which has been carefully stored away to preserve a continuity of light and heat.”

The log was lit on Christmas Eve and kept a blaze through the twelve days of Christmas and it was customarily said that as it burned the servants were always provided with ale. This would appear to be a survival of the tradition of having these days as holidays. Tony Deane and Tony Shaw (2003) in Folklore of Cornwall notes that it was also called the mock. They add that children were allowed to stay up late on Christmas Eve watching the flames and toasting with drinks the mock until recently, although they do not give further details.

Touch wood for luck

It was said that a fragment of the log is occasionally saved, and put under a bed, as noted by Gutch (1901) in her County Folklore of North Riding of Yorkshire, where at Whitby it remained till next Christmas, under the bed. It was said to secure the house from fire; a small piece of it thrown into a fire occurring at the house of a neighbour, will quell the raging flame.  The embers were also carefully tended and were must not be thrown out “for fear of throwing them in Our Saviour’s face.” According to Charlotte Burne (1883)  in Shropshire folklore they were:

“were raked up to it every night, and it was carefully tended that it might not go out during the whole season, during which time no light might either be struck, given, or borrowed.”

This tradition of the log’s power has been used to suggest a pre-Christian origin to the tradition. Dean and Shaw particularly note that in Cornwall it often had the image of a man carved upon it thought done to prevent witchcraft. Some have suggested this had to do with human sacrifice. However, there is no evidence for any use before the 1700s in Britain and no evidence before Christianity either.

Wooden be found today!

The custom’s decline is an interesting example of how socio-economic changes cause customs to decline. Clearly a victim of the Great War as accounts appear to disappear or rather not recorded subsequent. This is because of the changes that happened. The the large estates with their infinite staff became to decline, numbers of staff fell and the Manor house began to lose its position as the community focus. Furthermore as heating became more dependent on mains supply, many places did not need it and that combined with the disappearance of the horse as a work animal might have been the final nail. Yet interestingly, this is one of the few customs which translated across to the Americas and thrives there, probably because parts of the continent are so cold and snow bound they need they. A notable example can he read here but in the main they are either associated with boarding houses or hotels. Something ripe for a revival in Britain I feel!

 

 

Custom revived: Coventry Godiva Procession

Standard

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.

God1

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.”

 Godiva1 003Godiva1 002godiva2 003

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.

god3God2

Find out when it is on…..

It’s not on Calendar customs yet