Category Archives: Wills

Custom revived: Old Bolingbroke Candle Auction


Flaming popular

The tools for the auction“It was pleasant to see how backward men are a first to bid; and yet, when the candle was going out, how they brawl.”

So wrote Pepys of an auction in 1662. Auction by candle and pin was very popular in the mid 17th century, often over land for grazing and those given as bequests for charitable purposes. The basic procedure being the inserting of pin into the lit candle and then the bids continuing until the said pin fell.

Waxing and waning

Eleven candle auctions survive in England, some more famed than others. In Old Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire, a piece of land called Poor Folk’s Close a six acre site in the parish was auctioned for providing a money for the poor on the 21st December, St Thomas Day, noted for Thomasing, so no doubt it was established to prevent begging! Henry Brown in the book, Sold Reminiscences of a Lincolnshire Auctioneer noted:

“One can imagine the frantic flurry of bids as he final point approached and the pin perhaps began to sway a little. I imagine there must have been many arguments as to who exactly had the last bid as the pin fell. As always the auctioneer’s decision was final.”

This original auction appears to have died out in 1920s. The present form dates from the 1937, in celebration of the silver jubilee of George V, when a will of the Ramsden, gave land to pay for the upkeep of the village hall was knowingly established to revive and maintain the custom.
The will stipulating:

“Let the grazing of the field annually by the ancient custom and method peculiar to Old Bolingbroke, known as the Candlestick auction. The pin shall be inserted in the side of a lighted candle not more than one inch from the top and the person who is the highest bidder when the pin drops out shall be the purchaser of the grazing for the year.”

The holder had grazing rights for sheep only, although two horses could be grazed there as well but no poultry. The grazing commennced from the 1st April to 31st October, with half the hammer price being paid at the auction and half at the termination in October. The holder is responsible for the upkeep of the fencing and weed removal but the materials would be paid for by the council. Interestingly, a percentage of the profit would go to support any student in the parish who may need monetary help for the studies. The custom was for many years continued at the Ramsden Hall in the village, but seeing the rent contract for a number of years, moved it to Horncastle to join an equally old, or infact older, summer graving auction.

Candle in the wind

The day of the auction was very cold and a harsh wind was blowing on and off fortunately the auction was to be held in the warmer surrounds of the Black Swan, Horncastle, one of many inns in this delightful town, a few minutes before the start. I was met by the rather bucolic and friendly figure of George Bell, the auctioneer. Soon the room began to fill up with the world weary local farming community. A sea of green Barber jackets could be seen nestling in the pub surrounds awaiting the start of the auction. What was clear that this was a community coming together over the auction, Mr. Bell being very familiar with a large number of attendees.

Lighting the candleInserting the pin

At 1.30 sharp the auctioneer banged his gavel, and outlined the procedure. The candle was the light set up in ornate candlestick and diligently, over some discussion over what pin to use, a pin was inserted and the bidding begun…the eyes of he auctioneer flitting across the room as he repeated feverishly the bids, 20, 20, 22…the weather worn focused farmer faces breaking occasionally in the humour of the situation as it appeared the pin was not moving…after 7 minutes or so, it was decided to go to another lot. Asking of anyone else was about to bid – the room was silent at £32. Just as the bidding on this ended and another lot was to be read the pin began to rock and just when no one was looking it fell. The bidder got it for £32 an acre, a bargain as in 2011 it reached £322 and in 2008, the first year the auction moved to Horncastle it raised an enormous £980. Understandably, with the cold harsh wintry weather outside, with snow on the ground, thoughts of summer grazing was perhaps not formost for some. The auction was a window displaying how hard it has been of late for these farmers – wet summers, compounded with snow into spring – have meant it has difficult for many of these communities and not surprisingly perhaps the price of a small field in Bolingbroke was less than it had been.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

Old Bollingbroke Candle Auction (35)Has it gone? has!

Custom demised: Forty Shilling Day


A graveside dole

When William Glanville the Younger, who was William III’s treasury official, died on the 2nd February 1718, he left £40 annually for a rather unusual instructions for a graveside dole. The details of this bequest was to provide £2 to five poor boys of his Wooton, Surrey, parish. However it wasn’t that simply. To qualify for this sum there were very specific requirements and conditions.

A biblical knowledge

They had to place both hands on Glanville’s tomb in the parish churchyard, then recite by heart the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments. That might sound like enough especially in a largely illiterate population but Glanville put even more requirements down. Next they were to take up a bible and read aloud the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle of the Corinthians and write out two verses of this chapter in legible hand.

Despite being a quaint ceremony, perhaps, Glanville had created a time bomb of a custom. Firstly many boys could not read and write, especially the poor. Secondly, the Parish of Wooton is very small and to provide 5 under sixteen year olds each year would surely have been impossible. This second problem he had foreseen and stated that neighbouring and often larger parishes could provide their youths. What he didn’t foresee of course was that his anniversary would fall upon the coldest month in the year….not great for an outside ceremony! Although a tent was usually erected over it to prevent the rigours of the weather.

A dying custom

In correspondence with the vicar in the 1990s I was told that the custom had only recently fallen into abeyance. Despite advertisement locally unsurprisingly perhaps the combination of cold weather, the lack of biblical knowledge and the attraction of £2 in a widely affluent stockbroker-belt area saw it demise. The custom was moved to June in its last few years…but finally petered out. Reading and writing skills have improved but unfortunately the reluctance of boys do this had not. Perhaps in our more custom interested times it could be revived with adults! Any Morris men interested?

Custom survived: Firing the Fenny Poppers



Firing the Fenny Poppers (2)
© Copyright Cameraman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The days before the web

The firing of the Fenny Poppers was the first ceremonial custom I intentionally visited. True, I had come across such events before, the Lord Mayor’s show, Morris dancers (some of my earliest memories which speaks volumes perhaps) and the odd bit of Maypole dancing. But this was different. I had read about it in an old book on customs and was intrigued to find out more. In those days, there was no internet and the first port of call would be the local Tourist misinformation Centre as I call them. I rang up Milton Keynes and unsurprising, as I wasn’t after accommodation or information on theme parks, they were unable to help me! That’s not strictly true they did suggest I contact the church. So with my copy of Crockfords, I rang up….but didn’t get through. I decided to go anyway….if it wasn’t one there were always other things to do around it.

I turned up in the village, now a suburb of that large Milton Keynes and asked. “It happens at the rec”. At first I was confused by this, until the lady directed me to the recreation ground. Here were the poppers, miniature canons, embedded in the leafy soil of that park.

Pocket canons which pack a punch!

364 days a year, these six strange objects, which resemble small beer tankards, hang in that parish church. Then on the 11th they are brushed down, filled with gunpowder and fired! Called ceremonial cannons, it is thought that the originals dated from 1740, but may have indeed been medieval as their instigator collected such items. They unsurprisingly became cracked and deteriorated such that they were re-cast in 1859. It is still remarkable that they are still being used.

These guns were placed upwards and slightly buried, loaded with charges of around an ounce of black gunpowder. Then with twelve foot metal rod with a red-hot end, made so in the church furnace, they were lit gleefully by the church warden and they certainly made a bang. This ceremony happens at noon, 2pm and then 4pm. Originally, the ceremony was at the church by the collateral damage to both it and the Bull it was moved to more open ground.  When I visited, the custom was bereft of any cones and cordoning, only the bellowing of the church warden to look out! It is noted that by tradition the vicar fired the first, and local notable people would do the others, but I cannot remember others doing it.

A blazing memorial

This is a strange celebration associated with Dr. Browne Willis a rather eccentric historian who paid for the building of St. Martin’s church in 1730. This being intentional named after his grandfather a noted neurologist, Thomas who lived on St. Martin’s Lane, London, prayed at St Martin in the Fields in London and even died on 11th November!

Upon his death, he wanted to make sure Martinmass was truely celebrated and so a sermon was established in his honour of his grandfather, a noted neurologist Thomas Willis, an evening meal at The Bull where turkey would always be served and more excitedly, the firing of the fenny poppers as they became known, on that date. Interestingly its celebration is a rare survival for mention November 11th to many people and Remembrance Day will be their answer and indeed many may confuse the firing with that commemoration but they of course would be wrong.

The Firing of the Fenny Poppers is a quintessential British custom, noisy, smelly, enigmatic and to be honest slightly pointless, and all the better for it.

Customs demised: The Stamford Bull Run


“Come all you bonny boys,

Who love to bait the bonny bull,

Who take delight in noise,

And you shall have your belly-full,

On Stamford’s Town Bull Running Day,

We’ll show you such right gallant play,

You’ll never saw the like, you’ll say,

As you have seen at Stamford.”

Such goes the folk song ‘The Stamford Bullards’ Often when discussing old lost traditions and customs, one can melancholically look upon their demise and cry for a revival; however the Stamford Bull run is doubtlessly an exception.

Like a bull at the gate the origin of the custom

In 1209, William, Earl of Warren  was standing of the castle wall and saw a local butcher enrage a bull by throwing water of it to stop it fighting another in a meadow over a cow. It turned on the butcher and his poor unfortunate dog and chased them into town.  The Earl followed suit, as did a number of local bystanders, local dogs and all and sundry, as the Bull charged down the Main street and was eventually caught. The story being that the impromptu piece of entertainment so amused the earl that he gave the meadow to the town so long as on the anniversary of the date 13th November and bull would be set free to re-enact the strange event…and so it is said to have arisen. The detailed account is given in Bygone Lincolnshire:

“The origin of bull-running dates back to the days of King John, when Englishmen were noted for their coarseness and brutality, rather than for refinement and culture. But we have made great strides since then, and our national character, though partaking happily of the same robustness and thoroughness as of old, has lost much of its cruelty and roughness. In every period of our history there has been a national game or sport which has had much to do with moulding the character of the people.

The sport of bull-running, which, through many generations, was practised with much spirit by our forefathers on St. Brice’s Day, found its origin in a very simple incident. Two bulls were found by some butchers fighting in a field. They did their best to separate them, but in doing so drove the infuriated animals on to the public highway. The beasts at once set off at a furious rate into the town, to the great alarm of the people. The

Earl of Warren, being on horseback and noticing the danger, rode in pursuit of the animals, which, after a most exciting chase, he succeeded in bringing to bay, and they were secured. The effort to catch the bulls proved good sport to the noble huntsman, and so pleased was he that he determined to perpetuate so prolific a source of amusement. He, for this purpose, offered to the town the gift of the meadow in which the fight took place, on condition that a bull should be provided every year for the purpose of being run to bay on St. Brice’s Day. The town of Stamford still holds, we believe, certain common rights in what is known as the “Bull meadow,” though these and the supposed origin of this old custom rest upon no documentary evidence, so far as we have been able to ascertain. Whilst the sport was in its heyday of popularity, wealthy inhabitants left sums of money from time to time to make the necessary provision for carrying out the custom.

A mayor of the town, in 1756, left a sum of money to encourage the practice, and, as appears by the vestry accounts, the churchwardens annually gave money to aid the bull-running. ”

A cock and bull story?

What about Pamplona? Well yes, although Stamford predates this and other Spanish bull running customs, it is unlikely to be even greater in age and the Earl was simply preserving an old pagan custom. Where at the end of the harvest, beasts would be slaughtered, and the date is significant lying close to the old Celtic date of Samhain or now Hallowe’en, as well as laying in the Saxon ‘blood month’ Blotmonarth. The slaughter is emphasized by the fact that the day, St Brice’s Day, commemorated when Ethelred the Unready slaughtered the Danes and as Stamford that side of the Dane law maybe it commemorated that. It does seem coincidental.

The Bull running day….

Started when St Mary’s church bells rang at 10.45 am, this was to announce the closing and boarding of shops and the barricading of the street with carts and wagons.  By 11 am the bull was released to cheers and cagoules of the surrounding crowds, being enraged by a man who would roll towards it in a barrel? It would then run down the main street down into the Welland River where often it would be caught and butchered. Its meat was often sold to the poor and as such the custom by the 1700s was supported as a charity by donations.

Taking the Bull by the horns

It was clear that not all enjoyed the Bull Run. Butcher’s ” Survey of Stamford,” will give a tolerably correct idea of how the sport was conducted : ” During the seventeenth century, the bull was placed overnight in a stable belonging to the alderman, in readiness for the sport. On the morning of St. Brice’s Day proclamation was made by the town bellman to the following effect :

Each person was to shut up his shop door or gate, and none, under pain of imprisonment, were to do any violence to strangers, for the prevention of which the town being a great thoroughfare a guard was appointed for the passing of travellers through the streets without hurt. None were to have any iron upon their bull clubs or other staves with which they pursued the bull. After this proclamation had been made, the bull-running commenced. All the gates were shut ; the bull was turned out of the alderman’s premises, and away he ran, helter skelter, with the men, women, and children, and dogs of the town after him in hot chase, goading him on. Hotter and faster the running became, until at last the poor beast, entirely exhausted, was brought to bay, and despatched with the bull clubs.”It was a barbarous diversion, and it is astonishing that it should have lasted so long. Doubtless its vitality was due largely to the patronage it received from the well-to-do classes. At one period the barbarities connected with this exhibition were most disgusting. All manner of cruelties were perpetrated on the poor creatures to call forth their rage. What is most surprising is that the people of Stamford considered this annual carnival as one of the chief glories of the town, and any attempt at interference was sharply resented.

An eye-witness describes the scene on the occasion of the running as quite appalling to the sensitive mind. Persons of the baser sort flocked in from all the neighbouring villages. Horse- jobbers, hostlers, cads, butchers, pig-jobbers, and men of this class came together in large numbers, and the town was delivered into their hands for the day. Then riot, yelling, shouting, and uproar of the worst kind held absolute sway. At the tolling of the bell, the animal was let loose from the dark shed in which he had been detained for the night. If his ferocity was not equal to the expectations of the mob, he was goaded to greater madness by all the arts which brutal natures could suggest or devise. Not infrequently the poor beast’s flesh was lacerated and spirits poured in. The first object of the billiards, after causing it to tear at a furious rate through the town, was to drive it to the bridge, where it was immediately surrounded and lifted bodily over the parapet and plunged into the river. If they succeeded in accomplishing this before twelve o’clock, they were entitled to another bull. Even young children were taught to admire this riotous proceeding, and permitted to listen to the awful swearing and unclean language so loudly used during the day.”

Many reporters suggest that it was the RSPCA and similar minded people who put an end to this event, and although doubtlessly they had a role, the authorities were already trying to suppress it in 1788, long before such concerns. The result appears to have been the opposite and it became more popular.  The main concern was the rowdy and bawdy characters the event attracted to the town with associated drinking and fighting. This is emphasized by a report of discussing the run of 1835 mentions the bull only in contrast but describes:

“large assemblage of between 200 and 300 persons of the lowest description….halted in front of various houses, particularly those of the inhabitants who were known to be adverse to such cruelties … where loud yells … were set up by the mob”.

In 1839, the government brought in the 5th Dragoon guards to suppress the event: they were unsuccessful directly but increasing presence of troops at the event was the final nail. Every time they appeared the excessive cost was laid at the feet of the ratepayers…soon a petition was signed by the towns folk that said stop sending in the troops and we’ll stop it. And they did. Interestingly, Sutton ‘s Lincolnshire Calendar (1996) notes that despite it being abandoned so long ago people alive still remembered it. A correspondent called E.J.P stated that:

“I’m 89 this year (1996). My father was born in 1862 and died in 1960 aged 98. His father, my grandfather, was taken as a boy to have a day out at the bull-running: sometime in the mid to late 1830s.They were living not far from Peterborough at the time and it was the custom for everyone to go to Stamford for the occasion. The Bull was run right across the town. It was caught, butchered on the spot and then roasted and dished up to the waiting crowd. Being a cold time of year, folk were ready for something warm to eat. It was an exciting thing for folk to watch and many made a day’s outing for the ‘do’.”

Today, on this day, the streets are relatively quiet and perhaps the vibrant and exciting frisson of the day is something that is missed on a cold and wet November day. Perhaps someone could start a run with a mechanical bull?

Custom survived..the Tichborne Dole


The March posts all have a theme if you can notice it….

On the 25th March each year, the usually sleepy Hampshire village, remembers its heritage and perhaps, at the same time, preserves and underlines the role of the village gentry in the welfare of the village, an aspect largely forgotten as villages become satellite settlements for larger cities! This they do by distributing the Tichborne Dole, one of the most famous and largest distributions surviving in England today. Its survival is perhaps surprising, with many such villages not exactly thronging with obvious ‘poor’, but its survival is as much to do with its peculiar legend as its usefulness of its distribution being flour which although perhaps not as prohibitively expensive, useful nevertheless!

The Crawls!

The origin of the custom dates back to the reign of Henry II. It is said that the manor was owned by a rather uncaring Lord of the Manor, Sir Roger Tichborne. His wife. Lady Mabella, lay on her death bed and asked him if he would set up a bequest and provide income for the poor after her demise. He agreed, but said only wheat from land she could walk around whilst a torch burnt, could be provided knowing perhaps this would rather restrict her bequest. Yet although she was too weak to walk, she did succeed in crawling around a twenty-three acre field, now called ‘The Crawls’ (north of Tichborne Park, beside Alresford road). Probably astonished he did establish a bread dole which continued from that date until 1796.

The curse!

In 1796 it was suspended, as the local magistrate was concerned that the tradition attracted too much itinerant people and the crime associated with strangers in the village. Yet, the suspension did not last long because it is said of a curse laid down by Lady Tichborne, maybe to ensure that future Lord’s were not as cruel as her husband. It is said that if the dole was stopped there would be a generation of seven sons, would be followed by one of seven daughters and the family name would become extinct and the house collapse. It is said that part of the house did collapse in 1803, an indeed, Sir Henry Tichborne, himself a seventh son, in 1821 produced seven daughters! As a consequence the dole was re-established and soon in 1839, a nephew was born, Roger soon followed by a younger brother called Alfred.

However his brother Edward did have a son, Henry, born in 1829 but he died in 1836 aged six years old. At this point, fearing that the curse had come to fruition, the Dole was resumed. Edward became the 9th baronet but had no sons. Another of the seven brothers, James, became the 10th baronet. He had two sons, Roger, who was born in 1829 (before the Dole was resumed) and Alfred, born in 1839 (after the resumption of the Dole). Roger was shipwrecked and lost at sea (1854) and Alfred eventually became the 11th baronet on his father’s death in 1862. Sir Alfred died in 1866 leaving his wife pregnant with a son, Sir Henry Doughty-Tichborne, 12th Bart.

The Tichborne Claimant

Interestingly, the male heir to the estate was lost in 1845 during sea voyage and his brother took the estate. However, this was not the end of the story, for two decades later he re-appeared and claimed the estate. A cause celebre court case begun which proved the man, real name Arthur Orton, to be an imposter!

The dole today

I had the opportunity to witness the dole in 1996 on a grey but dry 25th March, within the last few years the current owners, the Loudons, had recently let out the hall but the family was still present with a Mrs, Hendrie the sole descendent of the Tichborne family. It was a cheerful and strange affair, where all and sundry were invited into the grounds of this usually private estate, although only those from the parish and neighbouring Cheriton and Lane End, where at the halls steps could be found a large wooden box and surrounding it about 40 20 litre bags of flour. Local people assembled in their numbers. They appeared to be clutching plastic and more substantial bags, after a gallon of flour was the allocation, with children half a gallon, so something substantial was needed! The flour was poured into the wooden box, bag by bag. Once it was filled the local Catholic Dean of Winchester blessed the flour and sacred oil sprayed over it and incense wafted over it, in a ceremony probably not dissimilar to that which happened pre-Reformation. After a few words were said over it, a list was read of those who could claim it and Mrs Loudon now wearing her white coat used a bucket to pour into the first claimant’s sack. So it continued until after about half an hour or maybe a bit over, the last gallon of flour was emptied into the last bag and the assembled team of distributed disappeared for a good earned rest no doubt.

And so I am sure it continues because despite the changes of ownership of the estate and usage, a stipulation of the ownership of the house is that the dole continues….a no-one wants to evoke the curse again!

Copyright Pixyledpublications contact me if you wish to use the photos!

Customs revived: The Hercules Clay or Bombshell sermon


A real bombshell

This one of the country’s more interesting surviving customs by virtue of its origin is that which takes place on the sunday nearest to the 11th March. Brown’s work of Nottinghamshire (1891) tells the story:

A worthy resident, Hercules Clay, some time Mayor of Newark, resided in a house at the corner of the market-place not far from the Governor’s mansion. For three nights in succession he dreamt that the besiegers had set his place on fire, and he became so impressed with the circumstance that he and his family quitted their abode. They had no sooner done so than a bomb, fired from Beacon Hill, occupied by the Parliamentary forces, and believed to have been aimed at the Governor’s house, fell on the roof of Clay’s dwelling, and, passing through every floor, set the whole building in flames. The tradition is that a spy, blindfolded, and bearing a flag of truce, came from the army on the hill to the Governor’s house, and was able on his return so accurately to describe its situation as to make the shot all but successful. To commemorate his deliverance, Mr. Clay left a sum of money to be distributed in charity (it. is given away annually in penny loaves), and the memorial to him in the parish church testifies in a lengthy and curious inscription to the miraculous nature of his escape: ‘Being thus delivered by a strength greater than that of Hercules, And having been drawn out of the deep Clay, I now inhabit the stars on high.’”       

It is an unusual tradition, although endowed sermons are not rare in England, surviving ones are and certainly the association with the Mayoralty and colourful nature of its legend, its name Bombshell sermon, kept it well known. I am attended the ceremony on warm Sunday 11th, the exact day of the incidence. The delightful parish church of Mary Magdalene rang out at 11 o’clock to call the assembled Mayor, local dignitaries and those in local business to the sermon. They processed with great solemnity from the Town hall next door to Clay’s residence and led by a bible bearer, said to carry Clay’s bible or a replica. As we entered the church, two trays could be seen with bread buns wrapped in cling film, the penny loaves noted above. The vicar welcomed the assembled congregation, with the bible presented at the altar and the readings had a bread theme, the sermon on the mount, being the obvious one….

Born and bread

Whilst on the matter of food, it is worth considering these penny loaves, or now as it seems buns. The provision of penny loaves was established from the profits of the £100 given by Clay. Penny doles were often used to attract attendance to the sermon, (as well perhaps a vestige of the old idea of sin eating lost at the Reformation) gave the day in Newark another name, Penny Loaf day. Reports in the Mercury for March 1828 records that 3654 loaves were given out and it reports understandably with scorn:

“some gentlemen amused themselves by kicking the bread around in the streets.” They noted that they believed that they would “regret the waste if in the future they are hungry”.

Certainly the size of the dole and its misuse had an effect on how it was delivered for in 1832, for the parishioners met that year to discuss the fact the dole ‘cost more than was left for that purpose’ and deemed it necessary to restrict it to 80 poor and needy families by giving 1 shilling loaves. However, this agreement did not appear to have had an impact as in 1833 it is reported:

“On Monday last, being the anniversary of the deliverance of Mr. Clay from Oliver Cromwell’s fury, a sermon was preached in the morning of Newark church and in the afternoon a penny loaf was distributed in the Town Hall to all who chose to accept it by the church warden according to the tenor of the will of Mr. Clay three thousand eight hundred and sixty four loaves were delivered.”    


It appears at some point, the sermon died out to be re-established in 1974 when the current Mayor decided to commemorate again this most famous son. Varying reports suggest that the bread dole disappeared (probably because of the enormous sizes of the doles of the 19th century), or it was replaced by money. Interestingly, in recent years the trend has been reversed and although it is reported in various books that members of the choir receive the loaves (in the Newark advertiser in 2008-2011 particularly), the present ceremony invites local charities to do a presentation and it is to that chosen charity that the loaves are given. In 2012 it was Newark Foyer who provide for the homeless and they took the twenty loaves and deciding to add Bacon to them would give them to anyone who came looking for help at the desks on the following Monday.

So I am sure that Clay would be happy to hear that the needy are once again receiving the dole.

Custom demised: the washing of Molly Grime


One of the country’s most unusual and rather unique custom was the ‘Washing Molly Grime’ which was associated with a well called Newell’s well and an effigy in the parish church The tradition appears to have become confused over the centuries. A full account is recorded by a H. Winn in Notes and Queries (1888-9):

“The church of Glentham was originally dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, a circumstance obviously alluded to by a sculpture in stone of the Virgin supporting the dead Christ in her arms, still to be seen over the porch entrance and placed there by some early representative of the Tourneys of Caenby, who had a mortuary chapel on the north side of Glentham church. The washing of the effigy of the dead Christ every Good Friday, and strewing of his bier with spring flowers previous to a mock entombment, was a special observance here. It was allowed to be done by virgins only, as many desired to take part in the ceremony being permitted to do so in mourning garb. The water for washing the image was carried in procession from Neu-well adjacent. A rent was charged of seven shillings a year was left upon some land at Glentham for the support oif this custom, and was last paid by W. Thorpe, the owner, to seven old maids for the performance of washing the effigy each Good Friday. The custom being known as Molly Grime’s washing led to an erroneous idea that the rent charge was instituted by a spinster of that name, but ‘Molly Grime’ is clearly a corruption of the ‘Malgraen’ i.e Holy Image washing, of an ancient local dialect.”        

          The origin for the well’s name is also confused. Rudkin (1936) notes:

“They reckon it’s called Newell’s well on account of a man named Newell as left money to seven poor widow women..”

However, it is more likely to be simply new well, perhaps deriving its name from ‘eau’, a common word in the county.      When and why the tradition switched from washing the holy image to that supposedly of the Tourney (Lady Anne Tourney a local 14th century land owner) is unclear, but it is possible that the change occurred at the Reformation and that perhaps the money was given to wash both holy image and that of the benefactor and post Reformation only the benefactor washing survived. There is a similar tradition called the ‘Dusters’ in Duffield. The name of the activity clearly survived as Rudkin that:

“ they’d wash a stone coffin-top as in the Church; this ‘ere coffin-top is in the form of a women. ‘Molly Grime’ they calls it.”

Farjeon (1957) records a nursery rhyme about the custom:

Seven old maids, Seven old maids,
once upon a time, Got when they came
Came of Good Friday, Seven new shillings
To wash Molly Grime, In Charity’s name,
The water for washing, God bless the water
Was fetched from Newell, God bless the rhyme
And who Molly was I never heard tell. And God bless the old maids that washed Molly Grime

Sadly  in 1832 the land which paid for this curious custom was sold, and with the land gone, so did the custom…except between 2001 and 2004, a new tradition in imitation of this one arose on Father’s Day. This was a race to the well and back with a balloon filled with water from the well. This goes to show that sometimes a good tradition does not disappear easily..

The theme was wills of course and leaving of money to instigate the custom…