Category Archives: Worcestershire

Custom demised: Clementing and catterning

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Cattern and Clemen, be here be here! Some of your apples and some of your beer!”

It is unusual to find two days which become tied together in folklore and belief – obviously there are the obvious Christian festivals, but for a long time St Clement’s Day – 23rd November and St Katherine’s Day – the 25th of November became unified as a season for mainly children to beg. Often this was for fruit and nuts and was once down in churchyards associated with the saints. Henry the VIIIth banned the practice in churchyards…yet outside it could continue.

Plot in his History of Staffordshire 1686 notes:

“a Pot is marked against the 23rd November, the Feast of St. Clement, from the ancient custom of going about that night to beg drink to make merry with.”

An 1914 article in by Charlotte Burne in Folklore called Souling, clementing and catterning – three November customs of the western Midlands emphasizes the wide range of begging chants for this custom:

“Clemeny, Clemeny, year by year, Some of your apples and some of your beer I. Up with the ladder and down with the can ! Give me red apples and I’ll be gone !”

Or “Dame come down and deal your dole ! And the Lord have mercy on your soul! “

Or “We are not daily beggars that beg from door to door, But we are neighbours’ children whom you have seen before.”

Or “The master and the missis are sitting by the fire, While we poor children are a-trudging in the mire. The lanes arevery dirty, our shoes are very thin, We’ve got a little pocket to put a penny in! “

Or “Roll, roll ! Gentleman butler, fill the bowl! If you fill it of the best, God will send your soul to rest ! If you fill it of the small You shall have no rest at all!”

Or

“If you fill it from the well God will send your soul to Hell!”

The range of chants is interesting and it is clear that some overlapping with souling, itself only 22 days earlier is evident. Indeed, the distribution geographically shows overlap. The custom was particularly strong in the midlands – Staffordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. Indeed it was in Staffordshire that the last clementing custom existed. It is thought that the employment of nail and chain makers in the industrialised areas may have caused the frequency of the celebration of St. Clement being considered the patron saint of blacksmiths.

Indeed, it is Staffordshire-Shropshire boarders where we see record of the last surviving Clementing. Unsurprisingly it is a school. The Stourbridge Express of 27th November 1965 reported:

“that over 60 children at Enville School celebrated the Feast of St Clement in the traditional manner on Thursday. The feast which symbolised the gathering of the apple crop, was revived by the headmistress Miss Steward in 1961. The children marched to Enville Hall where they sung the Clemeny Song, they then received an apple each. Afterwards the butler, Mr Longbottom showered the children with hot pennies.”

These pennies were placed on a heated shovel and tossed into the air. It was a self-conscious effort for the owner of the hall obviously with an eye for the quaint but perhaps one which was doomed to disappear as the estate changed. Indeed in correspondence with Mrs Sandy Haynes, archivist to the Enville Estates she believed the custom continued until the 1970s when the school was closed..certainly it was still listed in some early 80s folk custom books such as Bernard Schofield’s 1981 Events in Britain who adds:

“St Clement’s Day Ceremony Enville. A procession of children from the local school proceeds to Enville Hall where the Clemeny-song of the district is sung. They are given an apple apiece and then scramble for hot pennies.”

However it was probably extinct by then. Recently I have read of a revival of sorts by the teams behind the Hastings Bonfire, although this time there are no begging children and probably few apples!

Custom contrived: St. Richard Festival, Droitwich

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The Richard festival illustrates how an ancient feast day can be used to create a local event which celebrates the town’s claim to fame – it’sbrine pits in a manner which incorporates all the classic aspects of a May festival: Morris Men, maypole dancing, historical reenactment and err… classic cars.

Take with a pinch of saltimage

The town had some history of celebrating these brine pits. John Leland in his Itinerary, written around 1540 gives the legend:

Some say that this salt springe dyd fayle in the tyme of Richard de la Wiche Byschope of Chichester and that after by his intercession it was restored to the profit of the old course. Such is the superstition of the people. In token whereof, or for the honour that the Wiche-men and saulters bare unto this Richard their cuntre-man, they used of late tymes on his daye to hang about this sault spring or well once a yeere with tapestry, and to have drinking games and revels at it.”

John Aubrey noted that:

“on the day of St Richard the Patron of ye Well (i.e.) saltwell, they keep Holyday, dresse the well with green Boughes and flowers. One yeare sc. Ao 164-, in the Presbyterian times it was discontinued in the Civil-warres; and after that the spring shranke up or dried up for some time. So afterwards they kept their annuall custome (notwithstanding the power of ye Parliament and soldiers), and the salt-water returned again and still continues.

This appears to have been an early record of well dressing in the country, albeit not as elaborate as those of Derbyshire today and simply arches over the well to give thanks. When this custom fell into abeyance is unclear, but it was probably around the Reformation, although according some sources his statue, erected 1935, was dressed on the 3rd April until the 1990s but details are difficult to find.

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A new custom ready salted

What exists today is a celebration with a modern twist, not exactly a revival, but an concoction of what these events should have. it combines elements of the traditional custom with modern twists. Arriving in the town one comes face to face with Morris Men whacking sticks close to vintage Morris Minors. The cars are indeed such a big attraction they’ve taken over the billing and the event us renamed St Richard’s Boat and Car Festival, and these cars rather surreally spreads through the quaint streets of the town.

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However the wells are not forgotten. The replica Upwich pit and a brine pump in town are imaginatively dressed in honour of the saint with a model of a swan made of flowers and other flower dressing. In the last few years a local Probus 87 group, a local business group, have reenacted the blessing. Now a group dressed as friars wind their way from the church carrying a banner with the saint and a floral cross. At the well a ‘bishop of Chichester’ blesses the pit. After such a traditional aspects it’s back to the puppets, boats, classic cars…all in all a splendid advert for the town.

Custom demised: Jack O’ Lent

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jack of lent

“you little Jack-a-Lent, have you been true to us;”

Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor

Aside the obvious Christian observation of the day, Ash Wednesday, is little else noted. However certainly from the Tudor period onwards, and possibly earlier, a curious custom was widespread across the country. For at the beginning of Lent, communities would make a straw figure called Jack O Lent which was paraded through the streets and abused. Often made up of straw and castoff clothes, he would be burnt, shot at, or thrown down a chimney to much merriment and pleasure.

By Tudor and Elizabethan times it was well known, as noted by Shakespeare who quotes it twice, for Falstaff remark later in the Merry Wives states:

“how wit may be made a Jack-a-Lent, when ’tis upon ill employment!”

Beaumont and Fletcher’s A Tamer Tam’d  in 1606-7 state:

“If I forfeit, Make me a Jack o Lent and break my shins, For Boys to hurl three throws a penny at thee.”

And in the Coxcomb 1608-10:

“Come, I’ll lead you in by your Jack a lent hair, go quietly, or I’ll make your crupper crack.”

A Shakespearian actor, Elderton, even recalled the custom in a ballad called Lenton Stuff:

“When Jakke a’ Lent comes justlynge in,
With the hedpeece of a herynge,
And saythe, repent yowe of yower syn,
For shame, syrs, leve yowre swerynge:
And to Palme Sonday doethe he ryde,
With sprots and herryngs by his syde,
And makes an end of Lenton tyde”

Who was Jack?

Generally it is thought that the image was said to be Judas Iscariot, but it may have an older and deeper meaning. Considering the time of year it may be a pagan figure who’s ritual abuse would record the turn of the year, a Winter god who dies when Spring is reborn. Sadly, as Ronald Hutton (1996) in his Stations of the Sun notes there does not appear any pre-Tudor note but its widespread discussion suggests an older origin. What is particularly interesting is the prevalence of the custom in the city of London and indeed he was seen in pageants. Such as pageant of Easter 1553 had him on his death bed, with a priest shriving him of sin and a wife begging a doctor to save his life for a thousand pounds, as a Lord of Misrule, representing the feasting of Easter looked on. Certainly, this is a symbolism that supports the Winter-Spring iconography. When Henrietta Maria made her entry into London, on June 16th 1625, a ballade called ‘Jack of Lent’s Ballad’ was constructed recalling such rich pageantry. Indeed, Jack O Lent figures highly through Jacobean to Restoration times if his numerous literary references are to be believed as a figure of worthlessness and ridicule. In 1611 John Crooke’s Greene’s Tu quoque notes of it

“for if a Boy, that is throwing at his Jack o’ Lent chance it hit me on the shins.”

Ben Jonson, in his 1633 Tale of a Tub, makes light of someone in need of begging by stating:

Thou cam’st but half a thing into the world,

And wast made up of patches, parings, shreds;                                                      

that when last thou wert put out of service, 

Travell’d to Hampstead Heath on an Ash Wednesday 

where thou didst stand six weeks the Jack of Lent, 

For boys to hurl three throws a penny at thee 

To make thee a purse.”

In Francis Quarles Shepherd’s Oracles dating from 1646

“How like a Jack a Lent, He stands for Boys to spend their Shrove-tide throws, Or like a puppit made to frighten crows.”

Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene note in the Old Comedy of Lady Alimony of 1659:

“Throwing cudgels, At Jack a lents or Shrove Cocks”

However, as figure of ridicule and pageantry it appears to disappear, certainly from London, probably as a result of Puritanism’s effect on Lent. However, it appears to survive elsewhere in name and occasionally in physical form until recent times. In Oxfordshire children would cry at least until the 17th century:

“Harings, harings white and red,

Ten a penny Lent’s dead,

Rise dame and give an egg,

Or else a piece of bacon,

One for Peter two for Paul

Three for Jack a Lents all,

Away Lent throw away.”

Elsewhere, mention is made of shying a Jack O Lent at Minehead by Palmer in Folklore of Somerset (1976). Oddly, in one case a permanent Jack O Lent existed. This was at Midsomer Norton, where a church effigy of the Gourney family was the subject of local egg and rock throwing when he ended up in the vicarage garden after the old church was demolished.  Whether in any cases it was paraded as such is unclear.  However, such parades may have been widespread. A mention is made of him in supposedly a similar procession at Worcester according to Chamberlain accounts of 1653. More significantly on Nickanan night in Cornwall and a parade of a Jack O Lent is noted in Polperro Cornwall as late as 1876. Indeed, in Lincolnshire the custom survived until the 1920s, when a Swineshead man in recalls perhaps the last Jack of Lent:

When I was about 15 years old, 70 years ago, they used to make an effigy of Judas from straw and hang it up on Boston market place near the old stocks. The idea was for folks to throw a clod of muck at it for betraying Jesus. If any of it was left at the end of Lent it was torn down or set on fire to: that was to make sure it got finished properly.”

This may not be strictly true of course, as the last although again not perhaps called as such burned away in Liverpool in the incendiary custom of Burning Judas, although Steve Roud (2008) in his The English Year believes this association to be a latter one…probably the Liverpool custom has the same origin but were not related. Perhaps we will never know…

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