Tag Archives: derbyshire

Custom revived: Winster Morris and Winster Wakes

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This is it and that is it and this is Morris dancing

Think Morris, think Cotswolds perhaps, however Derbyshire has a long tradition and Winster is without doubt the oldest traditional team in the county which survives, Tideswell’s team although mentioned in the late 1700 appears to have vanished. Winster also does not fit into the other types not boarder nor clog, molly or Cotswold. Winster of course have many interesting customs, its pancake race and the Guisers, which themselves are made up of Morris team members.

It was 1863 when Morris groups are first mentioned in the town and it is believed that they were well established by then. Renowned English Folk Music enthusiast Cecil Sharp visited the town in 1908 to record the dances in his Morris Book Part 3 1924. The team then wore white shirt and trousers, with cross-belts with rosettes, black shoes and bells. They continue to do so. The team consists of 16 dancers, rather than the traditional six, who split into two files of eight and an unusual four characters. This is a unique feature.

Another unique feature is its nature of its dance which consists of processional and stationary dances: The Processional, The Blue-Eyed Stranger, The Morris Reel, The Morris Gallop and The Morris March.  The most famed the Gallop is now performed by Morris teams across the world.

Dancing in and out of time

However, despite surviving until 1908, its demise was just around the corner and as men went to fight in the First World War the dancing disappeared. However, it was revived in the 1920s and could be seen throughout the county at fetes but again another war happened of course and the Morris died out. It was revived however in 1951 on the back of Festival of Britain by the headmaster of Winster School, George Noton, and as such the Morris team was made up by school boys. The revival lasted 4 years. It was revived again in 1977 on the back of the Silver Jubilee, but apparently lapsed and the modern team dates from 1979.

In 2008 the team decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Cecil Sharp’s visit called ‘Look Sharp’. The Derbyshire Times recorded that involved a that was a re-enactment of Sharp’s arrival in Winster by an actor Steve Tomlin. He arrived by steam train at Darley Dale and took a pony and trap to the town. The Times noted:

“On Saturday there will be a “mass morris” when more than 100 dancers from as far away as Oxfordshire and Essex will get together on Winster’s Main Street to dance. Six teams will also tour at least eight Peak District villages on their way to Winster.”

Wake up

The Winster Morris today are one of the main features of the town’s Wake week – a unsurprisingly week-long celebration of the town which originated from the patronal festival connected with the church.

On their day of dance is the best time to see this team and see its unique featured characters. These traditional characters were a King (in a military uniform), Queen (a man dressed in Victorian dress), Jester and a Witch (another man dressed in black). These survive today. The later two go around entertaining the crowd, although I could not see what the King did another than march around looking ceremonial which he did very well.

The event started with a procession in which the Winster team and their invited team, the equally fascinating Ock Street Morris with the freshly appointed Mock Mayor. However the main attraction are the Winster team who on the bright summer’s day are radiant as they jump and skip in and out of each other to the sound of the music. The Morris Gallop is the set piece of course and to watch this classic piece of folk dance in its natural home is a privilege.

“This is it and that is it

And this is Morris dancing

The Piper fell and broke his neck

and said it was a chancer

 

you don’t know and I don’t know

what fun we had at Brampton,

a roasted pig and a cuddle duck,

and a pudding in a lantern.”

 

 

 

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Custom contrived: Bonsall Hen Race

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You have to admire the creativity of many English pubs. Looking for a clever angle, amidst the special Happy Hours and inventive menus there are pubs which go beyond the obvious. The Barley Mow a small village pub tucked down a narrow country lane in a delightful Derbyshire village perhaps has developed one of the craziest – Hen Race Championships. Or did it?

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Fowl Play

Although, landlord David Wragg of the Barley Mow did start the current races 25 years ago, locals will tell you it was an old tradition at least dating back to the 1800s although details are scant. This was probably because the old tradition involved gambling. The main location was the event remoter hamlet of Ible, where the races focused around the Hope and Anchor. When this ceased, if indeed it has, is unclear but it was certainly in fine form back in 1986 when it was captured in jocular fashion the below video. This custom was done unsurprisingly perhaps on the 1st of April.

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Chicken Run

Arriving at the Barley Mow one quickly encounters the area a track 15 metres long. Being August, the organisers were struggling with erecting a tent, not for the spectators, but for the chickens…this is serious stuff..it was needed as well…it rained loads!

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All around the arena are competitors, sitting in cages, cat carriers and even cardboard boxes..their heads popping out and giving a cluck every now and then. Apparently these were any old fowls but many had been subjected to months of training and the landlord often takes his prize winner ‘Flo Jo’ for training across the moors. Not only that but this is a world championship with entries from as far away as Norway..I would be interested to hear their reasons at passport control.

Pecking order

Around 50 birds entered the races in a series of heats. Soon the races begun and hens were lined up at the starting line…and they were off..or rather not. It wasn’t exactly a speedy event with many of the birds looking quite bemused by it all. Some were more interested in going back to the start and pandemonium ensued when one managed to break through the fencing and enter the crowd! Some were content just to peck the ground beneath them..Despite their trainers were at the other end banging tins of sweetcorn and mealworms. Although the birds were pretty standard…their trainers were not – one being a capped crusader and another had a suit made of cartoon strips…great British eccentricity!

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Some hens were more proactive and one was particularly keen to show its abilities…after a few also rans it was clear that there is either natural variation in the survival instinct of the birds or the training worked. The overall winner was one called Road Runner and a very pleased young man called Harvey and his father Oliver looked as pretty pleased. I could say they were cocky….although I chickened out on that joke!

Custom revived: The Winster Guisers

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“December 26th. — This evening we had several sets of children ‘guising,’ dressed up in all sorts of queer ways, and singing one thing or other. The ‘Hobby Horse’ came too. Five men — one as a devil, one as a woman, one as an old woman with a besom, one with the Hobby Horse, and one as something or other else. We had them in the kitchen and gave them money.

December 27th. — Troops of children ‘guising’ again. We gave something to each lot. In the evening the Winster ‘Snap Dragon’ and ‘Hobby Horse’ conjoined came to us — ten men, one as Snap Dragon, two with Hobby Horses, two devils, etc., etc. We had them in the kitchen and gave them money.

Llewellynn Jewitt diary from 1867

Anyone who has been following this blog or occasionally visits will know I do enjoy a Mummer’s Play or Folk Play…I could fill the blog with accounts and some years I might experience 20-30 or so from across the country and over the seasons. Previous posts being testament such as the Soulcakers, Nottinghamshire Plough Monday plays and Ripley Guisers..but there are many more of course. One such tradition, a stable mate geographically with Ripley is that of the Winster Guisers, is worth exploring. Why? This is because the group, although a 1980 revival, is based on a curious photo from around 1870 and are rather bizarrely and frighteningly attired.

Winster Guisers 2014 (102)Winster Guisers 2014 (72)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping mum on the origin

Some authorities have argued that as Winster has a Morris tradition that the photo is of a Morris troup. Let us look at the evidence on both sides. Firstly, the season, the lack of leaves on the vine in the background suggests winter – the season of mainly mumming not Morris. However, two characters have musical instruments suggesting that the group are dancing yet music does appear in such folk plays for example the Poor Old Horse. This is particularly significant drawing reference to this as the tradition was a Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire-Yorkshire one and the photo may capture a rendition. However, the evidence against this are the other characters – particularly those on what appear to be hobby horses, something more apparent in Morris. However, surely these characters are soldiers riding their horses. Some authorities such as ….state that they do not appear to be in combat, but surely it is not difficult to consider they might jousting with their horses being the objects of conflict? The brooms held by the other characters are more difficult. Broom dancing does exist in Morris but it appears restricted to Molly dancing an eastern tradition of East Anglia and Lincolnshire. Alternatively and more likely these are the sweepers off commonly seen in renditions of the Derby Tup, again a locally prevalent folk play. The final evidence in favour are again those costumes – there is no uniformity, a facet commonly seen in Morris and they are disguised.  The wearing of masks of course is unknown in Morris who would use other forms such as blackening to disguise their features. This does not exclude the possibility but surely the wearing of masks would be an encumbrance for a dancer? It appears all pretty conclusive I feel, and perhaps doubts have only crept in as a result of Winster’s rather odd Morris hangers on – a witch, clown and sergeant – but could these have come from the mummers and not evidence of the other arrangement? Whatever the truth this evocative photo was used as the basis for the modern team but of course a photo does not provide a script.  I enquired about this and the team asked older members of the community who suggested the characters and snippets of the play.

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The team have very faithfully resurrected the costumes from the photograph – the two protagonists wearing military jackets with white trousers. Their heads being wrapped in a white cloth with a clown like imaginary painted upon it. The other characters have been resurrected – the besom carrying one and the doctor.  The script coming from a Cheshire souling play the most likely candidate but no one other than an expert of folk plays would notice of course.

Truly Dis-Guised

I turned up late for the first performance at Matlock..their schedule said 8.45, they started at 8.15…early for mummers is virtually unheard of it was probably a typo. At least this gave me time to settle in at their next venue and get a prime location.

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Soon the play started to a very receptive audience, many of whom had turned up to see it (it is good to advertise). In came the Introducer:

I open the door and I enter in

Your favour I shall win

Here I stand, sit or fall

I’ll do my best to please you all.

A room to enter in

Come raise up the fire, for in this room tonight, there’s going to be a dreadful fight,

So much a fight in this house, we’ll make the rafters ring

If you don’t please the words I say..step in St George, clear the way…”

Then in came the main protagonists Saint George followed by the Black Prince of Paradise both riding curious hobby horses. In came a rather rapid St George on his unusual hobby horse:

“I am St George, noble champion bold,

And was with this sword I will fight crimes again

It was I who fought that fiery dragon and brought him slaughter

For my valour I won fair sheila the King of Egypt’s daughter.

I’ve travelled the world, round and round, is not a man to equal me never have I found,

Shall meet the man that dare stand in front of me and I’ll cut him down with sword in hand

Black Prince: I am Black Prince of Paradise, born of high renowned,

And with this sword I soon fix thy loafty courage down,

In Black Morocco I am King and before this night old,

I’ll see thee lie dead upon this floor and make thy blood run cold

St George: What that thy sayeth

What I say I mean

Stand back thy black Morrocan dog or I’ll drive sword thy die

Cut thy body in four parts and make your button’s fly

I cast thy cut my body in four parts and make your button fly,

My head is made of brass, Me body is made of steel

My arms and legs are knuckle bone and challenge the to feel

Black Prince: Pull out thy purse and beg

St George: Pull out thy sword and fight!

The satisfaction I shall have before I thou goes away tonight.”

Horsing about?

What is unusual about the team shown in the photo are the small hobby horses which these protagonists ride between their legs geld by a cord around the rider’s neck. These appear to be like wooden rocking horse having a flat curved neck with small head and snapping jaws are about two feet long with a cylindrical body. The question being are these the snap dragons or the hobby horses described by Llewellynn Jewitt? Folklorist Cecil Sharp noted that a real horses head snap dragon was being used in 1908 however confusingly the Winster Morris in 1966 state they never had a hobby horse but did have a ceremony where a horse skull would be buried each year and dug up. That is a tradition which survives at Antrobus soul caking  – more of about this skull later.

Dying for a pint

King of Egypt enters similarly disguised in cloth with an Arabic hat: “I am the King of Egypt as proud doth I appear, I’ve come to seek the young black prince who is my son and heir.Where the man who doeth sway is and precious blood he spill?Who is the man upon this ground my only son did kill?”

St George: I did him slay was I who did him kill and on this ground his precious blood did spill. He challenged me to fight with him, did he, before I be a coward, I fight until I die

King of Egypt: St George, St George what have you done, you’ve gone and killed me only son.

My only son, my only heir, how can you leave him bleeding there?

This part then leads to the traditional entrance of a female character, usually a man in drag, but unusually and especially for this year…an actual women:

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Looks like there’s been some fighting in ‘ere , looks like we need a doctor

Is there a doctor who can cure this man of his deadly wounds?

King of Egypt: I’ll give you five pounds for a doctor

Doctor: There’s no five pound doctor.

King of Egypt: I’ll give you 10 pounds for a doctor

Doctor: In comes I who’s never late, With my big head and little wit, my big heads so big and my wits so small, I’ll endeavour to please you all, man of noble vein, no more than thee or any other man

I cames the to be a doctor?

Doctor: By my travels

Why how far hast you travelled?

Doctor: I’ve travelled up and down the country in this manner or that, I’ve travelled from the fireside to the bedside, from the bedside to me grandmother’s cupboard side, got many a lump of mouldy cheesey pie crust that has made me such a fine upstanding figure of man as I am.

Is that all?”

 No I’ve been to Italy, Spitaly, France, Germany and Spain and I come back to the insert pub name again,

What have you seen on your travels?

Two dead men fighting, two blind me seen fair play, two men acting arms pick them up and carrying them away and two dumb men shouted horray horray.

What canst you cure?

I can cure The ip, the pip, the stitch, the patsy and the gout, the pains within and pains out

There be nineteen Devils in a man’s skull I cast 21 of them out.

What else canst you cure?

I can cure a horse of the gout

How does you do that then?

Cut it off and kick it about!

Can you cure hotels?

I can cure horse of the piles

How does you do that?

Flick some salt on its arse and ride it for miles

Is that all your can cure?

No in this bag I’ve got all manner of things, crutches for lame ducks, and spectacles for blind bumblebees, splints for grasshoppers with broken legs and many other useful things

Any chance of curing this man then doctor?

I, I got some medicine. three sips from this bottle, go down his thittle-throttle, If not entirely slain, rise up and fight again.”

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What is clear perhaps from these doctor incidences is that in such communities the doctor was always a questionable character or that one of the least worthy men in the troup played him! After resurrecting the Black Prince he decides to fight St George again but is stopped and the starts the long sequence of begging. One of the most amusing being Little Johnny Jack, played by one of the tallest of the group, who delivered his lines with great emphasis and who had a collection of dolls stuck to his  back:

In comes I little Johnny Jack, it’s my wife and my family I got on my back, now my family is large and I’ve had a little fall, so a little please will help us all. Out of twelve children I’ve got but five, all the rest they’re starving alive, some in workhouse and some down mine, I’ll bring them all with me when I come here next year. Now Christmas comes but once a year, but when it comes it brings good cheer. There’s turkey and taters, and mince pies and no one likes this sort of thing more than these guisers and in. So ladies and gentlemen, sit there at your ease, but you’ll have to give a little to these guisers if you please. And if you don’t give enough to these lads and so then I’ll go back to the beginning and do it all over again.”

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The last line getting the best roar of the whole performance. Johnny Jack was joined by Beelzebub a traditional more threatening character and Little Devil Doubt who threatened:

“In comes in Little Devily doubt and If you don’t give me your money I’ll sweep you all out. It’s your money I want, it’s your money I crave and if you don’t give me your money I’ll sweep you to your grave. If you don’t believe the words I say..step in Old Horse and clear the way.”

This horse was the icing on this rather gruesome cake. A real horses skull, painted black with red circle eyes and controlling it unseen beneath a black sheet it’s handler…it moved on all fours with an eerie quick slow fashion like a horse out of control, or rather like a more benevolent Emu of Rod Hull fame!. He’s rider again eliciting sympathy:

In comes our old horse to bring you good cheer, Merry Christmas and Happy New year..he was a fine horse and now he’s dead, all is left is this poor old horses head, Cause he’s old with wrapped a blanket around him to keep him from the cold. Now he’s come to your house to see you, I pray I look around, a fine horse as ever there’s been

He’s got a Head as handsome as any Derby winner, But nose fine and noble, like a piece of Worcester China, Got an Eye like a hawk and a neck like a swan, ears less as keen they can hear the bells in Pomy church even when not ringing, he’s got a row of teeth big and bright, like new tombstones…a champion horse very well bred..travelled far, he’s been to Buxton and once as far as Elton.

King and Queen once rode behind him and bought him a neat coat but no only pulls an old milk float…When he was born his mother fell dead on spoonfuls of honey he was nursed and fed. Once he danced to many a tune, now he only has one leg and with this leg he has to beg..some coppers and some beer…he’ll dance you a gallop if you come next year.”

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The team sung us a Merry Christmas and the very appreciative audience, one of the best for a mummer’s play, dug deep for charity! Reflecting on a very amusing performance, one could understand the popularity of such plays then when there was an element of surprise in both the characterisation and dress perhaps in the days when many did not see regular performance.  The fights which must have been common place in pubs – they still are – easily got the attention. That combined with patriotic tendencies underlining it was a good one to elicit sympathy and support in the days when everyone appeared to be an enemy the other side of the channel! Furthermore, the plays gave the working classes the opportunity to ridicule the figures of authority as well…the language in some cases may seem a little odd and obscure, but the plays still have the power to make audiences laugh and of course dig deep. Winster Guisers, with its bizarre and scary costumes, unique hobby horse and eerie horse is something the town of Winster should be very proud of. Catch it if you can.

Spot the difference!

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Custom contrived: Fenny Bentley World Toe Wrestling Championship

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The custom started in 1974 when a then landlord read about the medieval custom of toe wrestling and has become one of the greatest contrived ‘chat down the pub’ events.

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Best foot forward

I arrived at the pub to see a throng of people ready for the great event. The sun was shining and the feet were bare! For first off is the inspection of the feet..a trained medic inspected the feet looking for anything, a cut, wart or source infection…some were discarded. They looked downright defeeted! Those which made it through made their way to the Toedium a raised area under a tent where the arena would be fought.

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Toed in the hole

The aim was to hit the opponents toe against the side by twisting their foot. Matches were the best of three, with both left and right feet being utilised.. Sounds easy!

“It’s a very demanding job as a referee. It looks like nothing, but it isn’t. You have to watch out for everything. You get some people, if they find they’re losing, they flick their toe out of the other’s grip. So you end up with a flick-off. People will do anything to win. So it might sound like a daft thing to say, but you’ve got to watch your flick-offs, as it were.”

Tournament referee Dave Mallor Ben Thrush InaPub website

However, the wrestlers have fully tight restrictions to be accepted. All hands must be flat on the floor, one foot in the air and any change in position is restricted, so no shuffling one’s bottom. Not easy hence the number of flick offs! These were when the foot slipped off! Quite often actually apparently adding to the tension.

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Well healed!

Thus unsurprisingly, judging the contest was tricky and it was clear that there was a difficulty in actually keeping your toes interlocked came to the fore with a number of false starts and miscalls or flick offs as they were called. A mother and daughter pairing in particularly was quick fraught giving a whole new dimension to mother-daughter relationship. There was also some controversy in the Women’s final, with  Lisa ‘Twinkle Toes’ Shenton  fighting a Rebecca ‘Camille Toe’ Beech being quite aggrieved by what she thought was a mis-call…would it end in some real wrestling I wondered. Finally Camille Toe rather proudly picked up the trophy and her mates had a few drinks to celebrate.

A pep talk between champions!

A pep talk between champions!

Sock it to him

The champion once again!

The champion once again!

A fair crowd had assembled I asked around the competition had contestants as far away as Buxton and Burton on Trent…well this was a world championship. Where were the other nations I thought? The event has attracted a wide range of colourful characters and terrible puns – Twinkle toes, Camel Toe, The Toeminator etc etc….One of the most notable of these was Nasty Nash. Tattoo on his arm. Shaved head. He looked rather intimidating. He takes it very seriously… he wore the traditional wrestling garb, the black leotard…on his body not of his feet. He was the reigning Men’s World Champion, making the heats…it was down to the final.  After eliminating all opposition it came down to (toe) nail biting final and despite some flick offs…he won. After this he had to battle an Australian…I say Australian, I asked him later where he came from and he said Watford! World championship? Certainly the coverage is global with companies from Japan and South Africa covering it. I guess it takes much more to get them over! Of course as the landlord noted on the InaPub website:

“They’ll stay on afterwards and have a few drinks and a bit of banter, so we do good business on the day,”

And after all that’s the point!

Find out when it is on….

Calendar customs http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/world-toe-wrestling-championship/

Custom revived: Poor Owd Oss

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Neigh Neigh!

Was it raining? It appeared that a month’s rain fell on Kimberley that evening as I made myself to an obscure pub in an out of the way part of the town. It was heavy..cold rain which gets in through your coat, under your skin, chills you…what did I expect it was the week before Christmas and there I stood in watching for the arrival of the Owd Oss…in a small typical suburban pub. Perhaps not the most likely one to see an old custom, but with it’s no nonsense decrepit decor, seats with the leather torn exposing their stuffing and mock Tudor woodwork, perhaps the most evocative. Arriving there early, I enquired if I had arrived at the correct place..yes they said they’ll arrive a little later and asked if I’d like a drink. I did a tea please….it was all I could have to warm me and for once a large mug was produced without any form of tutting or eye rolling! It was clearly a local’s pub, although unlike some local ones, it was in no way intimidating, but I did wonder what they would think when the Owd Oss would appear. Then through the rain appeared the team…running to avoid the wet from their car!!

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A kingdom for a horse!

Mayfield (1976) in his Legends of Nottinghamshire records a rendition done in the Mansfield area. Although called a mummer’s play it contains the least amount of dialogue and is mainly sung. The Owd Oss or Old Horse consisting of a painted horse’s skull on a stick which was often set up for it to snap shut.  The play itself describes a worn out horse. A report of the custom notes:

“A group of men would enter a pub or house and after reciting three verses of a prologue, would bring in Owd Oss which consisted of a man draped in a dark cloth with a carved horse’s head fastened to a stick. Rough music invariably followed the blacksmith’s attempt to shoe the horse, while the rest of the company played their parts. Then drinks were called for and the question was put could the Owd Oss manage to drink? The jaws of the horse were so arranged that a bear glass could be inserted and the moment of truth-and achievement- for the player performing the Owd Oss depending on the ability to take his drink without removing a scrap of his gruesome equipment.”       

Horse whispers…

Poor Owd Oss distribution was a north Midlands – Yorkshire one, with the longest continued tradition appearing to be in the 1970s in Dore on the outskirts of Sheffield. It appears to have been common in Nottinghamshire, particularly in Mansfield in the 1870s, but played until 1914, although as noted there is record in 1921 for the children of the village at school party. The local newspaper Mansfield Chad recorded a revival in 1984, but this appears to be a one off. Nothing appears recorded of the custom in the midlands for over 20 years. Then Dave Mooney, member of the Black Pig Morris and one of the Oss’s musicians apparently had the idea to revive it reading a book on folklore and customs in bed once, which noted that the Poor Owd Oss was enacted in Kimberley written by Mason (1902). He at the time was the member of a local Morris team and thought he would do some research. Lo and behold he found a script that was done in Kimberley and so getting a small group of musical friends together resurrected it in 2005. At first the Oss consisted of a papier-mâché skull, then one made of railway sleepers and finally a real horse’s skull. This skull is painted red, has LED eyes and other lights. Unlike the first skull this structure does not open and close its jaw – which is a shame. All skulls are attached to a pole and carried by a man cloaked and wearing a silver death mask. The reviver of this custom was Dave Mooney who informed me that he came across the custom whilst idly reading a book on traditions in bed! That year, after the discovery of the above script recorded by Mason in 1902 and information that is was done in Kimberley, with some musician friends and Morris men revived it. They custom is only undertaken one night, usually the week before Christmas and involves visiting local pubs usually three or four a night, including in Ilkeston in Derbyshire and mainly Kimberley in Nottinghamshire.

Take a horse to water…

It is also tempting to link the custom with the view of Archbishop of Canterbury Theodore in the 7th century Liber Poenitentialis who complained about tribes dressing in animal skins at the Kalends of January (the 1st) stating:

“whoever at the calends of January goeth about as a stag or bull; that is, making a himself into a wild animal and dressing in the skin of a herd animal, putting on the heads of the beast, whose who in such wise transform themselves into the appearance of a wild animal, penance for three years because this is devilish.”

Perhaps the Poor Owd Oss is a survival of this Winter solstice observation with this custom being a continuation of a form of pagan animal worship. However, it could have equally arisen in the Industrial period as a response with something to do with the skulls of pit ponies to raise some money!

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Horse play

With traditional blackened, reddened and whitened faces, alone the musicians and the Introducer shocked some of the pub’s regulars. Then the Introducer began to sing:

“By leave, you gentlemen all,   Your pardon I do crave, For making bold to come, To see what sport you’ll have. There’s more in company, They’re following close behind; They’ve sent us on before, Admittance for to find. These blades they are but young; Never acted here before; They’ll do the best they can, And the best can do no more.”

At this point the Old Oss arrives and the music is started and the introducer starts the main part of the song. As he does so the Oss parades through the crowd causing mischief: The opening verses were song with great vigour and the arrival of the Oss, a real horse’s skull painted red, accompanied by its stirring banjo, trumpet and drum was very impressive. The song goes:

“This is my poor old horse, that has carried me many a mile, Over hedges, over ditches, over high-barred gate and stile; But now he has grown old, and his nature does decay, He’s forced to snap at the shortest grass that grows along the way;”

At the end of each verse the crowd would cry:

“Poor old horse! Poor old horse!”

 The song would those continue:

“His coat it was once of the linsey-woolsey fine, His mane it grew at length, and his body it did shine, His pretty little shoulders that were so plump and round, They’re both worn out and aged; I’m afraid he is not sound; Poor old horse! Poor old horse!

His keep it was once of the best of corn and hay, That ever grew in cornfields, or in the meadows gay; But now into the open fields he is obliged to go, To stand all sorts of weather, either rain, or frost, or snow; Poor old horse! Poor old horse!

His hide unto the tanner I will so freely give; His body to the dogs; I would rather him die than live: So we’ll hang him, whip him, strip him, and a-hunting let him go; He’s neither fit to ride upon, or in the team to draw;
Poor old horse! Poor old horse!”

Then the team got themselves together and off to the next pub. Here there was a bigger crowd and some of them happily joined in with the verses. Then after their third pub…it was into the night, back to the stable for another year.

Stable revival

What I enjoyed about this revival was it was done for the right reasons, for the need to continue something unique to the area. Richmond, Yorkshire has similarly revived theirs, but with its attendance to proper pubs and working men’s locations, there is something earthier and working class about this revival and more in keeping with its origins I feel. The Poor Owd Oss is a Nottinghamshire – Derbyshire tradition and it is great to see that local people recognise this. The Owd Oss is done because it should be done and long may it continue quietly to be enjoyed in the obscure areas of Nottinghamshire.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

Custom demised: St. Andrew’s Day squirrel Hunt

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St. Andrew’s Day is more regularly associated with parties associated with Scotland’s patron saint. but in parts of England, it was also a traditional day for hunting squirrels. Now days, the grey squirrel divides opinion, vermin or established interloper, but these accounts involve its more well thought of Red Squirrel. Now in decline and one wonders why. Hasted in his work on Kent records that  in the parish of Eastling on St Andrew’s Day:

” there is yearly a diversion called squirrel-hunting in this and the neighbouring parishes, when the labourers and lower kind of people, assembling together, form a lawless rabble, and being accoutred with guns, poles, clubs, and other such weapons, spend the greatest part of the day in parading through the woods and grounds, with loud shoutings.”,

It is clear that the custom was an excuse for bad behaviour, as the author notes and the squirrels perhaps need not worry much:

“under the pretence of demolishing the squirrels, some few of which they kill, they destroy numbers of hares, pheasants, partridges, and in short whatever comes in their way, breaking down the hedges, and doing much other mischief, and in the evening betaking themselves to the alehouses.”

Perhaps, the custom was more about making mischief than hunting squirrels after all why choose this date. In 1852 the Journal of the Archaeological Association noted the same custom in Derbyshire.

“At Duffield, a curious remnant of the right of hunting wild animals is still observed—this is called the ” squirrel hunt.” The young men of the village assemble together on the Wakes Monday, each provided with a horn, a pan, or something capable of making a noise, and proceed to Keddleston Park, where, with shouting and the discordant noise of the instruments, they frighten the poor little squirrels, until they drop from the trees. Several having been thus captured the hunters return to Duffield, and having released the squirrels amongst some trees, recommence the hunt.”

Again the custom appeared to be part of an older tradition associated with preparing for Christmas perhaps as it notes:

“At Duffield, the right of collecting wood in the forest is also singularly observed. The young men in considerable numbers collect together, and having taken possession of any cart they can find, yoke themselves to it, and preceded by horns, remove any trees or other wood from the various lanes and hedge-rows; this is done almost nightly, between Sep­tember and the Wakes, in the first week in November, when a bonfire is made of the wood collected on the Wakes Monday.”

Both these customs associated with the same activity and month suggests it was more widespread than it recorded. St. Andrew’s Day, passes by without any worrying wildlife….and that’s a good thing for those poor squirrels I imagine!

Custom survived: Matlock Illuminations and Venetian fete

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The splendours of Matlock Bath are perhaps difficult to explain to anyone not familiar with English eccentricity. Bereft of the seaside, Midland’s people appear to have created one inland, with its fish and chip shops, stick of rock emporia, amusement arcades and kiss me quick frivolity. If one looked at the main parade of shops which not only regale in these but are joined by an aquarium, rides, ice-cream eaters and rows of motorbikes..one could see it easily transferred to face some salty sandy strip, waves breaking and long pier but no..turn around and you’ll see the great river Derwent slithering through this valley of vicarious vicissitudes instead. This was and is a spa town and like many spa towns it had a defined season. Defined seasons are all very well when we are by the sea, when sun bathing is a bit problematic in Autumn…but I get the impression that for spa towns, especially those in the decline in the late 1800s, any way of extending this season and bringing more tourists in would be welcome…so as the summer season comes to an end, days shorten, Matlock Bath invites you to its most colourful attraction…the Venetian illuminations.

Bright idea

The event dates back to 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, which is interesting as Victoria was said to be the inspiration. She recalled that when staying in Matlock Bath, she remarked how she saw the candle lights of the town reflected on the Derwent when staying there and thought the mist over the river was magical…and so the town decided to capitalise on this description. These were the days when everyone hung on the thoughts of the monarch…has little changed!?

Tripping the light fantastic

So in 1897, a selection of fairy lamps, Chinese and Japanese lanterns was used and a torchlight procession was undertaken through the village. Coloured bonfires lit up the gorge and illuminated boats floated down the river. So popular was the event, that the local trades people invested in glass bucket lanterns to illuminate the parade during the first Saturday in September every year. The growing popularity resulted in the formation of a ‘lamp committee’ which organised these displays but it was not until 1903 that the decorated and illuminated boats became a regular part of the event with a competition for the best one established called the Arkright Cup. This competition continues till this day, with a longer month or so long festival being established in 1952.

The delightful Riverside gardens are the venue for this curious custom. No better location can be found which typifies the Victorian splendour of old. Here everything trees, fountains and wells, are adorned with old fashioned bulb lighting which as dusk envelops gives the area a magical enchanted feeling.

Light up!

I arrived at the opening ceremony to watch, the councillor to officially open the illuminations. The switch on in the 1970s and 80s was done by people as varied as children’s artist Tony Hart to Doctor who’s Jon Pertwee, disappearing in the 1990s in a way competing with Blackpool’s famous switch ons, which still continue. Two small children were selected and I was amused to watch another have a hissy-fit when they were not selected: I do hope they have the same view after seeing the Blackpool lights switched up by some celeb?!Ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-three-two-one! Now with the help of these two small children selected from the audience, the delightful fairy-tale delight was switched on for another year. In reflection perhaps a celeb may raise the profile of the event, but understandably absence considering the appearance fees those celebs charge.

Bill and Ben

Float away

The main attractions here of course are the boats. During the day, these I must admit look unimpressive, but under the cover of darkness, their magnificence comes to life, especially when they are lit up all at once on their first outing. What is impressive, aside from the hundred and possibly thousands of bulbs, are mechanisms used, this year having a working Ferris wheel, swaying Chinese Dragon, and blinking eyed Thomas the Tank Engine Lorry. The first float however comes out solely being lit by candles as traditional, a custom which begun in the 1980s I believe to show what the original floats look like, in 2013 it was a bomber..impressive but not ad the main show and difficult to get a decent photo!

Light relief

At the end of the first evening, it was called upon for the councillor again to give out, the prizes. A strange collection of people clumped near the bandstand: Chinese mandarins, Smurfs, Willy Wonka! Four prizes were on offer in this Arkright cup. This competition has attracted some regular entrants, such as electrician David Gregory, who since 1971 has entered every year and won the cup 11 times.

With over 1800 coloured bulbs per boat, and over 100,000 visitors, Matlock’s illuminations are certainly in the big league when it comes to customs but outside the area little known especially compared to Blackpool.  Fortunately, for anyone reading this unlike when I describe these customs, they have finished, but in this case, the Illuminations continue every weekend until the end of October, so there’s still time to experience them if you are in the area.

On certain weekends, the night finishing with a spectacular fireworks.  A strange melancholy amongst the obvious vibrancy of a sky scattered in fireworks. The fireworks themselves subtly telling us that winter is on its way, time to tidy up and put the shops to bed..close down and finally reconcile oneself to the quieter winter ahead!

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