Tag Archives: Easter

Custom Survived: William Hubbard Graveside Easter Singing, Market Harborough, Leicestershire

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An Easter Custom. — On each recurring Easter Eve, in pursuance of a custom which has continued for more than a century (and which, as a fund was left for the purpose, will continue for centuries to come), the church choir of Market Harborough visit the ‘God’s Acre’ of St. Mary’s, and sing at midnight the beautiful Easter hymn over the grave of Mr. Hubbard, the founder of the chantry of that name.”

The History of Market- Harborough in Leicestershire and its vicinity by William Harrod (1808)

On the outskirts of Market Harborough is a ghostly shell of a church twixt between an industrial site, the railway station and the urban sprawl. Surrounded by a few graves it is a mysterious place. There are many such derelict churches open to the elements slowly decaying, unvisited all bar the curious- this one is an exception though for despite being a ruin once year on the evening before Easter Sunday this desolate place is warmed by the sounds of heavenly voices in a custom which has been done for over 200 years.

Willed to sing

The originator of this unique bequest was William Hubbard, a gardener and more importantly churchwarden. When he died in 1786, aged 63 his will stipulated:

“at the decease of his wife to the Singers of Harborough for the time being for ever the sum of One Guinea yearly on condition of their finding over his grave every Easter eve the EASTER HYMN the said guinea to be paid out of the rent of a house now in the tenure of Mr Clark painter &c In cafe the singers should neglect complying with the donor’s desire the said legacy is to be applied to purchasing shoes for widows.”

Sadly those local widows have shoeless because without fail the congregation of the more substantial St. Dionysius church dutifully come here every Easter Saturday to sing since 1807, presumably the death date of his widow. That guinea has gone a long way! I am not sure whether it pays for anything now but in 1957 a rent charge was still being taken.

Sing when you’re winning!

When I first came to experience this custom, it was a balmy Easter Saturday in 1996, 7th of April. The churchyard was quiet, mysterious and unloved. I located the grey slate gravestone of William Hubbard and waited.

Soon a small choir appeared. Arched around the grave the vicar, curate and choir made a fine sight in themselves but when the hymns were sung it was magical.

1996

2016 – Spot the difference!

Obviously it is a short service. It started with Chorus novae Jerusalem

“Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, your sweetest notes employ, the Paschal victory to hymn in strains of holy joy. For Judah’s Lion bursts his chains, crushing the serpent’s head; and cries aloud through death’s domains to wake the imprisoned dead. Devouring depths of hell their prey at his command restore; his ransomed hosts pursue their way where Jesus goes before. Triumphant in his glory now to him all power is given; to him in one communion bow all saints in earth and heaven. While we, his soldiers, praise our King, his mercy we implore, within his palace bright to bring and keep us evermore. All glory to the Father be, all glory to the Son, all glory, Holy Ghost, to thee, while endless ages run.”

Then a reading is given in 2016, the Gospel for Easter was Matthew 27 a very adapt piece about Jesus’s burial:

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The Guard at the Tomb: The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”

The Easter Hymn was sung

“Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! our triumphant holy day, Alleluia! who did once upon the cross, Alleluia! suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia! Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia! unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia! who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia! sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia! But the pains which he endured, Alleluia! our salvation have procured, Alleluia! now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia! where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!”

Then an Easter Collect and Prayer finishing with a sung grace

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Eighteen years later passing this way I came to again experience it. However, my sources were incorrect and I’d missed it by an hour! Finally, again in 2016 I came again, on a most appalling Easter evening. Dark clouds were building up and the wind howled through the ghost of the church. After a while I was beginning to think my sources had been incorrect, had the weather put them off…no soon more and more people arrived. The first thing I noticed is how much the congregation had grown since 1996; despite the awful weather it was clear that this custom was still a popular one…and even the dreadful rain was not going to stop the custom. In 1984, so Brian Shuel in his Traditional Customs of Britain was informed by the vicar:

“in really nasty weather, such as the previous year when it was snowing, they have been known to do it themselves”

It did not stop them, nor did it in 1876 as a local newspaper reports:

“Easter Eve – The old custom to sing the Easter hymn over Mr. Hubbard’s grave, in St. Mary’s burial ground, was carried out again on Saturday last, at 8.30, by the church choir. To get to the grave yard this year there was something very unusual. The waters, from the rapid melting of the snow which had fallen on the two preceding days, were out, near the Toll-gate and Gas works, but this obstruction was bravely encountered by about thirty of the choir, besides a few others. Many more who intended to go, declined, when they got to the end of the walk, not liking to got through the flood, and returned again to the town. One gentleman was kindly carried over the flood by a young man named Toomes. This little incident amused the choir boys and one of them was overheard to whisper, ‘I wish he’d drop him.’ We understand this is the 70th year that the above custom has been carried out.”

The only shame was that the weather had prevented the congregation wearing their traditional choral attire. Yet in a way it made the custom seem even more bizarre.

Before the Reformation, sung songs and prayers were common from chapels to great Cathedrals, but although these Chantry chapels survive the bequests have long gone, siphoned off to support schools such as Thomas Burton’s in Loughborough or incorporated into general funds. What is of course unusual with Hubbard is that this is a post-Reformation one. Little did he also know that he think that when he made the bequest that the church would fall into disuse and ruin. Yet this is part of the curious nature of the custom, despite the church and the possible temptation of removing the grave to somewhere more convenient the custom continues.

All in all, Hubbard’s bequest is without doubt one of the countries, a beautiful uplifting tribute to a man long forgotten but still remembered!

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Custom demised: Fig Sunday

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Palm Sunday known locally as Fig Sunday was a minor hamlet festival. Sprays of soft gold and silver willow catkins called ‘palm’ in that part of the country, were brought indoors to decorate the houses and worn as buttonholes for churchgoing. The children of the house loved fetching in the palm …..better still they loved the old custom of eating figs on Palm Sunday. Some of the more expert cooks among the women would use these to make fig puddings for dinner.’

Flora Thompson Lark Rise to Candleford

Fig Sunday was an alternative name for Palm Sunday and it appears to have been observed as a custom across the country. It is noted that at one point it was observed in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Northampton and North Wales. In Hertfordshire it is recorded in the village of Kempton:

“It has long been the custom for the people to eat figs – keep warsel! – and make merry with their friends on Palm Sunday. More figs are sold in the shops on the few days previous to the festival than in all the year beside.”

In Buckinghamshire it is noted that:

“At Edlesborough, Buckinghamshire, the children procure figs and nearly every house has a fig- pudding.”

In Dunstable, Bedfordshire:

“For some days beforehand the shop windows of the neighbouring town are full of figs and on Palm Sunday crowds go to the top of Dunstable Downs, one of the highest points of the neighbourhood, and eat figs.”  

In the 1912 Byways in British Archaeology by Walter Johnson he observes that a:

 “Ceremony was carried out on Palm Sunday by the villagers of Avebury, Wiltshire, who mounted the famous Silbury Hill, there to eat fig cakes and drink sugar and water. The water was procured from the spring below, known as the Swallow Head.”

Image result for fig sunday silbury

The author observes that real figs were often replaced by raisins as they were in the west of England and Wessex.

Why figs?

“when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.”

The Gospel of St Mark

Image result for fig sunday

Palm Sunday is so called from the custom of eating figs on that day but why them? The main claim is that on Christ’s entrance to city on Palm Sunday he cursed a fig tree for not having any fruit, a barren tree, being hungry he then cursed it. Another claim is that the practice arose from the Bible story of Zaccheus, who climbed up into a fig-tree to see Jesus.

Sadly although a few food bloggers might promote fig pudding making on the day, Fig Sunday as a community custom has long ceased.

Custom demised: Caister’s Palm Sunday Gap Whip

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gad whip2

In a glass frame in the church is a curious relic – the Gad Whip. An account in the Book of Days notes:

“Until it was discontinued in 1847, a singular ceremony took place annually in this church, by the performance of which certain lands in the parish of Broughton, near Brigg, were held. On Palm Sunday, a person from Broughton brought a large whip, called a gad whip, the stock of which was made of wood, tapered towards the top. He came to the north porch about the commencement of the first lesson, and cracked his whip at the door three times; after which, with ceremony, he wrapped the throng round the stock of the whip, and bound the whole together with whip cord, tying up with it some twigs of mountain ash; he then tied to the top of the whip-stock a small leather purse, containing two shillings, (originally 24 silver pennies) and took the whole upon his shoulder into the Hundon choir, or chapel, where he stood in front of the reading desk until the commencement of the second lesson; he then waved the purse over the head of the clergyman, knelt down upon a cushion, and continued in that posture, with the purse suspended over the clergyman’s head, till the end of the lesson, when he retired into the choir. After the service was concluded, he carried the whip and purse to the manor house of Hundon, where they were left.”

An odd procedure and one which had a few complainants.

Banning the custom

It is reported in the May 24th 1836 copy of the Hertford Mercury and Reformer that:

“A petition by Sir Culling Eardley-Smith of Bedwell Park, Hertfordshire, was put before the House of Lords Temporal and Spiritual , to get the practice in Caistor stopped on the grounds that it was a superstitious practice… Sir Culling had even applied to the Bishop of Lincoln to get it stopped but he had not done so. Sir Culling wanted the Lords to investigate the Bishop of Lincoln for this scandal.”

However, this petition was unsuccessful and it did not cease until 1847 when the land which paid for the custom was sold. A common source for the stopping of customs.

The origins of the custom

“generally supposed to be a penance for murder by the Lord of the manor, the Lord would have paid a penalty to the Lord of a neighbouring manor had it really been murder.”

Despite the article’s noting that the custom derived from the penance for murder, that seems unlikely. One possible origin is seen in the purse and its thirty silver pieces – does this refer to the betrayal of Judas? However, the whip is problematic if so..More likely is that considering the date that it is associated with the custom of the Procession of the Ass, a custom which has been revived across the country. The whip was probably used to move the Ass symbolically or actually! The name is further evidence being derived from the term goad for driving horses.

 

Custom revived: Middleton Pace eggers and Egg rolling

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“It’s an important Manchester United match on…there won’t be any Pace Egging”

Was one paraphrased reply when enquiring about Pace Egging on Easter Monday from the Mossley team. Fortunately, the Middleton team were not some encumbered by a need to watch the footy..after all they could get snatches of it in the pubs.

Pace Egging Play 2013 (199)

 

What egg-xactly does it mean?

The English can be confusing. Any search for the words Pace Egg will reveal two slightly contradictory uses of the phrase – a play and a decorated egg, the precursor of the chocolate egg, which is rolled down the hills.  This usage is noticeable in Lancashire.

The name Pace derives from Pasche which is derived from the Hebrew Passover which is when traditionally the Crucifixion is associated with. The term probably survived in the Lancashire region, like the burning Judas custom because of the large number of recusant Catholics and Irish catholic immigrants.

How did this confusion arise I think Poulson (1977) in her North Country Traditions gives us the clue:

“Children used to call door to door, sometimes selected houses in the district where they lived and stated that they were pace-egging. The householder would then offer an egg as a gift.”

What probably happened is that the play arose independently and largely became debased in areas where the children took it over as they did not practice and so it continued as a house visiting custom probably based around singing as their entertainment form. As it was Easter time, people would give eggs which they knew would be used as either food, rolled down the hills or both. Hence the name being used for both.

Pace Egging Play 2013 (252)

The Middleton Pace Eggers have avoided this confusion by doing both! For after the play which finishes at the highest point of the town and the group move to a slopping field beside the church. So if you want to get two Easter traditions in following the Middleton Pace Eggers is a must

Egging you on?

There is evidence of Pace Egging in the area in the 18th century. As Joan Poulson (1977) North Country Traditions notes:

“a seventy-six year old Manchester man told me in 1974 that it was regular custom for school children to go Pace-Egging on Good Friday before 1910 and that afterwards it may have persisted for a year or two in some locations. The nineteen-four-teen/eighteen war certainly put an end to it.”

This group is one of the oldest of the revivals, 50 years in 2017. Unusually it is one which owes their existence to well known folk comedian Mike Harding who compiled the script from various plays such as those at Bury. Being a writer, Mike added some artistic license to the play and elaborated on some of the characters and made them more prominent such as the section with the Quack Doctor and St. George. Fortunately it is the doctor who has played the role since the 1967 that keeps the playing going on.

Pace yourself!

Like most other folk plays…one could see this as glorified pump crawl, although how the team can remember their lines after so many pints at the end is always a mystery!!

My first encounter was on the streets of Middleton a small town on the outskirts of Manchester, having just left their first pub – the Dusty Miller. They were a rag bag group of curiously dressed people – recognisable were a King with a crown, a black faced Turkish Knight, St. George the most obvious, as well as a whole pantheon of bizarrely dressed people including a horse on that pub crawl with a difference.

Entering the first pub, a Wetherspoons, I could not resist the temptation cracking that horse at the bar joke. The group knew there script well and certainly put passion and power into it…pity that no one thought of turning off the music blearing over them in the pub! A well…a sort break for some beer and up the hill to a more traditional spit and saw dust establishment. The crowd may have been smaller, but there was no music and they seemed quite appreciative and laughed in all the right bits!  There is something quite addictive in following these plays…the script is the same but you feed off the ab-libs and often as the drink takes over the mistakes.

Eggstrordinary story

The story is a familiar one! A story of conflict, death and resurrection – a more appropriate theme for Easter than at other times. The characters are the King of England and his son St. George, his antagonistic partner the Turkish Champion and Bold Slasher, the doctor, Beelzebub and Derry Doubt. Familiar characters and then the team have two unusual characters a ‘female’ clown called Miss Kitty Fair and impressive black horse called Dobbin. The basic plot concerns St George fighting the Turk. At first defeated (to the accompaniment of boos), St George is brought back to life by the mysterious Doctor and finally defeats his adversary

Curiously, the play starts with all the characters in a circle and they sing a song introducing themselves. Round one – Captain Slasher fights the Turkish Knight. The former wounded! Round two – St George fights the Turkish Knight (after some egging on from the King). The former dies! Everyone is distraught! In comes the Doctor with his unruly horse…and he ‘cures’ St. George. Round three – St George fights the Turkish Knight! Death to the Turkish Knight. Owd Beelzebub and Derry Doubt sweep up for some money (charity not beer!)

Small and almost children take on the Turkish Knight and almost win!

Last stage of the tour is the Ring O’Bells. Here we encountered what I consider one the scourge of events….the professional photographer. Don’t get me wrong,  I like to get a good shot, but sometimes I do think that these people arrogantly think the show is set up for them, just swan in at the end and demand photos. I know we all need publicity but I do think that such people can look down at the event for the sake of copy. Rant over! Having said this the custom is well supported by the press the Middleton Guardian reporting:

“Nowadays most of us are older and the joints are rather stiffer, so the prospect of carrying out a schedule like that doesn’t bear thinking about. Most memorable perhaps is the wonderful feeling as the team walk up through Jubilee Park and approach the final pub, The Ring O’ Bells. Although the crowd can vary, often dependent on the weather, on a good day, we can be welcomed by an appreciative crowd, waiting expectantly outside the pub, and the warmth of the welcome makes the whole thing worthwhile.”

At the Ring O’Bells we were greeted with bright but chilly weather and the team set the play outside. What is delightful is that the group are keep to accept volunteers, mainly children in their play. Here they solicited others for any children to join  in to slay the Turkish Knight…this was feverishly taken up by one boy who despite making a valiant effort was dispatched but kept coming back to life. Another appeared to also not read the brief and was determined to kill the Turkish Knight aiming for some more delicate places on the way. Without doubt the last performance was the best and all the team with the children who helped out got together for a group photo.

Then it was off for some egg rolling. This was clearly very well known in the area for a large congregation of children clutching eggs had appeared at this point. This rolling was a simple but nevertheless effective. The King blew his horn and the eggs were rolled and some went some great distances…sweets being given as prizes…once the rollers had climbed the steep hill up that is.

A King but no soldiers for the eggs!

A King but no soldiers for the eggs!

This I would say is the most important part of the custom and one which other similar customs could take points from…children are actively involved. One would hope that by doing so, especially encouraging participation in the play, the play’s survival is assured..perhaps such teams should invest in Junior  tours although it would have to be a tour of soft play centres…mind you there are plenty of them!

Find out when its on

Calendar Customs … http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/pace-egg-plays/

Copyright Pixyledpublication

Custom revived: Cusworth Hall and Fountains Abbey Egg Rolling

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Is everywhere! I don’t know whether it is the consequence of the internet spreading the nature of the custom across the country or whether the internet has made me more aware of its occurrence elsewhere, but egg rolling was everywhere this year. From Calverley Park in Tunbridge Wells to One Tree Hill, in Essex (both with very suitable hills to do it) to a humble hill in Wanstead and down a flat road in Nottinghamshire, and in various schools apparently…everyone was rolling eggs.

Eggs-plain.

Well traditionally egg rolling is said to commemorate the rolling away of the tomb from the Christ’s tomb remembering the Resurrection. Of course this would have a double significance as the egg itself represents rebirth and has continued albeit as a chocolate one in virtually every household in Britain at Easter. Folklorists have suggested that the rolling event however has a deeper pre-Christian significance and may represent the solar patterns moving from spring to winter

Eggs-strordinary

Presently despite what some books and websites state, there appear to be only two English sites where rolling is done ‘traditionally’ with regular crowds: Avenham Park Preston and Holcombe Hill, Ramsbottom. There other two long term revivals one very well known, the other less so.

Rolling into the 20th century

Fountain’s Abbey near Ripon is perhaps the most famous revival.  It is said that the custom was revived in 1954, when someone connected with the site remembered it being undertaken there in the early parts of the 20th century.

Egg-citing

Turning up at the site despite an egg hunt stuck in various odd locations: trees, walls and by an old well, there did not appear to be no-one awaiting an egg roll. Then I noticed an area of the hillside and some organisers checking their handiwork. Soon a loud hailer was called and people begun to arrive. You could see the excitement on the faces of the children feverishly grasping their baskets of coloured eggs. Close inspection revealed there to be a wide range in quality from simple unadorned (but hopefully hard boiled) to those boiled in colouring to those both painted and draw to resemble cartoon characters – Perhaps more a result of the enthusiasm of the parents than the child perhaps I thought. Different age groups assembled and at the bottom of the slope the adjudicator to judge the fastest egg and give out the sweet prize. The cutest people those just about able to walk…let alone through. As the group lined up, a countdown begun and the first roll begun…sometimes these younger participants had to be held back to prevent this becoming a egg rolling-cum-cheese rolling event.

There was no such problem at the other notable revival indeed following the egg was actively encouraged with hilarious results. Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster, has been rolling since the 1970s and was a conscious effort to ensure the survival of a local custom by the council who own and run the estate; although it was unclear where the hill here was the exact site it was done.

I shouldn’t include Cusworth Hall, because it is unusually is done on the Thursday before Easter and this year that was in March, but when I visited last it was in April. Despite this welcome, for custom followers (as it allows one to attend more than one rolling event), change of day, it did not lack rollers and the event consisted of two sessions; one 11 am and one at 2 pm. I didn’t make the earlier event as I was involved in another ceremony which I may report at a later date.

Hundreds of people, mainly mothers and their children congregated at the hall, where at first they did a timed Easter egg hunt and then progressed around to the front of the hall where the hill flowed steeply towards a lake below.

Again it was divided into age groups, with some very eager teenagers, some which considering they were in their late teens appeared exceedingly enthusiastic. Then the ready-steady-go was called and the eggs were projected at great speed down this rather steep hill. Watching from below they appeared like bouncing balls hitting hard and leaping into the air like bombs; and remarkably unbroken. Get out the way…this could be dangerous! Certainly what was slightly more hazardous was the cavalcade of children building up greater and greater speeds looking like at any point terminal velocity would be achieved and some appeared even eager to catch up with their egg although physically impossible considering the speed some very rolling. The satisfaction of many of the children’s faces when they uncovered their egg unscathed and some distance down the slope was very apparent…although fortunately none actually reached the water.

Of the two sites, I preferred the Cusworth Hall one, firstly access was free (of course there is a charge for non- National Trust or English heritage members to Fountains, although well worth a visit if you have not been there!) and the steepness of the hill meant that the speed at which the eggs rolled, bounced and somersaulted down the hill was something to be seen quickly followed by some very eager children….roll on next year.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

Custom survived: Mary Mallatratt’s Dole

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Good Friday is traditionally a time for giving doles and a number are noted around the country. One tradition which is still maintained, although little known, and not even recorded in any countrywide volume on customs, is Mary Mallatratt’s Dole.

The Buns make their journey

A sad memorial

The dole was established in 1894 in Mary’s will, and is said that dole established to remember Mary’s child who died as an infant of brain damage aged 7 months in 1876, although this is not explicitly stated. Certainly the Mansfield and North Notts Advertiser (1931) stated that even before Mary’s death it was customary to give free buns out at Easter to children at the Blue Boar Inn, so clearly Mary wanted to see this custom being perpetuated in perpetuity. After the death of her son, Mary became increasingly involved with the affairs of the meeting house and so after her death it was not surprising that she gave monies for school books for the Meeting House, money for a stained glass window and the bequest of £100 to the trustees of the Meeting house to provide buns annually.  It appears to have survived an attempt to amalgamation with similar charities and the two world wars when it ceased to be given out and is consists of ‘hot cross buns’ given to children as they go about their business on Good Friday.

The Buns await

A Bun fight!

As Alan Mallatratt (2003) notes in his article for the Nottinghamshire Historian on the custom (he himself being a descendent) each year the distribution grew in size. The largest distribution being in 1912 when a local coal strike happened and 2000 buns were distributed! (And it still was not enough!) The Mansfield reporter noted:

“The magic of the Good Friday Bun drew a crowd of over a couple of thousand of Mansfield’s poor children to the Old Meeting House on Friday morning. For the past 14 or 15 years in accordance with a bequest it has been the custom to distribute buns in the grounds of this place of worship, the number usually being given usually 1200. This year in consequence of the coal strike, some additional funds were obtained from private sources, and the number of buns increased to 2000. The distribution is a popular annual event and on the Friday morning children began to gather as early as seven o’clock, three hours before the specified time in Rooth Street. By 10 o’clock a long queue of youngsters from babies of 2 and 3 years of age in the arms of big brothers and sisters, to boys and girls of 10 and 12 years old, stretched the whole length of the street and overflowed into Rosemary Street. It was a miserable morning-the first one known to be wet in the distribution-but the children stood patiently in the long line and at 10 o’clock when the big doors opened, two thousand shrill voices cheered. Police officers let them in by batches and the little ones filed past the table, each received a bun from either Mr. J.H. White, Mr. Birks or Mr. Roper or one of the several ladies who took part in the distribution. So great was the number of applicants that the supply ran short, and about 200 were disappointed.”

So popular was the custom that it created its own tradition. For local tradition records to earn a bun you had to complete a circuit –out of the gates of Stockwell gate, right to Rosemary Street, along and right into Rooth Street, through the meeting house main gates and into the hall.

Some children partakeA curious resident

Have a tea-cake and eat it!

Unlike similar charities, the Mallatratt Trustees missed the opportunity during the last war to commute the buns for cash and although the original gift no longer covers the expense the Chapel Trustees subsidise the distribution, it does continue. Times have changed and the size of the distribution is not as daunting. The Guardian Journal in 1973 noted that only 73 turned up to collect 200 buns (which appeared to the children to be a good ratio no doubt) which was down on the previous year and the author of the piece suggested this was due to demolition of housing in the area. It notes that:

“First in line was 13 year old Christopher Simpson, Richard Street, Mansfield who arrived at 8.50 am 10 minutes before the gates opened. In the past children where queuing up as early as 7.30 to get the buns.”         

In 1994 they were joined by the decedents of the Mallatratts, and to celebrate the 100 anniversary of the distribution an exhibition on the history of the custom was established, and perhaps indicating how cultural views have changed Rev Michael Joyce:

 “Now days it’s pretty hard work trying to get children to accept them”

Despite the decline, the Old Meeting house still distributes their dole, but no one lines up for it now. The distribution time has changed to now 10.30 am and rarely is it distributed in the Meeting House itself unless the weather dictates it.  It is now presented on a trolley outside. For many years it was rolled down to the high street, Stockwell Gate, below but in 2013 it was taken across the street to outside ASDA.

Last few!

The size of the dole has also changed from 200 to three dozen. Even since my first visit in the early 2000s, the focus has changed slightly. Then I watched the members of the Unitarian church attempt to give out their dole, much to the bemusement and sometimes mistrust of the local children and scepticism of parents perhaps. Now, they had out their buns still free of charge to all takers, although children are still their aim, but subsequently the distribution disappears quicker. Of course I made sure I had the last one! Hopefully since it is now recorded on their website more interest in the custom may be generated and individuals like me may attend to see the continuation of this curious and little known custom.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

All gone!

Custom demised: Burning Judas

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“Judas is short of a penny for breakfast”

Such was the begging cry of children on Good Friday morning in a unique custom. Oddly, in one city and in one small area of that city, the urban areas surrounding the dock area of that city, was one of the county’s most fascinating and incendiary customs. As Carole Sexton in her 1992 book ‘Confessions of a Judas Burner’, notes:

“Mrs Lympany who lived in Lothian Street recalls her two elder sisters going out at 4am around 1914 carrying a burning torch and running through the streets shouting ‘Burn Judas’.” Children would parade the Judas as they ran through the streets asking for contributions with the cry of ‘A penny for Judas’s breakfast.’ The Judas would then be burnt on a local waste ground.”

This was a local event mainly for local children and had features which combined the older ‘Jack O’Lent’ and the more recent Guy Fawkes and as such it was not popular with the authorities. Indeed, most of the reports recall its suppressing, such as this from the Glasgow Herald on the April 2nd 1931:

The Burning of Judas –Police stop old Liverpool Custom

The observance of the annual burning of Judas, a custom in the south-end of Liverpool, was frustrated yesterday by the police, No one knows the origin of this old custom. In times gone by adults took part in the ceremony, but in recent years it has been observed or attempted to be observed, only by the youngsters of the district. Much in the spirit of Guy Fawkes Night, they make effigies of Judas out of old clothes stuffed with straw, and in the early hours of Good Friday morning parade the streets, make bonfires and burn the effigies in the streets. In the early hours of yesterday morning before the children got up, the police searched backyards and entries, and confiscated over a score of Judas effigies and material for bonfires. Some children did later attempt to burn several effigies, but as they had been left out all night in the rain, they failed to blaze and the police coming along seized these and removed them to the destructor.”

The origins of the custom appear to underline the international nature of the city and the importance of its port for it can be found still in existence in Spain, Portugal and particularly Latin America where the video clip below hails from and understandably was picked up by the Roman Catholic community around the docks in the south end of the city around the 1800s.

Interestingly, the beating of Judas was also involved. This would need a pig’s bladder obtained from the butcher, inflated and then tied to a stick.   It is a well remembered and thought of custom of which the locals were naturally reluctant to let go. A report from 1954 records:

“It is comic to see a policeman with two or more Judases under his arm striding off the Bridewell and 30 or 40 children crowding after him crying Judas!”

Putting the fire out

According to notes on the Liverpool History website, Toxteth St was supposedly the last focus of the custom. On this website a Brenda Robson records:

“We were brought up in the tenements in the Dingle, and every year on Maundy Thursday the boys from the blocks would go around and collect wood for the ‘bommy’  they would stay up all night protecting their hoard, and on Good Friday, the fire would be lit with an effigy of Judas onto the fire. We used to sit on the steps watching the fire, eating hot cross buns. Happy memories”

A Stan Cotter who lived on Homer Street

“I am 74. I lived in Stopford street in Dingle. On Judas day we burnt wood we collected days or weeks before. Just after the War there were lots of bombed houses we played in and in the debies (bombed sites). Also wood was rationed and had to be applied for and stated why it was wanted. So sometimes we pinched some from peoples back yard going down back entries. The streets had cobbles fixed together with tar which we collected and put on end of stick to which we put matches and throw so that they went bang. We also put burning ember into tin cans hung by wire we wurled them round and threw at other gangs. On Judas day we got up early and went around the street showing “e are john” and other names of gang members to get them up. The cops tried to stop us and chased us on their bikes. They could not catch us and we taunter them to get them to chase us. After the fire the street floor was well burnt The practice ended when the corp sent police and fire engines’ think It finally ended when Hutchinson Methodist hall hire buses and took the kids out for the day . I remember going to church ground in Penyffod north wales where we were given cakes and lemonade. I think it was 1951 the practice ended.”

It lived longer than that. Although a search on Good Friday morning by Brian Shuel failed in the early 1980s, it is thought that the last burning was in 1970-1 by an Alan Rietdyk on waste ground between Prophet Street and Northumberland Street.  With the the disappearance of his relative Guy and the demonization of youths, it is unlikely that this unusual custom will ever be revived!