Tag Archives: School

Custom survived: Thomas Jones Day, Wilden All Saints, Worcestershire

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“to be applied by the said Managers for the benefit of the said school…….and that it is my desire that some reasonable portion thereof may be applied towards the expense of providing the children attending the said school with a treat on St. Swithin’s Day in every year…….”

Thomas Jones’s Will

For many people on the 15th July will mean dread – they look at the forecast, up to the sky, await upon the rheumatism to kick in – all to tell us that rain is on its way. Yes for the 15th July is St Swithun’s Day and as I am sure you aware if it rains then it does so for 40 days and night! Well in the tiny village of Wilden All Saints – the 15th does not mean awaiting the gloom of a soggy summer. No it means something altogether more spiritually uplifting – Thomas Jones’ Day. Who you may ask…well let me elaborate

Firstly, I’d like to explain that this custom is a rather private one. It involves primary children, over 100 of them, and as such they are rather concerned about unwanted visitors taking photos. So as you will see there are no children in this photos and you’ll have to imagine behind the photographer a great throng of singing infants and juniors.

A day to remember

In this village school the name Thomas Jones is a prevalent one. Awards are given out in his name and a mural is displayed in the school about him. Unlike other schools he is not the founder but a benefactor with a curious story. After making some enquiries I was invited to witness this curious unique custom. I arrived at the school just as the children were being delivered by parents and grandparents. I overheard one saying ‘I nearly forget it was his day today so we stopped by the roadside and picked some flowers in the hedgerow’

After being introduced to the current and old head I sat in the hall to hear about what Thomas Jones Day was about. As the hall filled with children each clutching their flowers. I could not help thing about which ones looked suspiciously like it had been plucked along the way…there were a few I thought! However, far in the majority, the parents had done the school proud, there were some rather splendid blooms help proudly by the children

Hearts and Flowers

Thomas Jones asked for the school children to sing songs over his grave and lay flowers and dutifully it was done. This was not due to his fear of St Swithun but the date was his birthday. This was a clear idea for unlike the graves of the schools founder Baldwin, which lay forgotten and unremembered by the children, every child through the school will recall celebrating this poor cowherder! As such Thomas Jones Day must be unique – many schools have a Founders Day but this one celebrates one who provided money for trips and ice-cream not the foundation stones of the school! As Mr Nick Liverly recalls when the name is mentioned to old alumni they all hold their hands out to represent holding flowers!

After hearing the story, the processed out of the school and into the graveyard making a circuit of the church and back to the grave. It was quite an odd site; the children clutching their flowers earnestly and proudly. Their goal, Thomas Jones’ Grave, was a typical Victorian pitched stone tomb looking like any other such grave – but that was about to change.

The teachers with their head stood around the grave, with one teacher guitar in hand, ready to play the music for their hymns, them the flowers were handed to the teachers to place on the grave. Soon they began to grow in number, 1, 2, 3 soon it was in the 10s and then after around 30 minutes the grave was hidden by bouquets, posies and large clumps of flowers – flowers of all types laid there making the final product a remarkable multi-coloured patchwork shining in the bright July day. As the flowers were laid the children sung a song which had a line giving thanks to their benefactor.

Keeping up with the Joneses!

Who was this curious benefactor. Born on the 15th July 1820, Thomas Jones earned as a Cowman 12/- or 60p today. He was a simple man, who lived very frugally and was thought to be poor. So much that when in June 1899, a Mr. Millward was called by a local doctor to write a dying man’s Will. When Mr Millward arrived and saw who it was, he was understandably doubtful as he knew Thomas was a mere farm worker and earned a modest wage. However, Thomas revealed a number of bank books which revealed several hundred ponds. This was collated from the rents taken from a field on Wilden Top as well as other pieces of land around. In all £385 was left to local people. The 4/5 acre field raised £303 18s 6d and his estate was worth £1211 18s 0d, a very large sum in 1899. The money was used to set up a trust at the school used to provide an annual treat. In the early 20th century they were treated to an outing with a picnic with journeys to London and Weston Super Mare being recorded.

Part of his Will stipulated that the children of the school must remember his day with singing around his grave and flowers and despite the money running out this has been fervently upheld.

Thomas Jones Life and Soul of the Party

“A sum of money having been left by an old gentlemen (Mr. Jones) for providing a tea annually for the Day School Children. The first was given on Wednesday when the whole holiday was granted for the occasion and the children showed their appreciation and respect for the old gentlemen by placing a number of wreaths upon his grave.”

20th September 1900

It would appear that the tradition begun with a tea party and then laying of flowers but first held in September in 1902 to 1911, this was probably because the school would have been closed for the Harvest by the 15th! It is recorded that in 1902 after the tea party the children received a new pinny from Lady Poyner, who was Louisa Baldwin’s sister and thus related to the founder. Then in 1911, it moved to the 3rd July and this year Louisa Baldwin donated some pictures. How the money was used varied over the years. In 1918 it was suspended and the money apparently going to sports and school work prizes. Yet in 1919 the money was instead used to start a school library with £5 awarded for books and 180 Peace day cups were bought for a shilling each from Selfridges and given to the students who had attended in the last three years. The giving of gifts appeared to continue, books in 1921 and the Vicar and Headmistress distributing in 1924. In 1945 his Legacy had accumulated £100 and it was then spent on strip lighting to benefit the students By 1925, the Tea party had been resumed after the headmistress addressing the children and presumably reminding them of Thomas Jones. I am sure the children were equally happy to hear that the school would close midday for a tea as well. Then in 1926 the school was closed for an excursion and in 1930 this went as far as Weston Super Mare – a two hour car journey today I could not imagine how long by coach it would have been and then in 1933 to London, again a three hour journey – presumably by train it may have been easier! From that point on the treats involved coach trips to Dudley Zoo, Droitwich, Bromsgrove, Kinver, Habberley Valley, Drayton Manor, Warwick, Worcester, Birmingham, Telford, Cardingmill Valley.

Party’s over

By the mid 1970s the legacy had diminished considerably and all that was left was £13 just enough for an ice-cream for each child. However, it was believed that the school should continue to honour him and make sure funds available to honour the expression that sometime should ‘benefit the children’. So distance achievement badges and later certificates were awarded annually in his name

The centenary was celebrated in 1999 with the children dressed in Victorian clothes and a wall mural was erected in the school. The church was also used as a display area with posies and drawings, two concerts were held and a wedding with the whole school in attendance.

Flower of youth

Interesting although the end of the legacy, although meant no money, didn’t mean no custom Now unlike Little Edith’s Treat. But of course we could consider the customs in two parts and of course the second was not dependent on any endowment! After the final flowers were laid the children a rousing rendition ‘Our Lord is a great big god’ with all the hand actions and then it was back to class, back to the three Rs. A delightful custom and one that the weather did not spoil that day. However, as Mr Nick Lilvery recalled in the great drought of the summer of 1976 – it rained so much on the 15th that they could not do the ceremony….St Swithun no doubt stamping his authority on the day!

 

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Custom demised: Pinch bum day: a child’s view of Oak Apple day

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Oak Apple day was a nationally celebrated event which commemorated the restoration of Charles II and his escape by hiding in an oak tree. It was an official day that was to be celebrated around the county, and some places still organise events on or around this date,  but generally outside of these places its main observance the wearing of oak leaves or more precisely oak apples (oak wasp galls) has disappeared. Across the country, this custom was particularly upheld by children not perhaps necessarily because of any keenness of the monarch but perhaps for the joint pleasure of a half day holiday from school. The common rhyme had different variants according to the local name from it.

“Royal Oak Day, 29th May.

If you don’t give us a holiday.

We run away”.

Wilson (1940) notes that at Windermere Grammar School, the day was called Yak Bob Day, where although it was seen as a holiday the master decided to ignore this and so with protests falling on deaf ears the older boys bolted and barricaded the windows and doors to the school. With the boys chanting the above chant except obviously the first line, the teachers were unable to enter and the holiday was restored.

It was also popular as a result of the ability to admonish those who had forgotten! Like a student who has forgot its non-uniform day, such students were the target of a wide range of penalties. The most common appears to be pinch bottom day. When those not wearing had their bottoms pinched! This was particularly popular in mixed schools and various accounts tell of rather over-enthusiastic boys getting in trouble. The reason for pinching bottoms comes from a legendary story that Major Carless who was also up the tree prevents the king from falling out by pinching his bottom!School boys were particularly important in upholding the custom, probably because of the potential of causing mischief. Unsurprising, pinch bottom day was not particularly held up in boy’s school, where other penalties were given.   No more vigorous was the tradition upheld than at Nottingham High School where individuals not upholding the tradition where pelted with rotten eggs. The observance of this penalty fell into abeyance in the 1870s. Briscoe  a Nottinghamshire author notes:

“A more unpleasant custom prevailed in the northern portion of the county about twenty years ago. Those who did not conform to the usages of the “Royal Oak Day” were pelted with rotten eggs. In order  to be well supplied with the ” needful ” for that day the young men would hoard’ up hen eggs for about a couple of months before they would be brought into requisition, so that the eggs would become rotten before they were required. This custom was in time carried to such an extent that the ‘strong arm of the law’ was often brought into requisition to suppress it; the rough young folk pelting persons indiscriminately. Smaller eggs are still used by the school lads on ‘King Charles’ Day.’

More common was nettling! A Nottinghamshire author notes thatnettles used on people without a spray of leaves and adds that the wise boy wore his oak leaves, armed themselves with a stinging nettle and carried a few dock leaves for first aid just in case. This was carried on until noon. The schools were generally not appreciative of this tradition and at Hayton a correspondent of NFWI remembers their brother being canned on both hands for nettling a girl. The penalty ranged from the rather innocuous rubbing clothese with chalk and such the day was called Chalky Back Day to Cobbing’ or spitting as was done in Cornwall.

Sometimes, non wearers were simply berated such as at Gloucester College where they were called shig shags and interestingly at Kirkby Lonsdale as well as being beaten by oak branches they were called Tom Paine, after the noted ‘revolutionary and republican’.. According to Brand’s popular antiquities boys in Newcastle-upon-Tyne would taunt :

“Royal oak, The Whigs to provoke.”

Those who wore plane-tree leaves recieved:

“Plane-tree leaves, The Church folk are thieves.”

The customs appears to died out soon after 1859 when the day ceased to be a holiday. Reports suggest that the children’s observation survived into the 1870s, but bereft of the holiday aspect and perhaps the concerns of parents the custom has completely died out. Perhaps for the good eh?