Tag Archives: Sheffield

Custom demised: Cakin Night

Cakin Night mask courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

Cakin Night mask courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

It’s always terrible to hear about the demise of custom, especially as its one which may have very ancient origins and dies out not in the Victorian times, nor after the First World War, neither the Second World War…but the early 1990s!

On the other side of the coin, we have the survival of Mischievous night may be alive and kicking – indeed going through a burst of perhaps unwanted energy, a similar native Hallowe’en custom appears to have disappeared – this is Cakin Night, Neet or Kay Kayling (the later taking the first three letters from a phonetic spelling of cake of course). The custom is still reported as current and alive in a number of sources, especially on-line but all avenues of enquiry suggest it is now extinct which is a real shame…but it is one which could easily be revived.

I have discussed before how Trick and Treat is not an alien interloper but a rebranding of something more traditional and Cakin Neet was testament for this. Clearly a separate and related custom emphasised for the fact it was always undertaken on the 1st of November – All Souls rather than the 31st. The custom does appeared to be a confused one in all accounts but it shows a tradition in flux, change and ultimate demise. Early accounts recall something very familiar.

On a scouting forum, Stocky scouts recalls:

“As a kid in the late 60’s early 70’s (seems so long ago when you look at it), we didn’t have Halloween or Trick or Treat. Our village had Cakin’ Neet. It was a very old tradition celebrated on November 1st where the children in the village used to go around dressed up to houses. The kids would sing the cakin’ song and then the householder would give them a bit of cake..”

This song went as follows:

“Cake, copper, copper, cake, copper, copper, if you haven’t got a penny, a half penny will do, if you haven’t got half penny, then God Bless you.”

As the poster notes:

“By the time I got round to doing it, it was money you got. It was an event we all looked forward to immensely….

Caking house visiting 1st November Stockbridge Copyright Ruairidh Greig

Caking house visiting 1st November Stockbridge Copyright Ruairidh Greig

The poster is not exactly correct, it was not just one village but the distribution was remarkably restrictive, if the last vestiges were to go by: Deepcar, Bradfield, Stannington, Dungworth and Little Matlock, small parishes on the west of Sheffield

Another forum contribution added:

In the 1960s, when I was a child, only the children carried on the custom in my village of Deepcar. We would wear home-made papier maché coloured masks and go door-to-door singing the ‘cakin neet’ song — this referring to the ‘soul cakes’ the ‘surrogate spirits’ formerly were given. The householders would have to try and guess who we were, and if they failed to guess right then they would have to give us a little money — in place of the ‘soul cakes’ of yesteryear.”

Cakin guisers 1960s courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

Cakin guisers 1960s courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

I was informed by a Steve Moxon on Facebook a fascinating personal account of the earlier form of the custom which shows it survived until at least the 1960s:

“I myself went out on what in Deepcar was known as ‘Kay Kay’ night, in the early 1960s with my younger brother, when we’d be somewhere between aged 7 and 10, I think. We had papier maché mask-making sessions in lesson time at Deepcar School specially for the occasion, so clearly it was a still a whole-community custom for children at this time. We sang the traditional ditty, obviously much truncated from what it had been:

‘Kay kay kay, Hole in mi stocking, hole in mi shoe, please can you spare me a copper or two, if you haven’t got a penny an halfpenny will do,  if you haven’t got an halpenny, god bless you’.

We received money from householders.”

What is interesting is the following comment which suggests perhaps a tongue in cheek attempt to dissuade children (akin to the tune on the ice-cream van means it has sold out!)”

“I think (if this isn’t a ‘constructed’ false memory) that if a householder accurately guessed who we were then they were not obliged to give us any money: but perhaps this was a myth adults told to make sure the kids upheld the tradition of being properly disguised — my dad disputes all this; he used to go out himself as a child in Stocksbridge, singing the very same ditty in the late 1930s.”

It is an interesting observation and an intriguing reason for the custom. The tradition was clearly supported locally and he added that:

“The masks we had, btw, were whole-face ones, with slits for the eyes, and I think they were painted red.”

And it is interesting that the local schools supported it, but this may not have lasted long. Perhaps a push for more curriculum work, change of ideologies, but what happened the custom changed. At least by 1974, captured by renowned photographer Homer Sykes,  it appears to have switched to just a fancy dress competition. Indeed oddly the last stages it appears to have developed into an adult custom, which is the converse of other customs. This was focused around three South Yorkshire pubs Robin Hood Inn, Little Matlock; Fox and Glove, Stannington; The Royal, Dungworth. This custom consisted of local adults in heavily disguised in costume who would then stand or move around the bar in silence as fantastically captured by Homer Sykes (http://www.anothermag.com/gallery/2459/photo50-at-the-london-art-fair/6), who notes on the Tate website his personal observations:

“Competitors concealed their identity by wearing a mask or fancy dress, which by tradition had to be of local significance. Having paraded silently from lounge to public bar and back again so their voices didn’t give their identity away, the competitors went upstairs to be judged. In this picture the judging had taken place and one participant, still disguised, was supping a pint of beer through a straw. I liked the neat surreal nature of the disguise. His gloves contrasted with the couple in their woollen jumpers, slacks and pointy collars.”

Cakin Guisers courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

Cakin Guisers courtesy of Shirley Samworth from Storrs and Dungworth Facebook page

This was clearly a homage to the idea of children being rewarded if not recognised. It was possibly for the last time by David Bocking above, and a local search for personal photos so far has failed. Perhaps one of the last people to witness Cakin night was fellow folklorist John Roper. He noted that children were still involved contrary to Homer Sykes observations at other locations. He informed me that it consisted of:

“Fancy dress for adults and children with prizes  at the Robin Hood….adults only I seem to remember at the Crown and Glove ,Stannington  ; Halloween themed”

When it ended is not clear, but it appears The Robin Hood Inn was the last to stage one. David Clarke  (2000) in his Supernatural Peak District may have been the last to describe the custom, he writes:

“On one dark autumnal night every year the bar of s country pub in the hills to the north-west of Sheffield is transformed for half an hour into a scene from the pagan past. Hidden away at the end f a long and winding country lane and seemingly built right in the middle of nowhere, the Robin Hood at Stannington is one of the last places to celebrate the old Celtic festival of Samhain. Toy skulls and skeletons peer from windows, bats and spiders hang from the ceiling and in the bar gather a motley collection of locals dressed in a range of costumes which look as if they have been brought from the set of a ‘Hammer House of Horror’ film. These have included over the years hideous cowled witches, werewolves, Frankenstein and even the Devil himself. The characters simply stand and sit in eerie silence, creating a brief but unsettling atmosphere which harks back to earlier times. The faces of the ‘guisers’ are hidden behind elaborate masks which are central to the tradition, awaiting the judgement of the landlord which will break the spell and return the pub to normality.”

 When the Robin Hood closed the tradition died with it. Hallowe’en events have surpassed it, such as Sheffield’s fright night but enquiries thanks to Ron Clayton of Sheffieldhistorytours and East Peak Traditions and Bradfield Parish council state it is no more!

Why only here?

“When I went to secondary school I was astonished to find that the tradition was only in our village. Everyone else did Halloween. I think the tradition has more or less disappeared and replaced by Halloween – sad.”

Why the tradition survived here is unclear, but there has been considerable evidence of the survival of pre-Christian, Celtic beliefs in parts of Derbyshire. The date being focused on Samhain, the first day of the Celtic year and the spirits of the dead needed to be celebrated. The giving of cakes, soul cakes, placated these ghosts in the way that a wake ‘sin eats’ for the recently deceased. If this is so it is a shame that our only surviving native Hallowtide custom is no more.

Yet, the Royal is still thriving and discussion on the web suggests it’s popularly remembered….it could be ripe for a revival. If anything deserved it and could be done so simply it would be Cakin Night.

Custom contrived: The Harvest Sing


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why don’t we actually sing at other times of the year?’ and it occurred to me the only other times of the year would be Easter and harvest.”

That makes sense and such is the origins of Stannington’s Harvest sing, an annual non-Christmas carol singing session in the Rivelin Inn. A delightful single room pub set on the outskirts of  Sheffield but seeming spiritually many miles from there, surrounded by rolling hills, woods and open fields.

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Reap what you sow

In a Thesis written on the custom  by Trish Bater one of the singers,  Geoff Lester speaking on the19th of June 2007 stated:

“It originated in the singing at Dungworth, of the Christmas Carols, of the enthusiasm, particularly at the end of a sequence of singing days…when it was time to pack up, somebody said, or it was said, or it was often said ‘why don’t we actually sing at other times of the year?’ and it occurred to me the only other times of the year would be Easter and harvest. I particularly…like ye harvest hymns and therefore I thought well, instead of talking about it, let’s do something about it, and that was why I organised the first one.”

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In an article in the Sheffield Chronicle Gathering in the Valley for the great harvest Singalong, its founder Geoff Lester relates:

“The Rivelin pub near Stannington was in an ideal location, accessible to many of the other carolling communities and in the middle of a farming area where the fruits of the harvest season were visible right outside the door.”

Indeed some of those fruits (and vegetables), albeit a brief selection, could be seen above the piano awaiting distribution by raffle. However, it was the songs that the assembled masses have come to experience – I say experience because it is impossible to attend this event without getting involved, regardless of talent although most were pretty tuneful. The sun was shining when I arrived a few minutes before the midday sing off and the pub was busy but not as crowded as those Christmas sessions, but just as atmospheric.

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Top of the crops

This year, Geoff Lester explained in the Thesis:

Harvest is interpreted very liberally…when you come to look for harvest hymns which are good to singing that sort of situation there aren’t many and so consequently I threw in a lot of my favourite hymns like And can it be.”

A quick scan of the hymn sheet reveals a fine selection of Harvest related songs were assembled. Twenty-seven hymns on the song sheet – two sung infrequently and one is not sung at all.These were an unusual mixture of eighteenth and nineteenth century hymns such as Come ye Thankful people, folk songs such as ‘To be a farmer’s boy’, parlour ballads and comical songs. Basically everything but Christmas carols! Not only that but uplifting. Soon on arrival I found myself squeezed into the space near the piano, reading the Thesis, and then after a few introductory bars, the place erupted in soul enriching song!

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The grim reaper!

Last year the Harvest Sing was put in peril by the closure of the pub, but the pub reopened and the custom’s survival was secured.  However, whereas perhaps a custom largely organised by one individual that it might be in danger due to that but I am more than confident the mass of people regularly attending will ensure it will survive for many years since. Sadly, I could not stay for all the whole session and nearby Meadowhall beckoned.

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The Harvest song, a contrived event perhaps but one which is more than justified and a worthy successor to the Harvest Home of the past. It certainly made walking around the soulless streets of Meadowhall more uplifting!

Custom survived: Handsworth Sword Dancers


Handsworth sword dancersBoxing Day…much has been said of it. The most depressing day of the year, after all it’s a whole year until Christmas Day, the turkey sandwiches pile up, broken toys and games you’re already bored of, crushing hangovers and the feeling you’ve over-indulged and don’t forget the sales! Ah yes the sales, a custom in its own right. I try to avoid them…after all you’ve spent so much over Christmas, why spend more? However, one year I convinced my wife to visit the shrine of Northern consumerism Meadowhall…so I could see the Handsworth Sword Dancers.

Cut above the rest

The Handsworth team are one of a select few of surviving long sword dancers. First reported in the late 1800s and despite the name originally they came from Woodhouse. This earliest notice appears to have been made by a local clergyman recanting seeing them dance in the 1870s when he was a boy. It was in 1880 when most of its members were from Handsworth that the move was made.  In 1913, the famous folk dance enthusiast and Morris dancing revivalist Cecil Sharp visited and documented the group and they producing recall how they are one of the few groups which have survived the years since. Fortunately, unlike other teams which fell into abeyance or died out during the wars, being miners they were never called up for the First nor Second World War and unlike other customs it survived unbroken during this period. However, this is not to say the subsequent periods were not problematic, aging members (a common theme), a lack of permanent musicians, were among the reasons why the custom was sporadically kept up in the intervening year.  Yet the team survived and by 1963 they became revitalised and it was then that they decided to formalise their custom. It was decided that rather than go out over the December period the event was firmly fixed to Boxing Day.

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Strictly sword dancing!

The Handsworth team are sword dancers and although this is allied to Morris dancing there is a lot of difference. Firstly watching the dancers one is struck by the complexity of the dance. Secondly, the intensity and focus of the team and then thirdly the ritualistic nature. A dance can last for 9 minutes and during which the team will snake in and out, under and above their swords, swirl around and about, whilst in some cases doing some nifty footwork. Sharp (1913) described it as:

“This is a high springing, exuberant, running step, the dancers as they bound from one foot to the other freely raising the knee of the free leg. In movements like the ring (run around), and whenever the dancer has a clear space before him, the step is executed as vigorously as possible. At other and less favourable moments in the dance , it is modified and dance more quietly. Occasionally too, the dancers do a kind shuffling step, lazily dragging the free leg on the ground.”

This rather freeform nature has changed over the years and the dance has become more regimented but no less hypnotic in its nature.

I arrived at their dancing arena, which although traditionally was located in front of their parish church, it’s clear that over the intervening years, what may have been a picturesque location has been ruined by the dual carriage way behind to such an effect I wonder what the non –locals hurtling along this carriage way make of the dancers and their large group of bystanders. It was very cold and snow had settled slightly in areas and I was concerned that the ground may have been a bit too slippery…but I was reassured that its gone come what weather.

In come the clowns….and out again!

What is an enjoyable aspect of this team, compared to other similar events is that by attending we can celebrate three customs in one. Firstly there is the dance, there is a small break of some traditional Yorkshire Carols, at the time my first confused exposure to them..why were they singing different words? The other main aspect is the ‘mummer’s play’ this is a major attraction to the custom junkie and it usually rotates between two local plays: the Derby Tup and the Poor Owd Oss as below. When I visited there was a rendition of the Poor Owd Oss and a number of the group were dressed up as horse and riders. Their rendition was interesting and very amusing but didn’t appear to resemble that done elsewhere.

The play appeared to be done a differently dressed group. These I presumed were the clowns. These clowns were a regular feature of the team and their role appears to be to entertain the crowds during the dance, or probably between them, collect money and even get involved in the dance such as the lock. They were revived in the 1970s and were used to start the dance and clear the area with usual clown frivolity. The clowns appear now to be in the interludes, the plays and disappear or revert to dancers during the dancing part.

The striking thing about the Handsworth team is their uniforms which are based on a Hussars and suggest a military origin for the custom which seems likely of course, or otherwise it was done to make the group look more official.  The swords of course are not real swords but long strips of metal attached to a hilt. One wonders whether there did work with real swords.

As drifts of snow flowed across the dancing arena I became bewitched by that ritual rhythm of the custom. The dance frenetic yet fluid, the crowd cheering as it appeared to get more complex, one member jumps over another, in and out swirly around, and then the big cheer as the captain held the interlocked swords in the classic star shape. The team, made of an age from teen to geriatric were remarkable in their suppleness. Indeed, when I visited they had made flyers for new members disclosing that there was 70 years between the oldest and youngest. An account in the South Riding Folk Network News relates

“There are all sorts of reasons why we’re struggling for numbers” says their captain, John Pitts whose father Harry faced with similar problem back in the 1960s “some of the older ones are feeling aches and pains after 40 years of dancing. Several other regular dancers have moved away from Sheffield, two of them to University.”

They’ve survived since it appears. It’s such a shame I don’t live nearer as I fancy giving it a go!

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– images copyright Pixyled Publications


Custom contrived: Sheffield Fright Night

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A nice couple

The urban city landscape can be a scary place for some. As the nights draw in, all manner of strange personages, loping characters and menacing youths appear from the shadows…in Sheffield the week before Hallowe’en these are the attendees of Fright Night, the country’s only Hallowe’en parade! This is a parade attracting over 40,000 people to the town, the majority dressed for the occasion. The whole of the city centre appears to be swallowed up by this spooky spectacle.

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Bit of a youth problem?

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How long have you been a crazed psychopath?

Fright on time

I arrived as the day’s light was fading. The first thing which hits one if the funfair and in this case the ghost train is not the scariest thing! Then bang coming towards you is a youth with bloody clothes and an axe. Usually I’d hide or run, but you quickly realise that its Michael Myers of the Hallowe’en film franchise and it’s nothing to worry about!! Tonight the city is full of crazed lunatics, monsters and aliens in the name of celebrating this ancient tradition of remembering the dead.

Fright thing to do

Fright night begun in 2001 in a city with perhaps the strongest pre-Stateside trick or treat tradition for the villages around and perhaps most of the city celebrated Cakin Night, which appears to have died out in the 1990s. Fright Nights almost laissez-fair attitude to the appearance of goblins, werewolves, superheroes and vampires is much in keeping with that tradition, almost normalising dressing up, indeed the people wandering around had a certain ‘we do this all the time…don’t you’. So perhaps this is a sort of revival and hopefully those in the ‘anti-US trick or treat’ camp may realise this soon rather than condemn it as another Americanisation! Halloween is a European tradition (see October’s post last year)

Death walks amongst us!

Unlike the Stateside versions, namely that regularly done in NYC, there is no real parade as such…rather a catwalk. Here, a local DJ calls on the stage a cavalcade of curious concoctions and in typical radio fashion asked things like ‘how did you make your open wound so realistic?’ or ‘what are you?’ in some cases as the costumes ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Those who had put the most effort in were more than happy to pose for photographs attempting their best fearsome grimace often under layers on impenetrable make up.

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A digital monster!

The festival has a number of different aspects including a Zombie enclosure, a living dead chorus line and most impressive sight of all a ghost galleon which glided down the streets with its crew menacing peering out and staring with dead eyes with all those seen. Another highlight was the impressive carved pumpkins, not just grinning faces but even scenes as well, putting my efforts deep in the shade.

More scary than you first thought!

More scary than you first thought

Fright Night, perhaps the UK’s greatest commercialisation of this odd day and although the closest to the US, has still a very English style and needs to supporting especially as it’s free.  Finally the best thing perhaps about Fright Night is that most years it’s always before Hallowe’en meaning when you’re stuck for ideas you’ll get your inspiration here. Come along a feel the thrill! Happy Halloween!

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

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Now that’s a pumpkin!