Tag Archives: Staffordshire

Custom demised: Clementing and catterning

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

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

Plot in his History of Staffordshire 1686 notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Custom survived: The Abbot Bromley Horn Dance 100th Post!

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horndance2

An obvious choice for the 100th post but there is something mesmerising about this perhaps the oldest dance ritual in Europe. Many have said this was the first custom which made them fascinated in our strange customs, such as Averil of the excellent Calendar Customs website.  My first experience is back in the 1990s and I travelled from Bristol to see it! It is perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable and iconic, with its olde world dress and impressive reindeer antlers- the horns- which are danced with.

A horny subject?

How old is it? This is a moot subject and depends on whether you need hard evidence. The earliest reference is in Plots 1686 Natural History of Staffordshire, but there reference of a hobby horse being used in 1532 with ‘six men carrying rain deer heads’ but that does not necessary mean the dance is that old. More convincing is the evidence of the Carbon dating of the Horns, which dates them to the 11th century, 1056 more accurately, suggesting an Anglo-Saxon origin perhaps. It has been suggested that it may have pagan origins, certainly it is significant that reindeer would have been extinct by the 11th century. Does this suggest the custom had a Norse origin, as reindeer are still extant there? Did the horns come later if so why? Some authorities had related the custom to privileges from the time when hunting was undertaken in the nearby Cannock Chase. Interestingly, the appointment of a forester continued until the 16th century and that they were called the Forester of Bentylee and it is the name of Bentley which continued organising the events until 1914. Coincidental perhaps?

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Keeping on dancing

The horn dance as Plot noted is on Wakes Monday which is after the first Sunday after the fourth of September. It’s a long day…the antlers are removed from the wall location early at 8 am after a blessing at the church, where they lay for 364 days a year and the dancing begins. Already there is a sizeable crowd ready to watch as they weave in and out of themselves on the green as the six dancers face each other and try to avoid the heavy horns, weighing around 25lbs, clashing. Interestingly, red deer antlers are used when the team perform outside of the village making witnessing the custom in situ more special.

The dancers have a quaint dress which might suggest evidence for an early origin but sadly these have a fairly recent origin, 1880s by the vicar’s wife, and before then they would wear normal clothing.

Clashing horns

Then off they went around the Parish, stopping in back lanes and open spaces to hypnotically play their tune and do their dance. One of the notable locations is Blithfield Hall. Here one can get a view of the dancers without the throng of observers and often photographers and get a real feeling of its ancient mesmeric nature.

There are twelve dancers, which consist of six horn carriers, an accordion player and unusually two children one with a bow and arrow and the other a triangle. There is also a Fool, Maid Marian character and Hobby Horse, features of Morris teams across the country

Then at eight in the evening the horns are returned back to the church a service is undertaken and its over for another year.  What is splendid about the dance is its simplicity and authenticity, as the author of a piece in the Times from 7th September 1936 wrote:

“The whole thing is done unassumably and with a quite purposefulness which is the keynote of the whole proceedings. One feels they are not dancing for joy or self-expression, but going quietly about a task which must be accomplished with necessary fuss.”

Custom demised: Newcastle Under Lyme’s Mock Mayor

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Mock mayors appear to be a common feature in English towns, indicating perhaps the joint characteristics of the English people a disregard for authority and a good sense of humour. In Staffordshire there were a number, of which that of Newcastle is the best known.

The custom was centred on the real mayor making ceremony, for as soon As soon as this had finished, the free man of the town, those not involved in government, gathered in the Market cross and chose a Mock mayor in a ceremony which resembled that which had gone on to select the real one!

Described by Joseph Mayer in 1850-1 in Proceedings of the Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire:

“His Mock Worship was, with all the gravity befitting such an occasion, summoned by the shrill sound of a Nanny goat’s horn, to appear before his brother town’s men and show cause why – always provided if he had any objection to that most devoutedly to be desired and that most glorious and honourable elevation to the state of Mayor of the Borough, with all the customary privileges of getting drunk, and finding himself publically as an example, &c,. Then with great stateliness of step, and severe magisterial countenance some well beloved fellow townsmen was conducted to top step, and there invested with those most  becoming and costly robes of state and that magic wand of office so capable of doing justice, on the person whose head it knocked.

The Mayor then introduces his wife to the gathering and commanded silence and the Town crier read after calling all to order with the ringing of his bell:

“O Yes, O Yes O Yes! This is to give Notice, First that by the advice of my Beadle, Mace bearers and Bum Bailiffs, I do hereby declare and proclaim that it shall be lawful for any man or set of men to put their hands into their breeches pockets if there be their purses and give and pay over to our exchequer any sum less than one hundred guineas, that shall deem to him or them fit in order that we may drink his or their jolly health in a quart of ale a –piece for which we as well our part as on yours promise him or them the distinguished honour of three huzzas, and may they live to do the like again next year.

Secondly- That we, after mature consideration, do allow any grocer – so he do it handsomely and pleasantly to his own feelings the never-to-be-appreciated and valuable privilege (which must be thought a sufficient reward unto him and his children for ever) of giving unto our revenue collectors, as much tobacco as he pleases; provided always and it is hereby declared, that the amount must not exceeded one hundredweight, but shall, at the same time be enough to serve all the old women, as well as our worthy selves.

Thirdly-that Morgan, the pipe maker, as his hereditary right, which he hereby acklodge may if he likes furnish us with saggar pipes to smoke the aforementioned tobacco with, in consideration whereof, we pledge our honour (here two squeaks from the nanny goat horn) that nobody else shall.

Fourthly-Our worthy Mayor giveth notice and commandeth that all canting, gin-drinking women he brought before him, that he may punish them with the bridle, kept by him for that purpose; and he recommendeth his brother freemen to eat plenteously of roast beef and plum pudding, to gain which they must work more and drink less; and further, that all persons found drunk in the streets after this notice will be put in the stocks for one hour and thirteen minutes.

Fifthly- and lastly- We do hereby say, as commanded by our beloved wife, for the benefit of all young maidens (after painful experience on our own part), that it is better to be married than single; and in proof of our firm conviction of the same, we do thus publically declare sign, and seal this our proclamation with a kiss. ‘

A long flourish on the Nanny-goat’s horn at the close of his performance, after which the procession had formed, and with her ladyship enthroned on a donkey, his Worship and the ‘goodlie companie’ marched through the principle streets of the town, collecting the revenue with jollification at the market cross in the evening.”

The nature of the proclamations clearly being aimed to ridicule the self importance of the Corporation, caused irritation which lead not only to the banning of the custom in 1830s but the putting of the mock mayor in the stocks.

However, the day was a big event and very popular with local school children, who would bar out their teachers or those in work claim a holiday. However, in 1833 the ceremony was revived, and in that year they were described by Mayer (1850-1) as:

“His worship is arrayed in a calf-skin tunic, fastened with a skewer around the neck, a black Staffordshire bull’s hide for a gown, and a sheepskin wig. In his dexter hand he holds his wand of office and his civic chain and glass are represented by horses’ s manes and the prison-door key, the latter emblematical of the reign of bailiffs. His worship is supported on the right hand by the Town clerk, a person of very knowing look, and quite alive to the tricks of the law, as is fully indicated by the expressive position of his left thumb. Under his other arm he holds the Charter of the Borough, which the good Burgesses, fearing parchment would not be lasting enough, have inscribed on the hide of leather. On the left side is the Bum bailiff alias Head Constable, which his truncheon about to dislodge a sweep, who in return is about to powder his Worship’s wig with his soot bag. The two figures right and left are Macebearers, as seen by the splendid cabbages which they carry; and the Bellman in his Phrygian cap and shaggy skin dress, is reading the proclamation.”

However, this revival was a final hurrah, as in the end the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 swept away all the rottenness associated with the real Mayor and the need for the custom and so it quietly died.