Tag Archives: Sussex

Custom survived: Ebernoe Horn Fair

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What could be more quintessentially English; a large village green, the sound of leather on wicket, cries of Owzat and a sheep roasting! The latter is perhaps not the most English but this game of cricket is not all what it appears either!

Ebernoe is a small village, so small it is difficult to define as a village which each 25th July since 1864, a revival after a long lapse, the village come together to celebrate the Horn Fair. A correspondent to Folklore recorded its popularity in an 1950s edition:

everyone goes, by car, bicycle, bus or push-chair, and on Shanks’ pony up the steep track through scrubby woodland to the hill-top common where the hamlet encircles the open ground.”

All’s fair in horn fair

The origins of the Horn Fair are difficult to pin down, particularly as the only places it is recorded is in this village and Charlton near London. In the olden days the day was one of considerable ribaldry as it is believed to be derived from a custom of celebrating cuckoldry which would happen at the fair as it was probably a more riotous affair with dressing up. All this has gone but it is the roasting of the sheep whose head was traditionally presented that is significant.

That’s not cricket!

Indeed it is an odd association – cricket and a sheep roast – but one which is closely protected. There’s only been one interruption from 1940 until 1954 although this didn’t affect the cricket and a pair stag antlers were used as a suitable replacement so its not really a break – the cricket must go on!

There is a fair, a fun fair albeit a small one . It was described in Folklore as:

“with roundabouts and swings, hot-dogs and china dogs.”

The China dogs have gone but everything else survives!

Turning up on the day what first impresses you is the normality of the custom the cricket and the roast could be like any village fete where roasts have become common place, but there is something curiously ancient about this sanitised custom. The scene today is no different than that described by Stanley Godman in his 1957 article Horn Fair in Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society:

“It is a specially fattened sheep, roasted whole. A pit is dug in the ground, four and half feet long, and three feet deep. A big wood fire is lighted inside this trench and kept burning until approximately one and a half feet of cinders and hot ashes have accumulated. The carcass is rubbed with salt, red pepper and oil . . . A long pole is driven through the carcass and fixed in such a way that the sheep turns with the spit . . . the sheep is cooked for at least four hours and turned once every fifteen minutes. It is basted with oil at least once every half hour .”

Round the horn!

At the end of the day all the attendees assemble by the club house. The horns are given to the highest scoring batsman although it is no longer the head of the sheep roasted on the spit rather a specially mounted one. The reasons for this maybe explained in an account by a Mr A.W. Smith, in Folklore he states that a:

“spectator’s dog…a year or two ago ran off with the head pursued by the butcher (in white coat and straw hat) brandishing his knife, and a string of shouting onlookers determined to avert a disaster.”

Although its more likely to be health and safety concerns! This notwithstanding organisation has not changed since it was reported in Folklore which recorded:

The head is presented by a local notability with a suitable speech, of which the most memorable that I myself have heard was made by the parson of the parish, a man of striking presence. Holding in one hand the head – a horrid object prudently provided with a wire handle – he proclaimed ‘We men of Ebernoe know where the men of – [who had won rather too often] are going – and jerking his free thumb over his shoulder, we are giving them the Horns to help them get there !”

Ebernoe had won the year I turned up too and its best turned up to collect the head from the local lord residing at Petsworth I believe. Then sheets are handed around and the Horn Fair song is sung:

As I was a-walking one fine summer morn,

So soft was the wind and the waves on the corn.

I met a pretty damsel upon a grey mare,

And she was a-riding upon a grey mare.

‘Now take me up behind you fair maid for to ride.’

Oh no and then, Oh no, for my mammy she would chide,

And then my dear old daddy would beat me full sore,

And never let me ride on his grey mare no more.”

‘If you would see Horn Fair you must walk on your way,

I will not let you ride on my grey mare today,

You’d rumple all my muslin and uncurl my hair,

And leave me all distrest to be seen at Horn Fair.

‘O fairest of damsels, how can you say No?

With you I do intend to Horn Fair for to go,

We’ll join the best of company when we do get there,

With horns on their heads, boys, the finest at the Fair.”

Stanley Godman in his article Horn Fair in 1957 for the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society attempted to find out more of the song’s origins he noted:

Thanks to the kindness of Miss Marie Slocombe it is now possible to specify the Country Magazine programme which led to the revival of the Horn Fair song at Ebernoe. It was broadcast on May 28th, 1950, and the song had been sung to Mr. Collinson two weeks before. As Mr. Collinson said, Jimmie Booker was a trug-basket maker. He had learnt the craft in East Sussex and carried it on until his death in 1951. In the broadcast the song was sung by Cyril Tucker. Mr. Morrish of Great Allfields Farm, Balls Cross, near Ebernoe, heard the broadcast and obtained permission for the song to be sung at the Horn Fair. In August, 1955, Mr. Morrish told me that when he first introduced it to the Ebernoe people in 1951, one of the company, Mr. Tom Stemp, then aged 75, said he could well remember it being sung by an old Ebernoe woodman, David Baker, who died in 1943 at the age of eighty. This was valuable confirmation of the song’s former association with Ebernoe, though, as will appear below, it cannot lay sole claim to it. Tom Stemp, who remembered the song, first played for the Ebernoe Horn Fair cricket team in 1900 and in 1954 his son was captain of the team. Such family traditions are still strong in this remote place, isolated geographically, with its school, church and cottages hidden behind a thicket, independent spiritually and (in normal times) to a great extent, materially. Another well-known Ebernoe family, the Holdens, have been associated with the Fair since 1876. Ephraim Holden, who died in 1954 at the age of 87, had attended every year since he was nine.”

Horn of plenty?

It is clear that there is some underlying belief in the horns. It is indeed recorded that even if the day was beset with thunderstorms that was thought to be good for the crops and that it was the day to sow cabbages!

In the piece on Another English Head luck custom notes:

“A horned sheep was roasted whole in a pit of embers with the head projecting over the end, so that the horns are not damaged. It was ‘lucky’ to baste the sheep which, when cooked, was de capitated. The rival cricket teams, from Ebernoe and a neighbouring village, dined on the mutton, while spectators had mutton sandwiches. After the match the winning team got the head which they hung in their favoured pub. In a letter to me Miss Dean-Smith commented: It is not a horn fair as the term is generally understood …. It is not a patronal feast… the presentation of the horns suggests something more significant.”

Of course, it could all be some Victorian vicar’s embellishment but in a way there’s no better way to spend a warm July day and think of its origins!

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Custom revived: May Garland, Lewes, Sussex

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“The first of day is garland day, so please remember the garland; we don’t come here but once a year, so please remember the garland.”

May garlands were made across the country, but Sussex at the time appeared to be a stronghold as noted by Henry Burstow in Horsham in his 1911 Reminiscences of Horsham:

May Day, or Garland Day, was a very jolly time for us youngsters, not only because it was a holiday, but also because we used to pick up what seemed to us quite a lot of money. Early in the morning we would get up our best nosegays and garlands, some mounted on poles, and visit the private residents and tradespeople. We represented a well-recognised institution, and invariably got well received and patronised. People all seemed pleased to see us, and we were all pleased to see one another, especially if the day was fine, as it now seems to me it always was. At Manor House special arrangements were made for our reception, and quite a delightful old-time ceremony took place. Boys and girls gaily decked out for the occasion, a few at a time used to approach the front door, where a temporary railed platform was erected, and there old Mrs. Tredcroft, a nice-looking, good-hearted old lady used to stand and deal out to each and every one of us kind words and a few pence, everyone curtseying upon approach and upon leaving. Old Mrs. Smallwood, who lived in a quaint old cottage in the Bishopric, always used to go round on May Day with an immense garland drawn on a trolley by two or three boys. On the top of her little model cow, indicative of her trade — milk selling. Gaily dressed up herself in bows and ribbons, she used to take her garland round the town, call upon all the principal residents and tradespeople, to whom she was well known, and get well patronised.”

Lewes too had a strong tradition of May Garlands and an account by Lilian Candlin recalled her mother that her mother born in 1870 to Simpson that:

“Went early to the Daisy Bank a grassy slope opposite the old Fox inn at southernmost on the 1st of May to gather wild flowers…the flowers were made into a garland which she took around the neighbours who gave her a penny or a cake for the site of it.”

However, not everyone was happy to entertain children going around houses and what was tantamount to begging. It is said that to prevent the children begging a Mayor of the town J. F. Verrall established a tradition in 1874 instigated a competition with cash prizes. It became a more respectable outlet for the children’s enterprise as well as encouraging a love and knowledge of wild flowers. Jacqueline Simpson (1972) in her Folklore of Sussex thus records that:

“In Lewes around 1875-85 children used to go to Castle bank, where their garlands would be judged by a panel of ladies, and the best rewarded a shilling and the children had a half day holiday for the occasion.”

However, it may have been a short lived competition or else the begging was too attractive for Simpson (1973) records that as late as the 1920s children went door to door in Lewes the old way!

When the custom died out is unclear but it was clearly an extinct custom by the time Simpson writes about it in her book. Around the same time Lewes dance troop, Knots in May were being established and fast forward to 1980 and the group had revived the custom.

May rain?

I experience Lewes May Garland on my attempt to visit as many May customs over the May bank holiday in 2016. That may bank holiday a heavy mist laid in the air, then becoming a humid swell which deposited a fair amount of rain. I arrived there is good time and made my way up to the castle, where a mother and her little girl were awaiting with a small garland. I thought that the rain would quite literally put a dampener on it, but soon one by one, more and more elaborate May Garlands appeared – one even being carried by two masked Green Man (or rather Boys). The organisers are to be congratulated for bringing back the real feeling of May Day and over 30 garlands, one of which was I thought was a Jack in the Green, but might have been a fish instead! Some had figures in them recalling the dolls, said to be the Virgin Mary, put into the traditional garland.

May the best garland win

Once all the children and their garlands had arrived they were lined up in the shadow of the castle where the Mayor surveyed them. Broad smiles and anticipation were evident in the faces of the children including the two rather non-plused boys. There was some whispering from the Mayor and soon a decision was made, a decision as had been done back in those first May Garland awards.

Of course the other spectacle here are the Knots in May dancing troop. Holding up their own hoop garlands they weave in and out of each in a hypnotic fashion. Then came the Long Man Morris who gave a sturdy performance. At this point I checked my watch…I had to be off to Rye for the Hot Penny Scramble, for another post.

A delightful revival and one it would be nice to see encouraged elsewhere attached to Morris dancing out at May Day. A real opportunity of encouraging both community involvement and making children understand the heritage of the day off from school!

When is it on?

http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/lewes-garland-day/

Custom demised: Little Edith’s Treat

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The small village of Piddinghoe has in the church like many others a benefactor’s board recording its local charities. Here however is a rather sad story which founded a unique charitable event – Little Edith’s Treat. Which despite its inclusion in nearly every calendar customs book, it is sadly now largely defunct.

The origins of the custom derive from a doting grandmother called Elizabeth Croft who after her husband died in 1866, took solace in the birth of her granddaughter in July of 1868. Sadly she died only a few months later in October and so distraught at her left £350, to be invested a sizable sum for a number of charities. The important bit of the plaque reads:

“The interest arising from £100 of the said stock to be known as ‘Little Edith’s Treat’ to be expended on the 19th of July in each year in a treat to the children of the national school of the said parish and in rewards more especially to the girls who are skilled in plain needlework and to the boys and girls who are neat in their dress in their habits and regular in attendance at church and school.”

The treats followed the same pattern each year: on the afternoon of her birthday or the nearest school day July 19th, the schoolchildren were told the story of the bequest, attended a church service and then taken to the open space called the Hoe to engage in various games and races, finishing with tea which in the days when food may have been scarcer was a life saver. Roud (2008) in his English Year tells us that the vicar would throw a handful of coins into the air and the children would scramble for them. Prizes and gifts would be distributed back at the school: boys for tidiness, attended school and church regularly and girls for needlecraft. In 1904 the total number of children rose to over 100. However, sadly after the school closed in 1952, and although the custom moved naturally to Sunday school, a fall in child numbers and decrease in the annual value meant the ‘treat’ became irregular and I was informed in the 1990s that it ceased as a formal event but money was available for one offs. Roud (2008) tells us that in 2000 some of the money paid for a Christmas party, so despite the loss of the actual day the gift still continues when there is enough money available. I am sure that Elizabeth Croft would approve.

Custom demised: St Crispin Day celebrations

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“If ever I Saint Crispin’s day forget
may my feet be never free from wet,
But ev’ry dirty street and lane pass through
Without one bit of sole to either shoe.”

St Crispin’s Day, famed as the date of the Battle of Agincourt, was once hailed as a holiday for shoe makers. Since medieval times, October 25th was celebrated in areas associated with cobblers and cordwainters, such that it was Shoemaker’s holiday, and cobblers closed shops. In Newark an annual feast was undertaken. In 1835 it is reported:

 “On Monday last, the disciples of Crispin held their annual feast in honour of their titular saint at the Wheatsheaf in Kirkgate and at the Duke of Cumberland in Middlegate. Plentiful repasts were provided at each place. The evening spent in a joyful manner and from the ordinary and peaceful conduct which was manifested by the jolly fellows, they were secured the highest approbation of the people of Newark”

In Hexham, Northumberland, a contributor to Notes and Queries (1st S. vol vi. p. 243) states that:

“shoemakers of the town meet and dine by previous arrangements at some tavern ; a King Crispin, queen, prince, and princess, elected from members of their fraternity of families, being present. They after­wards form in grand procession (the ladies and their atten­dants accepted), and parade the streets with banners, music, &c, the royal party and suite gaily dressed in character. In the evening they reassemble for dancing and other festivities. To his majesty and consort, and their royal highnesses the prince and princess (the latter usually a pretty girl), due regal homage is paid during that day.”

Nearby at Newcastle, Mackenzie (1827) in his History of Newcastle noted that they to celebrated the day by at first holding a coronation of their patron saint in the court at the Freemen’s Hospital, Westgate, and then processed through the town.

In Sussex it was a widespread custom, although by the late 1800s it appear hoave survived only in Cuckfield, Hurstpierpoint, Warninglid and Slaugham. Here it appears to have survived until 1900 where it was recalled that the swinging burning heath brooms and tar barrel rolling was undertaken down a steep hill in the village. It appears to have been another ‘excuse’ for begging, with boys went round Cuckfield and Hurstpierpoint with blacked-up faces and asked for pennies.

At Horsham a local author Henry Burstow notes in his Reminiscences (1911):

“The townspeople generally were interested in the day because it was made the occasion for holding up to ridicule or execration anyone who had misconducted himself or herself, or had become particularly notorious during the year. An effigy of the offending person-frequently there were two together-was on St. Crispin Day hung on a signpost of one or other of the public houses, usually in the district where he or she resided, until the fifth of November when it was taken down and burnt. For several weeks before the day, people would be asking ‘Who is to be the Crispin?’   

The author notes referring to around 1830:

“The first ‘Crispin’ I ever saw was hanging outside the Black Jug in North Street…..I never heard who it represented or what the man had done to get himself disliked. Another year the effigies of a man and his wife named Fawn, who loved ikn gthe Bishopric, were hanged up on the signpost of the Green Dragon. Together they had cruelly ill-used a boy, son of the man and stepson of the woman, they had also whipped him with sting-nettles. They were hung, each with a bunch of sting-nettles in the hand.”       

Apparently when the effigies were removed on the 5th, local people assembled at the Fawn’s house, assaulted the man in question and smashed a hand cart through his window! The perpetrators were fined £2, but as Burstow (1911) notes their fine was quickly paid by public subscription. Sometimes, one of the shoemakers own was the victim. This was Skiver Tulley, who’s crime is unrecorded, but by the sound of the nick-name it was probably due to lack of work. In this case, the effigy was brought into the pub every night by the bootmakers and was included into the drinking party!

A load of old cobblers? Why Saint Crispin?

The origin of his associations is a little obscure. A 3rd century Roman,  he converted to Christianity and was disinherited by his wealthy family and as such he turned to shoemaking and was martyred by Maximian for preaching the Gospel. Legend records that a vigil was kept by his fellow shoemakers and fter his body was pulled from the gibbet, his bones were made into shoe making tools!

The demise of the custom

It is unclear when the custom died out but it was probably a victim of the loss of customs which arose as a result of the decimation of villages after World War I. It is interestingly that this was another event with the lighting of bonfires, a tradition probably borrowed from Samhain-Hallowe’en and then given to Guy Fawkes Night, especially the making of effigies which clearly evolved into Guys and in particular the making of an effigy which displeased the community being undertaken at Lewes. So in a sense St. Crispin’s day may be remembered in this amalgamation. It is worth noting that perhaps the importance of St Crispin and his day has not been entirely forgotten. Northampton, famous for its shoe makers has held a funfair since the 1990s on the day and I have read of a bonfire and fireworks being enacted in the county on this day so perhaps a revival is afoot.

Customs demised: White and Black Ram Nights

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June was traditionally the time of year when Sussex’s sheep were rounded up and sheared and as such considering the hard work involved each day for a three week period, much relief was given by a party called the Black Ram Night when a number of drinking customs and songs dominated. Before this at a local pub would be White Ram Night where those involved with the shearing, which often involved a wide range of people and in particular those good with their hands such as tailors, where organised by someone appointed as the Captain and had appointees such as the Tar Boy. During the meeting the list of farms was given out by the Captain whose also read out the fines that would be given out for poor shearing or losing control of the sheep. On the day, a contemporary report records:

“On the morning of the day fixed for the shearing, a gang of men, 12 to 20 in number according to the size of the flock, accompanied by the “tar boy,” made their appearance under the command of a Captain and Lieutenant, who were distinguished by gold bands on their hats. The tar boy’s duties, which were rather important, were to walk about among the shearers with a tin pot filled with tar, with which his clothes and face were generally well smeared. After a sheep was shorn, before it was released, it was examined by the shearer, and if he detected any abrasion he called “Tar Boy,” and was answered “Coming Sir,” and the boy then applied some tar with his finger which prevented any worry from flies or infection to the wound. A barrister of high standing told me that in his quite young days his great ambition was to be a tar boy.”

The work appears to have been quite strenuous as the report adds:

“During the day these men, who were supposed to shear about 30 to 40 sheep each, were liberally supplied at intervals with mild beer and with a meal in the middle of the day, and after the sheep were shorn the men had more food, followed by more potent ale. The sheep-shearing song was then sung, and the evening was spent in singing, drinking and smoking long clay pipes, their “Yards of Clay.””

At such parties and the Black Ram Night the Sheep shearing song would be sung:

“Come all my jolly boys and we’ll together go, Abroad with our Captain, to shear the lamb and ewe, All in the merry month of June, of all times in the year, It always comes in season the ewes and lambs to shear; And there we must work hard, boys, until our backs do ache, And our master, he will bring us beer whenever we do lack.  Our master he comes round to see his work done well, He says, “Boys, shear them close, for there is but little wool!” “O yes, Master,” then we reply, “we’ll do it well if we can,” When our Captain calls, “Shear close, boys,” to each and every man; And at some places still we have this story all day long, “Shear them well and close, boys,” and this is all their song.  And then our noble Captain doth unto our master say, “Come, let us have one bucket of your good ale I pray”; He turns unto our Captain, and makes him this reply, “You shall have the best of beer, I promise, presently,” Then out with the bucket pretty Betsy she doth come, And Master says, “Maid, mind and see that every man have some.”  This is some of our pastime as we the sheep do shear, And though we are such merry boys, we work hard I declare; And when ’tis night and we are done, our master is more free, And fills us well with good strong beer. And pipes and tobaccee; And so we sit and drink and smoke and sing and roar, Till we become more merry far than we had been before.  When all our work is done, and all our sheep are shorn, Then home with our Captain, to drink the ale that’s strong; ‘Tis a barrel then of hum-cup, which we call the “black ram.” And we do sit and swagger, and think that we are men, And yet before ’tis night, I’ll stand you half -a-crown, That if you haven’t especial care this ram will knock you down.”

It ended with

“Here’s a health to all sheep-shearers, good fellows every one,

“Here’s a health unto our Captain, and now our song is done.”

Perhaps the most famed drinking song or custom was “turning the cup over”  It is described as follows:

“At the head of the table one of the men occupied the position of chairman; in front of him stood a pail, clean as wooden staves and iron hoops could be made by human labour. At his right sat four or five men who led the singing; grave as judges were they; indeed, the appearance of the whole assembly was one of the greatest solemnity, except for a moment or two when some unlucky wight failed to ‘ turn the cup over,’ and was compelled to undergo the penalty in that case made and provided. This done, all went on as solemnly as before. The ceremony, if I may call it so, was this:—

“The leader, or chairman, standing behind the pail with a tall horn cup in his hand, filled it with beer from the pail. The man next to him on the left stood up, and holding a hat with both hands by the brim, crown upwards, received the cup from the chairman, on the crown of the hat, not touching it with either hand. He then lifted the cup to his lips by raising the hat, and slowly drank off the contents. As soon as he began to drink the chorus struck up this chant:

“I’ve bin to Plymouth, and I’ve bin to Dover, I have bin rambling, boys, all the wurld over. Over and over and over and over, Drink up yur liquor and turn your cup over; Over and over and over and over, The liquor’s drink’d up and the cup is turned over.”

The man drinking was expected to time his draught so as to empty his cup at the end of the fourth line of the chant; he was then to return the hat to the perpendicular, still holding the hat by the brim, then to throw the cup into the air, and, reversing the hat, to catch the cup in it as it fell. If he failed to perform this part of the operation, the fellow workmen, who were closely watching him, made an important alteration in the last line of their chant, which in that case ran thus:—

The liquor’s drink’d up and the cup aint turned over.

“The cup was then refilled and the unfortunate drinker was compelled to go through the same ceremony again. Every one at the table took the cup and ‘ turned it over’ in succession, the chief shepherd keeping the pail constantly supplied with beer. The parlour guests were of course invited to turn the cup over with the guests of the kitchen, who went through the ordeal with more or less of success. For my own part, I confess that I failed to catch the cup in the hat at the first trial, and had to try again; the chairman, however, mercifully gave me only a small quantity of beer the second time.”

Interestingly the reported of this account states:

“This custom of ‘turning the cup over,’ with its accompanying chant, was rather amusing at first, but, after hearing it, as I did on the occasion I have described, for at least four hours without intermission, it became at last rather tiresome. I could not get the tune out of my head for a long time after—indeed, I have not got rid of it yet.”

It has been many years since the jollities of Black Ram Night has filled the air of pubs such as the Shepherd and Dog in Fulking, the tradition like many falling foul of mechanisation and modern farming practices.