Devonshire Calendar Customs I: Movable Festivals (1936)
By R. Pearse Chope, B. A.
(Read at Torquay, 24th June, 1936. )
The Folk-Lore Society has recently published the first volume of British Calendar Customs, comprising the Movable Festivals of all England. These relate mainly to popular feasts which are dependent for their date on Easter, such as Shrovetide, Lent (extending from Ash-Wednesday to Easter-Eve), Eastertide, Rogation week (including Ascension day), Whitsuntide, and the festivals of the Holy Trinity, and Corpus Christi. It seems, therefore, appropriate to publish in our Transactions a similar collection of Calendar Customs relating to Devonshire. This, of course, will be mainly covered by the larger volume, but it is compiled quite independently and includes much additional and supplementary matter.
Time for Sowing. —My man, bred on the border of Exmoor, said to me one day, ‘When the parson begins to read Genesis, it’s time to sow black oats.’ Explanation: “Because they are hardy, and will stand frost and cold.” ‘A week late in sowing makes a fortnight late in mowing.’ (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XVI, 122.)
This is the earliest and most popular of all the movable folk festivals of the year, and is probably the only one which is still maintained with anything approaching its old vigour. It is the season of carnival-like mirth and jollity—rough practical jokes and feasting—in preparation for the long fasting period of Lent. In Devonshire, the two aspects are sometimes confused—“Lent-crocking” being applied both to throwing sherds and to begging for food. This custom, to which I have given the general name of “Lent-crocking,” had a variety of different names according to its particular form, and was practised generally on the eve of Shrove Tuesday and on the morning of that day. The former was known as Lent-sherd night, Drowing of cloam, or Dappy-door night; the latter as Lent-crocking or Shroving,
Pancake tossing. —The great feature of Shrovetide was the making and eating of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Mrs. Bray, writing in 1833, says this is a noted day in Tavistock, though not as much kept as it used to be many years ago. The farmers considered it a great holiday, and every person who was in their employ feasted on pancakes. The great sport of the day was to assemble round the fire and each person to toss a cake before he had it for his supper. The awkwardness of the tossers, who were compelled to eat their share, even if it fell into the fire itself, afforded great diversion. (Tamar and Tavy, Bray, 1833, new ed., ii, 119.)
Lent-crocking is a similar sport to pancake-tossing, and is still here and there practised in some of the old houses in the country. Parties of young persons would during Lent [? Shrovetide] go to the most noted farm-houses, and sing, in order to obtain a crock (cake) an old song beginning
“I see by the latch
There is something to catch;
I see by the string
The good dame’s within;
Give a cake, for I’ve none;
At the door goes a stone,
Come give, and I’m gone.”
If invited in, a cake, a cup of cider, and a health followed. If not invited in, the sport consisted in battering the house door with stones, because not open to hospitality. Then the assailant would run away, be followed and caught and brought back again as prisoner, and have to undergo the punishment of roasting the shoe. This consisted in an old shoe being hung up before the fire, which the culprit was obliged to keep in a constant whirl, roasting himself as well as the shoe, till some damsel took compassion on him and let him go; in this case he was to treat her with a little present at the next fair. (Tamar and Tavy, Bray, 1833, new ed., ii, 119.)
In the neighbourhood of Bridestowe, Okehampton, the children go round to the different houses in the parish on the Monday before Shrove Tuesday, generally by twos and threes, and chant the following verses, by way of extracting from the inmates sundry contributions of eggs, flour, butter, halfpence, &c., to furnish out the Tuesday’s feast:
“Lent crock, give a pancake,
Or a fritter, for my labour,
Or a dish of flour, or a piece of bread,
Or what you please to render.
I see, by the latch,
There’s something to catch;
I see, by the string,
There’s a good dame within.
Trap, trapping throw,
Give me my mumps, and I’ll be go” (gone).
—(N. & Q., 1852, 1st S., V. 77.)
Another version of the song from Bridestowe: —
“Lean crock a pancake,
Flitter for your labour;
Dish a meal, piece a bread,
What you please to give me.
I see by the string There’s a good dame within.
I see by the latch There’s something to catch.
Trepy, Trapy, Tro.
Please give me mumps and
I’ll be go;
Nine times, ten times,
I am come a-shroving;
Pray, dame, something—
Apple or a dumpling,
Or a piece of truckle cheese of your own making,
Or a piece of pancake of your own baking.”
—(Trans. Devon. Assoc., XVII, 123.)
Throwing sherds. —(1). The custom of throwing Lentsherds is still observed in the neighbourhood of South Molton, on the eve of Shrove Tuesday, when the children go round the town or village, and throw pieces of earthenware at the doors, calling out—
“Once, twice, thrice,
I give thee warning;
Please to make pancakes
’Gin to-morrow morning.”
—(Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXVIII, 99.)
(2). Lentsherds used to be thrown in North Devon on “; Shroft’’-Tuesday Eve. If any persons had rendered themselves obnoxious to the neighbourhood during the past year, they were certain to be visited with a plentiful supply of cracked pitchers, “trinnels,” and pans, the contents of which would be of a nature anything but welcome. Potsherds were also thrown on “Pancake Day.” Some fifty years ago the children of the villages were wont to call at the different farmhouses and sing,
“Tippee tappee toe, tippee tappee toe,
Gie me zom pancake and I’ll be go.”
If a share of the savoury which they had smelt, was forthcoming, well and good, but, if not, there was a discharge of sherds to the tune of
Skit scat, skit scat;
Take this and take that.
—(Western Antiquary, I, 182.)
(3). Lent was ushered in at Ilfracombe by “dappy-door night” (Shrove Monday) and “Lent-sherd night” (Shrove Tuesday). This to mischievous spirits gave every opportunity to act up to their names, for on “dappy-door night” everybody rings everybody else’s door-bell, or knocks at their knocker; handles of doors are also at times firmly secured by long strings, and then the door-bell being rung, the innocent owner opens it, but only to find it jerked out of her hand by the evil-minded dappy-doorers. “Lent-sherd night” is Shrove Tuesday, when collections are made of broken pots and crockery, and thrown in at the doorways. (Wanderings in N. Devon, Chanter, 68.)
(4). Lent-crocking seems to be continued on Ash Wednesday. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., II, 41.)
Ale Tuesday (sometimes) at Hartland. The last day of the carnival would be the “wettest,” and might well be so called. Every parish had its church ales on several anniversaries, of which Shrovetide was usually one. The sale of liquor, called in olden times “Holy Ale,” was a considerable source of income to the church. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXV, 182.)
Shrove Tuesday rhyme. —(1).
“Flish, flash; flish, flash;
Watter, watter, ling.
Hev ee any pancakes?
Plaize vor let us in.
Hev ee any best beer?
Hev ee any small?
Plaize vor gie us zomthin’
Or nothin’ at all.”
(Dialect of Hartland, Chope, 34.)
“Shrove Toosday, Shrove Toosday,
Poor Jack went to plow,
His mother made pancakes,
Her didn’ knaw ’ow;
Her toss’d min, her turn’d min,
Her burnt min so black,
Her putt zo much pepper,
Her poisoned poor Jack.”
—(Dialect of Hartland, Chope, 35.)
Tip-toeing custom. —At Gittisham on Shrove Tuesday the usual custom of tip-toeing by the school children was observed. Marching from the school in pairs, they paraded the village and outlying places, crying, “Tip, tip, toe, please give us a penny and away we’ll go.” A large sum of money was collected in this way, which was taken to the school, and divided amongst the children by the headmistress. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., LX, 127.)
Throwing to Cocks. —“ I have been deeply Affected to see that Devilish Action at Shrovetide, of setting a Cock to a stake and throwing Cubits to him’till they kill him, spoiling his Flesh by Bruises and what not. But above all after they have tormented him, and in a sense killed him, then they endeavour to bring him to Life again by thrusting a Finger down his Throat in order to torment him a second time…. But moreover I have also been griev’d to find that many Masters of Schools permit, if not encourage, Fighting of Cocks by their Scholars.” (H. Hingeston, of Kingsbridge, 1703, quoted in Western Antiquary, Vol. VIII, p. 9.)
Food. —On Ash Wednesday people eat hash; in Lent fish on Fridays. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., LX, 127.)
In many parts of Devonshire the fourth Sunday in Lent is observed as a holiday, under the title of Mothering Sunday. Servants, apprentices and young working-folks in general visit their parents and between them make up happy home parties. The previous Saturday is a busy day, for the mother is looking forward with great pleasure to the morrow’s meetings and festivities. She busies herself in preparing the materials for a good dinner for the joyous youngsters, and gives them the best she can afford. Of course the mothering-cake is her chief care. It is big and rich, and must be well-baked, sugared, and ornamented with fanciful designs. The dinner on Sunday consists of a hind quarter of lamb with mint-sauce, a well-boiled suet pudding, seakale and cauliflower, wheat furmity, with home-made wines. The day is one of mirthful enjoyment, mutual congratulations, and benevolence. The remains of the feast are usually distributed among needy neighbours, who are unable to purchase these delicacies for themselves. (Nummits and Crummits, Hewett, 87.)
The English Dialect Dictionary defines “Mothering-cake” as the cake given by children to their parents on Mid-Lent Sunday. Peculiar kinds of cakes are made, and generally sold by the clerk or sexton of the parish. It is assigned to Devonshire as a custom. In Trans. Devon Assoc., XI., 109, Mothering Sunday receives this notice. “Forty years ago, in the neighbourhood of Moretonhampstead, it was a custom in the yeomen’s and well-to-do farmers’ families for a bride to visit her mother on the second Sunday after her marriage, and attend church with her own relations, which day is there known as ‘Mothering Sunday.’” The Encyclopaedia Britannica (ed. XI) associates the custom with apprenticed serving maids.
Peter’s Pence at Exeter. —At Exeter Cathedral on this day, after service, ‘Peter’s Pence’ were given to children, distributed by the vergers, standing at the door under the north tower; the exit being the entrance near Southernhay, giving the alert ones time to come round again. The confusion and noise were so great, the vergers were desired to throw the pence in the yard for a general scramble. This custom ceased many years since. (Reminiscences of Exeter, Cossins, 36.)
Hot Cross Buns.
(1). Years ago in the early morning hours of Good Friday the streets in the towns were filled with the cries of boys vending the buns. They called attention to their wares in the following words, which were sung rather than spoken, to a peculiar chanting air: —
Hot cross buns, hot cross buns,
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns;
Smoking hot, piping hot,
Just come out of the baker’s shop;
One a penny poker, two a penny tongs,
Three a penny fire-shovel, hot cross buns.
—(Folk Rhymes of Devon, Crossing, 142.)
(2). At Bridestowe the children used to go round on Maundy Thursday (sic, probably a mistake for Good Friday) the same way as on Shrove Monday, chanting to a similar “sing-song” the words: —
Hot cross buns, hot cross buns,
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.
Give them to your daughters;
And, if you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
If you have no sons,
Remember we are many;
So if you have no buns,
Please give me a penny.
This custom has now, however, died out. My informant says that in her day only the children did it, but she has heard old folks say that in former days the grown people also went round. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., LX, 127.)
Hot Cross Buns, Curative Powers of.
Nimpingang or Whitlow. —
Ef ee hae a nimpingang,
Ax owld Goody up the drang
Vor a croom of healing burd
Vrom laste Gude-a-Vriday’s keake.1
Wi tha cross vor Christ his sake.
An when her’th a-zed a wurd,
Teake et hum an grat a lit,
Then a pultis, zovt an whit,
Meake ov et, an e’ll ba zhure
Tu vend et wurk a zartin kure.
—(Western Antiquary, II, 66. )
1. Called Passion or Healing Bread, which never grows mouldy.
Diarrhoea. —Take a stale Good Friday cross-bun and place it in a hot oven to dry. By grating, when hard, into a powder, and, when required, mixing it with cold water and taking as a medicine, it will cure diarrhoea. (Nummits and Crummits, Hewett, 77.)
Whooping-cough. —Give the patient a bit of Good Friday bun, three days in succession. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., LX, 125.)
Easter Cakes. —In some parishes the clerk carries round to every house a few white cakes as an Easter offering; these cakes, which are about the eighth of an inch thick, and of two sizes—the larger being seven or eight inches, the smaller about five in diameter—have a mingled bitter and sweet taste. In return for these cakes, which are always distributed after divine service on Good Friday, the clerk receives a gratuity according to the circumstances or generosity of the householder. (Book of Days, I, 425-6.)
Cramp rings blessed on. —Rings made from the handles or other furniture of coffins and consecrated on Good Friday were believed to be protective against fits. In Devonshire a cramp ring was made of three nails or screws which had been used in fastening a coffin and had been dug out of a churchyard. (Gent’s Mag., Oct. 1794, 889.)
Ash-tree cure. —A curious superstition still exists in certain districts of Devonshire relative to the cure of hernia, more particularly in children. An interesting example of the reality of the belief in this cure comes from a gentleman living near North Petherwin, who is so persuaded of its efficacy that he writes, “I have known several cases in this neighbourhood in which the following has been a success: —
“Find a promising young ash tree, about four or five inches through. Split the tree east and west, open it with wedges, so as to pass the child or person through, and on Good Friday, before the sun rises or the child or person is washed, pass naked through the place thus opened in the tree, the head first, the mother standing the east side, reaching the child or person through the tree to the father, he passing it round north to the mother three times. This being done take out the wedges and drive two or three nailes through the tree and bind it tight with straw binds.” (Notes and Gleanings, vol. II, 79.)
[This is a well-known cure, but it seems to be the only instance which is associated with any particular date. ]
Lamb dancing on. —There is scarcely a family now, willing to confess a serious faith in the old superstition; they are all ashamed of the thing. Not one of them will fairly own to having gone to see the Lamb dance in the Saint’s well, on the dawn of one of their earliest Good Fridays. (Lays and Legends, Curzon, 2nd ed., 96.)
Distributing alms on. —(1). A practice obtains at Ideford, near Newton Abbot, of picking up alms from the donor’s tomb on Good Friday on each succeeding year. The rector and churchwardens stand at one end of the flat table-shaped monument, and there place the coins upon the surface, while the recipients of the charity come one by one to the other end of the tombstone and pick up the money. This custom has been uninterruptedly in force for more than 300 years. (Nummits and Crummits, Hewett, 93.)
[See also Easter Monday.]
(2). John Gye, in 1528, gave land to trustees, charged inter alia to pay, on every Good Friday, ten poor people, one penny each, in honour of the Passion, when it is sung or said in the church of St. Edmund in Kingsbridge, who are to say five Pater-nosters, five Ave-Marias, and one Credo; and a halfpenny each to twenty other poor persons for nearly similar purposes. (Kingsbridge, 1819, 25.)
Games and Sports.
Fairs. —(1). At East Budleigh there is a holiday fair on Easter Tuesday, which was formerly held on Good Friday (Devonshire, Lysons, 86.)
(2). At Uffculme there was a fair on Good Friday, which is now held on the Wednesday in Passion week. (Ibid., 538.)
(3). West Teignmouth hath a fair now every Good Friday, much frequented; which in former elder times was kept on the Sunday, and though the contrary was commanded yet people would not forbear until King Henry III commanded the cheriff to raise posse commitatus, and so to abrogate the same. (Devon in 1630, Westcote, 444.)
Football. —In most parts of England the great football festival used to be on Shrove Tuesday, but in Devonshire this custom, like other shrovetide customs, such as cock-kippiting or throwing at cocks and breaking cloam, seems to have been practised on Good Friday. On this day neighbouring parishes contested with each other in a very rough game of football across hedges and ditches and often with church towers as goals. Mr. F. A. Perry informs me that his father as a young man, some 70 years ago, played in the annual contest which took place between the parishes of Washfield and Loxbear, on one side, and the parish of Calverleigh and the village of Lurley in the parish of Tiverton, on the other side. This match always excited considerable parochial rivalry, and afforded much enjoyment to the spectators, especially as a portion of the course was along or across a stream of water. The Rev. J. F. Chanter also tells me that football was usual on Good Friday at Parracombe when he went there in 1886, but that he induced the players to change the day to Easter Monday by offering to provide refreshments free. He was told that there used to be an annual match with Martinhoe when there was common all the way, and the course extended from Parracombe Churchyard to Martinhoe Church, a distance of at least three miles up hill and down dale. Football was also played on Good Friday at Newton Abbot, Rackenford [and Cullompton]. In Chapple’s Review of Risdon’s Survey, published in 1785, it is stated that “Football is not wholly discontinued, and within our Remembrance was a frequent Exercise among the common People in divers Parts of this County, not only on the principal Holidays, but sometimes (tho’ seldom) Two Parishes have engaged with each other on a Day fix’d on by mutual Appointment, at a Football-Match; in which Game (if I mistake not) there is usually somewhat like the Cornish Hurling introduced, whenever any of the Players can catch up the ball, and hurl it towards the Gole aim’d at by those of his own Party.” In spite of this statement that inter-parochial matches were seldom played, I think the custom was at one time fairly general. (Dev. and Corn. N. & Q., X, 113.)
Cock-kibbit or Cock-kippit. —A sport formerly practised at Hartland on Good Friday. A cock is placed underneath an inverted cloamen milk-pan, and cudgels (called kibbits) are thrown at the pan from a fixed distance until it is broken. The cock is then chased, and becomes the joint property of its captor and the person who broke the pan. A price is put upon the cock, and the amount is subscribed and paid to the promoter of the sport by those who indulge in it. (Dial. of Hartland, Chope, 35.)
Tilling gardens. —Many people then begin to till their gardens, as they believe that all things put in the earth on a Good Friday will goody (i. e. thrive) and return to them with great increase. (Tamar and Tavy, Bray, 1833, new ed., ii, 119.)
Grafting. —It is thought a very lucky day for grafting. (Northern Counties, Henderson, 2nd ed., 81.)
Parsley. —In order to have your parsley all the year round it should be sown on this day. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXXVII, 115.)
Shifting bees. —A belief prevails in Torrington district that hives of bees should only be shifted on Good-a-Friday. (Ibid., 114.)
Weaning children. —To wean children on this day is deemed very lucky. (Tamar and Tavy, Bray, 1833, new ed., ii, 119.)
Breaking crockery. —The Rector of a country parish about 14 miles from Exeter was startled one day by this inquiry from a Sunday scholar, “Please, Sir, why do people break clomb (i. e. crockery) on Good Friday?” The question was rather puzzling to the rector but he was a good deal struck by hearing afterwards that it is the custom in the island of Corfu for the inhabitants on that day to fling potsherds down a steep rock, uttering imprecations on the traitor Judas. (Northern Counties, Henderson, 2nd ed., 81.)
To break a piece of pottery on Good Friday is lucky, because the points of every broken piece are supposed to pierce the body of Judas. (Nummits and Crummits, Hewett, 50.)
Washing clothes. —At Tavistock it is believed that to wash clothes on Good Friday is a sin and productive of the worst luck. Whoever does so is sure to wash away one of the family, who will die before the year is out. (Tamar and Tavy, Bray, 1833, new ed., ii, 119.)
Killing pigs. —A former servant told me how her father on Good Friday tried to kill a pig, notwithstanding the traditional unluckiness of the day; but in vain, as the pig would not die, and he was at length compelled to abandon the attempt for the day. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XV, 107.)
Good Friday and shoemakers. —A relation of mine was remonstrating with a poor Devonshire shoemaker for his indolence and want of spirit, when he astonished her by replying, “Don’t’ee be hard on me. We shoemakers are a poor slobbering race and so have been ever since the curse that Jesus Christ laid on us.” “And what was that?” she asked. Why,” said he, “when they were carrying Him to the cross they passed a shoemaker’s bench, and the man looked up and spat at Him; and the Lord turned and said, ‘A poor slobbering fellow shalt thou be, and all shoemakers after thee, for what thou hast done to Me.” (Northern Counties, Henderson, 2nd ed., 82.)
It being usual to wear something new on Easter Day, gloves are generally sent on Easter Eve by the young man selected by a girl to make her such a present. It is not, however, very common to send the gloves, unless there is a little sweet-hearting in the case. An intimation that a young man’s present would be accepted on Easter Eve is given some time before, on St. Valentine’s Day, when the girl addresses the young man, saying: —
“Good morrow, Valentine, I go to-day
To wear for you what you must pay,
A pair of gloves next Easter-Day.”
In some cases it is customary for the young woman to address with these words the first young man she meets. (Tamar and Tavy, Bray, 1833, 2nd ed., II, 118-9.)
Seeing the sun rise. —From a letter dated 1892: “Everyone ought to see the sun rise on Easter morning. When I was a youngster our old master used to call us up before it was light, and I mind I’ve heard’n sing many times—
‘Get up, my men, I give you warning
The sun will rise soon, this Easter morning.
Shame to the man that lies abed
When Christ so early rose from the dead,
And sees not the sun drive away night’s gloom
On the morning that Jesus arose from the tomb.’”
—(Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXXVI, 97.)
Seeing the sun dance. —(1). I called last week upon an old parishioner, who had been absent from church on Easter-Day. Sickness in her family had kept her at home, but, she said, she had looked out at her window, and seen the sun dancing beautifully. I looked inquiringly, and she added, “Dancing for joy, to be sure, at Our Saviour’s resurrection on Easter morning. Three or four years ago, Thomas Corney and Mary Wilkey, and a party of us went to the end of Kenicot Lane to see it; but Mary couldn’t see anything. There was the sun whirling round and round, and then every now and then jumping up (and she indicated with her hand an upright leap of nearly a yard); and Thomas would say, ‘There, Mary, didn’t ye see that?’ ‘No, fais,’ he saw nothing.’ At last Thomas said, ‘I think, Mary, the old devil must have shut your eyes if you couldn’t see that.’ And so we came home again. Our little Johnny gets up every year to see it.” (N. & Q., 3rd S., v. 394.)
(2). The writer accompanied “old John” to the top of Corndon Torr on Easter Sunday, 1876, to see the “sun dance.” When they reached the top the following conversation took place: —“How long will this continue, John?” “Why, maister, up along ten o’clock; but not so strong when the sun has more power. I saw it Good Friday morning preparing; but on this morning it is ordained to dance to remind us of the Saviour’s rising from the grave. See how red it is at the edges! Now it is going round again beautiful!… All is movement, the elements is of a scarlet colour, just as the Saviour’s robe.” (Trans. Devon. Assoc., VIII, 57.)
Lamb and flag in the sun. —Devonshire maidens get up to see the sun rise on Easter morning, as duly as do their northern sisters, though what they look for is the Lamb and flag in the centre of the sun’s disc. Poor women in the neighbourhood of Dartmoor have told me that they used, as girls, to go out in parties at sunrise to see the Lamb in the sun, and look at it through a darkened glass, and always some declared they saw it. (Northern Counties, Henderson, 2nd ed., 83.)
Food. —Unless you have duck for dinner on Easter-day, you’ll never pay your debts. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., X, 107.)
Divination on. —Take nine seeds of the thorn apple (? haw), ploughed-up earth from nine different places, and water from as many more. With these make a cake, and on Easter morning lay it on a cross road. If a woman first steps on it, your husband will be a widower or an old man; if a man steps on it, the husband will be a bachelor or a young man. (Hart. Chron., Nov. 1901.)
Fitze Well. —Nearly on the ridge of Okehampton Park, a small spring having a cross of rude sculpture lying in its ooze, is called Fitze Well: it was a custom, until within a late period, for young persons to visit the spot on the morning of Easter-day. (Hist. of Okehampton, 1889, 74.)
“If it rains on Good Friday and Easter Day,
There’ll be plenty of grass and a little good hay.”
—(Nummits and Crummits, Hewett, 110.)
Toy boats at Ilfracombe. —The toy boats taken to Crewkhorne cave, Ilfracombe, from each Good Friday to Easter Monday, tell of something started ages ago, some old custom that was appropriated and carried on by the Celtic and Western churches. That it was a Christian festival of early introduction is shown by the date still kept. The name of St. Peter, who said “I go a-fishing,” and on whose fete-day the sea is still blessed by Rome, was sprinkled over Devon by the early Irish missionaries, and he—until the 5th century, when the Western church changed the day—was specially honoured as near to Easter as possible. The Ilfracombe practice preserves the old festival. (Pixy-led in N. Devon, Wade, 214.)
The Easter Holidays.
Fair in St. Thomas. —Easter Monday (about 1820) the wardens were chosen for the year; the bells ringing at intervals enlivened the visitors at this great annual pleasure fair; after dinner crowds of people with their children from all parts of the city were seen wending their way to it. The various standings for sale of toys, confectionery, fruits, oysters, cockles, &c., were erected in the street. Opposite were booths for theatrical performances, shows, swings, boats, merry-go-rounds, &c. There being no police regulations, footballs were freely used in the streets, much to the annoyance of the stand keepers.
If a fine day it was an animated sight in the three large fields leading to Cowick; dotted all over with the rising generation playing rounders, kicking football, &c., while drop-the-handkerchief, kiss-in-the-ring, &c., were much patronized in the secluded corners.
On the approach of evening the streets became the promenade, and the “publics” were not forgotten, one or two fiddlers being engaged in each house for a dance; every available room was occupied—bedrooms being cleared for the occasion. These houses were considered free to all comers, which caused a constant rushing up and down stairs. Theatres, shows, and booths were fully patronized, the “elite” visiting Horde’s Theatre, where the prices of admission were 3d., 2d., and 1d., the highest priced being allowed the privilege of taking in a gallon of beer and long pipes. The fair lasted for three days. (Reminiscences of Exeter, Cossins, 75.)
Revel at Torre Abbey. —At the present entrance to the grounds of Torre Abbey are two modern lodges; the first stands on the site of a former pond, chiefly remembered by old inhabitants as the culminating scene of the annual Easter Monday revel, when what was called the “ducking of the Lord Mayor” took place, and a generally very inebriated “Lord of Misrule” finished his short term of office in the pond, The filling-in of the pond, long after the abbots had departed, led to the discontinuance of the revels. (Torre Abbey, Watkin, 5.)
Payment on communion table. —Certain lands in Maristow, formerly belonging to the Carwithens, were sold to Sir Thomas Wise, reserving 13s. 10d., payable on the communion table before 12 at noon on Easter-Monday, which custom is still kept up. (Devon, Lysons, 468.)
Fair in East Budleigh. —In East Budleigh the fair [formerly held on Good Friday] continues to be held on Easter Tuesday every year, and the bells, up to 1892, have continued to ring out a full peal on each occasion; but the fair itself is now represented only by one small stall. Years ago, when it was of more importance, the stalls, built of planks and trestles, were erected alongside the churchyard wall, and down the main roadway. When taken down at the end of the fair, the timbers were stored in the shambles. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXIV, 333.)
Hailing the Lamb—It is the custom in many villages in the neighbourhood of Exeter “to hail the Lamb,” upon Ascension morn. That the figure of a lamb actually appears in the east upon this morning is the popular persuasion; and so deeply is it rooted that it had frequently resisted (even in intelligent minds) the force of the strongest argument. (Gent. Mag., LVII, 718.)
Beating the bounds at Exeter. —(1). The Mayor and Chamber were accustomed to beat the boundaries on the Tuesday before Ascension Day, accompanied by the “blue boys” of St. John’s Hospital. About five o’clock they left the school-house, accompanied by a “captain,” carrying a pole bedecked with flowers, and proceeded to the Mayor’s residence, and gave him a hearty cheering. A boat was provided near the lime kilns in which a staff bearer and some of the elder boys with their captains embarked, skirting the Quay, and on passing the vessels they were drenched with buckets of water, thrown over them by the sailors. On their attempting to land on the rack field, the boat would sometimes be upset and all got immersed. Having reached terra firma they proceeded to Exe Bridge, where one portion of the party went up the Bonhay, the other through Exwick fields, meeting at Cowley Bridge Inn, where a good breakfast was provided; also one for the boys, after some of them had swum across the river, the first to return with a leaf in his mouth having a shilling given him. They then ascended the hill to Maypole-head, arriving home about one o’clock, when their best clothes were put on, and each being decorated with a blue rosette attached to his coat, they were accompanied by their captain down the High Street, to a good substantial dinner provided for them at the Market House Inn.
(2). About a fortnight previous to this day the boys would meet in the evening, armed with sticks, to uphold the honour of their parish, which was called “parish fighting.” The most formidable meet was on Northernhay, between St. David’s and St. Sidwell’s. The contention was so great that it often resulted in broken heads. If, by chance, any of the different parishes met in their perambulations, there was a desperate struggle to disarm each other; but the great event was to wait in the New London Inn Square, as the parishes of St. David’s and St. Sidwell’s generally finished the rounds at the same time at this point. Then commenced, not a sham fight, but an earnest one, many of the combatants being young men. The parishioners at times were obliged to interfere, there being no police force then. It was the custom, in the different parishes, to provide white rods for the juveniles. In the parish of St. Stephen’s, being a small one, the sextoness took the rods to the different houses, and with them a piece of red tape to attach to the top; also, on Ascension Day, hot rolls for breakfast to all ratepayers, according to the number of the family; a large roll, about eighteen inches in length, was made for the clerk, and one for the sexton. The parishioners dined at the Half Moon. The wardens sent out an invitation to the gentlemen residing in the precinct of Bedford. A dinner was provided at the same place for clerk, sexton, sextoness, and bellows-blower.
Ascension Day, a general holiday for school boys, who perambulated the boundaries of their parish, accompanied by the clergyman, wardens, and parishioners, who on their return gave the boys rolls, cheese, and ale—many of them would be quite saturated with water, which was thrown over them from windows, roofs, and other available places. Ponds were made in the gutters, and, unless pence were thrown in, parties were splashed with dirty water. The parishioners had a dinner at an hotel or inn in the parish, the clergyman generally acting as chairman. Boys would assemble outside the window, when pence would be thrown out for a scramble, sometimes after being made hot. (Reminiscences of Exeter, Cossins, 2nd ed., 10, 33, 34, 11, 12.)
Perambulations at East Budleigh. —The earliest year of the churchwardens’ accounts is dated 1664, and in this we find the following: —
1664. Itm for the provision att the preambelacion....... 00 14 04.
Similar annual entries occur up to 1669, the amount of cost varying from 8s. to 16s. on each occasion. With the occasional interruption of a year they were continued regularly to 1689, a small sum (the highest being 13s. 4d. ) being spent in provisions on each occasion. After this date the intervals were longer, but the amount spent in some years was unduly large. The following are the most characteristic entries:
1686. payd for Bread, bear & Tabacko at the perambalation.......... 00 11 06 1709. pd. ye prehemelashon day....... 0 10 00 1710. for Charge for the Prembleation.. 01 17 4 1720. paid the preamulation.......... 01 11 0 1728. pd. ye Expence at ye preambulatn in ffixing ye bounds of ye pish.. 1 11 3 1732. By Syder & Bread & ye prehamelation...... 11 6 By Jno Teed for Syder At ye prehamelation. 2 6 By Wm Hill for A Cheese & small cups...... 3 0 1 16 6 By Grace Smith note for Expences at ye prehamelation...... 19 6, 1735. To Syder at ye prehamelation 10s. Bisketts Cheese &c. 9. 7¼....... 19 7 1741. To Expences at ye prehamelation 14 6
Instead of one of the Rogation days (Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday), the perambulation took place on Holy Thursday in many localities. The editor of Notes and Queries (3rd S. iv, 434) points out that the “custom of ‘Beating the Bounds,’… now generally observed on Holy Thursday,” is “canonically wrong.” Nevertheless this was the day on which it took place in this parish, according to the following extracts from the same accounts:
1752. To Expences on holy Thursday.... 1 3 6 1753. To Expences holy Thursday ...... 1 16 0 1766. To what spent on Holey Thursday. 0 10 0.
There are no other entries to be found relating to this matter.
The last perambulation took place in 1854, and at the conclusion, those who had taken part in it, assembled at the “Five Bells” public-house, which formerly stood near to the entrance, and within the site of the present vicarage grounds, and had refreshments, tobacco being also provided.
One part of the ceremony is well worth recording. On such occasions it was the common practice for the Otterton villagers to assemble on the east bank of the river, near its mouth, and when the Budleigh party attempted to cross the stream, a good deal of ducking and horseplay took place between them. From the singular manner in which the Budleigh parish line of limits crosses the lower part of the estuary, it might be at first thought that this was a remnant of the contention between the two parishes, as to the line of separation between them. It is, however, rather to be regarded as one of the rough practices customary on such occasions. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXII, 307.)
Beating the bounds at Okehampton, &c. —There is a custom continued to this very time of perambulating the Bounds of the Borough, called Spurling-day, when quantities of apples, nuts, etc., are thrown into certain miry places, as the beaters proceed, where the boys, who always follow, scramble for them. On a somewhat similar occasion, the Countess Isabella de Fortibus, by way of determining a controversy between the parishes of Honiton, Farway, Sidbury and Gittisham, about their bounds, rode up to the plain whereabout the parishes did meet, and in a little miry place threw in a ring, which she took off her finger, and said that that place should be the bounds of the four parishes—and so it is to this day called Ring-in-the-Mire. (Hist, of Okehampton, Wright, 188.)
Holy well at Northmolton. —There is a Holy well in the parish, which was much frequented yearly, on Ascension Day, for the cure of diseases. Many people came from a distance, and made a point of arriving on the previous evening, in order to have the first dip in the early morning, when the waters are supposed to be more efficacious than if drunk later in the day. The well is still used on Holy Thursday by a few invalids. It was about 20 inches deep, flagged at the bottom, and was cleaned out previous to every Holy Thursday. An old woman used to be in attendance on the above-named day, and the invalids were expected to throw some money (silver) into the well, which, after the day was over, was carefully taken out by the old woman with a long-handled bowl made for the purpose. Invalids used to come from beyond Barnstaple, and from the neighbourhood of Wivelis-combe, and imagined they derived great benefits from bathing and drinking its waters. It still exists, though not now kept in such good repair as formerly. (N. Dev. Hand-book, 1877 ed., 77, 157.)
Wishing-well at Hatherleigh. —The locally famous holy well of St. Mary in Bremridge Wood… became a wishing-well, and pins were dropped into it; large companies of young men and women flocked in crowds to the well, wild scenes of revelry were carried out on Ascension Day, fires were lit and feasting and dancing were indulged in. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XL, 191.)
Hunting the Earl of Rone at Combmartin. Obsolete from 1837. —The “show” took place yearly on Ascension Day, and the characters or mummers were the following: —The Earl of Rone: wearing a grotesque mask, a smock-frock stuffed or padded with straw, and a string of twelve hard sea-biscuits round his neck. The Hobby-Horse: masked and covered with gaily painted trappings, and armed with an instrument called a “mapper,” which was shaped to represent the mouth of a horse, and was furnished with rude teeth and the means of rapidly opening and closing its formidable jaws. The Fool: also masked and gaudily dressed. A (real) Donkey: decorated with flowers and a necklace of twelve sea-biscuits. A troop of Grenadiers, armed with guns, and wearing tall caps of coloured paper profusely adorned with bunches of ribands.
During the fortnight which preceded Ascension Day the Hobby-Horse and the Fool, in full dress, paraded the parish and levied contributions to defray the cost of the dresses and the other expenses of the show. On the morning of the day itself great numbers of people thronged in from the surrounding parishes, and the whole village turned out in its Sunday garments and put on its liveliest aspect. At three o’clock in the afternoon the Grenadiers marched with all due pomp and circumstance of war to the neighbouring plantation called Lady’s Wood, and after much parade of search, discover the fugitive Earl of Rone ineffectually hidden in the low brushwood. They immediately fire a volley, lay hold of their prisoner, set him on the Donkey with his face towards the animal’s tail, and thus conduct him in triumph to the village.
Here the Hobby-Horse and the Fool, and great numbers of the inhabitants join in the procession. At certain stations. in the village the Grenadiers fire a volley, when the Earl falls from his Donkey apparently mortally wounded. Hereupon there is great exultation on the part of the soldiers, and excessive lamentation on the part of the Hobby-Horse and the Fool. After great exertion the latter invariably succeeds in healing the Earl of his wounds, and then the procession re-forms and marches onward once more.
At every public house there is a stoppage for purposes of refreshment, and there are innumerable delays caused by the efforts of the performers to levy contributions from the visitors. As a general rule small sums are given readily, for in case of refusal the Fool dips the besom which he carries in the nearest gutter and plentifully besprinkles the rash recusant, and should not this hint be promptly taken the Hobby-Horse proceeds to lay hold of the victim’s clothes with his “mapper,” and thus detains his prisoner till the required blackmail is forthcoming.
About night-fall the procession reaches the sea; and the proceedings are thus brought to a close.
[Explanation of origin omitted; slightly abridged.] (N. Dev. Scenery-Book, 1863, 109.)
See also Trans. Devon. Assoc., XI, 167; XLIX, 71-5.
Weather-lore. —As the weather is on Ascension Day, so will it be the entire autumn. (Nummits and Crummits, Hewitt, 100.)
Girls dressed in white. —Where are the girls now, with boldness enough to troop merrily to the parish church in their simple frocks of virgin white and their fresh-gathered garlands of wild-flowers? (Lays and Legends, Curzon, 2nd ed., 96. )
Scarlet-Day. —It being the usage on Whit Sunday for the Mayor and principal members of the Corporation to attend Divine Service, arrayed in their scarlet robes; the custom was observed with due solemnity on Sunday last: Capt. Pridham, the Worshipful the Mayor, a number of the Capital Burgesses, &c., in full dress robes, attended by the three Sergeants, bearing the maces—the insignia of office, proceeded in due form to Charles’ Church, where a very excellent sermon, suitable to the high festival, was delivered by the Rev. James Carne, A. M., the Vicar. The municipal party remained and partook of the Lord’s Supper, with a very numerous body of Communicants. (Plymouth Herald, May 31, 1828, quoted in Western Antiquary, i, 75. )
The Whitsun Holidays.
Beating the Bounds. —An ancient custom that still obtains at Bridestowe is “beating the bounds” of the parish, or the side which extends over Dartmoor. This is a necessary proceeding, or the bounds would before long become obliterated or undefined; it is followed by all the parishes on the confines of the Moor. It is supposed to take place once in three years, usually on Whit-Monday. An early start is made from the village by as many of the parishioners as elect to be at the trysting-place. These proceed in a body, joined as they go by others, to the Moor and there follow the boundary line of the parish, verifying and examining each landmark. At certain points they meet the “bound beaters” of adjoining parishes, and stop for refreshments, which have been conveyed thither in carts—piles of sandwiches, bread and cheese, etc.; also “drinks,” and, above all, buns. In former days it was customary to take out the boys of the parish and beat them at every landmark, thereby impressing it on their memories! But in these soft and degenerate days, to that same end they stuff the lads with buns! Wherefore the minds of the children have become confused as to terms, and their name for the custom is “beating the buns,” or the “bun-beating.” (Trans. Devon. Assoc., LX, 27.)
Revel Day. —I am informed that in North Devon twenty-four revels are held on Whit Monday. I think, therefore, that day must have been adopted when the memory of the correct one had been lost…. About the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign revels were fashionable fetes, and were attended by people of all classes from the neighbouring towns. On the morning of the revel, hats, gaudily trimmed with ribbons, were hung up in some conspicuous place, and sometimes even worn in church, as an advertisement that wrestling would take place. Trees were stuck on either side the door of a house, to denote it was the bush-house, which was privileged to sell ale without a licence during the revel; standings were erected on the village green, where sweets and gilt gingerbreads were sold on the Sunday, and wares of all kinds on the Monday. All classes joined in the sports and games then in vogue, such as wrestling, skittles, cock-fighting, boxing, hurling, football, dancing, etc.; women running for prizes, which consisted of gowns, legs of mutton, etc.; for wrestling, hats or silver spoons were given; boys climbed greasy poles for what was placed on the top, and joined in a game for which I can find no better name than “three-a-penny-sticks,” which was played by sticking three sticks in the ground, forming a triangle, placing some small article, such as a snuff-box or a tobacco-box, on the top of each, and throwing another stick, to knock them off, in a certain direction. Young men presented their young women with packets of fairing (an assortment of sweets, made of almonds, cinnamon, and carraway seeds, covered with sugar), gingerbread nuts, or Spanish nuts. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXVIII, 346, 348).
Ram-roasting at Kingsteignton. —The legend runs: —
Once upon a time the water failed at King’s Teignton. There was none to drink, there was not even enough to baptize a baby.
Forasmuch as the baby needed baptism and there was no water, they went down into the dry bed of the stream where the stones stood bare, and there they offered up as a sacrifice a ram lamb:
And the water sprang up, and the babe was baptized; the mark of the mother’s fingers on the stone, where her hand rested as she stooped in holding the babe, remaining visible to this day.
Such is the legend, and in memory of that event a ram lamb is roasted whole every year in the open air on the Tuesday in Whitsun week with all the rejoicings and amusements of a village fair.
The annual cleansing of the artificial leat which supplies the village with water for all purposes was started by turning off the water “always on Whitsun day after Evening Prayer.” On Monday morning the actual cleaning began, and was usually finished in good time on Tuesday.
A ram lamb used to be decked with ribbons and flowers and placed in a cart. A canopy was erected from the corners of the cart, and foliage, flowers, and ribbons were added thereto, with “gown pieces,” etc., and a bridle, as prizes provided for the impending sports. Thus was the devoted ram driven round, and contributions were solicited from all and sundry. This took place on the Monday, and on the Tuesday the lamb was killed and prepared for roasting. Then on the Tuesday morning he was decked with ribbons and flowers and carried about in a hand-barrow with a view to further contributions.
In the afternoon a fire was made in the street, and the lamb was cooked by the men, and its basting carried on with a plentiful sprinkling of May dust. It was then sold in penny and threepenny slices, and the proceeds returned to the inn which provided the lamb. The sports were carried on in the high road. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XL, 102-9.)
Paignton Pudding. —Somewhat I must tell you of the huge and costly white-pot there made of late; some term it a bag pudding. In former ages it was an annual action, and of that greatness that it is incredible to the hearer: but thence it hath the addition of white-pot, and called Paignton White-pot. (Devonshire in 1630, Westcote, 426.)
One of the greatest red-letter days in the Torrington calendar was the revel. This was held on Trinity Monday, and attracted all the best wrestlers and champions in various sports for miles around. The day was ushered in by the ringing of bells and the discharge of artillery in the form of anvils, which were taken around in handcarts and let off in various parts of the town, the hole in the anvil being loaded with powder and a wooden plug then driven in on the top of the charge with a heavy hammer. After this followed the sports, consisting of outhurling, wrestling, races of various kinds, and “cock-cubbitting.”
The wrestlers donned white jackets, on which were represented a red and a black game cock respectively. The most objectionable of all the games was the “cock-cubbitting,” which consisted in putting a cock under an earthen pan at which stout sticks [cubbitts] were thrown till it was broken, and a chase then ensued after the unfortunate bird, which generally came out of the melee in a very dilapidated condition and frequently more dead than alive. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXXV, 647.)
Out-hurling game. —The regular day was Trinity Monday, which from time immemorial was the date of the Great Torrington “Revel.” The game was always played on the same part of Torrington Commons, viz. that which included the site of the skirmish between a Royalist force stationed at Torrington and an attacking one under Colonel Bennet coming from Barnstaple. This site is at the bottom of “School Lane,” and the two goals were respectively situated at “Bear Head” and at a spot near a field called “Barber’s Piece” lying in the valley through which runs a brook known as the “Common Lake,” the whole course being about half a mile in length. The fact that much of the line of play was alongside this brook added very greatly to the excitement of the game, and I remember seeing a couple of players rolling over and over in the stream-course, bespattered with mud, in their endeavour to get possession of the ball. The one who secured the ball had to run with it in the direction of his goal, whilst those on the other side endeavoured to intercept him, and on one of them succeeding in striking him on the shoulder and saying at the same time “deliver,” he had to throw the ball, and, of course, to one of his own side, if he could manage to do so. In arranging the game every player had a man of the other side allotted to him, so as, if possible, to secure the ball when thrown. The goals consisted of rounded upright posts, one at each end of the course, with a cup or depression hollowed out on the top, into which the ball had to be placed by the player. Around these goal-posts a large circle was traced in the turf, and no player who caught the ball when he was inside the circle was allowed to place it on the goal-post, but had to throw it outside the boundary again, so that, to win a goal, the player must have captured the ball on the outside of the goal boundary, and in face of obstacles, got within the charmed circle and placed it in its receptacle on the top of the post. (Dev. & Corn. N. &. Q., XII, 153-4.)
Game of Skittles.
Much skill or “craft” was needed, to successfully play the game of skittles that the village maidens of the countryside were encouraged to perform, on Trinity Tuesday, at Meavy Oak. They were set round in a “race,” and took turns of three balls each, the one that made the highest score got the highest prize, which might be a gown, or bonnet, or cap, etc., the entrance of 3d. or under being paid for every maiden by her young man. The skittles were followed by a substantial tea; then dancing to Jan Northmoor’s fiddle, during which the men refreshed themselves with grogs or beer— cider being too common a drink for these occasions—their partners taking “shrub.” (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXV, 539.)
This was a festival of the Roman Catholic Church in honour of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament of the altar, observed on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday. It became the principal feast of the Church, the procession of the Sacrament being a gorgeous pageant, followed with the performance of miracle-plays and mysteries, generally arranged and acted by members of the gilds who had formed part of the pageant. – The rejection of the doctrine of tran-substantiation at the Reformation naturally involved the suppression of this festival.
Gild of Corpus Christi at Plymouth.
We find a reference to this gild about 1400. A document in the Black Book, headed “For the Gild of Corpus Christi,” relates to the establishment of a Church Ale. It commences by saying that for the honour of God and for increasing the benefits of the Church of St. Andrew at Plymouth, it is agreed that on the feast of Corpus Christi every ward of the borough should from thenceforth make an ale in the parish churchyard of St. Andrew, and that every person might bring with them such victuals as they pleased, bread and drink only excepted, and that friends and strangers were to be brought for the increasing of the ale, and that for the weal of the said church none of the taverns in the town were to sell wine or ale upon peril of fine and loss of freedom. And then it goes on to say that no person who shall go about with the shippe of Corpus Christi shall bring any one else to charge the ale.
I do not understand the meaning of the shippe of Corpus Christi. It may be a mistake for shrine, in which relics were carried; or it may have been a sacred vessel to contain the Host; or it may have been the navicula, or incense-boat; or, more probable than all, it may have been one of those fine pieces of ornamental plate, a part of the gild property, called the nef, used at banquets, and forming an important feature in the decoration of the mediaeval dinner-table. Whatever it was, it is clear that the bearer in the procession was an important person for the time, and was entitled to certain privileges which some holders of the office in previous years had been in the habit of extending to others. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., VI, 102-3.)
The view is expressed in Bracken’s History of Plymouth and Her Neighbours, p. 57, that the ship was a small silver model “representing the town’s connection with the sea and seafaring occupations. Probably it was placed in the church till the next year’s procession. This opinion is strengthened by the mention of a ‘lytel shyp of silver’ in a list of ornaments of St. Andrew’s Church which were handed to William Hawkins in 1539-40. The practice is still common in Brittany, Spain and Scandinavian countries.
The bearing of a ship garlanded with flowers on May Day is a long-standing local custom and was practised till modern times in Stonehouse. Millbrook and Cawsand. Quite possibly this was a survival of the Corpus Christi custom transferred after the Reformation to May Day.”
Church Plays at Ashburton.
1492-3. In cost of bread and ale on Corpus Christi day to the players viijd. 1516-7. xxd- for iiij “ratilbagges” and “vysers” bought for the players at the festival of Corpus Christi. 1519-20. ijs- viijd- for keeping the players’ clothes. 1528-9. ixs. ixd. for painting cloth for the players, and making their tunics, and for “chequery” for making tunics of for the aforesaid players, and for making staves for them, and crests upon their heads on the festival of Corpus Xti. 1537-8. jd. for a Pair of gloves (seroticarum) for King Herod on Corpus Christi day. 1542-3. ijs. jd. for ij devils’ heads (capit. diabol.) and other necessary things in the clothes for the players. 1547-8. ijs. to the players on Corpus Christi day. 1555-6. ijd. payd for a payr of glouys for hym that played God Almighty at Corpus Xti daye. vjd. payd for wyne for hym that played Saynt Resinent. 1556-7. xxd. for painting the players clothers at Totnes, and jd. for “ffettyng” the same from Totnes, ijs. iijd. for v yards and a quarter of canvas for ij players “cotes.” 1558-9. ijd. for a payr of glouys to hym that played Christ on Corpus Xti daye.
(Ashburton Churchwardens’ Accts.)
Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity.
Woodcocks appear. —There used to be a saying at Manaton that a sportsman would be sure to find a woodcock in the parish after the third chapter of Daniel had been read in church. According to the old Table of Lessons, this chapter was the first morning lesson for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, about the time when woodcocks first appear for the season. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XVII, 124.)
Hay-harvest. —At the end of hay harvest at Morchard Bishop the last load is driven out of the field and back again by a woman. If this is successfully accomplished without grazing the gate-post, she will be “missus” of the hayfield for the ensuing year. (Trans. Devon. Assoc., XXXVII, 114.)
Making sweet hay. —It was the general custom in North Devon, when the hay is almost fit to be carried, for it to be “made sweet” by the boys taking wisps of the hay, twisting them into rings and kissing the girls through them, sometimes using the rings as loops to throw over the heads of the girls and thus holding them fast.
Wheat-harvest. —The wheat being ready to cut down, and amounting from ten to twenty acres, notice is given in the neighbourhood that a reaping is to be performed on a particular day, when, on the morning of the day appointed, a gang, consisting of an indefinite number of men and women, assemble at the field, and the reaping commences after breakfast, which is seldom over till between eight and nine o’clock; this company is open for additional hands to drop in at any time before the twelfth hour, to partake of the frolic of the day.
By eleven or twelve o’clock the ale and cider have so much warmed and elevated their spirits that their noisy jokes and ribaldry are heard to a considerable distance, and often serve to draw auxiliary force within the accustomed time. The dinner, consisting of the best meat and vegetables, is carried into the field between twelve and one o’clock; this is distributed with copious draughts of ale and cider, and by two o’clock the pastime of cutting and binding the wheat is resumed, and continued without any other interruption than the squabbles of the party, until about five o’clock, when what is called the drinkings are taken into the field, and under the shade of a hedge-row or large tree the panniers are examined, and buns, cakes, and all such articles are found, as the confectionary skill of the farmer’s wife could produce for gratifying the appetites of her customary guests, at this season.
After the drinkings are over, which generally consume from half to three quarters of an hour, and even longer, if such can be spared from the completion of the field, the amusement of the wheat harvest is continued with such exertions, as draw the reaping and binding of the field together, with the close of the evening. Then follows the custom of “crying the neck,” which is separately described.
At the same house, or that of a neighbouring farmer, a similar scene is renewed, beginning between eight and nine o’clock in the morning following, and so continued throughout the precious season of the wheat-harvest. The labourers thus employed in reaping receive no wages; but in lieu thereof they have an invitation to the farmer’s house to partake of a harvest frolic, and at Christmas, during the whole of which time, and which seldom continues less than three or four days, the house is kept open, night and day, to the guests. (Weekly Entertainer, LV, 677-8.)
Crying the neck. —An old man, or someone else well acquainted with the ceremonies used on the occasion (when the labourers are reaping the last field of wheat), goes round to the shocks and sheaves, and picks out a little bundle of all the best ears he can find; this bundle he ties up very neat and trim, and plats and arranges the straws very tastefully. This is called “the neck” of wheat, or wheaten-ears. After the field is cut out, and the pitcher once more circulated, the reapers, binders, and the women, stand round in a circle. The person with “the neck” stands in the centre, grasping it with both his hands. He first stoops and holds it near the ground, and all the men forming the ring, take off their hats, stooping and holding them with both hands towards the ground. They then all begin at once in a very prolonged and harmonious tone to cry “the neck!” at the same time slowly raising themselves upright, and elevating their arms and hats above their heads; the person with “the neck” also raising it on high. This is done three times. They then change their cry to “wee yen! —way yen!”1—which they sound in the same prolonged and slow manner as before, with singular harmony and effect, three times. This last cry is accompanied by the same movements of the body and arms as in crying “the neck.” After having thus repeated “the neck” three times, and “wee yen” or “way yen” as often, they all burst out into a kind of loud and joyous laugh, flinging up their hats and caps into the air, capering about and perhaps kissing the girls. One of them gets “the neck,” and runs as hard as he can to the farm-house, where the dairy-maid, or one of the young female domestics, stands at the door prepared with a pail of water. If he who holds “the neck” can manage to get into the house, in any way unseen, or openly, by any other way than the door at which the girl stands with the pail of water, then he may lawfully kiss her; but, if otherwise, he is regularly soused with the contents of the bucket. On a fine still autumn evening, the “crying of the neck” has a wonderful effect at a distance.
1. “We ha’en! we ha’en!”
P. S. —I should have mentioned that “the neck” is generally hung up in the farm-house, and here it remains sometimes three or four years. (Every-Day Book, ii, 585-6.)
Cornman. —Until his death, in 1884, William Pengelly, aged 78, was wont annually at harvest thanksgivings, to bring a Cornman to the church, to be set up there as a decoration. It consisted of a small sheaf of wheat with the heads tied tightly together, and wreathed with flowers, and below, by means of a stick thrust through, two arms were formed, and five stalks of barley were bound about each protruding portion of the stick, with the heads standing out to represent fingers. Before harvest thanksgivings were instituted, the Cornman was taken to the barn and there suspended. It was not invariable that the arms should be formed, and I have seen the Cornman without them, or with only indications of arms. (Book of Folk-Lore, Baring-Gould, 94.)
Drinking custom. —Some years since there existed near Kingsbridge the following curious harvest custom. At the close of harvest, when the men assembled, they were supplied with a pint of beer each, on condition that they drank with a tallow candle burning in the mug, during which the onlookers repeated the following doggerel: —
“Old Tom Tanner is come to town,
Heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho!
His nose is burnt, his eyes are burnt,
His eyebrows burnt also.”
The hero of the evening was, of course, the man who drank his quantum without a burn. (Western Antiquary, vii, 113.)