Category Archives: 1800s

We enjoyed this in years gone by

Britain has many ‘traditional’ activities that, in summer or harvest time, bring all members of the community together for a celebration – a celebration that can go on for the best part of a week or more.  The town where I now live had a reputation for their ‘Feast’ but, I’m afraid, those events seem to have gone absent of late.

The county magazine of 1936-8 tells us of earlier times in the community of the Deepings:

‘The village feast, lasting a week, still survives, and last year was greater than ever, two fields hard by the church being necessary to accommodate the entertainment kings, and people flocked in crowds from neighbouring villages.  A luscious yellow plum retains its name of “The Feast” plum, being ripe at this time, and “duck and green peas” is the time-honoured dish of the old “Deepingers” who rejoice at the homecoming of their sons and daughters.’

There is an interesting point in connection with this popular event, for although St. James’ Day is July 26th, “Feast Sunday” is the second Sunday in August.

The answer lay in the change made in the calendar in 1752 when the English date was 11 days behind the continent, but the residents did not alter their feast.  The Parish Constables’ Book settles the query. In 1751 we read “July 3, For watching at Deep Feast 2-0” and in 1752 “Aug. 13 Paid for ale watching 2 days at Feast, 3-3.” I can only assume that these two sums are shillings & pence and not pounds.

Just tagging on for all of this we have the ‘Court of Piepowder’ – a court of justice that was formerly held at fairs to deal with disputes between buyers and sellers.  The literal meaning is ‘wayfarer’s court’ – piepowder comes from the French ‘pied-poudreux’ meaning ‘dusty-footed’ or ‘vagabond’

The village attraction was renewed in 1945 and boasted not only a local plum, ready at this time of year, but also a local duck-and-green-peas dish.  Both were a welcome change from the stuffed chine mentioned at most other village feasts!  Ale must also have been plentiful as an undisclosed fee was paid for ale-watching!

Unfortunately this whole source of enjoyment ceased quite a few years ago and, although there are many activities for the community, I doubt if we will see the like of this again.

John Knill – St James’s Day – and a 5 yearly habit

John Knill was an articled clerk to a solicitor in Penzance. He was a Collector of Customs at St. Ives between 1762 and 1782 and was, also, Mayor of the town in 1767. He was a well-respected citizen and travelled a lot in a time when roads were little more that cart tracks, and where all communication was poor. In his position as Customs Officer, both in St. Ives and London, his advice was eagerly sought and he inspected Custom Houses as far away as Jamaica. He also became a magistrate; was called to The Bar and was Treasurer to the Bench of the Inn. He appeared to enjoy life to the full and socially he met many eminent people, including John Wesley and the engineer John Smeaton. In 1782 he had a three-sided stone obelisk built high on a hill as a landmark to those at sea. In his will he left money for the upkeep of the obelisk and also £25 for celebrations to take place every five years on St. James’ Day, 25th July although the first ceremony took place in 1801 with him present. This is known as the John Knill Celebrations.

The people of St. Ives have been faithful to his wishes ever since and a ceremony has taken place every five years, even during war time. The £25 was to be spent thus:-

£10 for a dinner for the Trustees (the Mayor, Vicar and Customs Officer at the time plus two guests each; the dinner to take place at the George and Dragon Inn in St. Ives);
£5 to ten little girls who are daughters of either fishermen, tinners or seamen);
£1 to the fiddler; £2 to two widows; £1 for white ribbon for breast knots; £1 to be set aside for a vellum book for the Clerk to the Trustees to enter a Minute of the proceedings and £5 to the man and wife, widower or widow who shall raise the greatest family of legitimate children who have reached the age of ten years.

An extract from ‘The Diary of Beatrice Webb volume one – 1873-1892.’

I have read many of Beatrice’s diaries and find them fascinating.  I wonder how many of us have sat and thought something similar to this that she recorded on Saturday 21st July 1888.  She writes:

‘I wish I could rid myself of self-consciousness and ambition in all its forms.  Life is so short and there is so much that needs doing that it is a sin to waste a thought or a feeling on self.  Some days I seem to rise above it, to look down on my own struggle, failures and little successes as something too small and insignificant to be noted, to see it all in proportion to the great currents of life, of all kinds, that surround one.’

Published by Virago in association with the London School of Economics and Political Science.