Category Archives: English tradition

In England and fancy a day out this Saturday, 6th January 2018?

It is Haxey Hood day – the day when a part of the Isle of Axholme goes a bit crazy for the afternoon to mark one of England’s oldest traditions.  Where is it? It’s in North Lincolnshire – the only part of Lincolnshire west of the River Trent – and between the three towns of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough.

There in the Isle of Axholme goes one of England’s oldest traditions. Regulars from four pubs will be going head to head in a marathon battle to get the famed Hood into their favoured watering hole in the latest staging of the traditional contest which has been running for more than 700 years.

The official story is that in the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray, wife of Isle landowner, John De Mowbray, was out riding towards Westwoodside on the hill that separates it from Haxey. As she went over the hill her silk riding hood was blown away by the wind. Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field. It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady, he gave it to one of the others to hand back to her. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool. So amused was she by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase, that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.

If you can get there this year, or want plan for a visit next year, or want to arrange a similar event for your community, here’s 21 things you might like to know about the Haxey Hood!

  1. The contest is always held on the Twelfth Day of Christmas – January 6, unless the date falls on Sunday when it’s held on January 5.
  2. The rugby style scrum is officially called The Sway.
  3. The hood is actually a cylindrical piece of leather.
  4. Four pubs compete – The Loco, Duke William and the King’s Arms in Haxey and the Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside.
  5. The nobles mentioned in the story did exist. Records show that John De Mowbray (29 November 1310 – 4 October 1361), the 3rd Baron Mowbray of Axholme, would be the most likely candidate for the husband of the lady. {If you can’t get one of these I’m sure someone will improvise}
  6. The Hood is thought to date from about 1359. {I’m sure someone could make a hood to suit.}
  7. It has similarities to other village combats, such as Ashbourne’s Royal Shrovetide Football, the Shrove Tuesday Football Games in Sedgefield, Durham and Alnwick, Northumberland and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire. {Gives you a valid excuse to do your own event.}
  8. There is speculation regarding the hood having originally been the head or penis of a sacrificial animal used in a fertility ritual is just that. {I guess that it could be replicated.}
  9. The songs sung ahead of the contest in the pubs are well-known folk songs including ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘Cannons (Drink England Dry)’ and ‘The Farmer’s Boy’.
  10. The red-coated overseer of proceedings is the Lord of The Hood. He is assisted by the Chief Boggin, ten other Boggins and the Fool.
  11. The Fool leads the procession between pubs and has the right to kiss any woman on the way.
  12. Once at the green in front of the Parish Church, the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome at around 2.30pm standing on an old mounting block in front of the church known as the Mowbray Stone.
  13. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him and this is known as ‘Smoking the Fool’.
  14. This is a watered-down version of the earlier custom in which a more substantial fire was lit with damp straw beneath a tree. The Fool was then suspended over the fire and swung back and forth until he was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could.
  15. At the end of the speech, the Fool finishes with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are: “hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock ‘im doon, but doan’t ‘ot ‘im,” which translates as: “house against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”
  16. The Lord also carries his wand of office. This is a staff made from twelve willow wands with one more upside down in the centre. These are bound thirteen times with willow twigs and a red ribbon at the top. The thirteen willow wands are supposed to represent the twelve apostles and the upside down one represents Judas.
  17. Proceedings start at 3pm with the throwing of twelve Sack Hoods. These are rolled hessian sacks, a prequel to the main game, mainly for children.
  18. The Hood, which cannot be thrown or run with, is moved slowly by ‘swaying’, that is pushing and pulling the Hood and people within the ‘Sway’ toward the direction of their pub.
  19. Nobody parks on the roads where the Sway may go, and for good reason. In 2002, a couple of drivers parked opposite the Duke William. The Sway headed right for them and pushed one of the cars 10 feet down the road and into the other.
  20. The game ends when the Hood arrives at one of the pubs and is touched by the landlord from his front step. The landlord then takes charge of the Hood for the year, and is supposed to give everyone a free drink. The winning pub pours beer over the Hood and then hangs it behind the bar (each pub has two hooks especially for this purpose).
  21. Last year’s winner was the King’s Arms, the first time the pub had won since 2014.

Let me know if you go and enjoy or if set about replicating it in your community,  I’m happily post the fact! 

Not in the UK and our history?  No problem – I’m sure that there are similar opportunities to put on a similar event.  If you do have a go I’m happy to post the fact!


The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797

This is a lovely book that does just what it says.  Anne Hughes is that Farmer’s Wife and she prefaced her book with these words:

‘Anne Hughes, her boke in whiche I write what I doe, when I hav thee tyme, and beginnen wyth this daye, Feb ye 6 1796.’

These are Anne’s words as we see her story of 20th August 1796:

This be the first time I hav writ in my book for three dayes, bein bussie.
It hav bin a verrie hot day and we to church at night, after the milking be don and the pigges fed.
The passon was new, and did preche a verrie prosie surmon,so I nearly aslepe, and did jump much at the last himm singeing. I was glad to be out once more, and John bidden the passon to sup with us we back home, where Sarah cumming in, we did put the supper reddie in the best kitchen.

In 2017 words this might read:

This is the first time I have written in my book for the past three days because I’ve been busy.  It’s been a very hot day and, after the cows had been milked and the pigs fed, we went to church.   We’ve a new parson and he preached a very prosy sermon, so much so that I nearly went to sleep – so much so that I jumped when they started singing the last hymn. I was glad when the service ended and we were outside. John, my husband, invited the parson to come to supper with us.  Sarah, our maid, was ready and we put the supper ready in the best kitchen.


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.

Just in case it rains on 15th July this year

15th July has a rhyme: St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain; Full forty days, it will remain; St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair; For forty days, t’will rain no more.

Celebrated (or berated as the case may be!) on July 15th, weather sayings pertaining to St. Swithin’s Day are probably the most famous or infamous in the UK.  St. Swithin died in 862 and was buried outside Winchester Cathedral so that he could ‘feel’ the raindrops when he was dead. However, when he was canonised a tomb was built inside the cathedral and July 15th 971 was the day his body was to be moved. Legend has it that a storm broke on that day ending a long dry spell.  Not only that – it continued to rain on each of the subsequent 40 days. As a result the monks took it as a sign of ‘divine displeasure’ and` left his body where it was.

Since 1861 there have never been 40 dry or 40 wet days following a dry or wet St. Swithin’s Day. In fact, on average, about 20 wet days and 20 rain free days can be expected between July 15th and August 24th. The summers of 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1995 were, however, near misses. During these summers July 15th was dry over southern England, as were 38 of the following 40 days. As for wet weather, BBC Meteorologist Philip Eden presented a report that on 15th July 1985 it rained in Luton and then rained on 30 of the subsequent 40 days.

The creators of the St. Swithin’s Day sayings during the Middle Ages would be aware that summer weather patterns are usually quite well established by mid-July and will then tend to persist until late August. It is not just England though; similar sayings exist for the same time of year in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. If we modernise the sayings surrounding St. Swithin’s Day perhaps the sayings should be updated to read:

St. Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, 40 days staying unsettled, St. Swithin’s Day, if it fair, 40 days staying settled.

Today sees the start of Kingsbridge Fair Week down in Devon

Kingsbridge Town in Devon was granted a charter in 1461 to hold a fair.  The Glove Ceremony is still observed – it’s a white glove and is displayed to indicate an amnesty from prosecution for minor offenses committed during the fair – and precedes the picturesque Floral Dance through the main shopping street.  The week is filled with fun and games such as Pancake Races; Morris, Scottish and Country dancing and the Grand Carnival Parade.

All that above comes from the past records etc that I have gathered over quite a few years.  The following comes from the Kingsbridge website so should be right up to date.

During the last few months the Fair Week Committee have been working on this year’s Fair Week, putting together a programme of events to suit all tastes across this week.

First off  is the Five-a-side football which starts at on this Saturday morning.  While the footballers are running around the Farmers are opening their Market on the town square.

At 5 o’clock this evening the Gym Club will start the evening proceedings – and they will be followed by the official opening with the Crowning of the Fair Queen and Princesses on the bandstand. There will, of course, be musical entertainment continues throughout the evening.

The David Rowlands Fair will be in town all week with the Fair Week church service taking place at St. Edmund’s Church.  The day will close with Boules and family entertainment on the town square.  It all comes to an end with the ever popular Crazy Quiz.

Throughout the week there are games and competitions, music, the lantern parade and fireworks. The ever popular three legged race with the more exacting 10K race preceded by the Fun Run. Bingo, a very popular event which attracts players from across the South Hams, together with darts, pool, poker and euchre all to be found in venues around Kingsbridge.  There will be a baby competition and teddy bears picnic, town criers competition, dog show and junior crab catching competition. On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon to enjoy a Cream Tea, always a nice treat.

Traditionally we will be holding the Glove Hanging ceremony followed by the floral dance and the week will draw to a close with the Carnival Parade and music on the town square.

An event that will not happen this year

The Order of the Garter is the most senior, and oldest, British Order of Chivalry.  It  was founded by Edward III in 1348 and consists of the King and twenty-five knights to be reserved as the highest reward for loyalty and for military merit. Like The Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), the other founder-knights had all served in the French campaigns of the time, including the battle of Crécy – three were foreigners who had previously sworn allegiance to the English king: four of the knights were under the age of 20 and few were much over the age of 30.

The origin of the emblem of the Order, a blue garter, is obscure. It is said to have been inspired by an incident which took place whilst the King danced with Joan, Countess of Salisbury. The Countess’s garter fell to the floor and after the King retrieved it he tied it to his own leg. Those watching this were apparently amused, but the King admonished them saying, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (Shame on him who thinks this evil). This then became the motto of the Order. Modern scholars think it is more likely that the Order was inspired by the strap used to attach pieces of armour, and that the motto could well have referred to critics of Edward’s claim to the throne of France.

The patron saint of the Order is St George – the patron saint of soldiers and also of England – and the spiritual home of the Order is St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Every knight is required to display a banner of his arms in the Chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enamelled stallplate. These ‘achievements’ are taken down on the knight’s death (and the insignia are returned to the Sovereign), but the stallplates remain as a memorial and these now constitute one of the finest collections of heraldry in the world.

Every June the Knights of the Garter gather at Windsor Castle and the new knights take the oath and are then invested with their insignia.

First a Chapter meeting is held in the throne room of the castle, at which The Queen invests new Companions with the Garter insignia.  The Queen is accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent, with Knights Companions and officers of the Order.

After the meeting, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh entertain members and officers of the Order to lunch in the Waterloo Chamber before the Queen and the other members of the company assemble in St George’s Hall, marshalled by one of the heralds, before walking through the upper, middle and lower wards of the castle to St George’s Chapel.  All wear the Garter’s traditional flowing blue velvet robes, hoods of red velvet worn over the right shoulder, and black velvet hats with white feathers.

A lunch follows in the Waterloo Chamber, after which the knights process to a service in St George’s Chapel.  They, wear their blue velvet robes and the badge of the Order – St George’s Cross within the Garter surrounded by radiating silver beams – on the left shoulder and black velvet hat with white plumes. The Queen, as Sovereign of the Order, attends the service along with other members of the Royal family in the Order, including the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Queen’s daughter, the Princess Royal.

A fanfare of trumpets announces the arrival on foot of the main procession, led by the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle and the Military Knights of Windsor.  Bands of the Household Division play as the procession passes dismounted squadrons of the Household Cavalry, lining the route in their scarlet ceremonial uniforms.

After the chapel service, which is relayed via loudspeakers to the crowds, there is an open-carriage procession back up the hill.

The Garter Service for 2017 has been cancelled to allow the State Opening of Parliament to take place on Monday 19th June 2017 following the results of the General Election held on Thursday 8th June 2017

The next Garter Service will take place on Monday 11th June 2018.