We heard about it first in Ambleside. We were in lodgings half-way up the hill that leads to the serene, forsaken Church of St. Anne. It was there that Faber, fresh from Oxford, had been curate, silently thinking the thoughts that were to send him into the Roman communion, and his young ghost, with the bowed head and the troubled eyes, was one of the friends we had made in the few rainy days of our sojourn. Another was Jock, a magnificent old collie, who accepted homage as his royal due, and would press his great head against the knee of the alien with confident expectation of a caress, lifting in recognition a long, comprehending look of amber eyes. Another friend—though our relations were sometimes strained—was Toby, a piebald pony of piquant disposition. He allowed us to sit in his pony-cart at picturesque spots and read the Lake Poets to him, and to tug him up the hills by his bridle, which he had expert ways of rubbing off, to the joy of passing coach-loads, when our attention was diverted to the landscape. Another was our kindly landlady. She came in with hot tea that Saturday afternoon to cheer up the adventurous member of the party, who had just returned half drowned from a long drive on coachtop for the sake of scenery absolutely blotted out by the downpour. There the “trippers” had sat for hours, huddled under trickling umbrellas, while the conscientious coachman put them off every now and then to clamber down wet banks and gaze at waterfalls, or halted for the due five minutes at a point where nothing was perceptible but the grey slant of the rain to assure them—and the spattered red guidebook confirmed his statement—that this was “the finest view in Westmoreland.” So when our landlady began to tell us of the ancient ceremony which the village was to observe that afternoon, the bedrenched one, hugging the bright dot of a fire, grimly implied that the customs and traditions of this sieve-skied island—in five weeks we had had only two rainless days—were nothing to her; but the tea, that moral beverage which enables the English to bear with their climate, wrought its usual reformation. Read more »
Author Archives: From Out-of-Copyright Text
LONGDENDALE has always been noted for the number of its inhabitants devoted to the study of magic arts. Once upon a time, or to give it in the words of an unpublished rhyme (which are quite as indefinite)—
“Long years ago, so runs the tale,
A doctor dwelt in Longdendale;”
and then the rhyme goes on to describe the hero of the legend—
“Well versed in mystic lore was he—
A conjuror of high degree;
He read the stars that deck the sky,
And told their rede of mystery.”
Coming down to ordinary prose, it will suffice to say that the doctor referred to was a most devoted student of magic, or, as he preferred to put it—“a keen searcher after knowledge”—a local Dr. Faustus in fact. Having tried every ordinary means of increasing his power over his fellow mortals, he finally decided to seek aid of the powers of darkness, and one day he entered into a compact with no less a personage than His Imperial Majesty, Satan, otherwise known as the Devil. The essentials of this agreement may thus be described.
For hundreds of years the Peace Egg or Pace Egg play was a common part of the Easter festivities in Lancashire with bands of disguised mummers going from house to house presenting their play.
Gradually what was once an adult tradition became one enacted by children often gaining more in donations than their parents could earn in the wool and cotton industries.
Below is an contemporary observation of one of these performances by the Lancashire dialect writer John Trafford Clegg (Th’ Owd Weighver)
Robin Hood, the greatest bowman that old England ever knew, frequently visited Longdendale. Probably the “thick woods of Longden,” with their wealth of wild red deer, induced him to lead his band from the haunts of merrie Sherwood to the no less merrie land of Longdendale.
Old traditions tell of a “mighty forest in Longdendale, whose trees were so thick that the squirrels could leap from branch to branch from Mottram to Woodhead.” Such a country might well attract a lover of the free forest life like bold Robin Hood; moreover, there ran a road over a good portion of Longdendale, along which the fat old Abbots of Basingwerke were wont to convey their treasures from their township of Glossop, to their fine abbey seat in Wales. Doubtless the Abbot dreaded a meeting with the mighty outlaw, for Robin dearly loved to pluck a fat-bellied churchman that he might place the golden nobles in the pouches of the poor.
This story, however, has nothing to do with the robbing of the Abbots or Monks of Basingwerke. It is a story of skill and fabulous strength. Indeed, there are many who doubt that the incidents related ever occurred—simply because such things seem impossible. But then those incidents are recorded in the traditions of the people of Longdendale, and, consequently, they are worthy of serious consideration. He must be either an amazingly bold or an exceedingly ignorant man, who would cast a doubt on the veracity of a Longdendale tradition. Read more »
The glorious beauty of an early autumn morning, the sweet scent of the wide-stretching moorland, the invigorating breeze from the east sweeping over the hills, the occasional calls of the birds or the flutter of their wings, all combined (as they still combine) to make life seem more than usually joyous on a certain day in the year 1247, when a company of men might have been seen assembled on that part of Blackstone Edge which we now call “Robin Hood’s Bed.”
Stalwart fine fellows were they, clothed in well-fitting tunics of the fashion of the day, and of a colour so like that of grass that one could readily understand how easily the owners might lie in ambush in some parts of the country—in forest lands, for instance—were they so disposed.
There were at least a hundred men, and every man was armed, most of them with that splendid English weapon, the long-bow, which in later days gained Crecy and Poictiers and Agincourt, and the use of which Bishop Latimer (in 1549) described as “a godly art, a wholesome kind of exercise, and much commended in physic.” Many of them, however, carried quarter-staves—tough poles of wood some seven feet long, shod at each end with iron, and which, when grasped in the hands of athletic men and twirled with practised skill, became terrible weapons, one blow from which usually terminated a combat.
These archers and others—all clad in the costume of Lincoln green already described—made a striking picture as they stood in a semi-circle listening intently to the words of the man who stood upon one of those great stones which still mark “Robin Hood’s Bed.”
Our historical customs, or customs which owe their origin to events in the history of our country, are not very numerous. Besides Royal Oak Day, which has already been described, we have the famous commemoration of the discovery of Gunpowder Plot on November 5th. This is a very popular festival, when bonfires are lighted everywhere, and “guys” — a perpetual memorial of the famous Guy Fawkes— are burnt with much accompaniment of squibs and crackers.
Probably few of those who take part in these functions recall to mind that November 5th was instituted by the House of Commons as “a holiday for ever in thankfulness to God for our deliverance and detestation of the Papists;” but this ignorance does not prevent them from keeping up the custom and enjoying the excitement of the bonfire and fireworks.
The usual rhyme which the youths repeat when they carry round the guy and collect fuel for their bonfires or largess for themselves is as follows: —
“Please to remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot”
A common variation of the last two lines is —
“When the king and his train had nearly been slain,
Therefore it shall not be forgot”
The Berkshire boys used to add the words: —
“Our king’s a valiant soldier
With his blunderbuss on his shoulder;
Cocks his pistol, draws his rapier;
Pray give us something for his sake here.
A stick and a stake, for our good king’s sake. I
f you won’t give one, I’ll take two;
The better for me, the worse for you.
Holloa, boys, holloa, boys, make the bells ring;
Holloa, boys, holloa, boys, God save the Queen.”
“King” is evidently the correct rhyme for “ring” but on the accession of her Majesty Queen Victoria the correctness of the poetry was sacrificed to the appropriateness of the address to the reigning sovereign. Some of the rhymes tell us of the nefarious deeds of wicked Guy Fawkes, and the following, we believe, is still extant: —
“Guy Fawkes and his companions did contrive
To blow the House of Parliament up alive
With threescore barrels of powder down below,
To prove Old England’s wicked overthrow;
But by God’s mercy all of them got catched,
With their dark lantern and their lighted match.
Ladies and gentlemen sitting by the fire,
Please put hands in pockets and give us our desire;
While you can drink one glass, we can drink two,
The better for we, and none the worse for you.”
Riunour, rumour, pump a derry,
Prick his heart and burn his body.
And send his soul to Purgatory.”
From Beckley, Oxon, we have the following rhyme, which is still said by the youths when collecting wood for their fire: —
“Don’t you know ’tis the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder Plot? We’ve come to beg
A stick or a stake.
For King George’s sake.
If you don’t give us one.
We’ll take two;
Then ricket a racket,
Your door shall go.”
At Headington, in the same county, the boys sing the following verses: —
The Fifth of November,
We want a faggot
To make it alight
Hatchets and duckets.
Beetles and wedges,
If you don’t give us some
We’ll pull your old hedges;
If you don’t give us one.
We’ll take two;
The better for us.
And the worse for you.”
A slight menace is very common in these Gunpowder Plot ditties. At several places at the present time it is customary to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with much elaborate ceremonial, torchlight processions, composed of people in very fancy dress costume. The display of fireworks in many towns is very grand and elaborate. At Hampstead very elaborate preparations are made; several bonfire clubs combine in making the display effective, and the procession is usually very picturesque and imposing. One car at the last celebration, representing the British Isles and the Colonies, with attendant beefeaters and pages, was sent by Sir Augustus Harris.
On the South Coast these observances are usual in several towns. At Rye the “Borough Bonfire Boys” organise a procession, light bonfires, and burn effigies. At Folkstone the procession consists of carts and waggons, gaily decorated, and containing tableaux vivants, contributed by the Friendly Society. The Ancient Order of Druids send a party representing the Ancient Britons. A blacksmith’s forge, a butcher’s car, fire brigades, and other shows, make up the procession, and torches and Chinese lanterns, and bands of music, add brightness to the festival. At Marylebone and Bermondsey the bonfire clubs are much in evidence. Political guys are not unknown, and at the last occasion the Sultan of Turkey thrashing a poor Armenian was one of the representations. In the old Middlesex suburban town of Enfield a huge fancy-dress procession is formed on the evening of Guy Fawkes Day; thousands of people throng the streets, and fires of all colours blaze along the line of route. Groups allegorical of local traditions associated with the old Enfield chase, Colonel Somerset’s stag-hounds, the Herts Yeomanry, fire brigades, and schools, form interesting features in the long procession. Money is collected for the Cottage Hospital, and a monster bonfire is lighted on the green and the traditional guy burned.
The almost universal observance of the day, and the similarity of the modes of commemorating the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, obviate the necessity of recording the manners and customs of the English people on this occasion.
Extract from Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time – P. H. Ditchfield, M.A., F.S.A. (1896)