Category Archives: By County
In just a few weeks I’ll be scaling Snowdon’s lofty heights with a group of friends. It’s been suggested that as the leader of this expedition I should be able to point out landmarks and the history of the place.
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.”
Many customs have vanished, quietly dying out without giving a sign. The present generation has witnessed the extinction of many observances which our fathers practised and revered, and doubtless the progress of decay will continue.
We have entered upon a diminished inheritance. Still it is surprising to find how much has been left; how tenaciously the English race clings to that which habit and usage have established; how ancient customs hold sway in the palace, the parliament, the army, the law courts, amongst educated people as well as unlearned rustics; how they cluster around our social institutions, are enshrined in religious ceremonial, and are preserved by law; how carefully they have been guarded through the many ages of their existence, and how deeply rooted they are in the affections of the English people.
It may be said that we have begun our quest too late; that so much has already vanished that it is hardly worth while to record what is left. Although much has gone, there is still, however, much remaining that is good, that reveals the artistic skill and taste of our forefathers, and recalls the wonders of old-time.
It will be our endeavour to tell of the old country houses that Time has spared, the cottages that grace the village green, the stern grey walls that still guard some few of our towns, the old moot halls and public buildings. We shall see the old-time farmers and rustics gathering together at fair and market, their games and sports and merry-makings, and whatever relics of old English life have been left for an artist and scribe of the twentieth century to record.
In 1649 Gerrard Winstanley and 14 others published a pamphlet in which they called themselves the “True Levellers” although once they began to put those beliefs into practice they soon became known by supporters and opponents as “Diggers”.
The Diggers’ beliefs envisioned an ecological interrelationship between humans and nature, acknowledging the inherent connections between people and their surroundings.
Winstanley declared that “true freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth”.
In April 1649 several Diggers had begun to plant vegetables in common land on St George’s Hill, Weybridge, Surrey at a time when food prices reached an all-time high. They had invited “all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes.”
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.
The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on 5 November 1605, as the prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which James’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Catholic head of state.
The plot was revealed to the authorities in an anonymous letter. During a search of the House of Lords at about midnight on 4 November 1605, Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder and arrested.
At the trial of the conspirators on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
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)
I only went to take photo and video, but a certain member of Thieving Magpies forced me to take part as well…