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 »
Category Archives: Customs
In ancient times honey was revered for its healing properties. It was the only natural sweetener readily available and has the distinction of being the only foodstuff that doesn’t go off.
This was also a time when water wasn’t necessarily safe to drink due water borne diseases and parasites, so the sterilising properties of alcohol made weak beers and wines the drink of choice.
Although often referred to as “honey wine” true mead is brewed from honey, water and yeast without other ingredients such as grapes or other fruits. (The earliest recorded recipe for mead dates to 60AD)
The combination of the safe to drink alcohol and the healing properties of the honey lead to mead being revered (especially since it was often brewed by druids, and later, monks)
As part of the wedding ceremony, the bride’s father was expected to provide the newly wed couple with enough mead to last the couple for the first month of their marriage, hence the term Honeymoon, and this was said to encourage fertility and vitality (rather than brewer’s droop) and ensure that the marriage would “bear fruit” and a child would be born within a year.
Kanu y Med (Song of Mead)
I WILL adore the Ruler, chief of every place,
Him, that supports the heaven: Lord of everything.
Him, that made the water for every one good,
Him, that made every gift, and prospers it.
May Maelgwn of Mona be affected with mead, and affect us,
From the foaming mead-horns, with the choicest pure liquor,
Which the bees collect, and do not enjoy.
Mead distilled sparkling, its praise is everywhere.
The multitude of creatures which the earth nourishes,
God made for man to enrich him.
Some fierce, some mute, he enjoys them.
Some wild, some tame, the Lord makes them.
Their coverings become clothing.
For food, for drink, till doom they will continue.
I will implore the Ruler, sovereign of the country of peace,
To liberate Elphin from banishment.
The man who gave me wine and ale and mead.
And the great princely steeds, beautiful their appearance,
May he yet give me bounty to the end.
By the will of God, he will give in honour,
Five five-hundred festivals in the way of peace.
Elphinian knight of mead, late be thy time of rest.
From the Book of Taliesin XIX
The Blackthorn, which is widespread and abundant in woods and hedgerows throughout the British Isles, has the most sinister reputation within Celtic folklore, in ancient Ireland it was known as Straif, thought to be the origin of the word strife.
Although associated with trouble and bad luck, it is also associated with the overcoming of these negative aspects and the transformation that this struggle can bring.
Cailleach the Celtic goddess of winter is depicted as a blue veiled old woman with a raven on one shoulder and a blackthorn staff which she uses to summon storms. She emerges at Samain and takes over the year from the summer goddess Brigid.
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)
I only went to take photo and video, but a certain member of Thieving Magpies forced me to take part as well…
More videos on our youtube channel
From the town of Bacup with blackened faces and unusual costumes comes a unique folk dance troup. The team dances several garland dances once common as part of rushbearing festivals around the area, but also a “nut dance” of which they now seem to be the sole surviving example.
Whilst the clogs shirt and britches are traditional Lancashire, the white and red hooped skirt and white hat/turban seem more exotic in origin.
While Morris Dancing is rumoured to have been derived from the dances of the Moors, the African tribe that conquered large parts of Spain, Portugal and Southern France. The tradition danced by the Britannia dancers seems to have a more definite link. It is rumoured to have been taught to Cornish tin miners by Moors who came to this country and found employment in the mines. When the work in Cornwall became scarce during the 18th & 19th centuries some of the Cornish miners came to the North-West to work in the mines and quarries and brought the tradition with them.