Country ways and traditions
Throughout the British Isles, Easter is a time of customs and traditions. Perhaps one of today's most picturesque and well-known is the Easter Parade in London, held in the afternoon of Easter Sunday. As traditions go, this is comparatively new and unusually has no religious or superstitious significance.
In the early part of the 19th Century, on the outskirts of London, the area known as Battersea Fields had a somewhat unsavoury reputation and in 1829 it was the venue for a duel between the Marquess of Winchester and the Duke of Wellington himself. Word of the encounter got out and the elite of London Society - attired in the height of fashion and finery - massed to witness this aristocratic encounter! Neither duellist was injured but 'honour was satisfied'. Some 20 years later the area was made respectable and renamed Battersea Park and in 1858 Queen Victoria compounded its respectability by paying it a State Visit in the Spring, wearing, of course, a new spring bonnet and gown for the occasion. Thus began a tradition for an annual display of fashions and millinery and every society lady attempted to upstage her rivals by appearing in something more spectacular each year.
Over the years this has expanded from Easter bonnets to today's procession of incredible decorative and floral floats.
Easter Monday is the day for Pace-Egg Rolling in Lancashire. 'Pace' has nothing to do with speed but comes from the word 'Paschal' , Hebrew for Passover. Children roll brightly coloured, and often beautifully decorated, hard-boiled eggs down the hill, competing against one another as their eggs bump their way to the bottom. It is thought that the tradition of Pace-Egging symbolises the rolling aside of the stone blocking the sepulchre from which the Resurrection took place.
Hock-Tide [the 2nd Tuesday after Easter] and Michaelmas Day have for centuries been regarded as the chief rent days of the year and in Hungerford, the rent collectors are known as Tutti-Men. At 8.00 a.m. on Hock-Tide, the Town Crier summons the commoners to the Court Leet. Here the Officers - for Hungerford is still governed by a Constable, a Portreeve, a Bailiff and a court of 12 Feoffes [or trustees] - are elected for the following year. Among them are 2 Tutti-Men, dressed in morning attire and top hat, who immediately go out on the streets, each carrying his staff of office, a tall pole with a Tutti [a West Country name for a bouquet of spring flowers] secured to it with ribbons and topped with an orange. With them goes an Orange Scrambler, wearing an evening coat and a tall hat adorned with the tail feathers of a cock pheasant. He carries a sack bulging with oranges.
The Tutti-Men have to visit the house of every commoner, to exact a penny from the men and a kiss from the women. The ladies have little chance to escape, as the Tutti-Men are equipped with a light ladder and are entitled to enter houses by an upstairs window if the door is barred! An orange is exchanged for every kiss received - hence the attendance of the Orange Scrambler. The rounds completed, the remaining oranges and coins are thrown out to be scrambled for by the children who follow the Tutti-Men.
The North Devon Spinners
The North Devon Spinners was founded in January 1982. We currently have 24 members, some of whom were founder members. One of the most interesting features to me is the way we each produce our own craft style from the handspun wool whilst using fleece from many different breeds of sheep. The wool is knitted, crocheted or woven.
Shetland fleece is used to produce the very fine fibre for shawls, etc. Our Devon breeds of Exmoor Horn and Closewool are favourites but many more unusual fleeces are brought to our meetings and are much admired. We then look forward to the finished garment. Sometimes we use other fibres such as silk and flax, or make felt from an unspun fleece.
We use natural dye stuff and recently held a 'dyeing day' at Barn Cottage. It was a wet morning, but our spirits were soon revived by the beautiful wafts of scented steam coming from the crock containing eucalyptus leaves which had been on the boil for an hour. This produced a lovely yellow dye. Spent dahlia heads, achillea and madder root were all successful too. We all kept on looking in the dye-pots with excitement and expectation. During the day we also had a demonstration on indigo dyeing. When you lift the wool from the dye pot it is a bright green, but as you hold it in the oxygen, it turns to an indigo blue.
I am glad to say that the sun came out later in the morning and dried our many colourful skeins of wool. We all had a most enjoyable day.
We meet on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of every month [except August and Christmas week] from 2.00 to 5.00 p.m. at the Manor Hall. We are a friendly group. Come and join us if you are interested, or maybe call in and see us at work.
THE FLIGHT OF THE EARLS
I was reminded by the item in the April edition of our Newsletter - the Hunting of the Earl of Rone - that after our move to Berrynarbor in 1982, it took us some time to realise that the Earl of Rone, so disparaged in Combe Martin's hobby horse custom, was that same Earl of Tyrone revered in our last home, Rathmullan. It was from Rathmullan's shores on Lough Swilly in Co. Donegal [Republic of Ireland] that he and his family went into voluntary exile on 13th September 1607, together with the Earl of Tyrconnell, Chief of the O'Donnell clan.
Many of the Irish chiefs and princes were given English titles to keep them sweet, but Red Hugh O'Neill - in spite of his English upbringing - was a rebel, and constantly intrigued against Elizabeth I. He and Tyrconnell were defeated at Kinsale by Mountjoy, the Lord Deputy, in 1602, whilst supporting the Spaniards who had landed there. Mountjoy made him repent and beg for pardon. What O'Neill did not know [TV news still being far away!], was that Elizabeth was already dead, and he had been tricked into repentance!
He moved to London and made his peace with James I of England, but continued to be harassed by the English and not always supported by his followers. Finally, driven north to Rathmullan, they 'sailed from Irish shores, never to return' - from Portnamurry, a few hundred yards from the town to be exact - leaving 'their clansmen sorrowing and leaderless, without hope to face the future'.
And how do I know this? Well, whilst we were sorting out the threads of our new life in Berrynarbor, back in our old village over 100 0'Neill's were gathering from around the world to watch a re-enactment of 'The Flight of the Earls'. I was sent press cuttings and a souvenir brochure of this momentous occasion, and our English friends still living there were much in demand to play the dastardly Mountjoy and other English blaggards! Quoting from the press cutting, '... when Hugh O'Neill made his exit through the ranks of grief stricken maidens, there was a long-drawn sigh from the massed spectators. ...Among the assembled O'Neills there was a hint of a tear in many an eye, and a few wept openly. No author or producer could ask for more. '
How could Shamwickites put him back to front on a donkey, with his spurs reversed!
History has it that the Earls sailed to France, journeyed through Europe and buried their bones in Rome, some 9 years later [Hugh was then a grand old man of 76].
How, or even if, Hugh O'Neill came to Combe Martin and thence to Exeter for execution, therefore remains a mystery. Perhaps, after all, the Irish had the last laugh on the English by wishing Godspeed to a 'doppelganger'!
P.O'P of DC!
THE HUNTING OF THE EARL OF RONE
This ancient ceremony held in Combe Martin is unique amongst British folk traditions. Local legend has it that the Earl is the Earl of Tyrone, who fled from Ireland in 1607, but comparing it with its European counterparts, there are indications that it may have started far earlier as a pre-Christian seasonal rite.
If the character of the legend is an Earl of Tyrone, then Hugh O'Neill [1540-16161 is the only possibility. Whilst appearing as an ally under the Government of Elizabeth I in Ireland, he signed the Declaration of James I. His loyalty was questioned and he was recalled to London, but it is said that after fleeing from Ireland to avoid the charge of treason, he was shipwrecked in the Bristol Channel. He survived to land at a cove between Combe Martin and Ilfracombe, known then and to this day as Rapparee, from where he went into hiding in the woods near Combe Martin, or Martinscombe as it was then called. A party of Grenadiers, sent out from Barnstaple, eventually captured him in Lady's Wood. He was taken to Exeter, tried, found guilty of treason and executed.
Over the centuries the ritual ceremony has undoubtedly altered, but the hunting took place annually for a week around Ascension Day up until 1837, when it was banned, possibly because of ' licentious and drunken behaviour ' - the route of the procession passing nine public houses, at each of which they would stop for "a not inconsiderable time"!
On Ascension Day itself, at 3.00 p.m. , the party would go up to Lady's Wood where there was a mock fight and the Earl captured by the Grenadiers. He was then taken back on a donkey - seated backwards - and at the edge of the village the procession would be joined by the Hobby Horse [covered with ribbons and pointed trappings] and the Fool, dressed in a smock and carrying a broom or besom.
Every so often the Grenadiers [dressed like soldiers and wearing tall, conical hats covered with ribbons] fired a volley into the air, at which the Earl would fall off the donkey amidst cheers from the crowd and the lamentations of the Horse and Fool. Revived by these two characters, the Earl would remount and the procession move on again.
Today's reconstruction first took place in 1970 and the Hunting covers the four days, Friday to Monday, of the Spring Bank Holiday week-end. On the Friday evening, the hunting party - the Grenadiers accompanied by the drums - sets off from Seaside and searches the nooks and crannies, including the pubs[!], all the way to the "Top George".
Saturday is the turn of the children and the procession includes the Earl, the Hobby Horse and the Fool. Their parade down the High Street is followed by a disco. On Saturday evening there is a Country Dance for everyone.
Having failed to find the Earl on the Friday evening, the Hunting Party has a second go and this time it includes the Drums, Musicians, Grenadiers, Hobby Horse and Fool, who 'visit' their way up from Sandaway to the "Top George", but still with no luck - they drown their sorrows on the way. So, on the Monday evening, the Grenadiers search Lady's Wood and there they find and capture the 'wanted' man. On their return to the village, they are joined by the main procession, including villagers and visitors. With the Earl riding a donkey, the procession wends its way down the main street, halting every so often for the ritual shooting of the Earl and his revival by the Horse and Fool [interspersed with liquid refreshments] until it finally reaches Seaside where the Earl is unceremoniously thrown into the sea. The event is rounded off with a rousing sing-song!
Times for this year's ceremony are given in the Diary and more detailed information can be found in the booklet "The Hunting of the Earl of Rone" by Tom Brown and available from the Top George Inn.
[My thanks to Jim Williams, Combe Martin, for his help with this article.]
* UPDATE: August 2022 - see also The Hunting of the Earl of Rone website.
Whitsuntide, or Pentecost to give it its correct title, is the birthday of the Church. It falls seven weeks after Easter and commemorates the time after Jesus's ascension when the Holy Spirit helped the Disciples to renew their faith.
Processions of Witness have, in many places, died out, but in the area around Saddleworth, near Oldham, the tradition remains strong and many of the villages take part. The procession begins and ends with a service and well-loved hymns are sung along the route. Brass bands make a rousing call to witness and local bands have accompanied the Walks since the 1800's.
The tradition of providing the bands and the walkers with meals for the day was observed until about 1970. There would be breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea and in 1880, the feast at Delph (one of the villages in the Saddleworth area) consisted of 135 lbs of beef and ham, 33 quarts of milk, 36 lbs of farm butter and groceries amounting to £6.5.O. Treacle beer was sold at 1/2d per pint. In the evenings - full of good food - the bands would get together to play and it seemed logical, as well as enjoyable, to round off the day with a brass band contest, and so the Band Contests were born.
The Whit Friday Contest is a tradition kept alive by the villages, especially Delph, and by 5.00 p.m. on Whit Friday, the roads are crowded with coaches carrying bands from everywhere! From Bodmin in Cornwall, Cambridge University, Germany, Wales and Switzerland and, of course, the local bands: bands that even the uninitiated recognise - Faireys, Black Dyke, Brighouse and Grimethorpe .
The idea is to compete in as many contests as possible whilst at the same time consuming just a "teensy weensy" drop of beer! The bands form up in the road and march to the Delph Club - to play their entry - via the Bull's Head, the Rose and Crown, the White Lion and, making a sharp left, the Swan!
It is understood, however, that banding is the main object and the only link with beer is that they both begin with the same letter!
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF WHIT FRIDAY
The excitement of Whit Friday started weeks before the event with a visit to Manchester's department stores to acquire a whole new set of clothes - from socks and shoes to a new hat, if your mother insisted on the latter.
When the great day finally dawned, we would be carefully dressed and presented with a basket of fresh flowers to carry. We would meet all our friends and relatives outside the village church, where a short service would be conducted. Then there would be a procession around the village, led by a brass band and followed proudly by the church banner, the Sunday School children and the congregation. Stops would be made at certain points for a prayer to be said and a hymn sung.
A few hours later we would arrive at the church hall for a delicious lunch, after which, weather permitting, it would be off with the new clothes and on with the shorts and trainers for an afternoon of family sports on the village green. The brass band would entertain as the mums and dads relaxed in their deckchairs.
The evening finished in a rousing way. Each village would hold a Brass Band Contest, and we would wait, sometimes until midnight, to hear the final results - would it be Brighouse or Black Dyke? I was always a very tired but happy little girl who crawled into bed that night!
Does anyone else celebrate Whit Friday in this way?
If anyone else can remember celebrating customs of this sort in their childhood, we would love to hear from you.
Clog Dancing is a name for several types of traditional dancing styles which are performed in clogs.
In the U.S.A. and Canada, it is used to describe a type of dancing [also called Flat Footing] which originated in the Apallachian Mountains and is now popular in the U.K. North West Morris dancing is probably the most widely aeen style of 'clog dancing' and it is performed by teams of both men and women. The dances are mostly from Lancashire and Cheshire, and a dance is usually named after a particular town or village, e.g. Runcorn in Cheshire or Clitheroe in Lancashire.
Clogs were the footwear used by working people in the mills and down the pits of the North West counties. But working people also wore clogs on the Sabbath Day and had a special best pair for Sunday. The clogs had bottoms made of alder or beech and were often extracted and fashioned by gypsies. The uppers were made of leather, calf hide being used for the best pair. Working clogs insulated the feet against cold floors and were also waterproof.
Clogs are also worn for "step dancing" A step dance often originated and developed from working sounds such as the rhythmic clack of machinery in a mill or the monotonous thumping of the engine of a canal boat. Step dancing is usually performed individually, although it can be performed by groups of two, three or more. It is widespread in the U.K. with styles being accredited to Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lakeland, Wales, Dartmoor and Exmoor - to name but a few.
Step dancers usually use clogs with nothing protecting the wooden sole and heel, and so sounds spectacular when performed on wooden boards . North West Morris dancing clogs normally have rubbers to protect the wood against wear in the streets. Irons, somewhat like horse-shoes, used to be worn and on a cobbled street would emit sparks.
Clog dance teams have danced in North Devon since 1979 when the Ilfracombe Cloggies were formed at the College. The team performs North West Morris and step dance routines. Other clog teams are The Red Petticoats and Devon Violets. The Ilfracombe Cloggies may be seen during the summer months dancing along the Ilfracombe seafront and this summer took part in the Sidmouth Folk Art Festival in August.
Do you know of any local customs such as clog dancing? If so, it would be very much appreciated if you could find time to tell us about them.
Illustrated by: Debbie Cook