The 14th February is better known as ‘St Valentine’s Day’ and it is without question the most popular day of the year for romance. Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of St Valentine’s Day in Dorset in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922:-
“Amongst my Dorset notes for this day I find one from the Illustrated London News in February, 1880, which states that on St. Valentine’s day the maids suspend in the kitchen a nosegay of early flowers tied up with a “true-lover’s knot” of blue ribbon. It is not stated, however, what was the object or purpose of this act; though it is not difficult, I think, to believe that it indicated some manifestation or expression connected with the young women’s attitude towards those subjects to which the lover’s Saint’s day is dedicated.
Somewhat akin to this, perhaps, is the belief that it is unlucky if a male is not the first visitor that comes to the house on St. Valentine’s Day.
Formerly in Dorsetshire, as elsewhere, large numbers of ” valentines ” were exchanged between young people, a practice to which this day gave special licence ; some of these, especially those sent in ridicule, being both vulgar and wanting in good taste. A great improvement has, however, set in in late years with regard to this; and now the custom is mostly confined in regard to ” valentines ” to the exchange or sending of presents of a more useful or valuable nature.
Hone, in his Every-Day Book, vol. i, p. 118, records a custom which prevailed many years since in the West of England, and may well, therefore, be known in Dorsetshire, although I am not myself personally acquainted with it: —
“Three single young men went out together before daylight on St. Valentine’s Day, with a clapnet to catch an old owl and two sparrows in a neighbouring barn. If they were successful and could bring the birds to the inn without injury before the females of the house had risen they were rewarded by the hostess with three pots of purl in honour of St. Valentine, and enjoyed the privilege of demanding at any house in the neighbourhood a similar boon. This was done, it is said, as an emblem that the owl, being the bird of wisdom, could influence the feathered race to enter the net of love as mates on that day, whereon both single lads and maidens should be reminded that happiness could alone be secured by an early union.”