Purbeck’s Shrove Tuesday Custom of “Kicking the Ball”

Shrove Tuesday 1976: The football is kicked through the village of Corfe Castle by the Purbeck Marblers DCM © 2015

Shrove Tuesday 1976: The football is kicked through the village of Corfe Castle by the Purbeck Marblers DCM © 2015

Shrove Tuesday, also known as “Pancake Day” always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent in the Christian faith. Dates vary from year to year, but it usually falls in February, sometimes early March. It is the day of preparation for Lent, when the eating pancakes was made obvious by the need to up the eggs and fat, the eating of which were prohibited during the forty days of Lent.

At Corfe, the village holds the annual custom of Shrove Tuesday Football Ceremony of the Purbeck Marblers. This occurs on this day that new apprentices are introduced to the Ancient Order of Purbeck Marblers and Stonecutters.

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the traditions of Shrove Thuesday in Dorset in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922:-

Quarrymen’s customs. — One of the oldest and most interesting amongst the customs of the Isle of Purbeck is that connected with the quarrymen of the district—the ” Purbeck Marblers “, as they were anciently called. These quarrymen, who were resident in the districts of Corfe Castle and Swanage, were formed into a strong company or guild, to whom was granted a charter confirming all their rights and privileges. These were evidenced by a series of Articles of Agreement. Corfe Castle was the proper metropolis of the quarriers’ country; though Swanage, being the place of shipment of the stone, the business tended more to that quarter. At one time, it is said, the general meeting was opened at Corfe, and adjourned to Swanage; but afterwards the meetings were held at Corfe and Langton respectively.

Hutchins (vol i, pp. 682-4) gives an account of the Marblers’ • Company and of the articles of their charter, which account was taken from a paper by the late Mr. Oliver W. Farrer, which appeared in that interesting but short-lived—and now very scarce—publication, The Purbeck Papers, in 1859. Hutchins states that the early history of the company is involved in obscurity, the ancient records having been destroyed in a fire at Corfe Castle. They were governed by certain rules or articles of agreement, which it seems to have been customary to renew at intervals, for several copies, varying only in orthography, are extant. To one of these, in the possession of the only member of the company then resident in Corfe Castle, and one of the wardens, was attached a seal, purporting to be the seal of the Company of Marblers, but it was a heraldic device, viz. On a pale three roses slipped proper. (The Roses of Kempstone in Corfe Castle bore “on a pale three roses slipped “.)

To this account of Mr. Farrer’s I would refer those who desire a fuller account of the company and its constitution. (References might also be made to Biggs’s Isle of Purbeck, pp. 27-8 ; and for privileges and customs of Corfe to the late Mr. Thomas Bond’s History of Corfe Castle (1883), p. 125.) In the Standard newspaper of 10th March, 1886, appeared a very good and succinct account of a meeting of the Purbeck quarrymen at Corfe Castle on Shrove Tuesday (their customary day of meeting) of that year. This account I, many years after, sent to the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (1907), vol. x, p. 249, with references to Mr. Farrer’s article in the Purbeck Papers ; and as it expresses all that it seems to me necessary to state here about the Company and its customs, I reproduce it.

“A curious old custom among the quarrymen of the Isle of Purbeck was observed yesterday at Corfe Castle. There is among the quarrymen a charter bearing the date 1551, which is rigorously obeyed in order to keep the working of the stone quarries in the Isle of Purbeck in the hands of the freemen. To be able to take up one’s freedom one must be the legitimate son of a freeman. He must be 21 years of age, up to which time his wages belong to his parents.

“Once during the year the quarrymen used to meet at Corfe Castle Town Hall and there read the charter, and on that occasion, viz. Shrove Tuesday, ‘ free boys ‘ claim and take up their freedom. Yesterday morning a large number of quarrymen assembled in the Town Hall, Corfe Castle, and proceeded to the election of officers, after which about twelve freemen were sworn in. Each man has to sign the roll of freemen, pay a fee of 6s. 8d., provide a penny loaf made on purpose by the baker of the place, and buy a pot of beer. The man thus sworn in becomes his own master. Should any of the freemen desire to marry during the next year he has to pay to the stewards a ‘ marriage shilling ‘, and should he neglect to do this his wife loses all interest in the quarry and cannot take an apprentice to work for her. After the above business was transacted the ceremony of ‘ kicking the ball’ commenced. The ball is provided by the man who was last married among the freemen, and is presented in lieu of the ‘ marriage shilling ‘. If it should happen that no freeman has married since the previous Shrove Tuesday the old football is used. The ball was taken from the Town Hall to a field at Corfe Castle, and there kicked about by any one who wished.

“These very novel proceedings terminated by the ball and a pound of pepper being taken to the lord of the manor as an acknowledgement to him in respect of the way to the River Ower.”

(ii) Kicking the Ball. — The custom of kicking the football “to be provided by the man who was last married amongst the freemen “, is alluded to in the above account. In a later set of rules provision was made for the carrying of the ball to Ower — I believe on the following day, Ash Wednesday. I have seen it stated somewhere that in these degenerate days it was carried, not kicked, to its destination. The Bridport News in March, 1884, speaks of the annual custom of the Swanage Freemen ” kicking the ball ” as having taken place at Corfe on Shrove Tuesday. It says that the custom was one that had been kept up annually for generations past. The ball was taken to Corfe Castle, and kicked from the Castle grounds through Corfe on towards Swanage.

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