The Customs and Traditions of Whitsun

Whitsun (also Whitsunday, Whit Sunday or Whit) is the name used for the Christian festival of Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples.  Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the traditions of Whitsuntide, the week following Whitsunday, in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922:-

“Whitsuntide was, no doubt, in the old days a time of some considerable festivity amongst a certain class of Dorset folk; although I cannot find that the old ” Whitsun Ales “(Or ” Ale-feasts “, which, according to Halliwell, were festivals or merry makings at which ale appears to have been the predominant liquor) so common in many counties, had—at least under that name — any prominence in Dorsetshire.

It appears, however, from a sermon made by William Ketlie at Blandford Forum in 1570 that it was the custom at that time for the “Church Ales” to be kept upon the Sabbath-day, which holy day ” the multitude call their revelyng day; which day is spent in bulbeatings, bearebeatings, bowling, dyeing, carding, daunsynges, drunkennes, and whoredom, in so much as men could not keepe their servauntes from lyinge out of theyr owne houses the same Sabbath-day at night “.

This does not afford a very pleasant picture of the way Dorset folk spent their Whitsuntide in Elizabethan times, and affords some evidence of the brutal sports that were practised amongst them at Whitsuntide as well as on Shrove-Tuesday. But whatever may have been the amusements which the Dorset “multitude” indulged in at that time, it is some satisfaction to find that their only survival to-day is that of the parish, or village, club-walking.

Nearly every village has, or, until recently, had its “club”. The old time club was not framed upon the modern provident type, such as those excellent institutions of ” Odd Fellows ” and other associations founded upon the Friendly Societies’ Acts, but ” broke ” every seven years or so, when the funds then standing to its credit were distributed amongst the members. It was customary in the old clubs that when a member died all the others were called upon to pay 2s. 6d., as a contribution for ” death-rate pay “. If it was a member’s wife who died the contribution was only a shilling.

Child Okeford Friendly Society Banner

Child Okeford Friendly Society Banner. This type of banner would have been paraded on Whitsun Club Walk

This system, it can easily be seen, was far more favourable to the local tradespeople and shopkeepers than to the members to whom more extended credit was given as the time drew near for the ” breaking “. In most places now I think it will be found that the old club has been replaced by more benevolent institutions, which provide much better terms in case of the sickness or death of their members. In some parishes the old and new societies have amalgamated, though, of course, those members of the old club who were above a certain age would not be able to join one of the modern Odd Fellows’ Societies. They would often, too, join forces for the celebration of the Feast-day. In the parish of Symondsbury, in West Dorset, there has been no “club-walken “, or procession, for some thirty years or more.

There the old club day was the second Tuesday in May; but in most places Whitsun week was the favourite time. The members would don their sashes, rosettes, etc., and with flags and banners and preceded by a band would start about 9 a.m., walking generally four abreast in procession, the outer one of each four— usually an older man—carrying a pole, to call at the principal houses in the parish where they would be likely to obtain refreshments and sometimes money. Cider would be brought out to them in big jugs; and after being refreshed they would move on to some other farmhouse or kindly neighbour, taking care to be back in time for divine service in the parish church at noon.

Stoke Abbot Sick Club Staves - These examples from a collection of staves that the museum have were made by Canon Rogers W. H. Dalison MA Merton College Oxford. Hon Canon of Rochester 1928 - 1934

Stoke Abbot Sick Club Staves – These examples from a collection of staves that the museum have were made by Canon Rogers W. H. Dalison MA Merton College Oxford. Hon Canon of Rochester 1928 – 1934

The poles carried in these processions, generally painted blue with white bands running round them, are often handsomely ornamented with metal tops or points screwed on to a round wooden knob painted yellow, something in the style of the old halberds, and are much prized in the villages to which they belong. I am informed that an elderly lady living in a West Dorset village still keeps a couple of these poles at her house, which were formerly used in the local procession. If I remember rightly, too, the borough officials at Lyme Regis possess quite a number of them ; whilst a very fine collection of Somersetshire ones is preserved in the county museum at Taunton.

The “feast ” was provided in a large tent or marquee erected in a field usually lent by one of the principal farmers in the parish, at which a large company assembled, the rector of the parish usually presiding, with several of the local gentry and farmers in attendance.

Stoke Abbott Club Walking

Stoke Abbott Club Walking Procession at the Stoke Abbot Street Fair 2012

The dinner — which was paid for by the members—over, the speeches usual on such an occasion followed, the loyal toasts always being heartily received. The rest of the afternoon was spent in various amusements, games for the children, and dancing for the young people. There were generally a few ” standings ” for the selling of cakes, sweets, and toys, together with an “Aunt Sally” or a shooting gallery rigged up for the occasion. The field was frequented by a large number of visitors, who looked forward to meeting once a year at this pleasant gathering.

I may add that though I have attended these ” feasts ” on more than one occasion I have not noticed anything in the conduct of the people such as is animadverted upon in the Blandford sermon. It is certainly significant of the improvement in rustic morals in this respect that the modern parson only deemed it necessary to warn his hearers against the possible occurrence of some of those very delinquencies which his Elizabethan predecessor roundly accused them of having committed. (Read Barnes’s poem ” Whitsuntide an’ Club walken “).

In his ” Fore-say ” (ante) William Barnes alludes to these festal gatherings, where he says that ” Whitsuntide is now a time commonly chosen for the yearly meeting of the Friendly Societies” club-walken ‘, as it is called in Dorset “, and mentions amongst the ” resources of mirth ” formerly existing at these celebrations ” the mazes or miz-mazes, to be threaded by such as thought they would guide their feet to a more speedy outcoming than they would always find; but the mazes are now levelled and lost with the May queens “. He continues:—

“The village wake, called in Dorset ‘ Feast’ (Festa) belonged mostly to the Christian seasons, as it was mainly holden at or near to the festival of the Saint to whom the village church was dedicated. At some of these feasts, however, there was cudgel-playing ; and I fear it cannot well be said that cudgel-fighting is the most fitting token of joy for the festival of St. Mary or St. John, albeit it be called ‘ play’; but the feast brought to some houses of the parish merry meetings of friends with kindred and friends from elsewhere.”

A fitting conclusion is afforded to this subject by Barnes’s very interesting dialect poem descriptive of what took place on these occasions – probably half a century before I ever saw them – which I here give in full:-

“WHITSUNTIDE AN’ CLUB WALKEN. “

Ees, last Whit-Monday, I an’ Meäery
Got up betimes to mind the deäeiry;
An’ gi’ed the milken pails a scrub,
An’ dress’d, an’ went to zee the club.
Vor up at public-house, by ten
O’clock the pleaece wer vull o’ men,
A-dress’d to goo to church, an’ dine,
An’ walk about the pleaece in line.

Zoo off they started, two an’ two,
Wi’ painted poles an’ knots o’ blue,
An’ girt silk flags,–I wish my box
‘D a-got em all in ceaepes an’ frocks,
A-weaeven wide an’ flappen loud
In playsome winds above the crowd;
While fifes did squeak an’ drums did rumble,
An’ deep beaezzoons did grunt an’ grumble,
An’ all the vo’k in gath’ren crowds
Kick’d up the doust in smeechy clouds,
That slowly rose an’ spread abrode
In streamen air above the road.

An’ then at church there wer sich lots
O’ hats a-hangen up wi’ knots,
An’ poles a-stood so thick as iver,
The rushes stood beside a river.
An’ Mr Goodman gi’ed em warnen
To spend their evenen lik’ their mornen;
An’ not to pray wi’ mornen tongues,
An’ then to zwear wi’ evenen lungs:
Nor vu’st sheaeke hands, to let the wrist
Lift up at last a bruisen vist:
Vor clubs were all a-meäen’d vor friends,
He twold em, an’ vor better ends
Than twiten vo’k an’ picken quarrels,
An’ tipplen cups an’ empten barrels,–
Vor meaeken woone man do another
In need the kindness ov a brother.

An’ after church they went to dine
‘Ithin the long-wall’d room behine
The public-house, where you remember,
We had our dance back last December.
An’ there they meaede sich stunnen clatters
Wi’ knives an’ forks, an’ pleaetes an’ platters;
An’ waiters ran, an’ beer did pass
Vrom tap to jug, vrom jug to glass:
An’ when they took away the dishes,
They drink’d good healths, an’ wish’d good wishes,
To all the girt vo’k o’ the land,
An’ all good things vo’k took in hand;
An’ woone cried _hip, hip, hip!_ an’ hollow’d,
An’ tothers all struck in, an’ vollow’d;
An’ grabb’d their drink wi’ eager clutches,
An’ swigg’d it wi’ sich hearty glutches,
As vo’k, stark mad wi’ pweison stuff,
That thought theirzelves not mad enough.

An’ after that they went all out
In rank ageaen, an’ walk’d about,
An’ gi’ed zome parish vo’k a call;
An’, then went down to Narley Hall
An’ had zome beer, an’ danc’d between
The elem trees upon the green.
An’ down along the road they done
All sorts o’ mad-cap things vor fun;
An’ danc’d, a-poken out their poles,
An’ pushen bwoys down into holes:
An’ Sammy Stubbs come out o’ rank,
An’ kiss’d me up ageaen the bank,
A saucy chap; I ha’nt vor’gied en
Not yet,–in short, I han’t a-zeed en.
Zoo in the dusk ov evenen, zome
Went back to drink, an’ zome went hwome.”

Become an Archaeologist at Dorset County Museum!

Become-an-ArchaeologistsOn Wednesday 27th May at the Dorset County Museum children are being invited to bring along their own back garden finds and learn all about them from archaeology experts.

At this fun event they will find out all about the fascinating world of archaeology, get hands on in an excavation pit and enjoy a craft session.

This activity takes place between 10.30am – 12.30pm. There’s no need to book as this activity is FREE thanks to generous sponsorship from Battens Solicitors. Up to two accompanied children aged 4 -12 will be admitted per adult.

For further information about this Family Activity contact the Museum on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Dorset County Museum wins £10.3 million Heritage Lottery Funding

Cross-Section Artist Impression of Dorset County Museum Redevelopment Project - Carmody Groarke © 2015

Cross-Section Artist Impression of Dorset County Museum Redevelopment Project – Carmody Groarke © 2015

Dorset County Museum has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting new Collections Discovery Centre project, it was announced today. The main aims of the project are to provide a new state of the art learning centre, better archive and storage facilities and better public access to displays of the Museum’s vast collection.

This will be achieved through the sensitive yet contemporary redevelopment of the current building, which will transform Dorset County Museum’s facilities and double its visitor numbers. There will be new gallery spaces, an area for researchers to work and open workshop spaces so the public can see for themselves the fascinating inner workings of the museum. There will also be a new shop and tearoom, accessible from the street. The award of initial stage one funding of £483,900 will enable a detailed two year development plan to take place ahead of final submission to the HLF in May 2017. This would enable building work to start in 2017 and the Collections Discovery Centre to be opened to the public by 2020.

The Museum is housed in the centre of Dorchester in a beautiful high Victorian gothic building of architectural importance which will be carefully preserved during the works. The 1883 Crickmay Building which housed the Museum originally along with the stunning Victorian Hall will be conserved, and John White’s historic sixteenth century rectory will be sensitively restored.

More than 45,000 people visit the Museum every year, along with 5,000 local school children. It is anticipated that the new Collections Discovery Centre will become a focal point for locals and visitors to Dorset alike, attracting twice as many visitors in the years to come.

Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum said “This is a brilliant and exciting opportunity for Dorset. For the first time we will have the space to do justice to our amazing collections, whilst ensuring they are safely preserved for future generations to enjoy. We would like to thank all of the organisations and individuals who have supported us with this bid. In particular we would like to thank, Arts Council England, Wessex Museums Partnership, Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council and Dorchester Town Council.”

Dr Peter Down, Chairman of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society continued “We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has recognised the importance of the Dorset County Museum to the people of Dorset, and also recognises our commitment to learning with the new education centre. This very generous grant will allow us to increase the small number of staff, and give space to the many volunteers on which the museum relies heavily. As the County Museum, we can now look forward to working even more closely with our partner museums and other conservation Trusts within the whole of Dorset.”

The Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, Patron of the Dorset County Museum Development Appeal, added “This project will enable the Museum to bring world class exhibitions to the local area, and develop its role as a cultural and community hub for a range of events and activities. By 2020, while retaining and respecting its Victorian roots, the Museum will have been completely transformed into a modern, sustainable heritage service that serves twice as many visitors, making an even more significant contribution to the local economy.”

Explaining the importance of the HLF support Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West said “From the spectacular Weymouth Bay pliosaur to the largest Thomas Hardy collection in the world, the collections at Dorset County Museum provide an unrivalled picture of 185 million years of our area’s heritage. We’re thrilled to support these plans which will transform the museum, preserve their incredible collections and finally enable visitors to get a true insight into Dorset’s past. We look forward to seeing the plans develop.”

Cllr Peter Wharf, the Dorset County Council‘s representative on the museum’s board, said: “This is really excellent news for Dorset. The museum is a real asset for residents and visitors alike and the county council has worked closely with them to help bring in this significant injection of funds which will benefit so many people. I look forward to being involved in this exciting project to develop a first class facility.”

Robin Potter, Mayor of Dorchester says “On behalf of the Town Council and the people of the town can I express our absolute delight at the success of the Museum’s lottery bid. The project will not only allow the Museum to provide a fitting home for the storage, interpretation and research into Dorset’s fascinating history; it will also become the essential cornerstone that the town’s Tourism sector has been looking for to stimulate significantly increased interest in visiting Dorchester to explore the town’s rich cultural heritage, creating more jobs and a more diverse local economy. The Town Council is keen now to do its part in helping Dorset County Museum raise the remaining, but not inconsiderable, £3 Million needed to make the scheme a reality.”

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: ‘This is terrific news – we are delighted that Dorset County Museum has been successful in its application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We’ve been supporting the museum to develop the skills and capacity they need to become more resilient and our investment has helped them plan a sustainable future with vision and confidence. Now we’re looking forward to working with staff and stakeholders as they deliver this exciting project.’

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Heritage-Lottery-Fund

Stolen Images – Pagan Symbolism and Christianity by Peter Knight

Stolen Images - Pagan Symbolism and Christianity by Peter Knight

Stolen Images – Pagan Symbolism and Christianity by Peter Knight

Peter Knight lives in Wiltshire and is the author of eight books on ancient and sacred sites around the world. He is well-known for his talks, workshops and field trips which allow people to connect in new ways with the special sites they visit.

Peter returns to the Museum to talk about his major book ‘Stolen Images – Pagan Symbolism and Christianity. In his lecture, Peter will discuss how ancient Pagan symbols and myths were absorbed into Christianity to usurp pre-Christian belief systems, as well as to encapsulate archetypal power for the benefit of the new religion. Most Christian icons can be traced back to an older origin, and many churches were also sited on ancient holy places. The Church also took over existing Pagan festivals and turned them into saint’s days. This fascinating talk will link Egyptian, Norse, Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Celtic and other cultures to the new religion – you will be surprised at what you find! For instance, he will show how 15 ancient sun gods share the Jesus’ attributes of both a birthday on Dec 25th and being born to a virgin mother!

Copies of Peter’s book will be available on the night. The talk starts at 7.30pm on Friday 22nd May and the doors will be open from 7.00pm. All are welcome to attend and entry is FREE although donations are encouraged.

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

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Ascension Day Customs: Beating the Bounds

Beating the Bounds Dorchester 2nd July 1901 DCM © 2015

Beating the Bounds Dorchester 2nd July 1901 DCM © 2015

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the traditions of ‘Beating the Bounds’ on Holy Thurday (Ascension Day) in Dorset in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922:-

Beating the Bounds.— It was the general custom in olden days, and is still observed in many parishes in Dorsetshire, for certain persons to go round, or perambulate the boundaries or limits of their own particular parish in Rogation Week, or,—to be more precise,—on one of the three days before Holy Thursday or Ascension Day, though more often, I think, on Holy Thursday itself. Upon these occasions, as Brand (i, 168) tells us, ” the minister, accompanied by his churchwardens and parishioners, were wont to deprecate the vengeance of God, beg a blessing on the fruits of the earth, and preserve the rights and properties of the parish.”

In Dorsetshire the last of these objects would seem to be the one principally or solely considered at the present day. This perambulation is known as “Beating the Bounds”.
Before I proceed to the ” perambulations” of particular parishes, I would like to produce in full the most amusing account of this interesting and useful custom contributed by William Barnes to Hone’s Year Book (p. 589) as existing in Dorsetshire in his younger days. He says :—

“A Perambulation, or, as it might be more correctly called, a circumambulation, is the custom of going round the boundaries of a manor or parish, with witnesses, to determine and preserve recollection of its extent, and to see that no encroachments have been made upon it, and that the landmarks have not been taken away. It is a proceeding commonly regulated by the steward, who takes with him a few men and several boys who are required to particularly observe the boundaries traced out, and thereby qualify themselves for witnesses in the event of any dispute about the landmarks or extent of the manor at a future day. In order that they may not forget the lines and marks of separation they ‘ take pains y at almost every turning. For instance, if the boundary be a stream, one of the boys is tossed into it; if a broad ditch, the boys are offered money to jump over it, in which they, of course, fail, and pitch into the mud, where they stick as firmly as if they had been rooted there for the season ; if a hedge, a sapling is cut out of it and used in afflicting that part of their bodies upon which they rest in the posture between standing and lying; if a wall, they are to have a race on the top of it, when, in trying to pass each other, they fall over on each side, some descending, perhaps, into the still stygian waters of a ditch, and others thrusting the ‘human face divine ‘ into a bed of nettles ; if the boundary be a sunny bank, they sit down upon it and get a treat of beer and bread and cheese, and, perhaps, a glass of spirits.

When these boys grow up to be men, if it happens that one of them should be asked if a particular stream were the boundary of the manor he had perambulated, he would be sure to say, in the manner of Sancho Panza ‘ Ees, that ’tis, I’m sure o’t, by the same token that I were tossed into’t, and paddled about there lik’ a water-rot till I wor hafe dead.’ If he should be asked whether the aforesaid pleasant bank were ,a boundary : ‘ O, ees it be, ‘ he would say, ‘that’s where we squat down and tucked in a skinvull of vittles and drink.”

With regard to any boundary perambulation after that he would most likely declare, ‘ I won’t be sartin; I got zo muddled up top o’ the banks, that don’ know where we ambulated arter that.'”

Melcombe Regis. — The late Mr. H. J. Moule, sometime curator of the Dorset County Museum at Dorchester, and a learned writer upon the county’s antiquities, in his account of the ” Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Borough Records “, which he edited in 1883, gives (p. 9) several extracts from a small folio volume, chiefly of law minutes, comprising depositions taken about the middle of the seventeenth century, recording a ” perambulation ” of the parish of Melcombe Regis about that time, in which one of the deponents, an old woman of 82 years of age, speaks of having joined in a ” Procession” round the bounds of Melcombe Regis nearly three-quarters of a century previously, and deposes to an ” old elderne stubb ” (stump) at Washford as having been one of the boundaries.
Radipole.—The same deponent also testified that the minister of the adjoining parish of Radipole, with his parishioners, used to go round their bounds on the same day; and at a pound on the bounds (“in the place of which pound a dairy house was sithence builded “) he read a chapter and ” alsoe a psalm there to be sung “. After this the perambulation was continued, the villagers on the west side of some rails then standing and the townsmen on the east side.

West Lulworth.— There is also in the same volume (C. p. 232) a reference to still earlier depositions (Elizabethan), in which an old man gives evidence as to his having often ” after he was of remembrance” gone on procession, as the custom then was, with the minister and parishioners to take ” view” of the boundaries of the parish of West Lulworth. The witness describes the route, ending at Furzeymill Pitt, ” where they had usuall Beere and Cake-bread.”

Chideock.— A very complete account of the ” perambulation ” of the bounds of a parish and manor as entered in old records is that of Chideock, in West Dorset, which took place before the steward of the manor and many inhabitants of the parish. It is given by the Rev. T. Worthington in his History of Chideock, and copied by the late H. N. Cox in his account of that parish, contributed in a series of papers to the Southern Times in 1886. Mr. Cox also, like Mr. Barnes, alludes to the various steps that were sometimes taken to impress upon the memory of the boys who accompanied the perambulation the exact situation of the boundaries.

Bridport.— Although the main incidents of these several ” perambulations ” may have been very much the same, yet occasionally they have been varied by others of a more interesting or amusing character. A modern instance of the latter, fortunately attended by no serious result, occurred on the occasion of “beating the bounds ” of the borough of Bridport in 1891, which was reported in several West Country papers. The following account, taken from the Bath Daily Chronicle of 24th October, 1891, appears in the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries for December, 1891 (vol. ii, p. 305) :—

“The historic function of walking the boundaries of the Borough of Bridport by the Mayor and Corporation and the principal inhabitants was the occasion of an amusing contretemps. In the course of the perambulation the city fathers came to a large millpond, which marked the boundary of the town. It was necessary to the performance of the ceremony that the pond should be crossed, and the Mayor, the Borough Surveyor, and another embarked on a large raft, on which they were to be towed across. They had not been long afloat when the raft was submerged by their weight, and the trio were standing up to their knees in water. When half-way over, to make matters worse, the rope became entangled, and, amid the laughter of the townspeople, the Mayor toppled over into the pond, and his two fellow-citizens were also precipitated into the water. They quickly regained the raft, but were as quickly thrown again into the muddy pool. The Mayor promptly described the boundary by swimming ashore, and his example was followed by one of his companions, but the Borough Surveyor remained alone on the raft, and was eventually towed to land completely drenched.”

Marnhull.— The Rev. Canon Mayo publishes in the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (vol. xv, pp. 19-21 and 29-31), 1917, a long account of a perambulation held for the Manor of Marnhull on 7th and 8th June, 1808, and made by the then Lord of the Manor, John Hussey, Esq., his steward, and the principal inhabitants of the parish. A copy had been furnished to the Dorset editor of that periodical of the perambulation contained in a MS. book of Rentals and Quit Rents relating to the Manor.

As Canon Mayo says : “It has a value as being a record of local boundaries, and illustrates a custom which at one time was universal in our county.”

Beating the Bounds Weymouth 13th May 1896. The Mayor of Weymouth Claiming a Boundary Stone at Radipole Bridge DCM © 2015

Beating the Bounds Weymouth 13th May 1896. The Mayor of Weymouth Claiming a Boundary Stone at Radipole Bridge DCM © 2015

Wyke Regis.— The Bound Stone.—The following account of the annual visit paid by Portlanders to “The Bound Stone” on the Chesil Beach at the Fleet appeared in the Bridport News in May, 1893, under the heading of ” Wyke Regis : The Bound Stone ” :—

“The Portlanders seem determined to keep up their rights, which they annually maintain by an official visit to the well-known ‘ bound stone ‘ on the Chesil Beach. Holy Thursday, or Ascension Day, is, as by custom, the day on which the ceremony takes place. This year the number attending seems to have been augmented for some reason or other ; perhaps the fact of a new stone being used added importance to the affair. Be that as it may, there were many visitors, both by sea and land.

“It is said the rights of the Portlanders extend to the new bound stone opposite Fleet, but the public would like to be enlightened as to the nature of those rights. There is one right at all events which does not extend beyond the Portland side of the stone, that is, we are informed that the lord of the manor of Abbotsbury, or rather the Earl of Ilchester, does not interfere with or claim the foreshore. Not that such a right would be of any use whatever, seeing the difficulty of telling where it is. The shingle shifts with the weather, and with it the foreshore, if ever such existed except in fertile imagination.”

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Abbotsbury Garland Day

The Abbotsbury Garland taken in 1991 by Mr. D. Popham © DCM

The Abbotsbury Garland taken in 1991 by Mr. D. Popham © DCM

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922 about the Abbotsbury Garland Day custom:

“Flower Custom (Garland Day). — They refer to a pleasing custom which still obtains on Old May Day (13th May). The children belonging to the crew of each boat build up a large garland of handsome flowers upon a frame, and carry it from house to house, usually getting a few pence apiece from those who can afford it. The people throng the beach, weather permitting, in the afternoon, when the garlands are taken out in boats and thrown into the sea. The late Lord Ilchester, the lord of the manor, had of late years provided an entertainment for the children, often close upon 200 in number, and was accustomed to attend them to the beach, where the vicar read a suitable portion of scripture, a psalm was sung, and prayer offered for the general welfare.

This custom is alluded to at somewhat greater length by Canon Mayo in a communication to Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, vol. iii, p. 231 (1893), entitled “Garland Day”, in which he states that it is also observed in the neighbouring villages of Swyre and Puncknoll, but that in them only one garland is provided, not one for each boat.”

New online resource to explore fashion in Thomas Hardy’s writing

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene in the new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Far From Madding Crowd

Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene in the new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From Madding Crowd – Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2015

The new film version of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd feeds into the ongoing fascination for fashion depicted in classic novels and their modern adaptations for TV and film. A new online facility has been developed by the University of Exeter and Dorset County Museum to catalogue references to clothing in Hardy’s writing and the time in which he lived.

The costumes worn by the actress Carey Mulligan, who stars as Bathsheba Everdene in the latest Far From the Madding Crowd production, will be on display at the Dorset County Museum until the 8 June and the stunning red bustle dress worn by Thomas Hardy’s sister Katharine also exhibited at the museum will provide an exciting compliment to the new online resource.

Far From Madding Crowd Costumes

Costumes worn by Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, in the wedding scenes in the film. There is the smart dress and hat of the runaway wedding day, the gold striped silk dress and embroidered silk jacket of her homeward journey, and a dress worn at the wedding party. Jonathan North /DCM © 2015

The ‘Thomas Hardy and Clothing’ project will highlight the importance of fashion in Hardy’s writing by providing references to clothing in his fiction, poetry, letters and biographies. It will also provide a greater understanding of the historical, social and political context in which Hardy wrote and lived.

The database project was initiated by The Dorset County Museum for the research into a forthcoming major exhibition ‘Thomas Hardy: Fashion, Fact and Fiction’. This exciting collaboration between the University of Exeter and The Dorset County Museum builds upon extensive research by Exeter students, instrumental in producing this unique online resource

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Lucy Johnston, Costume Curator of the Dorset County Museum said ‘I am fascinated by the way Thomas Hardy brings his characters to life through their clothes. He dresses his heroines in colours to evoke spirit, passion and drama, clothing Bathsheba (Far From the Madding Crowd) in a crimson jacket lit to a ‘scarlet glow’ by the sun. Hardy associates Tess (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) with white and red to suggest her innocence and eventual downfall. He also provides an intimate picture of rural life through his detailed descriptions of shepherds, farmers and milkmaid’s costume, reflecting the wearer’s relationship with the Wessex landscape.’

Thomas Hardy expert, Professor Angelique Richardson of University of Exeter, and who supported the project said: ”Dress is crucial in Hardy’s fiction for indicating a character’s profession, social and economic status or role, for bringing colour to local scenes, for expressing but often subverting custom and transgressing gender norms. Bathsheba flouts Victorian convention, not least dress code, by not riding side-saddle in the opening scenes of Far From the Madding Crowd, when she also allows her hat to fly off, in disregard for propriety: ‘It went over the hedge, I think’, she remark.”

"There stood her mother amid the group of children, as Tess had left her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub, which had now, as always, lingered on to the end of the week. Out of that tub had come the day before—Tess felt it with a dreadful sting of remorse—the very white frock upon her back which she had so carelessly greened about the skirt on the damping grass—which had been wrung up and ironed by her mother's own hands. "  A Herkomer illustration for the Graphic serialization of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, December 1891.

“There stood her mother amid the group of children, as Tess had left her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub, which had now, as always, lingered on to the end of the week. Out of that tub had come the day before—Tess felt it with a dreadful sting of remorse—the very white frock upon her back which she had so carelessly greened about the skirt on the damping grass—which had been wrung up and ironed by her mother’s own hands.”                                                
A Herkomer illustration for the Graphic serialization of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, December 1891.

Professor Richardson added: “The database will show for the first time what such attire looked like and by whom it was worn. As well as providing a useful resource to students, allowing them to connect their academic learning with historical objects, the online facility will raise a greater awareness of the significant archive and costume collections in the South West. Hardy enthusiasts from around the world will be able to view our research and add their thoughts.”

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Discover the Art of John Craxton this weekend

'Poet in Landscape', 1941, Ink and watercolour by John Craxton

‘Poet in Landscape’, 1941, Ink and watercolour by John Craxton

John Craxton once described the county in saying “The Dorset landscape is not an obvious physiognomy but, like a person, has many hidden aspects – the mysterious enigmatic earthworks, tumuli and barrows, the atmosphere of conspiracy from the great days of smuggling still lingers, the deep, impenetrable forests with King John’s hunting lodge to prove that time is ever relative”

On the 15th May, Ian Collins will be re-visiting the Dorset County Museum with his talk exploring John Craxton’s early life and his passion of the Dorset landscape and history that was an inspiration for the work he produced. Whilst staying with his artist uncle and aunt in a cottage on the Cranborne Chase.

Ian’s talk takes place a 7.30pm on Friday 15th May (doors open at 7.00pm). The event is FREE of charge but a donation of £3.00 is encouraged to cover costs.

Ian Collins with Sir David Attenborough at the opening of the John Craxton Exhibition - Jonathan North / DCM © 2015

Ian Collins with Sir David Attenborough at the opening of the John Craxton Exhibition – Jonathan North / DCM © 2015

On the next day, Saturday 16th May a private tour of Dorset County Museum’s current exhibition, A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete. The tour will be led by the exhibition’s curator, Ian Collins

The tour is a great opportunity to see the exhibition up close and hear the story of John Craxton’s journey from Cranborne Chase to Crete, exploring his journey into warmth, light and colour. Following the tour, a brunch will be provided in the Museum’s Tea Room.

The tour starts at 11.00am on Saturday 16th May and tickets cost £10.00. There are a limited number of spaces available and places must be booked in advance.

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

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The Chickerell Plesiosaur – Cimoliosaurus richardsonii

Plesiosaur

Plesiosaur

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 10, 1889, an article written by by John Clavell Mansel-Pleydell, Esq., F.L.S, F.G.S. entitled ‘Cimoliosaurus richarsoni , Lydekker (n. sp.) 

Towards the end of the Mesozoic age a remarkable diminution of the huge reptiles which swarmed in the seas of that period commenced, and at the beginningof the succeeding age, Tertiary their annihilation was nearly complete, occasioned by great physical changes, especially affecting the relative positions of land and sea, the sea predominating largely “over the land in Europe. We pass from strata of considerable uniformity and of immense thickness over large and extensive areas to beds of a great variety of structure, from deep to shallow seas, estuaries, and rivers. With one or two doubtful exceptions, not a single Mesozoic species passed up into the Tertiary strata; the numbers of the new genera and species, greatly exceeding those of the previous age. Western Europe at this period had four considerable seas instead of one as now — the Anglo-Parisian, the Pyrennean, the Mediterranean, and one which covered the western parts of France from Normandy to Nantes.

As the chalk rose above the sea and underwent extensive denudation, a material diminution of temperature resulted, mainly through alterations of the ocean currents, which occasioned a disastrous result upon reptile life. During the deposition of the oolitic beds there was a complete uniformity, for, although occasional subsidences occurred, as shewn by the Oxford and Kimmeridge clays, with evidences of tide-level and shore conditions, no great or important break occurred. At the commencement of the Cretaceous age, on the other hand, there was a gradual submergence of land, accompanied by a considerable extension of the sea-area.

The marine beds of Punfield, near Swanage, which rest upon the great fresh-water deposits of the Hastings sands, are a good illustration of this initiatory change. Its effects are remarkably shown in the Yale of Blackmore, where, there is a great overlap or covering over of the upper oolitic beds by the chalk. The Hastings sands, Purbeck beds, and Portland strata are hidden, causing an apparent unconformity of the beds, as if the Lower Greensand had succeeded the Kimmeridge clay directly, without first covering over the intervening beds. Another subsidence and consequent invasion of the sea occurred during the deposition of the Upper Greensand, which spread itself over the oolitic formations as it passed on westwards, finally resting on the Trias of East Devon.

These changes materially affected the climate and temperature of those parts which came under their influence, especially through the alteration of ocean-currents. What would the climate of the greater part of Europe be, if the Gulf Stream was stopped or deflected? The Atlantic would be deprived of one-fifth of the amount of heat it is now receiving in addition to what it has in virtue of the temperature of space. The temperature would be lowered to a condition of climate as severe as that of North Greenland at the present day. If, again, the warm currents of the North Pacific were to be stopped, the northern hemisphere would be subjected to an entire glaciation. The fossils of the Palaeozoic age seem to indicate a uniform mild or temperate condition of climate, but not so in the succeeding Carboniferous age, which shows signs of reaction.

The late Mr. Godwin Austin found large angular blocks in the carboniferous strata of France, which could only be accounted for by referring their inclusion to the agency of ice-carriage, by glacier or iceberg. Large blocks of granite are met with in Scotland in the detrital beds of the coal-basins, which Professor Geikie and other eminent geologists attribute to glacial action. A large block of crystalline rock resembling granite was found embedded in a pit of white chalk near Croydon, and with it were other smaller boulders, all water-worn and composed of a different kind of rock, together with a compact mass of silicious sand derived from the waste of coast line of crystalline rocks, of which there are none in the neighbourhood of Croydon.

All had sunk together without separating, and must have been firmly held together both during the time that they were floating, and whilst sinking to the bottom of the cretaceous sea. Independent of seasonal changes, circulation between the surface and thesea-depths is aided by the co-operation of heat and gravitation. The Gulf of Mexico, which is not exposed to any cold supply of water from the North Pole, is a perfect reservoir of heat; further north, close to the shore of Massachusetts, is a cold current running southwards 60 or 80 miles wide. There are thus two currents of different temperatures running side by side in opposite directions and only mingling, where their edges impinge upon each other. Again, the Gulf Stream divides itself into several channels, the water of which is warm where the channels are deep, and cold in the shallower channels, occasioned by the water, low in temperature, rising from considerable depths over submarine elevated ridges.

We can now see the influence ocean-currents had, as they have now, upon determining the temperature of the globe, and the consequent disastrous effect upon cold-blooded reptiles when suddenly lowered. We have not time to dwell further upon this part of the subject, nor to show that Europe had not at the commencement of the Tertiary age its present continental character) but an insular one, giving free access to the polar currents without the counteracting exchange of warm equatorial currents.

The nearly complete fossil before us belongs to that section of the extinct reptilian class included in the Order Enaliasaurian or sea-lizards, but subsequently divided by Sir Richard Owen, G.C.B., F.R.S., into the Iclitliyopterygia and Sauropterygia; the former represented by the genera Baptanodon, Opthalmosaurus and Ichthyosaurus, the latter by several genera. Until the year 1841 Plesiosaurus was the only representative of this order in Great Britain.

At that date Sir Richard Owen removed from it two species, Plesiosaurus grandis and Plesiosaurus troclianterius, under a new genus Pliosaurus. The fossils of this genus were first founded upon two limbs, one of which is preserved in the British Museum, ,the other in our County Museum. It had an enormous head, supported by a short neck, in which it approached the great freshwater Saurians of the present day, with characteristic vertebrae, having a tubercular rising in the centre of the centrum, and resembling Plesiosaurus in its fin-bones and elongated phalanges. Their vertical range was restricted to the middle and upper oolites, whereas Plesiosaurus extended from the Rhætic beds right through to the chalk. Plesiosaurus is characterised by a very long neck and a short tail. The vertebrae are deeper and more solid than those of Ichthyosaurus; the neural arches are ancliylosed with strong outstretched transverse blades to strengthen the spinal column and to sustain the strain upon it in shallow water ; coast-lines, estuaries, and rivers probably being the usual resorts of these monsters.

Their remains have been found in the Wealden freshwater deposits. Ichthyosaurus, on the other hand, lived in. the deep seas, visiting the land only occasionally. It has a weak spinal column : the two faces of the centrum nearly meet in the centre, and the neural arches are unanchy-losed, in which respect it differs from Plesiosaurus. The Immerus and femur of some Plesiosauri — e.g., Plesiosaurus Manselii have a third bone in addition to the ulna and radius, and to the tibia and fibula, which T. W. Hulke, Esq., F.R.S., names the os intermedium and places it between the ulna and radius, tibia and .fibula, the homologue of which is found in the front and hind limbs of some living Saurians. A very interesting morphological question arises as to the possibility of tracing the homology of these bones and their relation to the carpal and tarsal elements of the higher vertebrates.

I have already referred to this splendid Plesiosaurian specimen in my paper on the fossil reptiles of Dorset, and expressed my opinion that it might possibly turn out to be Plesiosaurus plicatus of Phillips. I am now inclined to change my mind and to call it Murcenosaurus Leedsii Seeley, a subgeiius of Plesiosaurus characterised by its shoulder and pelvic girdles having only one coraco-scapula and one obturator foramen, and by a difference in the union of the neural arches, as well as by distinct forms of the ulna and radius, tibia, and fibula. Possibly these differences will not be held sufficient by Mr. Lydekker to justify Professor Seeley’s separation. This palaeontologist is now engaged in tabulating and arranging the fossil reptilian remains in the British Museum ; the result of his labours on the Crocodilia and Deinosauria will soon be before the public, as the volume is now in the printer’s hands, and will be doubtless as invaluable an addition to Paleontological literature as are his five volumes upon the Fossil Mammalia of our National Museum.

Cimoliosaurus richardsoniidiscovered at Chickerell, near Weymouth by Nelson and Helen Richardson in 1889

Cimoliosaurus richardsonii discovered at Chickerell, near Weymouth by Nelson and Helen Richardson in 1889 DCM © 2015

The remains of this Plesiosaur were found in a bed of Oxford clay in the neighbourhood of Weymouth last winter, and through the indefatigable and intelligent industry of Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, of  ‘Montevideo,’ they have been built up in their present satisfactory condition. The head is missing, which is not surprising, as having only one articulation with the neck, and that an exceedingly small one, it possibly became detached before the carcase settled down in its grave of clay ; that a considerable time elapsed previous to its being finally covered over may be inferred by the aggregations of oyster shells upon the vertebrae and bones, which could only have been attached when the body was uncovered. The spinal column consists of 71 vertebras, of which 31 are cervicals, 19 dorsals, 2 sacrals, and 19 caudals. The shoulder-girdle is nearly complete, consisting of coracoids,- scapulas, and pre-scapulse, two fore and one hind limb (humerus and femur), small portions only of the pubes, the ischia and ilia, radius, ulna, tibia, fibula, carpal, and metacarpal bones, several phalanges, and ribs.

Cimoliosaurus richardsonii

Cimoliosaurus richardsonii DCM © 2015

VERTEBRAE. — The dorsal vertebras resemble the last two cervicals, the centrum is rough, its height and length about equal, and both shorter than the breadth. In the fore part of the dorsal region the neural spines are inclined backwards, they then become vertical, and afterwards incline forwards. The neural-arches are not well preserved, only a few retaining their transverse processes. The centra are altered in form to allow the ribs to be raised, on the neural arch; their sides are compressed with a foramen near the middle of some ; the neural spines widen and are extremely compressed from side to side ; the position of the transverse processes remain the same throughout. The cervical and caudal vertebrse are characteristics of this long-necked, short-tailed family, by the non-attachment of the ribs to the shoulder-girdle of the former, and by the long chevron bones of the latter.

PECTORAL GIRDLE. — The coracoids have a short median symphysis five inches long; and diverge from their posterior border, taking an outward diagonal direction, and terminating hy a convex sweep outwards into an extremely thin dilated plate. The bones are thickest where the scapula and humerus articulate, forming a transverse ridge or keel. This ridge is equally marked on the dorsal as well as the ventral surface. Their width immediately behind the articulation is 15 inches, the least width across is 20 inches. The length of the scapular-articulation is three inches, looking obliquely and forward, and lies in front of the ridge. The scapula consists of a plate which is anchylosed to the coracoid, and from which a bone rises and ascends towards the dorsal surface, making an angle of about 50° with the central plate. This plate is 6in. long and 4in. broad. The inner margin, which is thin and concave at the base, is a continuation of the curve of the front border of the coracoid bone. There is 110 indication of clavicle or inter-clavicle bones. The inner margin of the ascending plate is concave, the outer straight. The coraco-scapular foramen,(It appears from a complete restoration now made by Mr. Richardson of the pectoral girdle that the coraco-scapular foramen was divided by a median bony bar as is now known to be the case in C. plicatus (Leedsii), of which the original restoration was erroneous.) one of the differences upon which Professor Seeley forms his genus Murcenosaurus, is not subdivided into two foramina, as is the case with many of this family. This continuous foramen is bounded laterally by the concave inner border of the scapula and posteriorly by the anterior margin of the coracoid. It is 14in. wide from side to side and 4in. from the anterior to the posterior margins.

PELVIC BONES. — The pubes are thin, a small portion only of them is preserved, and there is no indication of the syinphysis, this part of the bone being unfortunately lost. The outer margins are compressed from side to side, and are not so deep as those of the coracoid. The length is 18¾ in. Both the ischia are well preserved. Their length from the median line to the femoral margin is 8in. ; breadth at distal end, 5⅛in.; at proximal end, 8¼in.; at the narrowest part, 2¼|in. The iliac bones are expanded at both extremities, so as to extend over the upper part of the head of the femur.

HUMERUS. — The third part of the proximal end of the humerus is cylyndrical and thick ; it then widens into a broad distal end, shewing an articulate surface.

Cimoliosaurus richarsoniCimoliosaurus richardsoni. — Ventral aspect of part of the right pectoral limb ⅛ nat. size; h humerus ; tr, trochanter of ditto; r, radius; u, ulna ; r’, radiale; i, intermedium; u’, ulnare.
The ulna and radius are short, the radial portion concave ; two of the carpal bones are trigonal, the rest are polygonal.

FEMUR. — The articular surface of the femur is deeply pitted and tuberculate. The proximal end is constricted below the head before it begins to expand. Both margins are nearly straight and gradually flatten out into a broad distal end. Length 1⅝in., breadth 8in., 3¾in. at the narrowest part of the shaft. The tibia and fibula, and several of the carpal and phalangal bones, are well preserved.

Since this paper was read last autumn before the members of the Club, the Plesiosauridœ have undergone a complete revision under the experienced and critical eye of Mr. Lydekker, F.G.S., to whom I am indebted for his valuable assistance in the classification of this saurian. He refers Mr. Richardson’s saurian to the genus Cimoliosaurus which he distinguishes from Plesiosaurus on account of structural differences, especially in the shoulder-girdle, which are of so marked a character as to require a generic distinction.

He restricts Plesiosaurus proper to those whose scapulae do not meet in the median line throughout their whole extent from the upper to the lower margin, hut diverge anteriorly about half-way down. The scapulae are rod-like, small, and narrow, and widely separated from each other, resting diagonally upon a long plate (omosternum) which is wedged into the coracoid at its summit, taking the place of the clavicle of mammalia and of some reptiles. The anterior portion of each scapula lies at right angles to the dorsal portion, which has a long projection. Cimoliosaurus, on the other hand, has large, broad scapulae, which meet at the median line throughout, and are in the same plane with the coracoids, forming with these one shield-like plate. The size and strength of the scapulae do not require the supporting bone omosternum of Plesiosaurus. The dorsal plates, as with the Plesiosaurus are at right angles to the ventral, but differ in being short and narrow. Mr. Lydekker, finding the fossil possesses all the characters referable to Cimoliosaurus, gives it a place in that genus.

It is, however, specifically distinct from C. phcatus, Phil., the only other known Oxford clay member of the family, and to which I referred it in vol. ix. of “The Proceedings.” Among the other distinctive characters already described, the cervical vertebrae are shorter with flatter, terminal faces, and about 31 in number instead of 44 as in plicatus. Mr. Lydekker names it Cimoliosaurus richardsoni after its fortunate discoverer. Plesiosaurus proper is restricted to the Rhæustic and Liassic beds, while Cimoliosaurus extends vertically from the Inferior Oolite to the Upper Chalk inclusive.

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The Dorset Ooser

This monstrous wooden mask, a bull’s hair and horns mounted on its low brow, was used to scare people at midwinter gatherings. Another was reported at Shillingstone and there may have been many more throughout Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.  The Rev. William Barnes defines Ooser, oose or wu’se, as ‘a mask…with grim jaws, put on with a cow’s skin to frighten folk. “Wurse” … is a name of the arch-fiend.’

The replica Dorset Ooser mask that hangs in the Writer’s Gallery of the Dorset County Museum was carved by John Byfleet in 1975 for the Wessex Morris Men and is often used in May Day celebrations at Cerne Abbas and in dance performances.  DCM © 2015

The replica Dorset Ooser mask that hangs in the Writer’s Gallery of the Dorset County Museum was carved by John Byfleet in 1975 for the Wessex Morris Men and is still used in May Day celebrations at Cerne Abbas and in dance performances. DCM © 2015

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 84, 1962, an article written by the H. S. L. Dewar. entitled ‘The Dorset Ooser

This extraordinary object, portrayed in the illustration, has, most unfortunately disappeared from human ken. Some 65 years ago it was in the possession iof the Cave family at Holt Farm, Melbury Osmond. When Dr. Edward Cave left Holt for Crewkerne in Somerset before the year 1897, he took the Ooser with him. Leaving Crewkerne for Bath in 1897, for the time being the mask was left in ‘the care of the family coachman. When Dr. Cave enquired for it subsequently, it appears that he was told it had been disposed of. It is suggested that it may have eventually found its way to America.

Dorset Ooser, Melbury Osmond. This horned mask was formeriy in me possession of Mr. Gave of Holt Farm, but has long since disappeared. DCM © 2015

Dorset Ooser, Melbury Osmond. This horned mask was formeriy in me possession of Mr. Cave of Holt Farm, but has long since disappeared. DCM © 2015

The hollow mask, for such it was, is said to have been in the care of the Cave family from time out of mind. But although it has now been lost to sight, the memory of it and its associations in the district still provide great interest to students of folklore and others. That the mask was the last of a long line of renewals can hardly be doubted, since it was made of wood as a base, and must have suffered periodically from woodworm and decay.

As can be seen in the illustration, the mark was provided with a lower jaw which was moveable, and gnashing teeth, the jaw being worked by a string. It was adorned with crisped hair, flowing whiskers, a beard, and a fine pair of horns. Between the eyebrows it bears a rounded boss for which it is difficult to find an explanation. The expression of the eyes conveys a really agonized spirit of hatred, terror and despair. That the head in its turn was intended to inspire terror in the minds of the foolish and the wicked is unquestionable. It is perhaps the latest representation of ithe Devil to be made and used in England. The Devil, be it said, whom the Church of England has recently decided to retain in the Catechism, no doubt with good reason. The Ooser was, nevertheless, an unorthodox representation of the King of Evil.

The tradition that inspired both the creation of the Devil at large and the manufacture of his varied images is, of course, nearly as old as man himself. We find his prototypes, probably connected with phallic or fertiility worship, in the Mesolithic period. At Starr Carr in Yorkshire some 9000 years ago, the primitive hunters of the Middle Stone Age were making skull-caps for ‘wear out of the skulls and antlers of deer. Archaeologists believe they were intended to be worn for ritual use in dances connected with their hopes for ‘successful hunting. The fertility of both the hunters and the hunted was something that had to be achieved for the perpetuation of the tribe and for its sustenance.

The rituals that inspired this kind of performance were already thousands of years old. We have only to turn to the painting of a man disguised in the skin and horned head of an animal in the cave of Les Trois Freres in France to see what is perhaps the earliest representation of a priest of this fertility cult, his face turned to the spectators for admiration. Antlers have been recorded as found near the heads of individuals buried in Bowl-barrows of the Early Bronze Age in Dorset.

Today, in the famous, annual horn-dance at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, the modern equivalents may be seen, though politely modified, perhaps descended from remote antiquity through various -media. Incidentally, the Abbots Bromley horns are said to be hung up in the Church between the ceremonies.

It is not difficult to trace the evolution of a god of an early cult, or a fertility spirit with attendant ritual., to the Devil of a succeeding religion. The new priests still needed to keep some of the images of the older faith, and to trot them out periodically for the edification of the people, or as a warning. The transition from god of pleasure or plenty to god of pain, often in a subordinate and derogatory position as a devil, was assured. For example, the crude fertility symbolism of the Giant of Gerne Abbas was preserved, probably through May Day revels, by the local inhabitants, with the presumed, though perhaps tacit assent of the Church, and of the Abbey of Cerne.

Thus it may well be, as the inhabitants of Melbury Osmond believe, the Ooser, originally an image connected with fertility worship, was eventually relegated to occasions for “Skimity Riding” (Information from Mr. K. G. Knight.), (sometimes rendered as “Skimmerton”) as in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, and “Rough Music”. This performance may be explained by pointing out that before the days of the Divorce Courts and the popular press, public opinion had a good way of expressing interest in and disapproval of husband-beating, scolding, sexual unfaithfulness or irregularity, and cuckoldry. Many of these are, after all, often due to the uncontrolled excess of the urge to fertility. And so, when an aberrant pair, or an erring spouse was located, the man, or sometimes the woman, or both, were made to ride on a donkey or a horse, face to tail. Meanwhile the crowd made rude and rough music by beating on frying pans and ketitles, bull’s horns, marrow bones and cleavers. Such was the band with which they had earlier woken and serenaded the sinful. Elsewhere, the donkey was called a “celebrated Jerusalem,” a curiously inverted form of sarcasm. At Melbury it is related that the Ooser was brought out and paraded to complete such a show. Skimmity Riding is portrayed on a panel in one of the rooms in Montacute House in Somerset.

By now the once triumphant horn of plenty, fertility and power had become a symbol of scorn, horror and derision. The latest phase of all seems to have been when the Ooser’s head — or was the head itself the Ooser — on occasion used to be brought to the door of the tallet (hay-loft) of a barn to terrify the children of the village(Information from Mr. K. G. Knight.) should occasion call for it. The word “tallet” is of some interest here, since it seems to be akin to the Welsh : “taflod”, a hay-loft, and its use as a dialect word in Dorset could indicate a Celtic origin.

The tale is still told in (Melbury that it was sometimes used to scare grown up people as well as young ones, chains being attached, while lucifer matches were pushed alight into the head. One is tempted to visualize smoke pouring from the infernal nostrils. The story goes that once it was so used to frighten a stable-hand (Information from Mr. K. G. Knight.), and that in a fright he jumped through a window and so injured himself that his ‘life was despaired of. At one time it is said that the Ooser was kept in the Malt House, which was once a Button Factory, and now a Chapel. If one looks for a parallel elsewhere, Violet A If or d in her book on English Folk-Dances, records that a man used to accompany the ‘Christmas Wassailers at Kingscote in Gloucestershire, “dressed in a sack, his head in a real bull’s face, head and horns complete”.

The name Ooser may be connected with “Wurse,” as William Barnes remarked, the name of the arch-fiend-himself in Layamond’s Brut. Others believe it connected with “Osor,” a name used in Italy in the 17th century for the Devil of the ‘Christians. It seems possible that the Ooser may claim relationship with such figures as the Mayday Jack-in-the-Green, or the Green Man of our Inn signs. He is likely enough an off-shoot from the 14th century and later Mummers’ plays. Some authorities hold that the older form of Mumming was “(Masking”, while Polydore Vergil relates that the disguising and mumming at Christmas were derived from the feasts of Pallas that were done with vizars and painted -masks. Again, it is known that in early ‘Christian times people ran about wearing masks upon New Year’s Day on the occasion of the Feast of Circumcision, imitating a pagan superstition. In ancient missals the words written in the mass for this day were : “Missa ad prohibendum ab idalis” A clue can very likely be seen also in Isaiah xxxiv. 14.

These masques or mysteries may have evolved eventually into the Morality Plays. In France, men and women (wearing such disguises are said to have been forbidden going to the Churches in 1598 at the instigation of the Bishop of Angres, and by State Legislation in 1668. A suggestion has also been made that “Ooser” is a derivative of “Guisard” or “Guiser”, connected with such words as “vizard,” “vizor,” or “vizard,” the old words for “Mummer” or “Guise.”

Mr. G. W. ‘Greening of Dorchester can recall the figure of a Beelzebub which puffed smoke, had four short legs and a tail like a crocodile, in a play performed by the Bradstock Mummers when he was a boy. It is a great pity that such figures as the Ooser should have faded into the mists of time. It is only due to the great interest taken in folklore by a few enthusiasts, and by Mrs. H. H. (Marshall, a daughter of Dr. Edward Cave, and by Mr. K. G. Knigiht of Evershot, and the very retentive memories of the older men and women of Melbury Osmond that many of the above details have been preserved.

Those who wish to pursue the subject may be referred to F. T. Elworthy’s Horns of Honour, and to Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, Vol. ii (1891), p.289, or to any of a vast number of books concerning the Devil and his Works that are to be found in most public libraries. Skimmity Riding is discussed in Brand’s Popular Antiquities, and elsewhere.
It may be permissible to ask philologists whether there is any evidence that the ‘well-known Hampshire dialect word “Wooster”, meaning a lover, and “Wooster blister,” a mark allegedly caused by a lover’s kiss, is related to the Ooser?

  • The writer’s thanks are most cordially given to Mr. R. N. R. Peers, to Mr. G. W. Greening, and to Mr. K. G. Knight of the Melbury Estate Staff, for their interest in local traditions about the Ooser, and for the trouble they have taken in the matter. Last but not least, also to Mrs. H. H. Marshall, who has come forward with some new facts after this paper had been almost completed. It should be noted that “Ooser” is pronounced with a short, quick “s”, as in “boss,” not as in “nose.”