Literary Lives: Thomas Hardy and Folk Song by Dr. Peter Robson

Musicians of Mellstock Choir - Hardy Players 1910 DCM © 2015

Musicians of Mellstock Choir – Hardy Players 1910 DCM © 2015

Thomas Hardy refers to more than thirty folk songs in his novels, with many further references in his poetry, short stories, letters etc. 

Some knowledge of the folk songs in Hardy’s writings helps the reader to appreciate how appropriate they are to the author’s plotting, characterisation and settings. The songs can also occasionally throw light on Hardy’s own background.

This exploration of Hardy and Dorset song will begin by looking at the nature of folksong and at the golden age of folksong collecting, with particular reference to the work of the Hammond brothers in Dorset. Dr. Robson will then illustrate the variety of places where references to folksongs may be found in Hardy’s published and unpublished writings.

From this body of material it is then possible to suggest where and how Hardy might have obtained the songs which he knew and to look at some examples of the ways in which he used folk songs in his novels. Finally, the speaker will identify the songs which seem to have been Hardy’s personal favourites, and at a song which was actually collected from him.

Dr. Peter Robson has been researching Dorset folklore and folksong for many years and has written and spoken widely on this subject. Most recently he has become particularly interested in Thomas Hardy’s writings as an almost untapped source for the study of rural folklore.

The lecture will take place on Thursday 30 June in the Dorset County Museum’s Victorian Hall and is FREE to the public; however a donation of £3 encouraged to cover costs. Doors open at 7.00pm for a 7.30pm start.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Advertisements

All the fun of a Victorian Fayre at the Dorset County Museum

The Victorian Fayre last year at the Dorset County Museum

The Victorian Fayre last year at the Dorset County Museum

On Sunday 21st February, from 2.00pm to 5.00pm, the Dorset County Museum opens its doors for the second year running to a traditional Victorian Fayre to celebrate the birthday of William Barnes, Dorset dialect poet. This FREE event will offer something for all the family.

Stalls will include traditional crafts and gifts and the chance to learn rural skills. There will be Maypole dancing for the children as well as popular parlour games.

The friends of the William Barnes Society and Tim Laycock, well-known folk musician, actor and storyteller will provide traditional singing, music, dance and poetry reading throughout the afternoon.

Frome Valley Morris Mummer

Frome Valley Morris Mummer

The Frome Valley Morris Men will perform the Mummers and Hoodening play. The event would not be complete without a raffle, quiz and a Victorian afternoon tea.

Marion Tait, Honorary Curator of the William Barnes Gallery and Archive said that last year the Victorian Fayre was a huge success and was hoping for a repeat performance.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Sherborne’s Pack Monday Fair

Pack Monday Fair, Sherborne, Dorset 2015

Pack Monday Fair, Sherborne, Dorset 2015

On the Monday after Old Michaelmas Day, 10th October, Sherborne holds its annual Pack Monday Fair, once the Pact or hiring fair. At around midnight on the eve of the fair, the Teddy Roes Band process through the town creating rough music, blowing horns and banging saucepans. This cacophony commemorates the completion of 15th Century repairs on the town’s Abbey under a foreman named Teddy Roe.  Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal mentioned about the traditions of the Pack Monday Fair in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922:

Hutchins (iv.209), speaking of the annual fairs held in the town of Sherborne:

“The first on St. Thomas a Becket’s Day, O.S., upon the green near the site of St. Thomas a Becket’s chapel; the second in St. Swithin’s Street on St. Swithin’s day, O.S ; the third, outside the Abbey Close, on the first Monday after the feast of St. Michael, O.S. This last is the most considerable, and is a great holiday for the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood. It is ushered in by the ringing of the great bell at 4 a.m., and by the boys and young men perambulating the streets with cows’ horns at a still earlier hour, to the no small annoyance of their less wakeful neighbours. It has been an immemorial custom in Sherborne for the boys to blow horns in the evenings, in the streets, for some weeks before the fair. It is commonly known as Pack Monday Fair, and there is a tradition that Abbot Peter Ramsam and his workmen completed the nave of the abbey and kept a holiday on that day in 1490, and that the name was derived from the men packing up their tools. These fairs are chiefly for cattle, horses, and sheep. At the last woollen cloths and all sorts of commodities are sold. The tolls of St. Swithin’s belong to the Vicar ; those of the others to the lord of the Manor”

In September, 1826, a resident in Sherborne sent to Hone’s Every-Day Book (ii, 654) the following very full description of what goes on at Pack Monday Fair. He says :

“This fair is usually held on the first Monday after the 10th of October, and is a mart for the sale of horses, cows, fat and lean oxen, sheep, lambs, and pigs, cloth, earthenware, onions, wall and hazel nuts, apples, fruit trees, and the usual nick nacks for children, toys, ginger-bread, sweetmeats, sugar plums etc. etc. with drapery, hats, bonnets, caps, ribands, etc. for the country belles, of whom, when the weather is favourable, a great number is drawn together from the neighbouring villages. Tradition relates that this fair originated at the termination of the building of the church, when the people who had been employed about it packed up their tools, and held a fair or wake in the churchyard, blowing cows’ horns in their rejoicing, which at that time was perhaps the most common music in use. ..

The fair has been removed from the churchyard about six or seven years, and is now held on a spacious parade in a street not far from the church. . .

To the present time Pack Monday fair is annually announced three or four weeks previous by all the little urchins who can procure and blow a cow’s horn parading the streets in the evenings, and sending forth the different tones of their horny bugles, sometimes beating an old sauce-pan for a drum, to render the sweet sound more delicious, and not infrequently a whistle-pipe or a fife is added to the band.

The clock’s striking twelve on the Sunday night previous is the summons for ushering in the fair, when the boys assemble with their horns and parade the town with a noisy shout, and prepare to forage for fuel to light a bonfire, generally of straw obtained from some of the neighbouring farmyards, which are sure to be plundered, without respect to the owners, if they have not been fortunate enough to secure the material in some safe part of their premises.

In this way the youths enjoy themselves in boisterous triumph, to the annoyance of the sleeping part of the inhabitants, many of whom deplore, whilst others, who entertain respect for old customs, delight in the deafening mirth. At four o’clock the great bell is rang for a quarter of an hour. From this time the bustle commences by the preparation for the coming scene : stalls erecting, windows cleaning and decorating, shepherds and drovers going forth for their flocks and herds, which are depastured for the night in the neighbouring fields, and every individual seems on the alert. The business in the sheep and cattle fairs (which are held in different fields, nearly in the centre of the town, and well attended by the gentlemen farmers of Dorset, Somerset and Devon) takes precedence, and is generally concluded by twelve o’clock, when what is called the in-fair begins to wear the appearance of business-like activity, and from this time till three or four o’clock more business is transacted in the shop, counting-house, parlour, hall and kitchen than at any other time of the day, it being a custom of the tradespeople to have their yearly accounts settled about this time, and scarcely a draper, grocer, hatter, ironmonger, bookseller, or other respectable tradesman but is provided with an ample store of beef and home-brewed October, for the welcome of their numerous customers, few of whom depart without taking quantum suff: of the old English fare placed before them.”

“Now,” Hone’s correspondent goes on to say,—” is the town alive.” And he tells us of the usual merry sights of a country fair—the giant, the learned pig, the giantess and dwarf, the conjuror, the managerie of wild beasts, the merry-go-round, the lucky bag, the Sheffield hardwareman with his wonderful display of cheap cutlery, the inevitable Cheap Jack offering everything for next-to-nothing—for fuller details of which I would refer my readers to his account. And he concludes with the following remarks :—

“This is Pack Monday fair, till evening throws on her dark veil, when the visitors, in taking their farewell, stroll through the rows of ginger-bread stalls … By this time the country folks are for jogging home, and vehicles and horses of every description on the move, and the bustle nearly over, with the exception of what is to be met with at the inns, where the lads and lasses so disposed, on the light fantastic toe, assisted by the merry scraping of the fiddle, finish the fun, frolic, and pastime of Pack Monday fair.”

Some sixty years later Mr. E. Archdall Ffooks – the present clerk of the peace for the county of Dorset, and then a resident in the neighbourhood of Sherborne — at my request for information as to the modern proportions of the fair, wrote me a letter in which he says :

Cow’s horn found in a garden in Westbury, Sherborne. It was played in Teddy Roe's Band preceding the Pack Monday Fair.

Cow’s horn found in a garden in Westbury, Sherborne. It was played in Teddy Roe’s Band preceding the Pack Monday Fair now on display at the Sherborne Museum

“The old custom of horn blowing has now, through the aid of the police, been reduced to reasonable limits. A few years ago small boys blew horns at all hours of the day and night until their bed-time for more than a month before Pack Monday Fair. Then the inhabitants complained of the nuisance, and the police were instructed to prevent it and to take away the horns, with the result that now only a few occasional horns are heard for about a week beforehand. On Sunday evening about 10 p.m. on October 12th (1884) a few horns in different parts, calling together those who were to take part in the march round, were heard ; and these gradually increased in number and became mingled with an occasional tin tray etc. until 12 o’clock, when the whole body of about 300 assembled at the Antelope Hotel moved off in no particular order and marched once all over the town, starting down Cheap Street and then passing through as many as possible until all the most important had been visited, keeping up an incessant din the whole time with horns, bugles, and all sorts of tin trays etc. that would make a noise. About 2 a.m. the town is allowed to go to sleep.This is what is left of the old custom, and seems likely to last in about its same proportions until something puts an end to Pack Monday Fair itself.”

  • Sherborne Museum is currently exhibiting a Dorset Folklore exhibition in conjunction with Dorset County Museum until 17th December 2015. For more information visit www.sherbornemuseum.co.uk

Harvest Festival celebration in Dorchester

Harvesting

Reapers gathering the harvest – DCM © 2015

On the 1st August 2015 from 11.00am to 3.00pm, St. Peter’s Church Hall in Dorchester will host a free Lammas Festival. Lammas is a traditional harvest celebration of Celtic origin, held in early August to mark the beginning of harvest time, when reaping of the ripe corn in the fields would begin.

The event will be in aid of the refurbishment of the William Barnes Gallery in Dorset County Museum, and will feature a variety of performances and entertainment from Tim Laycock and friends including traditional folk songs and poetry.

Locally made cider, home-made cakes and other refreshments will be available to buy and there will be an opportunity to purchase local organic fruit, vegetables and plants.

Children can make salt dough hedgehogs or peg doll farmers, and adults can join in too and learn to make corn dollies. Crafts and gifts will be available to buy, or try your luck in the raffle to win locally grown harvest prizes.

There will also be an opportunity to explore the folklore, customs and traditions of harvest time at Sherborne Museum’s stall.  Sherborne Museum is currently exhibiting a Dorset Folklore exhibition in conjunction with Dorset County Museum.

Lammas Festival

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.”

May Day Customs and Traditions in Dorset

The most well known symbol of May Day is the maypole. The custom of dancing around the maypole is thought to be an ancient fertility rite, which is still performed today on village greens and at spring fetes throughout the month of May.

May Queen and Maypole , The Keep, Dorchester 1845 DCM © 2015

May Queen and Maypole , The Keep, Dorchester 1845 DCM © 2015

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922 about May Day customs and traditions in the county:

It was anciently the custom for all ranks of people to go out a-Maying early on the first of May” says Brand; but I do not think that there exist now in Dorsetshire many traces of the old merry dances and games, such as the Maypole dance, the Morris dancers, the milkmaids, the chimney-sweeps, the maidens’ garland or flower dances and processions, which used to be so prevalent in many parts of England on May Day.

Flower and Maypole Dance, Chardstock.— In some parts of Dorsetshire, however, some few such observances still take place. For instance, in the parish of Chardstock, on the Somerset and Devon border, according to the Dorset County Chronicle in May, 1884, the children of the parish brought round garlands as usual on May Day; in the afternoon upwards of seventy of them sat down to a feast at which the local squire, the vicar, and other gentlemen and ladies were present. “Dancing round the Maypole concluded the keeping up of this old English custom’

Crowning the May Queen and Maypole Dance (Bridport).— The Dorset County Chronicle, in June, 1918, gives a very recent instance of this as occurring in the West Dorset town of Bridport: —

“On Thursday the girls of the National Schools had their annual festival of crowning the May Queen and dancing round the Maypole. There was a very good attendance of the general public, the ceremony taking place in the school-yard. Favoured with fine weather, the scene was a very picturesque one, and the proceedings were watched with the greatest interest and pleasure. The children, as is their custom, were dressed in white, and with their Queen (Vera Meech), who is elected by the votes of her schoolmates, they paraded the Rope Walks, St. Michael’s Lane, and Gundry Lane, and returned to the playground. Here the Maypole was set up and the Queen was then enthroned. She recited a verse of Tennyson’s May Queen, and then the Rector ‘ crowned ‘ her with a wreath of flowers. Some very pretty Maypole dances were then gone through, and some nicely rendered songs gave variety to the programme, while at the close a collection, which realized £4, was made to defray the cost of a new set of strings for the Maypole.”

I have since been told that this is not a genuine folk-lore survival, but rather a sham revival, having been introduced from Whitelands College by the National Society of School teachers, taught by Ruskin. The recitation of Tennyson’s May Queen would seem to confirm this ; but even if this be so, it is a decided improvement upon the usual School Board methods of recent years, which tend to destroy all traces of local folk-lore in the young people of the present age.

Maypole: Cattistock. — There is an interesting reference in H. N. Cox’s serial History of Cattistock, published in the Southern Times in 1886, to the ” old custom of the Maypole “, which would appear to have been regularly kept up in that village until 1835. Mr. Cox alludes to a decree of Parliament in 1644, which ordered every Maypole in England and Wales to be taken down and none afterwards to be erected. Presumably Cattistock obeyed the mandate, at all events until the Restoration. Mr. Cox goes on to say that probably as time passed on the Maypole festivities were bereft of many of their ancient customs, but even at the last there was an immense assemblage of people, and the merry dance around the gaily decked pole with its thousands of May flowers was indulged in by all parties. He remembers on one occasion the Maypole being “set up ” in the open space near to the main entrance to the church and rectory, but that generally it was opposite ” The Fox “, no doubt one of the principal hostelries in the village. Cattistock is still to this day an important hunting centre. Mr. Cox is of opinion that the custom was permitted to die out, not because the people disapproved of it, but that the expense of getting good music for the dance was not met by the subscriptions.

Maypole: Cerne Abbas. — Dr. Collcy March, F.S.A., in his paper on ” The Giant and the Maypole of Cerne ” in the Dorset Field Club’s Proceedings (1901), vol. xxii, p. 105, speaks of the ordinance of the Long Parliament in April, 1644, whereby all maypoles were to be taken down and removed by the constables, churchwardens, and other parish officers; but it met with no little resistance.(Dr. March states, p. 105 (n.), that the Cerne maypole was destroyed in 1635) After the advent of Charles II the Maypole was set up again, and had a long life. Dr. March quotes from an old sexton at Cerne, who well remembered it: —

“It was made,” he said,” every year from a fir-bole, and was raised in a night. It was erected in the ring just above the Giant. It was decorated, and the villagers went up the hill and danced round the pole on the 1st of May.”

This hill was Trendle Hill, situated about half a mile from the town, upon the steep southern declivity of which the famous figure of the giant was cut in the chalk.

Maypole dancing infants at Coronation Celebration, Evershot DCM © 2015

Maypole dancing infants at Coronation Celebration, Evershot DCM © 2015

According to authorities cited by Dr. March, “the festival of the maypole” was not unattended by scenes that “called forth ample invective”. Philip Stubbes, in his Anatomic of Abuses, 1583, refers to a custom when “hundreds of men, women, and children go off to the woods and groves and spend all the night in pastimes, and in the morning they would return with birche boughes and branches of trees to deck their assembles withal. And they bring home with great veneration the Maie-pole, their stinking idol rather, covered all over with flowers and herbes, and then fall they to leaping and dancing about it, as the heathen people did. I have heard it crediblie reported by men of great gravity that, of an hundred maides going to the wood, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again as they went.”

Maypole: Shillingston. — William Barnes in his Fore-say (ante) speaks of this decline in the old maypole customs. He says: “Dorset formerly had its maypoles, but Shillingston, clustering round its softly rising knap, may now be the only Dorset village which keeps up the tall token of a merry May Day.”

In the Life of William Barnes, by his daughter, Mrs. Lucy E. Baxter, published in 1887 under the pseudonym of “Leader Scott “, she gives (p. 150) a poem of her father’s, hitherto unpublished, called ” Our Early Landscape “, —  in which the poet alludes to the maypole at Shillingston in the following lines :—

“And Shillingston, that on her height
Shows up her tower to op’ning day,
And high-shot Maypole, yearly dight
With flow’ry wreaths of merry May.”

Stocking of Poundbury Field, Dorchester. — William Barnes in the above Fore-say also refers to the annual stocking of Poundbury Field, near Dorchester, on May Day under the head of customs at set times or given days of the year. The field is now enclosed, but ” Dorchester folk were wont in olden time, it is said, to go forth to its flowery and airy sward a-maying and to drink syllybub of fresh milk”.

Flower Service: Bridport. — The town of Bridport in West Dorset has for many years been prominent in keeping up an old flower custom on May Sunday — the first Sunday in May. The Bridport News in May, 1885, gave an interesting account of the ceremony, where on “May Sunday ” the children, to the number of 312, assembled at the schools in Gundry Lane, and having been duly marshalled in procession, marched to the parish church, carrying flowers. They came up South Street as far as the old castle, and going down the east side of the street crossed again by the rectory, and entered the church by the west door, occupying seats in the nave, which were given up to them for the occasion by the parishioners who generally used them. The children were accompanied by their superintendent and also by their teachers. Divine service followed, and in the afternoon the usual children’s service was held. The bells were rung spiritedly at intervals during the day and a flag was hoisted, as usual, on the church tower.

Again, in May, 1890, the Bridport News recorded that, in accordance with the usual custom, the first Sunday in May was kept by the scholars of the Bridport Parish Church Sunday Schools by the usual special and joyous services. Shortly after 7 a.m. the bells of the parish church (St. Mary’s) pealed forth to herald in the school anniversary, and at 8 o’clock there was a full choral celebration of the Holy Communion. In his sermon the Rector, the Rev. E. J. B. Henslowe, alluded to the origin of May Sunday celebrations in Bridport, and to the fact that it was an institution not celebrated to his knowledge in any other town, but was peculiar to Bridport. He said that years ago there was no proper school, but classes were held by different people in their own houses’; these classes used to meet once a year, and have a procession and go to church.

In the afternoon the usual flower service was held. The scholars formed in procession and again marched to the church. The rector officiated. The service commenced with a hymn, and then the scholars passed up to the chancel steps and presented their floral offerings. While another hymn was being sung flowers were presented by members of the congregation. The service was then proceeded with. The flowers were afterwards packed and forwarded to London for some of the hospitals. Again, in May, 1905, the Bridport News contributed a long leading article on the subject which it styled ” May Sunday : A Link with the Past”. It dealt fully with the origin of the present flower-custom in Bridport, and referred to the institution of Sunday Schools in Bridport in connexion with St. Mary’s Church in 1788. At that time the procession formed almost a complete “perambulation” of the parish boundaries, and many visitors would come in from the country “to see the children walk”. The writer of the article thinks that this “walking” may have been but a survival of a much older custom — that of “beating the bounds ” — which prevailed in many parishes at Rogation-tide ; and that “May Sunday” occurring near the same time of the year the one custom had at the end of the eighteenth century merged into the other. As we have seen, the custom of “walking” still continues, but only to a very limited extent.”

William Barnes celebrated at Museum’s Victorian Fayre

Dorset County Museum Victorian FayreOn Sunday 22nd February 2015, the Dorset County Museum’s Victorian Hall was transformed into a traditional Victorian Fayre to celebrate the birthday of Dorset dialect poet William Barnes. The atmosphere was full of hustle and bustle with numerous stalls from traditional crafts to popular parlour games; Victorian paperboy selling his broadsheets and a demonstration of net making and other rural skills. The museum’s Tea Room worked flat out to provide Victorian afternoon tea for 350 visitors.

The Language of Flowers proved to be really popular with people queueing to create their own style Nosegays and Tussie Mussies with fresh flowers. Likewise the demonstration on creating Dorset Buttons saw very enthusiastic folk fashion their own design.

Net Making

Sue Worth of The New Hardy Players demonstrates Net Making

The Herb stall gave an informative look into culinary and medicinal uses of that period.
The fantastic display of hand-made bonnets drew quite a crowd as did the dining table which depicted the difference between the gentry and the rural labourers.

The children had their own entertainment including pin the tail on the donkey, making little peg dolls, a variety of toys to buy and dressing up in period costume.

Musician and Storyteller Tim Laycock captivated the audience of his portrayal of a teacher in a Victorian classroom. Whilst fellow members of the William Barnes Society and The New Hardy Players entertained all with music, song, poetry and country dancing which was enjoyed by people of all ages.

Alastair Simpson and the Cantate Rustique choir

Alastair Simpson and the Cantate Rustique Choir

Alastair Simpson conducted the Cantate Rustique choir to perform four pieces: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s famous Linden Lea; a setting of The Lew O’ the Rick by the blind organist of Shaftesbury, F. F. Coaker, from the 1950s; a 2002 work by Peter Lord, Come; and Alastair’s own harmonisation of the folk musician Tim Laycock’s touching melody to the words of Barnes’s grief-stricken poem The Wife a-Lost, the last being a premiere.

William Barnes Collection Curator, Marion Tait said “This was a hugely successful and amazing event where all had a great time at the Victorian Fayre raising over £600 towards the redevelopment of the museum’s William Barnes’ Gallery.”


 

A huge thank you to Battens Solicitors, Dorchester, for sponsoring the event and a special thank you to all volunteers who took part in the Victorian Fayre and celebrating William Barnes Birthday

  • Alastair Simpson and Cantate Rustique
  • Alistair Chisholm
  • Friends and family

Thank you to the following businesses for supporting the William Barnes Collection.

  • Dorset Flower Men, Dorchester Precinct
  • Bridget, Fruit and Vegetable stall, Dorchester market
  • Beth King, Tolpuddle

Is your Turkey Cooked Victorian Style

Dorset County Museum volunteer, Marion Tate and Stuart Jury stand outside County Town Butchers

Dorset County Museum volunteer, Marion Tate and Stuart Jury stand outside County Town Butchers

A splendid turkey has been kindly donated by County Town Butchers, Stuart Jury, to play centre stage at the display of a Victorian dinner. The Countess Elizabeth invites you to view an informal dinner party, only five-six courses, on Sunday 22nd February from 2.00pm to 5.00pm at the Victorian Fayre, Dorset County Museum, Dorchester.

At the Fayre children and adults can also experience a whole range of activities which will include learning about life in Victorian times from classroom lessons reciting Dorset dialect words to traditional rural crafts. There will be demonstrations of Dorset buttons, making bonnets, perfumery and net making. A variety of stalls will include Victorian children’s toys and popular parlour games. Have your photograph taken in Victorian costume as a memento of a very special day. There will also be a Victorian Tea as well as a raffle and quiz.

Tim Laycock, well-known folk musician, actor and storyteller and other performers will provide traditional singing, music, dance and poetry reading throughout the afternoon.

This fundraising event is free and offers members of the public an afternoon of live demonstrations, entertainment and stalls. The funds raised from the fayre will go towards the refurbishment of the Museum’s William Barnes collection and gallery which is dedicated to Dorset’s greatest dialect poet.

We are very grateful to Battens Charitable Trust which has sponsored this event

The Victorian Fayre takes place at 2.00pm to 5.00pm on Sunday 22nd February. The event is FREE but donations are welcome and all are welcome to attend.  For further information please see www.dorsetcountymuseum.org or telephone 01305 262735.

All the fun of a Victorian Fayre at the Dorset County Museum

Victorian Fayre at Dorset County MuseumThe Dorset County Museum will be hosting a Victorian Fayre on Sunday 22nd February from 2.00pm to 5.00pm.

This fundraising event is free and offers members of the public an afternoon of live demonstrations, entertainment and stalls.

Children and adults will experience a whole range of activities which will include learning about life in Victorian times from classroom lessons reciting Dorset dialect words to traditional rural crafts. There will be demonstrations of Dorset buttons, making bonnets, perfumery and net making. A variety of stalls will include Victorian children’s toys and popular parlour games. There will also be a Victorian Tea as well as a raffle and quiz.

Tim Laycock, well-known folk musician, actor and storyteller and other performers will provide traditional singing, music, dance and poetry reading throughout the afternoon.

The funds raised from the fayre will go towards the refurbishment of the Museum’s William Barnes collection and gallery which is dedicated to Dorset’s greatest dialect poet.

We are very grateful to Battens Charitable Trust which has sponsored this event

The Victorian Fayre takes place at 2.00pm to 5.00pm on Sunday 22nd February. The event is FREE but donations are welcome and all are welcome to attend.  For further information please seewww.dorsetcountymuseum.org or telephone 01305 262735.

On the Maze, or Mizmaze, at Leigh, Dorset

Pimperne Maze

How the Pimperne Maze looked before it was destroyed in 1730 © DCM

Here is an article written by Rev. William Barnes from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 4,  1881 entitled ‘On the Maze, or Mizmaze, at Leigh, Dorset’

Coker, in his History of Dorset, says of the Maze at Leigh, that ” formerly the young men of the village were wont, once a year, to go out and make it good; and the day was a day of merrymaking.” Not, we may believe, a day of merrymaking because they had made the maze good by righting up of the banks, which edged the paths; but that the maze was made good for the day of merry-making, which might have been that of the village wake, or the old May-day.

That the young and not the old men were most interested in the maze, would go to show that it was for their games, and not for any heathenish or other ceremony of their elders.

Phillips, in his “New World of Words,” A.D. 1706, speaks of mazes as in his time made in gardens. He says: — “Maze, in a garden, a place artificially made with many turnings and windings.” The maze seems to have had formerly, all over England, its day of favor among friendly gatherings at great halls, and at some of the village feasts, as had the old game of Pall Mall, and its later form under the name of Croquet, though the pleasure of the maze (a puzzle), was akin to that of other puzzles which are now put forth among friends in the house, or in the open air. The maze was formed of a cunningly drawn maze of winding paths, which any one who would try his skill was to thread so as to find his way out again in the shortest time, and the mirth of it was, I suppose, that of the outsiders who might see a bewildered wayfarer misgoing into passages that led to nothing but others of the same kind, and the glory of a walker who, knowing the clue, came out with a laugh against the others.

There was formerly at Pimperne a cleverly-shapen maze, which is figured in Shipp’s and Hutchins’ History of Dorset. The maze paths were sundered by banks, and overspread nearly an acre of ground; but it was entirely destroyed by the plough about 1780, and it speaks of one at Hilton, Hunts, of which the path is steined with pebbles, and gives Aubray as saying that there were many mazes in England ere the civil wars, which let in the Puritans as lawgivers, who gave little freedom to games and gambols, and whose laws once punished a boy at Dorchester for riding on a gate on a Sabbath.( Borough Records) A fine sample of a maze still kept up, and I believe often threaded by sightseers, is the one at Hampton Court, of which the maze path is edged by a hedge [of shrubs, as, I believe, were the paths of most of the broad mazes of the olden time, with fences of some thick shrubs, whether box. privet, yew, or hornbeam, or other such-like ones. Another maze, of which Londoners seek a merry use, is in the Rosherville Gardens, near Gravesend, and one has, I believe, been made in the grounds of the Crystal Palace. The Athenaeum, July 2, 1881, speaks of ” The St. Anne’s maze,” near Nottingham, as one of the most elaborate examples of which we have any account, though in 1797 it was ploughed up.

The History of Pimperne quotes Stukely, who writes of such mazes in Wales, under the name of “Caertroi.” ” Winding Castle,” the mazes of which are trodden by walking on the banks.

This old British name for a maze, “caertroi,” has, from want of a knowledge of Welsh, led to a mistake that the word “troi” meant Homer’s Troy, and that caertroi, a maze, meant “Troy-town,” whereas ” troi” means simply a turning or winding.

Witches’ Corner, Leigh Common.

Many years ago I was told by a man of this neighbourhood that a corner of Leigh Common was called “Witches’ Corner,” and long again after that a friend gave me some old depositions on witchcraft, taken before Somerset magistrates from about the years 1650 to 1064. The cases were of Somerset, and touched in some points Dorsetshire, and one of the witches’ sisterhood said that they sometimes met in Leigh Common. This proof of the meeting of witches in Leigh Common as the ground of the traditional name of witches corner is interesting as a token of truth in tradition.

Totnell and Chetnole.

I suppose Chetnole is mostly pronounced Chetnel. Totnell is the name of the hill or knoll or knowl, and means Toutknoll, or Spynell, or Outlook-hill, as being in times of trouble a spot taken by outspiers or outlookers. There are in Dorset several touts or spy heights, and the word to tout, to look out for customers is still well-known. That knoll would wear into nell is shown by the name of “Punk-knowl,” which in running talk is called “Punnell.” Tout was formerly tote, and has been shortened in names of other places, as Totton, Totcombe, in the hundred of Totcombe and Modbury. The spelling of names of places is not a trustworthy guide to their meaning or early forms. Nell in Totnell is, I believe, a narrowing of the sound noil, as i in Huntsmin for huntsman. Such a narrowing is common in Latin, as Desilio for Desalio, and so it is in Welsh. Tot is the head of many other place names.

Chetnole

Is, I believe, Chetknoll, but Chet must have been in Saxon of some such form as Cet or Cete. Cete would mean a cabin, cottage, or cell. Was there ever a hermit’s cell there, as at Hermitage ?

Haydon.

Hay is the Saxon Haeg – (1) a hedge, and (2) a hedged ground.    Hay dun would mean the down with a hedged field or fields on it, one not all open.

Winterhay.

The winter inclosure for cattle, but Winterhays, I believe, took its name from a family of Winterhay, and as being Winter-hay’s inclosures, but then they took their name from some Winter-hay.

Calehay, by Leigh.

The Calf or Heifer inclosure, used much as a run for young stock.

Rouch Hay.

Enclosure of rough ground or grass.