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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Max Gate and the South Dorset Ridgeway

Archaeology National Trust SW

What would you say was the best archaeological landscape in England ?

The west end of the Ridgeway from the Iron Age hillfort of Abbotsbury Castle east along the Chesil Beach towards the Isle of Portland. The west end of the Ridgeway from the Iron Age hillfort of Abbotsbury Castle east along the Chesil Beach towards the Isle of Portland.

Yes you guessed it Dorchester, Maiden Castle and the South Dorset Ridgeway…

did I hear somebody say Hadrian’s Wall? Stonehenge?… well granted Avebury’s got a lot going for it. It’s not a county town though, doesn’t lay claim to being a Roman civitas capital despite there being a large Roman settlement beside Silbury Hill.

The view towards Maiden Castle and Dorchester from the heathland east of Hardy's Monument The view towards Maiden Castle and Dorchester from the heathland east of Hardy’s Monument

Doesn’t have a Waitrose overlying its circular henge built as a circle of massive oak posts 380m in diameter. Doesn’t have a Waitrose come to that. Yes you can still see the great bank and ditch of Avebury’s henge, you’d have to go to the east…

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Bodies in Trenches 2013

Archaeology National Trust SW

A good time to review some of the discoveries of the past year. Much of what we have written here is to do with work that National Trust archaeologists have carried out themselves. However, resources dictate that I usually need to a ask archaeological contractors to carry out recording work.

Here are some of the discoveries from repairs, developments and service trenches that needed excavating this year. At some places, a trench can be dug where there is a near certainty that archaeology will be affected…even when the location has been chosen to avoid it. At others, we do not have enough information to know what will be discovered. Geophysics can help… but often it is difficult to know what lies beneath the ground.

In January, trenching for a new drainage system and fibre-optic cable line around the house at Montacute, Somerset was watched by Mike and Peter of Terrain…

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Archaeology at Thomas Hardy’s Max Gate

The following article entitled ‘Some Romano-British Relics found at Max Gate, Dorchester’ by Thomas Hardy is from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’, volume 11 published 1890.

Thomas Hardy stands beside the 'Druid Stone'

Thomas Hardy stands beside the ‘Druid Stone’ in the garden of Max Gate in 1890. In 1987 excavations near to Max Gate revealed a Neolithic causewayed enclosure; the other half lies beneath the garden at Max Gate. © DCM

“I have been asked to give an account of a few relics of antiquity lately uncovered in digging the foundations of a house at Max Gate, in Fordington Field. But, as the subject of archaeology is one to a great extent foreign to my experience, my sole right to speak upon it at all, in the presence of the professed antiquarians around, lies in the fact that I am one of the only two persons who saw most of the remains in situ, just as they were laid bare, and before they were lifted up from their rest of, I suppose, fifteen hundred years. Such brief notes as I have made can be given in a few words. Leaving the town by the south-eastern or Wareham Road we come first, as I need hardly observe, to the site of the presumably great Romano-British cemetery upon Fordington Hill. Proceeding along this road to a further distance of half-a-mile, we reach the spot on which the relics lay. It is about fifty yards back from the roadside, and practically a level, bearing no immediate evidence that the natural contour of the surface has ever been disturbed more deeply than by the plough.

But though no barrow or other eminence rises there it should, perhaps, be remarked that about three hundred yards due east from the spot stands the fine and commanding tumulus called Conquer Barrow (the name of which, by the way, seems to be a corruption of some earlier word). On this comparatively level ground we discovered, about three feet below the surface, three human skeletons in separate and distinct graves. Each grave was, as nearly as possible, an ellipse in plan, about 4ft. long and 2½ ft. wide, cut vertically into the solid chalk. The remains bore marks of careful interment. In two of the graves, and, I believe, in the third, a body lay on its right side, the knees being drawn up to the chest, and the arms extended straight downwards, so that the hands rested against the ankles. Each body was fitted with, one may almost say, perfect accuracy into the oval hole, the crown of the head touching the maiden chalk at one end and the toes at the other, the tight-fitting situation being strongly suggestive of the-chicken in the egg shell. The closest examination failed to detect any enclosure for the remains, and the natural inference was that, save their possible cerements, they were deposited bare in the earth. On the head of one of these, between the top of the forehead and the crown, rested a fibula or clasp of bronze and iron, the front having apparently been gilt. This is, I believe, a somewhat unusual position for this kind of fastening, which seemed to have sustained a fillet for the hair.

In the second grave a similar one was found, but as it was taken away without my knowledge I am unable to give its exact position when unearthed. In the third grave nothing of the sort was discovered after a careful search.

In the first grave a bottle of white clay, nearly globular, with a handle, stood close to the breast of the skeleton, the interior being stained as if by some dark liquid.  The bottle, unfortunately, fell into fragments on attempting to remove it.  In the same cavity, touching the shin bones of the occupant,  were two urns of the material known as grey ware, and of a design commonly supposed  to be characteristic of Roman work of the third or fourth century. It is somewhat remarkable that beside them was half, and only a half, a third urn, with a filmy substance like black cobweb adhering to the inner surface.

In the second cavity were four urns, standing nearly upright like the others, two being of ordinary size, and two quite small. They stood touching each other, and close to the breast of the skeleton; these, like the former, were empty, except of the chalk which had settled into them by lapse of time; moreover, the unstained white chalk being in immediate contact with the inner surface of the vessels was nearly a proof that nothing solid had originally intervened. In the third grave two other urns of like description were disclosed.

Two yards south from these graves a circular hole in the native chalk was uncovered, measuring about two feet in diameter and five feet deep. At the bottom was a small flagstone; above this was the horn, apparently of a bull, together with teeth and bones of the same animal. The horn was stumpy and curved, altogether much after the modern shorthorn type, and it has been conjectured that the remains were possibly those of the wild ox formerly inhabiting this island. Pieces of a black bituminous substance were mixed in with these, and also numerous flints, forming a packing to the whole. A few pieces of tile, and brick of the thin Roman kind, with some fragments of iridescent glass were also found about the spot.

There was naturally no systematic orientation in the interments —the head in one case being westward, in the other eastward, and in the third, I believe, south-west. It should be mentioned that the surface soil has been cleared away to a distance extending 50ft. south and west from where these remains were disinterred ; but no further graves or cavities have been uncovered — the natural chalk lying level and compact — which seems to signify that the site was no portion of a regular Golgotha, but an isolated resting-place reserved to a family, set, or staff; such outlying tombs having been common along the roadsides near towns in those far-off days—a humble Colonial imitation, possibly, of the system of sepulture along the Appian Way.

In spite of the numerous vestiges that have been discovered from time to time of the Roman city which formerly stood on the site of modern Dorchester, and which are still being unearthed daily by our local Schliemann (Edward Cunnington) one is struck with the fact that little has been done towards piecing together and reconstructing these evidences into an unmutilated whole—such as has been done, for instance, with the evidences of Pompeian life — a whole which should represent Dorchester in particular and not merely the general character of a Roman station in this country — composing a true picture by which the uninformed could mentally realise the ancient scene with some completeness.

It would be a worthy attempt to rehabilitate, on paper, the living Durnovaria of fourteen or fifteen hundred years ago—as it actually appeared to the eyes of the then Dorchester men and women, under the rays of the same morning and evening sun which rises and sets over it now. Standing, for instance, on the elevated ground near where the South-Western Station is at present, or at the top of Slyer’s Lane, or at any other commanding point, we may ask what kind of object did Dorchester then form in the summer landscape as viewed from such a point; where stood the large buildings, were they small, how did the roofs group themselves, what were the gardens like, if any, what social character had the streets, what were the customary noises, what sort of exterior was exhibited by these hybrid Romano-British people, apart from the soldiery? Were the passengers up and down the ways few in number, or did they ever form a busy throng such as we now see on a market day? These are merely the curious questions of an outsider to initiated students of the period. When we consider the vagueness of our mental answers to such inquiries as the above, we perceive that much is still left of this fascinating investigation which may well occupy the attention of the Club in future days.”

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