The Harvest Customs and Traditions in Dorset

Harvest HomeExtract taken from the Chambers Book of Days August 1st 1864, details the traditions of Lammas.

LAMMAS – This was one of the four great pagan festivals of Britain, the others being on 1st November, 1st February, and 1st May. The festival of the Gule of August, as it was called, probably celebrated the realisation of the first-fruits of the earth, and more particularly that of the grain-harvest. When Christianity was introduced, the day continued to be observed as a festival on these grounds, and, from a loaf being the usual offering at church, the service, and consequently the day, came to be called Half-mass, subsequently shortened into Lammas, just as hlaf-dig (bread-dispenser), applicable to the mistress of a house, came to be softened into the familiar and extensively used term, lady. This we would call the rational definition of the word Lammas.

There is another, but in our opinion utterly inadmissible derivation, pointing to the custom of bringing a lamb on this day, as an offering to the cathedral church of York. Without doubt, this custom, which was purely local, would take its rise with reference to the term Lammas, after the true original signification of that word had been forgotten. It was once customary in England, in contravention of the proverb, that a cat in mittens catches no mice, to give money to servants on Lammas-day, to buy gloves; hence the term Glove-Silver. It is mentioned among the ancient customs of the abbey of St. Edmund’s, in which the clerk of the cellarer had 2d.; the cellarer’s squire, 11d.; the granger, 11d.; and the cowherd a penny. Anciently, too, it was customary for every family to give annually to the pope on this day one penny, which was thence called Denarius Sancti Petri, or Peter’s Penny.’—Hampson’s Medii AEvi Kalendarium.

What appears as a relic of the ancient pagan festival of the Gule of August, was practised in Lothian till about the middle of the eighteenth century. From the unenclosed state of the country, the tending of cattle then employed a great number of hands, and the cow-boys, being more than half idle, were much disposed to unite in seeking and creating amusement. In each little district, a group of them built, against Lammas-day, a tower of stones and sods in some conspicuous place.

On Lammas-morning, they assembled here, bearing flags, and blowing cow-horns — breakfasted together on bread and cheese, or other provisions—then set out on a march or procession, which usually ended in a foot-race for some trifling prize. The most remarkable feature of these rustic fetes was a practice of each party trying, before or on the day, to demolish the sod fortalice of some other party near by. This, of course, led to great fights and brawls, in which blood was occasionally spilt. But, on the whole, the Lammas Festival of Lothian was a pleasant affair, characteristic of an age which, with less to gain, had perhaps rather more to enjoy than the present”

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the customs and traditions of Harvest Home in Dorset in his book ‘Dorsetshire Folklore’ published in 1922:-

HAY-MAKING

Haymaking

Haymaking in Dorset – DCM © 2015

The season of hay-making would seem never to have been such a period of gaiety and festivity in Dorsetshire as was the case with the “harvest-home” gatherings later in the year. The success of the hay harvest, however, was a very important matter to so large a pastoral community as the county comprised; and without doubt some celebration by way of reward for and appreciation of services loyally rendered, often in long extended hours of work when the weather was uncertain, was indulged in at the conclusion of that harvest. Extra money payments, as in the corn harvest, have largely taken the place of social gatherings and festivities amongst the labourers in which their employers once freely joined. Still in many places at the ingathering of the hay an extra jar of cider or ale would be brought out, and the men would sit down and have a chat amongst themselves and, perhaps, a song or two ; whilst at the close hats would be raised and ” hip, hip, hurrahs ” would be given.

In later years, both in hay and corn harvesting, machinery has taken a very active part in reducing the amount of manual labour employed in these operations, which at its introduction went sorely against the conservative feelings of the Dorset peasant. This feeling was just as strongly expressed as in the great industrial centres in the North where labour-saving appliances were ever on the increase; and sometimes took the form of reprisals by way of burning hay and corn ricks as well as the occasional destruction of the offending machinery.

Under these influences in course of time the very names of the old haymakers’ several occupations would be lost. In William Barnes’s early days—a century ago—these were numerous and distinctive. We are fortunate in having him to record what they were. Here is a description which he gives in his Glossary (1863) of what haymaking was like in his time (s.v. Häymeäken).

“Hay-making consists of several operations which with fine weather, commonly follow each other in Dorsetshire, thus : The mown grass—in zwath, swath,—is thrown abroad—tedded, and afterwards turned once or twice ; in the evening it is raked up into little ridges—rollers,—single or double, as they may be formed by one raker, or by two raking against each other ; and sometimes put up into small cones or heaps, called cocks. On the following morning the rollers or cocks are thrown abroad in passels—parcels,—which, after being turned, are in the evening put up into large ridges—weals ; and the weals are sometimes pooked, put up into larger cones—pooks,—in which the hay is loaded. In raking grass into double rollers, or pushing hay into weals, the fore raker or pickman is said to rake in or push in, or row or roo, and the other to close.”

Barnes had already preserved many of these terms in two of his charming dialect poems, one on “Häymeäken “, and the other on “Häy-carrén” (pp. 51-2), which afford so delightful a picture of rustic life in the hay-field that one feels inclined to say, too:

“I do long to toss a pick,
A pitchén or a-meäkén rick.”

HARVEST HOME

The celebration of the ingathering of the corn harvest is common to all our counties and to most countries. Full accounts of these festivals and their significance may be found in Brand’s, Hone’s, and Chambers’s works, as well as in those of less known writers.

It is to the late William Barnes that we might expect to look for a fitting description of a Dorset harvest-home feast, or supper, and we find it in an account,—as particular and as life-like as a painting of an old Dutch interior—of what usually took place on these occasions, which he contributed to Hone’s Year Book (p. 586), from which I take the following extract:—

“Harvest Home, formerly celebrated with great mirth but now a declining usage, was a feast given by the farmer at the end of harvest, or when his hay and corn were got in … Some years ago the ‘ harvest home ‘ in my native county, Dorset, was kept up with good old English hospitality.

Harvesting

Reapers gathering the harvest – DCM © 2015

“When the last load was ricked the labourers, male and female, the swarthy reaper and the sun-burnt hay-maker, the saucy boy who had not seen twelve summers and the stiff horny-handed old mower who had borne the toil of fifty, all made a happy groupe, and went with singing and loud-laughing to the harvest-home supper at the farmhouse, where they were expected by the good mistress, dressed in a quilted petticoat and a linsey-wolsey apron, with shoes fastened by large silver buckles which extended over her foot like a pack-saddle on a donkey.

“The dame and her husband welcomed them to a supper of good wholesome food, a round of beef, and a piece of bacon; and perhaps the host and hostess had gone so far as to kill a fowl or two, or stick a turkey, which they had fattened in the wheat-yard. The plain English fare was eaten from wooden trenchers, by the side of which were put little cups of horn filled with beer or cider. When the cloth was removed one of the men, putting forth his large hand like the gauntlet of an armed knight, would grasp his horn of beer, and standing up on a pair of legs which had long out-grown the largest holes of the village stocks, and with a voice which, if he had not been speaking a dialect of the English language, you might have thought came from the deep-seated lungs of a lion, he would propose the health of the farmer in the following lines :—

‘Here’s a health unto our miaster
The founder of the feast,
And I hope to God wi’ all my heart
His soul in heaven mid rest;
That everything mid prosper
That ever he tiak in hand,
Vor we be all his sarvants,
And all at his command.’

“After this would follow a course of jokes, anecdotes, and songs, in some of which the whole company joined, without attention to the technicalities of counterpoint, bass, tenor, and treble, common chords and major thirds; but each singing the air and pitching in at the key that best fitted his voice, making a medley of big and little sounds, like the lowings of oxen and the low beatings of old ewes, mixed up with the shrill pipings of the lambs at a fair.

“The conversation commonly turned on the incidents of the summer ; how the hay-makers overtook the mowers, or how the rain kept the labour back ; how they all crept in a heap under the waggon in a thunderstorm ; how nearly some of them were crushed under the load that was upset; who was the best mower or reaper in the village ; which field yielded the best crop ; and which stack was most likely to heat.”

Later Barnes devoted two of his charming dialect poems to a similar description, which form such a delightful complement to the whole subject that I have no hesitation in reproducing them here in full. They are to be found at pp. 78-80 of the first collected edition of the poems published by Kcgan Paul & Co. in 1879, and again in 1888. (The first edition of Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect was in 1844, whilst the earlier edition of Hone’s Year Book in which Barnes’s contribution first appeared was published in 1832. A change of spelling in some of the dialect words,—particularly the ‘”vowel sounds “,— (e.g. ” ia “, in ” miaster “, or ” tiak “, to ” eä, “) will be noticed in the earlier and later editions of the poems ; a scheme not involving so much a change of pronunciation» perhaps, but, as justified by Barnes in the preface to the third edition of his ” first collection” of poems, published in 1862, on the ground that ” while it affords the Dorset forms of the words to Dorset readers it may make them of more English look and more legible to others “.)

HARVEST HWOME

The vu’st peärt. The Supper.

“Since we wer striplèns naïghbour John,

The good wold merry times be gone:
But we do like to think upon
What we’ve a-zeed an’ done.
When I wer up a hardish lad,
At harvest hwome the work-vo’k had
Sich suppers, they wer jumpèn mad
Wi’ feästèn an’ wi’ fun.

At uncle’s, I do mind, woone year,
I zeed a vill o’ hearty cheer;
Fat beef an’ puddèn, eäle an’ beer,
Vor ev’ry workman’s crop
An’ after they’d a-gie’d God thanks,
They all zot down, in two long ranks,
Along a teäble-bwoard o’ planks,
Wi’ uncle at the top.

An’ there, in platters, big and brown,
Wer red fat beäcon, an’ a roun’
O’ beef wi’ gravy that would drown
A little rwoastèn pig;
Wi’ beäns an’ teäties vull a zack,
An’ cabbage that would meäke a stack,
An’ puddèns brown, a-speckled black
Wi’ figs, so big’s my wig.

An’ uncle, wi’ his elbows out,
Did carve, an’ meäke the gravy spout;
An’ aunt did gi’e the mugs about
A-frothèn to the brim.
Pleätes werden then ov e’then ware,
They ate off pewter, that would bear
A knock; or wooden trenchers, square,
Wi’ zalt-holes at the rim.

An’ zoo they munch’d their hearty cheer,
An’ dipp’d their beards in frothy-beer,
An’ laugh’d, an’ jok’d–they couldden hear
What woone another zaid.
An’ all o’m drink’d, wi’ woone accword,
The wold vo’k’s health: an’ beät the bwoard,
An’ swung their eärms about, an’ roar’d,

Enough to crack woone’s head.

Second Peärt. What they did after Supper.

Zoo after supper wer a-done,
They clear’d the teäbles, an’ begun
To have a little bit o’ fun,
As long as they mid stop.
The wold woones took their pipes to smoke,
An’ tell their teäles, an’ laugh an’ joke,
A-lookèn at the younger vo’k,
That got up vor a hop.

Woone screäp’d away, wi’ merry grin,
A fiddle stuck below his chin;
An’ woone o’m took the rollèn pin,
An’ beät the fryèn pan.
An’ tothers, dancèn to the soun’,
Went in an’ out, an’ droo an’ roun’,
An’ kick’d, an’ beät the tuèn down,
A-laughèn, maïd an’ man.

An’ then a maïd, all up tip-tooe,
Vell down; an’ woone o’m wi’ his shoe
Slit down her pocket-hole in two,
Vrom top a-most to bottom.
An’ when they had a-danc’d enough,
They got a-plaÿèn blindman’s buff,
An’ sard the maïdens pretty rough,
When woonce they had a-got em.

An’ zome did drink, an’ laugh, an’ roar,
An’ lots o’ teäles they had in store,
O’ things that happen’d years avore
To them, or vo’k they know’d.
An’ zome did joke, an’ zome did zing,
An’ meäke the girt wold kitchen ring;
Till uncle’s cock, wi’ flappèn wing,
Stratch’d out his neck an’ crow’d.

To these Barnes has added ” A Zong of the Harvest Home ” (p. 80), of which the refrain to each of the six verses is:

“The happy zight—the merry night—
The men’s delight—the Harvest Hwome.”

Again, many years later, in his ” Fore-say ” to this work, Barnes speaks of the decline of the old-time celebrations of this festival. He says: “The feasts of Harvest-Home in which the work-folk were invited to

‘the hall
where beards wagged all,—'(Thomas Tusser: Five Hundred Points of Husbandry)

to share of mirth and meat under the smiles of the master and mistress, as tokens of approbation of their work, are now less customary than they formerly were, as in these commercial days it seems to be felt that the clock measures all the workman owes his master and the paytable all that the master owes to him.”

As Brand says (i, 443), ” Different places adopt different ceremonies ” ; but that which seems to me to conform most to the Dorset ritual on these occasions is that of ” crying the knack “, or ” neck “, in the neighbouring counties of Devon and Cornwall, and in which there seems not only a strong affinity but traces of considerable antiquity. (Conf. Shropshire Folk-lore, pp372-3)

In 1873 I contributed an article to Notes and Queries (Ser. iv, xii, 491), describing ” A Dorsetshire Harvest-Home ” in West Dorset, which I had recently attended, and this I now reproduce :

“It was my good fortune to be present in September last at one of those old-fashioned gatherings in the West of Dorset, a harvest-home, and I thought that perhaps an account of such a quaint and time-honoured custom might not be unacceptable to some among the readers of ‘ N. and Q.’, especially as these congenial meetings are becoming scarcer year by year and ere long bid fair to rank amongst the things that have been. Small sums of money are now in many places given to the men, women, and boys instead of the usual supper, a practice that I am sorry to say seems to be on the increase, and which I here offer up my voice to protest against.

” I say ‘sorry’, first, because it denotes a departure from old customs, and, secondly, because the purpose for which the alteration is intended is, it seems to me, but very imperfectly carried out. At the time of such a general holiday in the parish the labourers of one farm do not seem willing to disperse quietly to their own homes and husband the few shillings they may have received as ‘largess’, whilst their fellows are enjoying themselves on another farm ; but rather to keep up a harvest-home of their own in the village ale-house, though, I need scarcely say, not of so orderly a character as that of the bond fide supper ; and which, to tell the truth, they themselves much prefer, for a ‘ Dorsetshire labourer ‘, though he may be poor, is none the less Conservative.
“On the day appointed for the celebration of the harvest, the labourers from the several farms attended afternoon service in the parish church, dressed in their best clothes, the church being decorated in the usually seasonable manner. The entrance-gates of the principal farms were likewise decorated with an arch of evergreen, flowers, corn, etc., crowned with a sickle and scythe swathed in bands of wheat barley, the whole surmounted by appropriate mottoes.

“In the evening tables were laid out in the kitchen of a size sufficient to accommodate the men, women, boys and girls employed on the farm, the ‘ master ‘, assisted by such members of his family as might be, sitting at their head and carving a grand rump of Old English beef.

“As soon as the company had partaken of as much beef and plum-pudding as was considered desirable an adjournment was made to a large tree that stood near the homestead, where the following quaint custom—peculiar, I was informed, to the west of Dorset—took place. (it would seem to be somewhat similiar to the custom of ‘crying the knack’, which obtains to Devon and Cornwall)

“The men formed themselves into a circle, and each taking off his hat and holding it out in front of him, stooped to the ground; then, led by one standing in the centre, chanted the words : ‘ We have ’em ‘ (or ‘ ‘en’). The first word, ‘ We/ is commenced in a very low tone, the men the while slowly and gradually raising themselves up, and so prolonged till they have almost reached their full height. They close the sentence by saying ‘ have ’em ‘ more quickly. This is done three times. They then shout ‘ Huzza ! ‘ once. Again they stoop down and go the same performance ; finishing up this time with two ‘ huzzas’. This is repeated once more, and finally wound up by huzzaing three times. As soon as the men have finished the women come forward and go through the same ceremony. This, when well performed, a not altogether unimpressive or unmusical effect. The words, I believe, bear reference to the conclusion of the harvest and the sheaves of corn being satisfactorily ‘ had ‘ in.

“The discharge of small cannon, (the peculiar care of the boys) likewise gave considerable éclat to the whole proceeding. This over, the party returned to the house and entered upon a course of singing and drinking, not unmixed with dancing in the back kitchen.

“The first song was, of course, in honour of the ‘ meäster ‘, and unenriched by the Dorset vernacular indulged in by the toast-master, was in the following words :—

‘Here’s a health unto our master,
The founder of the feast,
And when that he is dead and gone,
I hope his soul may rest.
I wish all things may prosper,
Whatever he takes in hand.
For we are all his servants
And serve at his command.So drink, boys, drink!
And see that you do not spill.For if you do,You shall drink two,
“Tis by your master’s will.’
“This song is repeated till everybody present has drunk the health.

‘Here’s Mrs’ (or Mr’s) good health !Let the glass go roundAnd the trumpet sound,— Huzza ! huzza ! huzza ! Down fall all the re-bels,We long to see the day,—Con-fusion unto themThat set ’em up again ! Huzza I huzza i huzza !Confusion etc.’

“This, like the last, was repeated till all had drunk.

“Then followed the curious and laughable custom of’ drinking to your love over the left arm ‘. Each man, while the following verse was being sung, was obliged to drain his mug or horn-cup of ale by holding it in his right hand, and passing it outside of and over his left arm, which would be thrown across the chest. Great merriment was afforded when some of the older hands, through age or other infirmities failed to accomplish this in a satisfactory manner. The words sung were the following :—

‘ As I was a-riding over a mountain so highI saw a pretty girl that plea-sed my eye,She plea-sed my eye, but pla-gued my heart;From this cup of liquor we never will part;’Twill do us no good,—’twill do us no harm.”Here’s a health to my love, over left arm, over left arm! “Here’s a health etc.’

“This was continued till all had satisfactorily passed the crucial test. Songs of a more general character and sundry speeches followed; and eventually the proceedings were brought to a close about midnight by the whole company joining in the National Anthem, ‘ God Save the Queen.’ ”

The following version, similar but less ornate, of the ” whooping ” ceremony,—as it was called in the district,—was given me as having been performed at a farmhouse in the same neighbourhood as the last. At the end of the harvest a jar of cider or ale and two small cups were taken just outside the yard, when all the labourers would gather in a circle round the jar, which is presided over by the oldest man amongst them, and, taking off their hats and standing in a stooping position, would bow slowly down to the ground, whilst singing in a low, guttural, drawling tone, ” We-e-e-e have ‘en ! ” They then stand upright again and holloa ” hurrah ” once. This is gone through a second time, when the ” hurrah” is given twice. Again, a third repetition, when three ” hurrahs ” are given. They then have a drink all round; after which they return mostly for songs or dances after supper. I have been told that these cheers were often heard at a distance of a mile or two!

At the time I sent the above account to Notes and Queries I was not acquainted with Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology—or, rather, Stallybrass’s translation of it,—in four volumes, which were not published till 1880-8. After I had read it I was struck by the very strong resemblance to the Dorset ” whooping “, as it is called, that exists in the custom of the people in Lower Saxony invoking their great god Woden at the conclusion of the harvest. Grimm states (i, 154) that it is usual to leave a clump of corn standing in a field to Woden for his horse.

Mr Wellen of Charlton Marshall at a Harvest Festival, taken 1940

Mr Wellen of Charlton Marshall at a Harvest Festival, taken 1940 – DCM © 2015

He then describes (p. 156) a custom in Schaumburg where the people, having finished the mowing of the corn, or having purposely left only a small strip standing which they could cut down at a stroke, then at the finish would raise their implements aloft, beating the blades three times with the strop, while each would spill a small quantity of beer on the ground and then drink himself. They would then wave their hats and beat their scythes three times and cry aloud, ” Wôld-wôld-wôld” which, Grimm says, a Schaumburg man pronounced as ” wauden “. They would then march home shouting and singing. If the ceremony were omitted the next year would bring bad crops of hay and corn.

It is a pity that Grimm did not know of the custom as existing in western Dorsetshire, which I have described above. I wonder whether he would have agreed with the suggestion that I now venture to make, that the Dorset labourers’ cry in this corner of old Wessex of “We hav’en “, repeated three times, is but a survival of the old invocation to the great god Woden of their Saxon ancestors, still continued from time immemorial at these harvest celebrations but of which the real significance and meaning have been lost.

Shortly before I left England in 1889 I was anxious to test this resemblance still further, so I invited certain of the farm labourers belonging to the same West Dorset parish—Symondsbury— in which the ceremony had been performed in 1873, after they had attended the now usual harvest festival service at the old parish church, to do their ” whooping ” on the lawn in front of the Manor House close to the church. They went through it all in much the same way as their predecessors had done, and again the close affinity to what Grimm had related was borne in upon me. Out of compliment to him I added a further Teutonic association that was by no means unacceptable to the performers. I made the men drink the healths from a tall seventeenth century pewter tankard, or loving-cup, with covered lid (of which there were one or two similar ones in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington), of a capacity of several quarts, which had formerly been the property of some civic company or guild in some German town (to judge from the inscription), this being the first opportunity I had had of putting it to anything approaching its former use. It would be a strange but not inappropriate incident if it should again, after so many years, have assisted in the survival of an ancient Teutonic festivity.

I have since obtained from locally printed sources and otherwise a few songs or verses that were sung at harvest-home gatherings. Several of these, as I have already pointed out, may also have been sung at sheep-shearing feasts in the days when these feasts were more worthy of the name. The main toasts were evidently the same. In particular the one sent by Mr. T. H. Garland to the Dorset County Chronicle (which had reprinted my paper from Notes and Queries), wherein he added that he was a West Dorset man and had for many years witnessed the old customs to which I had alluded.
The following verse appeared in the Bridport News in 1874 as having been sung at the same place as my account referred to:

“When the wheat is all ripe the harvest begin,The farmer the fruits of the earth gather in ;In the mornings as soon as the reap hooks are grindWe repair to the field for to reap and to bind.”

Another couplet ran :—

“When the harvest is over to our master’s we will steer, And wet a good supper with a drink of strong beer.”

The following toast was given by a farm labourer at a harvest home at Blandford in 1849 (” N. & Q.,” Ser. v, x, 306. For a more correctly rhyming Worcestershire variant see the same volume, p. 375) :—

” Drink, boys, drink, and see you do not spill;
If you do you shall drink two,
For ’tis our master’s will.”

“Horses strong, sheep healthy,
Barns full, money plenty.”

A correspondent in Notes and Queries in 1878 (Ser. v, x, 375) speaks to his having heard, some forty years previously, the same refrain

” Drink, boys, drink, and see you do not spill;
If you do you shall drink two,
For ’tis our master’s will.”

at a sheep-shearing feast in the lower part of Dorsetshire, when each man was supplied with a small cup of about the third of a pint to drink the customary healths in.

Forfeits.—Amongst the amusements at harvest home suppers forfeits appear to have been sometimes indulged in (though such games were usually set apart for Christmas), when songs or rhythmic jingles were sung with the object of entrapping the unwary. The following were given me as having been used at harvest homes in the parish of Stoke Abbott, also in West Dorset.

One of the company leads off with the following rhythmic jingle, followed by the others :—

“Green grow the leaves on the hawthorn tree,Some grow high and some grow low; With my ringo and my jingoWe seldom disagree,And the tenor of my song goes merrily— And the tenor of my song goes merrily.”
The leader alone then sings :

” Twenty, nineteen, eighteen—”
The next one in rotation :
” Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen—”
The next, in their order :
” Fourteen, thirteen, twelve—”” Eleven, ten, nine—”” Eight, seven, six—”
The last in rotation chimes in with ” Five, four, three “—and they all add:
“And the tenor of my song goes merrily.”

When this is done the person next to the leader begins it over again, and it goes on as before, except that when he comes to the figures he starts with ” Seventeen, sixteen, fifteen “—the next to him taking it up as before, and so on to the end. This over, the third person in rotation commences the strain, beginning the figures at ” Fourteen, thirteen, twelve “—and so on as before until the whole is exhausted.

Should anyone make a mistake in repeating his portion he must pay forfeit, which, on these occasions, generally consists in being made to drink something.

Here is another one from the same place :—

“O splice the cable-rope,
The rope it is so fine;*
And with a sugar loaf we’ll have
A glass of currant wine ;
And if the wine is sharp
The sugar makes it sweet;
What greater joy in all the world
When two sweethearts do meet!
With my Rider, Ready, Rum,
My Rider, Ready, Rum,
So drink half your liquor, boys,
And say no more than ‘ Mum’.
So drink off your liquor,
boys,And say no more than ‘Mum’!”

  • *Possibly a covert allusion to the excellent quality of the hemp grown in the neighbourhood. So highly was it esteemed that a statute, 21 Henry VIII, provided that cables intended for the use of the Royal Navy should be made from hemp grown within a certain radius of Bridport, within which radius the parish of Stoke Abbott is situated.

The above rhyme is sung by all the company together, after which the leader, and any one who may be initiated in the game, endeavour to entrap the person sitting next them into answering more than the permitted ” Mum ” by accusing him, truly or otherwise, of having made a mistake in singing or in drinking more than half the liquor at the wrong time, so as to entail a forfeit. The verse is then gone through again, and the next person is interrogated with the like object, and so on in rotation until all have been subjected to the ordeal.”

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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 Occasional Singers present ‘Music for a Summer’s Evening’

The Occasional Singers

The Occasional Singers

On Sunday 5th July Dorset County Museum will be the venue for ‘Music for a Summer’s Evening’, a concert presented by The Occasional Singers, a mixed-voice choir based in Dorchester.

The Occasional Singers will be joined by celebrated local pianist Duncan Honeybourne in a programme of English music including works by Elgar and Vaughan Williams. A special feature will be works native to Dorset: poems of William Barnes set by Ian Purseglove and Henry Balfour Gardiner, and choral settings of Dorset folksongs, directed by Richard Hall and David Bruce-Payne.

Doors will open early at 6.00pm to allow time to look around the Museum first, and the concert will then begin at 7.30pm. Light refreshments will be available, for which a small donation would be much appreciated. The choir is non-profit making, and all proceeds from the evening will go to the Museum’s Collections Discovery Centre Development.

Tickets cost £8 each and are available in advance from Dorset County Museum’s shop, by phoning 01305 756827, or on the door.

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.”

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.”

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.”

170 years of Museum Life celebrated in 170 days…

#DorsetMuseum170This year, 2015 welcomes the 170th anniversary of the founding of Dorset County Museum.

It is 170 years ago when the concept of building a museum to house all of the treasures of Dorset’s rich history was conceived by a group of forward-thinking individuals. On the 15th October, 1845 it was a group, including the Dorset poet, William Barnes; the vicar of Fordington, Rev. Henry Moule and Rev. C. W. Bingham, which decided that in light of the development of the railways, and the subsequent discovery of specimens and artefacts within the disturbance, that it was ‘advisable to take immediate steps for the establishment of an Institution in this Town, containing a Museum and Library for the County of Dorset.’ It was at this moment, Dorset County Museum was born.

First Dorset County Museum Second Dorset County Museum Present Dorset County MuseumDorset-County-Museum_003
Judge Jeffreys Lodgings
1st home of the Museum,
1846 – 1851
No. 3 Trinity Street
2nd home of the Museum,
1851 – 1883
Dorset County Museum
1833 – Present

Originally, two rooms in what is now Judge Jeffreys restaurant were dedicated to the museum project. Quickly, this space became too small and the museum was subsequently moved to No. 3 Trinity Street. It was here that Thomas Hardy famously described the museum in his novel the Mayor of Casterbridge as:

‘It is an old house in a back street- I forget where- but you’ll find out- and there are crowds of interesting things- skeletons, teeth, old pots and pans, ancient boots and shoes, birds’ eggs- all charmingly instructive. You’ll be sure to stay till you get quite hungry.’

The museum remained in this ‘house in a back street’ until 1883 when the present building in High West Street was designed by architect Mr G. R. Crickmay. It wasn’t until several years later that the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club was founded in 1875 and co-operated closely with the museum. The two organisations officially amalgamated in 1928 under the name Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, becoming the new owners, and current owners to this day, of Dorset County Museum.

To celebrate this momentous anniversary, Dorset County Museum will be teasing its Twitter followers with 170 days’ worth of birthday related tweets. So make sure you follow @DorsetMuseum for the start of our special 170th birthday celebrations. There will be a celebratory #DorsetMuseum170 twitter campaign kicking off, 29th April, where Dorset County Museum’s twitter will be conducting an exclusive 170 days countdown to the Museum’s official birthday on 15th October.

For further information about the Museum, telephone 01305 756827 or check the website on www.dorsetcountymuseum.org

Gabriella Crouch

Thomas Hardy’s Humour: A Celebration of a Great Comic Writer By Dr. Alan Chedzoy

Thomas-HardyOn Thursday 23rd April, Dr. Alan Chedzoy is giving a literary lecture at Dorset County Museum entitled Thomas Hardy’s Humour: A Celebration of a Great Comic Writer.

Dr. Alan Chedzoy is a biographer, and an authority on Dorset literature and dialect. His readings of the work of Thomas Hardy and William Barnes have been widely praised. The Gramophone magazine’s verdict on his recordings of dialect poetry was that ‘you will hear none better’.

All are welcome to the talk which starts at 7.30pm. Doors open at 7.00pm. The talk is FREE of charge but a donation of £3.00 is encouraged to cover costs.

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

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.