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Curiosities of the church; studies of curious customs, services and records online

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Curiosities of the Church


Mr. William Andrews has produced several books
of singular value in their historical and archaeologi-
cal character. He has a genius for digging among
dusty parchments and old books, and for bringing
out from among them that which it is likely the
public of to-day will care to read. — Scotsman.


Cuthbert Bede, the popular author of " Verdant
Green," writing to Society, says: "Historic York-
shire," by William Andrews, will be of great interest
and value to everyone connected with England's
largest county. Mr. Andrews not only writes with
dui' enthusiasm for bis subject, but has arranged
and marshalled bis facts and figures with great skill,
and produced a thoroughly popular work that will
be read eagerly and with advantage.


Strange stories. Characters. Scenes, Mysteries, and Memor-
able Events in the History of Old England,

In his present work Mr. Andrews has traversed a
wider Held than in his last book, " Historic York-
shire," but it is marked by the same painstaking
care for accuracy, and also by the pleasant way in
which be popularises strange stories and out-of-the-
way scenes in English history. There is much to
amuse in this volume, as well as to instruct, and it
is enriched with a copious index. — Notes and Querii -

A fascinating work. — Whitehall Review.

in Great Britain.

Chronicled from the Earliest to the /'resent Time.

The work is thoroughly well written, it i-. .
in its facts, and maybe pronounced exhau
the subject. Illustrations are given of several Erost
fairs on the Thames, and as a trustworthy reoord
this volume should be in every good library. The
usefulness of the work is muob enhanoed i>y a good
index. -Public Opinion,

li deal Ol curious and valuable information

tained in these pages A comely volume,

— Literal ii Wot Id,

Not likely to fail in interest. — Manchestt r Guardian


(EtmoMtte of tTie G^lmttli

Studies of Curious Customs
Services and Records



Author of " Historic Romance," " Famous Frosts and Frost Fairs,
" Historic Yorkshire," etc.

METHUEN & CO., 1 8, Bury Street, W.C.




In writing this book, my desire has been not merely
to produce an entertaining volume, but one of an instructive
character, throwing light on the manners, customs, and
everyday life of bygone times, which have a connection
with the English church.

It would be impossible to prepare a book of this class
without having recourse to the works of other authors,
more especially some of the older writers. I have tried,
however, to render every acknowledgement to those to
whom I am indebted for information.

My best thanks are due to the Editors of the
following periodicals for kindly allowing me to reproduce
from their pages some of the articles I wrote for them,
and which now re-appear here, viz., the British Workwoman,
Chambers's Journal, Christian World Magazine, Home
Chimes, and the Leisure Hour. A number of the papers
were printed simultaneously in several leading provincial

I have only to add that if this volume meets with
a welcome from the press and the public similar to that
which has been accorded to my former works, I shall
have every reason to feel grateful.


Hull Literary Club,

May 1st, 1S90.

isrs rOLKLQREi


Early Religious Plays i

The Caistor Gad-Whip Manorial Service 23

Strange Serpent Stories 30

Church Ales 39

Rush-bearing 51

Fish in Lent 63

Concerning Doles 74

Church Scrambling Charities 85

Briefs 90

Bells and Beacons for Travellers by Night ... 93

Hour-Glasses in Churches 100

Chained Books in Churches no

Funeral Effigies 124

Torch-light Burials 127

Simple Memorials of the Early Dead 14 r

The Romance of Parish Registers 152

Dog Whippers and Sluggard Wakers 173

Odd Items from Old Accounts 182

Index > 1 97



J \0



HE origin of the drama in England
is not, like that of many institutions,
lost in the dim past. It is clear
that in the days of our Saxon
ancestors there was no attempt at
dramatic representations. We know that they
had a poetic literature, but it was not dramatic
in form.

The introduction of the Miracle-play into
this country from the Continent forms the
starting point in our histrionic annals. The
clergy were our first actors, and the churches
our first theatres. The earliest pieces were
Scriptural — or at all events, of a pious character
— and well calculated to teach the doctrines of
the church. In investigating this matter, we
find three generic names of the plays — namely,



Mysteries, Miracle-plays, and Moralities. Bibli-
cal events only were dealt with in the
Mysteries. It was the chief aim of the authors
to represent the prophetic history of the Old
Testament, and its fulfilment in the New. The
primary object was to illustrate the Redemption
of the world accomplished by the Nativity, the
Passion, and the Resurrection. Incidents chiefly
obtained from the legends of the saints and the
church were the materials employed in the
composition of Miracle-plays. In the Moralities
allegorical means were used to inculcate reli-
gious truths, without directly using Scriptural
or legendary events. The foregoing distinctions,
according to Ward, in his " History of Dramatic
Literature," and other authorities, were first
used by the earlier writers, but at a later period
the terms became confounded.

The first authentic record of a performance
in England is the " Miracle of St. Catharine,"
which was acted at Dunstable, about the year
i i 10, by pupils of a learned Norman named
I r iffrey. He had been a student at the
University at Paris, and subsequently taught a
school at Dunstable. In 1 1 19 he became Abbot
oi St. Albans. The earliest plays which have
1 ome down to us are by a monk called Hilarius,


an Englishman who passed some years in France
studying under Abelard. He wrote a number
of pieces, fifteen of which still remain, including
" The Image of St. Nicholas," believed to be
the first Miracle-play produced in England. A
second piece is " The Raising of Lazarus," and a
third the story of " Daniel." This prolific play-
writer was also the author of numerous Latin
lyrics. A good idea of the early Miracle-play
may be formed from the following outline of
one of the pieces of Hilarius. We must
suppose ourselves to be in a church dedicated
to St. Nicholas, and the time to be St. Nicholas'
Day. The image of the saint has been removed
from its shrine, and in its place is a living actor
dressed to represent the figure. In the service
a break is made, and the acting of the Miracle
commences. A man performing the character
of a rich heathen enters the door of the church,
and at the shrine of St. Nicholas deposits his
worldly treasures, saying that he is undertaking
a long journey, and calls upon the Saint to
protect his property. He has just departed
when a band of thieves quietly enter and steal
his treasures. Ere long the heathen returns,
and is enraged when he discovers that his goods
have been stolen. He takes a whip and thrashes


the image of the Saint. It moves, and descends
from the niche, and goes out, reasons with the
robbers, and also threatens to denounce them
to the people. At this miracle the thieves are
terrified, and without delay restore all the stolen
goods. Once more the statue is in its place, and
motionless. A song of joy is heard ; it is the
pagan singing ; and his words of gratitude are
adapted to a popular tune of the period. He
is in the act of adoring the image when St.
Nicholas appears on the scene. He urges the
man to worship God, and only God, and to
praise the name of Christ. The heathen is
converted by St. Nicholas, and the piece closes
with the adoration of the Almighty. After this
the church service is resumed.

In "The Raising of Lazarus," the chief
performer was the officiating priest, who repre-
sented Lazarus rising from the tomb and ad-
monishing the people. This piece, like that of
"The Image of St. Nicholas,'" was an interlude
in the church service, and was performed by
priests. In course of time the Laity took part in
the representations, which were generally per-
formed by members ol the local guilds. The
plays were, in the first instance, acted in
churches, afterwards in churchyards, and sub-


sequently in the streets in various parts of the
town. The stages on which the plays were
produced usually consisted of three floors, the
highest representing Heaven, the next Earth,
and the lower one Hell. The stage was on


From a Fresco of " The Day of Judgment," in (lie Chapel of

the Holy Cross, Stralford-on-Avon.

wheels, and could be conveniently wheeled
from one part of the town to another. It is
recorded that on one occasion the lower region
was accidentally set on fire, and however appro-
priate the incident, great uneasiness was mani-
fested by the occupants. Such disasters rendered


repairs necessary. Here are two or three

items from the accounts of the Coventry

Mysteries : —

Item, payd for mending hell-mowthe .... \}d.
Item, payd for makynge of hell-moth new . . xxp/.
Item, payd for kepyng of fyre at hell-mothe . . iiij/f.

Hell was generally represented by the imita-
tion of a whale's open jaws, behind which a fire
was lighted in such a manner as not to injure the
damned who had to pass into this gaping mouth,
or the actors personating the demons inside.
We have a good representation of Hell Mouth
in the picture of a Fresco of the Day of Judg-
ment, discovered in the year 1804 over the
great arch separating nave and chancel in the
Chapel of the Holy Cross, Stratford-on-Avon.
Our illustration of it is reproduced from an
engraving in Thomas Sharp's " Coventry Mys-
teries." We give another illustration of Hell
Mouth from an ancient German wood-cut
formerly in the possession of Francis Douce,
the Shakespearean scholar. The design is
singularly spirited, and its execution vigorous.

It will not be without interest to give a few
particulars of the costumes of some oi the
performers. The man who personated God
had his face gilded. The hair of his wig was


also gilded. According to Mr. Symonds, special
apology was made at Chester for the non-
appearance of this personage on one occasion ;
and the reason assigned was that this gilding

Fiom an old Gervian flint.

" disfigured the man." He adds, " How well-
founded the excuse was can be gathered from a
contemporary account of shows at Florence,
where it is briefly said that the boy who played
the Genius of the Golden Age, with body gilded


for the purpose, died after the performance."
The cause of death was, of course, the effectual
closing of the pores of the skin by the pro-
cess of gilding, and this, physiologists have
shown, produces fatal effects. Christ, the Good
Shepherd, was dressed in a long sheep-skin.
It was an easy matter to distinguish the Devil,
for he wore horns and tail, and his beard was of
a bright red colour, to indicate the flames of the
region in which he dwelt. Judas Iscariot also
wore a wig of a fiery red colour. The Coventry
accounts contain numerous items respecting
Judas. In 1573 there appears : —

Paid to Fawston for hanging Judas, iiiji.

The same man took another part on the same
occasion, for we read : —

Pd. Fawston for coc-croyng, u\jd.

Five vears later it is stated : —

1 5 78 p'\ for a new hoke to hange Judas, v]d.

Masks were worn in these performances, and
loose heads were made for some of the actors of
particular parts.

Four sets of the ancient plays are still in
existence, and are known as the Chester,
Wakefield, Coventry, and York series. It is said
that plays were first acted at Chester in 1268,


being a century earlier than they were per-
formed in London. A monk named Ralph
Higden, who died about 1363, wrote a series of
twenty-five plays, which were acted by the
Chester Trade Guilds, on Monday, Tuesday, and
Wednesday in Whitsun week. On the first day
the following pieces were produced : —

1. The Barkers and Tanners bring forth the Falling of


2. Drapers and Hosiers — The Creation of the World.

3. Drawers of Dee and Water-leaders — Noe and his


4. Barbers, Wax-chandlers, and Leeches — Abraham and


5. Cappers, Wire-drawers, and Pinners — King Balak, and

Balam, with Moses.

6. Wrights, Slaters, Tylers, Daubers, and Thatchers —

The Nativity of our Lord.

7. Paynters, Brotherers, and Glaziers — The Shepherds'


8. Vintners and Merchants — King Herod and the Mounte


9. Mercers and Spisers — The Three Kings of Coline.

On the Tuesday the following plays were
performed : —

1. Gouldsmiths and Masons — The Slayinge of the Chil-

dren by Herod.

2. Smiths, Forbers, and Pewterers — Purification of our


3. Bouchers — The Pinackle, with the Woman of Canaan.

4. Glovers and Parchment-makers — The Arisinge of

Lazarus from Death to Life.

5. Corvesers and Shoemakers — The Coming of Christe

to Jerusalem.


6. Bakers and Millners — Christe's Maundye with His


7. Boyers, Flechers, Stringers, Cowpers, and Torners —

The Scourginge of Christe.

8. Ironmongers and Ropers— The Crucificinge of Christe.

9. Cookes, Tapsters, Hosiers, and Inn-keepers — The

Harrowinge of Hell.

The next list, acted on the Wednesday,
concluded the series : —

1. Skynners, Cardmakers, Hatters, Poynters, and Girdlers

— The Resurrection.

2. Fullers and Fusters — The Castell of Emmaus and the


3. The Taylors — Ascension of Christe.

4. Fishmongers, Whitsonday — Making of the Creed.

5. Shermin — Profetts afore the Day of Dome.

6. Hewsters and Bell-founders — Antichriste.

7. Weavers and Walkers — Domesday.

It will be observed that we have followed
the old style of spelling ; and from the
titles, it will be seen that the subjects covered a
wide range, and dealt with the chief incidents of
Bible history.

Noah's Flood was a popular piece, and
under slightly different names occurs in several
of the ancient collections of Mysteries. A
few extracts from a version of this piece will
serve to illustrate the nature of these composi-
tions. The play opens with the entrance of an
actor representing God, who, after lamenting
the universal wickedness of the world, deter-


mines to destroy it and all the " folke that are

thereone." Noah next appears, and is told by

God to construct an ark, by means of which to

save himself and family. Noah's sons enter,

and, after conversation, prepare to build

the ark, Noah (the orthography is somewhat

modernised) saying —

O Lord, I thank thee, loud and still,

That to me art in such will,

And spares me and my household to spill,

As I now smoothly find.

Thy bidding, Lord, I shall fulfil,

And never more thee grieve nor grill (provoke),

That such grace hath sent me till

Amongst all mankind.

Have done, you men and women all,

Go we work, bout din (without noise),

And I am ready bound.

After this the wife and sons of Noah say a few
words relating to their respective duties during
the construction. Noah commences the building
of the " shippe," and the play proceeds as

follows : —

Noah :

Now in the name of God, I begin
To make the ship that we shall in.
That we may be ready for to swim
At the coming of the flood.
These boards here pin I together
To bear us safe from the weather,
That we may row hither and thither
And safe be from the flood.
Of this tree will I make the mast,
Tied with cables that will last,


With a sail yard for each blast,

And each thing in their kind ;

With topcastle and bowsprit.

Both cords and ropes I have all mette (measured)

To sail forth at the next wet,

This ship is at an end.

Wife, we shall in this vessel be kept,

My children and thou I would ye in leapt.

Noah's Wife :
In faith, Noah, I would as lief thou slept !
For all thy frynish (nice) fare
I will not do after thy rede (advice).

Noah :
Good wife, do now as I thee bid.

Noah's Wife :
I'faith I'll not, till I see more need,
Though thou stand all day and stare.

Noah next laments the "crabbed" nature of
womankind. The ark, however, is at length
finished, and after receiving from God a list of
the animals that are to enter into it with him,
Noah enters the ark with all his family except
his wife. Here considerable liberty is taken
with the Biblical version, and a strange scene is
witnessed. Noah's wife, a person of exceedingly
whimsical temper, in reply to her husband's
appeal to her to enter the ark, gives vent to a
volley of strong language, saying that unless her
" gossips " are allowed to go in with her she
" will not out of this town," and tells him to
" row where he lists," and get a new wife. At


last the dutiful Japhet compels his mother to
enter by main force, and immediately upon her
entrance she gives herself the task of boxing
Noah's ears. He remarks —

Ha, ha, marry, this is hot,

It is good for to be still.

Ha, children, methinks my boat removes,

Our tarrying here grieves me ill,

Over the land the water spreads,

God, do as thou wilt.

Ah, great God, thou art so good

That [who] works not thy will is wood (mad).

Now all this world is one flood,

As I see well in sight.

This window I will shut anon,

And into my chamber I will go

Till this water so great mowe (may)

Be slacked through Thy might.

The window of the ark is now closed for a short
time, supposed to be during the period of the
Flood, after which it is opened, and Noah thanks
God for granting him such grace. The Almighty
replies, and blesses the Patriarch, the play
finishing with the following : —

My bow between you and me

In the firmament shall be,

By every token that you shall see,

That such vengeance shall cease.

Man shall never more

Be wasted with water, as he hath been before ;

But for sin that grieve th me sore,

Therefore this vengeance.



My blessing, Noah, I give thee here,
To thee, Noah, my servant dear ;
For vengeance shall no more appear j
And now farewell, my darling dear.

The Wakefield plays are sometimes called
the Townley, or Widkirk Mysteries. They are

named the Townley plays on account of the
MSS. being preserved by the Townley family of
Lancashire. The title Widkirk is believed to


indicate Woodkirk, a place a short distance
from Wakefield, where it is said the plays were
performed. They are twenty-two in number,
and, to enable the common people to understand
them, they were written in the North Country
dialect. To this series belonged two Shepherds'
plays, one being extremely comical, the mirth-
provoking shepherd being a sheep-stealer.
Professor Morley says that it " must have
exacted roars of laughter from a rough and
hearty Yorkshire audience, and is so cleverly
dramatized that, apart from the religious close,
which can be completely separated from it, this
Wakefield Shepherds' Play may justly be ac-
counted the first English farce." In this play
the First Shepherd gives utterance to the
following realistic and detailed complaint, which,
however, is not wanting in a certain wit : —

Lord, what these weathers are cold and I am ill happid !

I am near hand dold, so long have I nappid ;

My legs they fold, my fingers are chappid ;

It is not as I would, for I am all lappid in sorrow.

Then the Second Shepherd has to say —

Benste (Benedicite) and Dominus ! what may this bemean ?
Why fares this world thus of have we not seen.
Lord, these wethers are spiteous, and the weathers full keen,
And the frost so hideous they water my een,

No lie.
Now in dry, now in wete,
Now in snow, now in sleet,
When my shoon freeze to my feet,

It is not all easy !


The play continues in a similar strain to the
end, when the shepherds are gladdened by the
tidings of the birth of the Saviour of the world,
and they joyfully set out to offer their gifts for
his gracious acceptance.

Another of the Wakefield plays, which is of
a notable description, is that entitled " Abra-
ham," opening with an apostrophe to the
Almightv which lacks the ludicrous character of
the instances already given, for which reason it
is quoted here.

Abraham : Adonay (Lord) thou God veray (true)
Thou hear us when we to thee call !
As thou art he that best may,
Thou art most succour and help of all !
Might ml Lord ! to thee I pray,
Let once the oil of mercy fall !
Shall I ne'er abide that day ?
Truly yet I hope I shall.
Mercy, Lord Omnipotent !
Long since he this world has wrought
Whither are all our elders went ?
This muses mickle in my thought.
From Adam unto Eve assent,
Eat of that apple spared he nought.
For all the wisdom that he ment,
Full dear that bargain has he bought
From Paradise that bade him gang :
He went mourning with simple cheer.
And after lived he here full lang,
More than three hundred year,
In sorrow and in travail Strang.


To which the following rejoinder, made by the
person undertaking the part of God —

I will help Adam and his kind,

Might I love and lewte [loyalty] find ;

Would they to me be true, and blin [cease]

Of their pride and of their sin :

My servant I will found and frast [prove and try],

Abraham, if he be trast [trusty],

On certain wise I will him prove

If he to me be true of love.

Abraham ! Abraham !

Then says —

Abraham : Who is that? ware, let me see,
I heard one neven [name] my name.

God : It is I, take tent [heed] to me
That formed thy father Adam,
And everything in [its] degree.

After which follow God's command to Abraham
to sacrifice Isaac, and the ensuing events.

No city in England has been more celebrated
than Coventry for Miracle-plays. The famous
Coventry plays consist of some forty pageants,
in acts opening with the Creation and ending
with the Last Judgment.

York was another city famed for its religious
plays, and to which considerable attention has
been paid. In 1885 was issued from the
Clarendon Press a valuable volume, entitled
" The York Mystery Plays," edited by Miss Lucy
Toulmin Smith, which should be consulted by


all who make a study of this subject. A book
by the late Robert Davies, F.S.A., on the
" Municipal Records of York" (London, 1843),
contains much information bearing on this theme.
There is in "Historic Yorkshire," by William
Andrews, F.R.H.S., a chapter on " Mystery
Plays in Yorkshire." In a small work on " The
Drama in York," by George Benson, a pains-
taking antiquary, who takes a deep interest in
the history of the city, are some important
particulars related in a popular form. Here, on
the celebration of the Corpus Christi Festival
was the chief time for the exhibition of the
plays. The pieces represented an extended
period, opening with the Creation and ending
with Domesday. Between these two events the
chief occurrences narrated in the Bible were
dealt with. The plays were performed in the
streets of the city at an early period, and two
popular pieces were "The Credo" (Creea) and
(( Paternoster " (the Lord's Prayer). '■ The
Guildhall, completed in 146 1," says Mr. Benson,
11 had for one of its objects the providing of a
commodious theatre in which the favourite plays
could be exhibited to greater advantage than in
the open air. In the year 1483, this hall was the
scene of a brilliant spectacle, the King, Richard


III., the Queen, the Prince Edward, the
Courtiers, the Lord Mayor and civic dignitaries
witnessing the performance of the Credo Play
on the Sunday afternoon."

At Hull the Miracle-plays were usually per-

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Online LibraryWilliam AndrewsCuriosities of the church; studies of curious customs, services and records → online text (page 1 of 11)