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

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formed on Plough Monday, by the members of
the trade guilds. The representatives of each
guild had their peculiar dresses, badges, banners,
&c, and as they marched through the streets to
the sound of music and the pealing of church
bells, they must have presented an imposing and
brilliant sight. After parading the principal
streets they proceeded to the Holy Trinity
Church, where, for the entertainment and in-
struction of the people, a play was performed. It
was, as a rule, the play of Noah. In the church
was suspended an Ark, which was brought out,
and in it the piece was acted. It was covered
with paintings of animals, which were supposed to
have been in the Ark at the time of the Flood.
There are some curious entries in the Hull
Trinity House Books, relating to the fees paid
to actors, &c.

Here are a few extracts : —

Item for a payr of new my tens to Noye 46..

„ amending Noye Pyleh 4d.

,, payd to Nicholas Helpby for wrytg the play 7d.

,, for a rope to hyng the shipp in ye Kyrk 2d.


Item paid for drink to Noe 4d.

,, ix galons of ale 13d.

„ for taking down shype, and hyngyng up agayn ... 2s.

,, for wyr when the shype went about 2d.

In 142 1 a new " shype " was required, and it cost £5 8s. 4d.
In 1447 the wages of Robert Brown, who represented

God, were 6d.

And so continued until 14S4, when Thomas Sawers

played the part, and was paid Sd.

Which, in 1487, was increased to rod.

In 1520 the payment went up to is.

And so continued until 1529.

In 1469 the wages of Noye and his wyff were 2 id.

In 1470 the wages of Noye and his wyff were 23d.

In 1485 the payments were separated and also reduced,

to Noye Sd.

To Noye's whyff 1 2d.

In 1520 the payment had been increased to Noe 2s.

Noe's whyff 1 8d.

Ancient church books contain many items

bearing on this subject. In the account of St.

Mary's, Leicester, under the year 1491, is the

item —

Paid to the players on New Year's Day, at Even, in

the Church v}</.

A few years later it is recorded —

1499 — Paid for a play in the Church in Dominia

infra octav Epiph ijj.

In the accounts of St. Martin's Church, Leicester,

we find —

1560 — Pd to the plears for ther paynes vij</.

In the chapel-wardens' accounts of Bewdley,
under the year 1572, we read —

I'aid unto the queries plaiers in the church 6s. Sd.


Bonner, Bishop of London, did his utmost to
stop acting in churches. We learn that in 1542
he " issued a proclamation to the clergy of his
diocese, prohibiting all manner of common plays,
games, or interludes, to be played, set forth, or
declared within their churches or chapels." A
writer of a tract, published in 1572, speaks
strongly about the clergy neglecting their duty,
and adverts to acting in churches. Says the
author : — " He againe posteth it (the service)
over as fast as he can gallop ; for either he hath
two places to serve, or else there are some
games to be played in the afternoon, as lying for
the whetstone, heathenish dauncing for the ring,
a beare or a bull to be bayted, or else jack-an-
apes to ryde on horse-back, or an enterlude to
be played ; and if no place else can be gotten, it
must be done in the church." At a later period
it appears that the actors ^claimed in some
parts of the country, as a sort rqf, right, to per-
form in the church. There" appears in the
Syston parish registers, under date of 1602, an
item, " Paid to Lord Morden's players, because
they should not play in the church, xi]d."fyf

The religious plays ended with the Reforma-
tion, and in their place the secular drama took a
firm footing in the country.



the Parish Church of Caistor,
Lincolnshire, on every Palm Sun-
day, until a comparatively recent
period, there was performed one of
the most singular of our English
manorial services. The property held by this
old custom is said to have comprised the Manor
of Broughton, and 2,200 acres of land lying in
the parish of Broughton, near Brigg, Lincoln-
shire. This land was sold in 1846, and to
describe the ceremony we cannot do better than
quote the particulars of the sale circulated at
the time, in which it was stated :

" This estate is held subject to the perform-
ance on Palm Sunday in every year, of the
ceremony of cracking a whip in Caistor Church,
in the said countv of Lincoln, which has been
regularly and duly performed on Palm Sunday,
from time immemorial, in the following manner :


" The whip is taken every Palm Sunday by
a man from Broughton to the parish of Caistor,
who, while the minister is reading the first
lesson, cracks it three distinct times in the
church porch, then folds it neatly up, and retires
to a seat. At the commencement of the second
lesson, he approaches the minister, and kneeling
opposite to him with the whip in his hand, and a
purse at the end of it, held perpendicularly over
his head, waves it thrice, and continues it in a
steadfast position throughout the whole of the
chapter. The ceremony is then concluded.

" The whip has a leather purse tied at the
end of it, which ought to contain thirty pieces
of silver, said to represent, according to Scripture,
' the price of blood.' Four pieces of wych-elm
tree, of different lengths, are affixed to the stock,
denoting the different gospels of the holy Evan-
gelists. The three distinct cracks are typical of
St. Peter's denial of his Lord and Master three
times ; and the waving it over the minister's
head as an intended homage of the Blessed

The Lord of the manor wishing to suppress
this service, presented, in 1836, a petition, of
which the following is a copy :

" To the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in
Parliament assembled.


" The petition of the undersigned, Sir Culling
Eardley Smith, of Bedwell Park, in the county
of Hertford.

" Sheweth, that your petitioner is lord of
the manor of Hundon, near Caistor, in the
county of Lincoln.

"That the lord of the manor of Broughton,
near Brigg, in the same county, yearly, on
Palm Sunday, employs a person to perform
the following ceremony in the parish church
of Caistor : —

" A cart-whip of the fashion of several
centuries since, called the gad-whip, with four
pieces of wych-elm bound round the stock,
and a leather purse attached to the extremity
of the stock, containing thirty pence, is, during
divine service, cracked in the church porch,
and while the second lesson is reading, is
brought into the church, and held over the
reading-desk by the person who carries it. It
is afterwards deposited with the tenant of

" That the performance of this superstitious
ceremony is utterly inconsistent with a place
of Christian worship.

" That it is generally supposed that it is
a penance for murder, and that, in the event



of the performance being neglected, the lord
of the manor of Broughton would be liable to
a penalty to the lord of the manor of Hundon.

" That your petitioner, being extremely
anxious for the discontinuance of this indecent
and absurd practice, applied to the lord of
the manor of Broughton for that purpose, who
declined entering into any negociations until the
deed should be produced under which the
ceremony was instituted, which deed (if it ever
existed) your petitioner is unable to produce.

" That your petitioner subsequently applied
to the Bishop of Lincoln to use his influence
to prevent the repetition of the ceremony, and
offered to guarantee the churchwardens against
any loss in consequence of refusal to permit it.

" That your petitioner believes there are
no trustees of a dissenting chapel who would
permit the minister or officers of their chapel
to sanction such a desecration.

" That the ceremony took place, as usual,
on Palm Sunday this year.

" Your petitioner therefore prays that your
lordships will be pleased to ascertain from the
Bishop of the diocese why the ceremony took
place ; that, if the existing law enables any
ecclesiastical persons to prevent it, the law may


hereafter be enforced ; and that, if the present
law is insufficient, a law may be passed enabling
the Bishop to interfere for the purpose of saving
the National Church from scandal.

Cl And your petitioner will ever pray, &c."
The foregoing had not the desired effect,
as the ceremony was repeated in 1837, and
continued until the land was sold in 1846.
The origin of this custom has not been ascer-
tained. Some allege a tradition that the gad-
whip service was a self-inflicted penance by a
former nun of the Broughton estate, for killing a
boy with such a whip. In our opinion, the
tradition has been made for the whip, and is
an idle tale. Doubtless great changes have
been made in the performance of this service,
which refers us back to a custom connected with
the Roman Catholic Church known as the Pro-
cession of the Ass. In the observance of this
ceremony, it was the practice for a man repre-
senting the Saviour to mount a wooden figure-
of an ass on wheels, which was drawn by a
number of men. Prior to the procession starting,
a priest explained to those assembled what Christ
had done for them, and how he had ridden into
Jerusalem on an ass, and how the multitude
had strewn in the way palm branches. The



procession then set out, two priests, singing
psalms, walking in front of the figure, which
was moved with difficulty, as the assembly threw


willow branches on the ground for the wheels
to pass over. The persons who had strewn
the branches carefully gathered them up, as it


was believed that they were an infallible pro-
tection against storms and lightnings during the
ensuing year.

The term gad is the correct old spelling
of the word which we now spell goad, in its
two meanings of (i) a prick, (2) the pole to
which the prick is fastened. Thus, a gad-f\y
is a goad-fiy, or stinging fly ; and a gad also
came to mean a wand, a measuring rod, a fishing
rod, &c, and a gad-whip meant a long whip
for goading oxen. Tt is from the Anglo-Saxon
gad, a goad, the point of a weapon, a prick.

Shakespeare says : —

I will go get a leaf of brass,
And with a gad of steel will write these words —

Titus Andronicus, IV. I.

The whip last used in this singular ceremony
is in our possession.


LD world tales about dragons, fiery
serpents, large worms, and ferocious
wild boars, which have been the
terror of certain districts in England,
are numerous and curious. The
legends are not confined to any particular locality,
but perhaps are more plentiful in the northern
counties than any other part of the country.
Some of the strangest stories are linked with
the Church, and of these we will give examples.

The tale of the Worm of Sockburn is of
great antiquity, and of importance on account
of its connection with an old tenure of land.
For more than six hundred years the manor
of Sockburn was held by the singular service
of presenting a falchion to the Bishop of Dur-
ham on his first entering the diocese.

Far back, in the days when the first Richard
occupied the throne of England, it is recorded
that Hugh Pudsey, " the jollye Bishop of



Durham," bought from the king the title of
Earl of Sadberge for himself and his successors.
On the first arrival of a newly-appointed
bishop, it was the duty of the lord of the manor
of Sockburn, or his representative, to meet his
grace at the middle of Sockburn Ford, or on
Croft Bridge, which spans the River Tees.


After hailing him Count Palatine and Earl of
Sadberge, he presented him with a falchion,
saying as follows : —

li My Lord Bishop, I here present you with
the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers
slew the worm, dragon, or fiery flying serpent
which destroyed man, woman, and child ; in
memory of which, the king then reigning gave
him the manor of Sockburn, to hold by this
tenure, that upon the first entrance of every
bishop into the county this falchion should be


The Bishop, after receiving the weapon in
his hand, promptly and politely returned it,
and at the same time wished the lord of Sock-
burn health and a long enjoyment of the manor.

The last time the ceremony was performed
was in x\pril, 1826, when the steward of Sir
Edward Blackett, the lord of Sockburn Manor,
met on Croft Bridge Dr. Van. Mildert, the
last Prince-Bishop of Durham. At an inquest
held on the death of Sir John Conyers, in the
year 1396, there is a mention of the tenure.

The falchion was formerly kept at the manor
house of Sockburn, and it is sketched in the
" Visitation of Durham in 1666." The blade is
broad, and two feet five inches long, and on the
pommel of the weapon are two shields ; on
one side are the three lions of England as
borne by the Plantagenet monarchs, from John
to Edward III., and the eagle displayed on
the other side is said to belong to Morcar, the
Saxon Earl of Northumberland. The relic was
also represented on one of the stained glass
windows of Sockburn Church. On a marble
monument, placed to the memory of an old
member of the Conyers family, the serpent and
falchion were sculptured.

The parish church of St. Andrew's, Bishop


Auckland, contains an old wooden effigy repre-
senting a knight in a suit of chain armour,
cross-legged, with his feet resting on an animal,
supposed to be a boar. It is generally believed
that this monument was erected in remembrance
of a courageous son of the Pollard family, who
slew a wild boar which destroyed man and
beast, and spread dismay through the country-
side. Prior to Pollard appearing, many were
the futile attempts to slay it, or drive it from
the district. The king offered " a princely guer-
don " to anyone who would bring its head to
his palace, and the Bishop of Durham, who
passed the greater part of the year at Auckland
Castle, promised a large reward to the knight
who slew the monster. A member of the
ancient and honourable family of Pollard deter-
mined to kill the brute, or die in the attempt.
He armed himself, mounted his trusty steed,
and rode to the lair of the boar, and noted its
track. After tying his horse to a tree, out of
the regular course of the brute, he climbed
a beech tree under which the monster passed,
and shook down a large quantity of ripe beech-
mast. There he waited until the boar came,
and had the satisfaction of seeing it feed vor-
aciously on the beechmast. In time it showed



signs of drowsiness, and commenced moving
from the place. Pollard, feeling now that the
period for action had arrived, left his hiding-place,
and made an onslaught on the boar. After its
hearty meal, it was not in a fighting humour,
but, nevertheless, it made a fierce resistance,
and taxed to the utmost the prowess of
the knight, the encounter lasting the greater
part of the night. The welcome rays of the
sun burst forth as he severed the head from
the trunk of the beast. He cut out its tongue,
and placed it in his wallet. Feeling weary,
he decided to rest for a short time under the
wide-spreading branches of a tree. A deep
sleep came over him, and led to a serious dis-
appointment, for when he awoke he discovered
that the head had been taken away. Great
was his despair, for he had not the trophy to
take to the king, to obtain the promised prize.
Instead of going to his sovereign, he mounted
his horse, and rode to the bishop to tell his
tale and show the tongue. He arrived at the
Castle gate just as his lordship was about to
dine. He rejoiced to hear the good news, and
as a reward promised as much land as the knight
could ride round during the hour of dinner.
When he next came before the prelate, he


startled him by intimating that he had ridden
round his castle, and claimed it, and all it
contained, as his meed. The bishop was loth
to part with his stronghold, but was bound to
admit the validity of the claim, and eventually
made a compromise by granting him an exten-
sive freehold estate known to this day as Pol-
lard's Lands. The broad acres were to be held
on condition that the possessor met every Bishop
of Durham on his first coming to Auckland, and
presented to him a falchion, saying : —

" My Lord, I, on behalf of myself, as well
as several others, possessors of Pollard's Lands,
do humbly present your lordship with this
falchion at your first coming here, wherewith,
as the tradition goeth, he slew of old a mighty
boar which did harm to man and beast. And
by performing this service we hold our lands."

Respecting the missing head, it is related
that during the period Pollard slept, the Lord
of Mitford Castle, near Morpeth, passed, saw
what had occurred, seized the head, and rode
with all speed to the king, and gained the
reward. The champion Pollard also sought an
interview with his majesty, and giving the facts,
showed that the head presented had not a tongue.
He was dismissed however without any recom-


pense, the king declining to entertain a second

Dr. Longley, created Bishop of Durham in
the year 1856, was the last bishop to whom
the falchion was presented.

The crest of the Pollard family is an arm
holding a falchion.

Amongst the dragon stories of Yorkshire,
the legend of the worm of Sexhow is not so
widely known as some others, although the
particulars respecting it are of more than local
interest. Sexhow is a hamlet in the parish of
Rudby, Cleveland. Years agone, according to
tradition, there came to this retired place a most
pestilential dragon or worm. Like the greater part
of the monsters we hear about, it had a voracious
appetite, and it drank daily the milk of no less
than nine cows. If perchance it was not
sufficiently fed it made a hissing noise, which
startled the neighbourhood. Its breath was
poisonous, and many of the inhabitants died after
breathing it. The distressed folk feared that it
would depopulate the place. Happily, however,
a strange knight, attired in complete armour,
came that way and encountered the worm.
After a great light he slew the monster. The
knight after his mighty deed quietly passed on
without even giving his name.


The skin of the worm was taken to the parish
church and suspended over the pew belonging
to the hamlet of Sexhow, where it remained as a
reminder of terrible suffering and of the knight's

Herefordshire folk lore is enriched with a
romantic story of a Man and Dragon Fight. A
local poet asks : —

Who has not heard, of Herefordian birth,

Who has not heard, as winter evenings lag on,

That tale of awe to some — to some of mirth,

Of Mordesford's most famous huge green dragon?

Who has not seen the figure on its church,
At western end, outspread to all beholders —

Where leaned the beggar-pilgrim on his crutch,

And asked its meaning — body, head, and shoulders ?

There still we see the place and hear the tale,

Where man and monster fought for life and glory ;

No one can righteously the facts assail,

For even the Church itself puts it before ye.

At the junction of the Lug and Wye is
situated the village of Mordesford, famous in
legendary lore as being the place where a man
fought and killed a winged-serpent. For some
time man and beast fell an easy prey to this
monster, and it caused much distress in the
district. No champion could be found in the
country with sufficient courage to combat with
it, and it passed its days undisturbed in a well-
wooded steep hard by the village. At last a
release came from an unexpected quarter. A


strong man for a serious crime had been
condemned to death, and a pardon was offered
to him if he would undertake to slay the dragon.
He was fearful to meet the monster ; but the
love of life was strong in his nature, and the
mere chance of saving his neck induced him to
accept the perilous proposal. The serpent was
wont at certain times to slake its thirst at the
confluence of the above two streams. Here the
criminal concealed himself, and at a favourable
opportunity commenced his dangerous struggle.
The fight was long and furious, but at last it
ended in the dragon being slain. The culprit
did not, however, enjoy the reward of his hard-
won victory, for the poisonous breath of the
vanquished foe deprived him of life. A large
green dragon, web-footed, having expanded
wings, was painted on the east-end of Mordesford
Church in remembrance of the event.

A large number of legends might be cited ;
but there is a sameness about them which
becomes wearisome, and perhaps the foregoing
fairly represent the English examples. Their
origin is a puzzle, which many have tried to solve
and failed. We may rest assured that hidden
under these old chivalrous stories is some
foundation of truth, but what that foundation is
must ever remain an interesting study.


N the days of old, social meetings
known as Whitsun-Ales and
Chnrch-Ales were extremely popu-
lar, and formed an important feature
in the church life of England.
They were instituted to obtain money for
repairing the church, for helping the poor, and
for various other charitable purposes. The
feasts were also an excellent means of bringing
rich and poor together, and creating a friendly
feeling amongst all conditions of people.

Whitsun-Ales most probably derived their
origin from the Agapas or Love Feasts of the
early Christians. Not a few of the quaint
carvings which are to be found in many ancient
churches are supposed to be a representation of
the festivity at Church-Ales.

Some weeks prior to the time fixed for the
feast, the churchwardens brewed a large quantity
of strong ale. On the day appointed for holding


it, not only did the inhabitants where it was held
observe a general holiday, but people from the
surrounding districts came in large numbers to
show their good-will, and by spending their
money to swell the receipts of the meeting.
The parishioners blessed with plenty came well
provided with provisions for their own consump-
tion, and to offer to a friend or to give to a
needy neighbour, for in the good old times
charitv was more freely exercised than in these
days of compulsory poor rates.

Music and song always formed an important
feature in the festival. A preacher named Wil-
liam Kethe, in the year 1570, denounced the
practice of holding Church-Ales. In one of his
published sermons, preached at Blandford, we
obtain some facts about the manner of spending
the holiday, which was usually held on a Sunday.
He names the following as Sunday Church-Ale
sports of the period : — Bull-baiting, bear-baiting,
bowls, dice and card playing, dancing and other
diversions, as well as singing songs. Students of
Shakespeare will remember that the dramatist in
Pericles thus refers to a song : —

It hath been sung at festivals,
On Ember eves, and holy ales.

The Morris dance was also an attraction, and is




alluded to in Shakespeare's Henry V. The

Dauphin says : —

I say 'tis meet we all go forth
To view the sick and feeble parts of France,
And let us do it with no show of fear ;
No, with no more than if we heard that England
Were busied with a Whitsun Morris dance.

Speaking of Shakespeare we are reminded of
a story which links his name with a Whitsun -
Ale. The tradition has often been told, and the
compiler of an amusing volume called " The
Curiosities of Ale and Beer," furnishes one or
two particulars which other writers have over-
looked. The author after adverting to the
far-famed potency of the ale of Bidford in
Shakespeare's day, goes on to state how the poet
and some of his friends attended the Whitsun-
Ale there. They accepted a challenge from
the Bidford men to try their powers as
ale-drinkers. " The Bidfordians," it is related,
" proved the better men, and the others
endeavoured to return to Stratford. They had
not gone far, however, when, overcome by the
power of the ale, they were forced to rest a mile
out of Bidford. Here sleep overcame them,

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Online LibraryWilliam AndrewsCuriosities of the church; studies of curious customs, services and records → online text (page 2 of 11)