William Andrews.

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

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and their nap lasted from Saturday night till
Monday morning, when they were aroused by a
labourer on his way to work. Shakespeare's


companions urged him to return and renew the

contest, but he refused. ' I have had enough,'

he said, ' I have drunk with

' Piping Pebworth, dancing Marston,
Haunted Hillbro, hungry Grafton,
Dudging Exhall, papist Wixford,
Beggarly Broom, and drunken Bidford.'

u These villages are all visible from the spot
where the Bard's long sleep is related to have
taken place, and it is said they retained their
characteristics until very recently. The tree
near to the place, a wild apple or crab, long known
as ' Shakespeare's Crab,' was cut down some
time in the early part of this century by the lady
of the Manor, who is said to have given the
somewhat Irish reason for this act of Vandalism,
that the tree was gradually being demolished by
curiosity hunters. A fresh crab-tree has recently
been planted upon the spot, and will, it is hoped,
hand down to future generations the memory of
the poet's youthful escapade."

We may infer from an old document relating
to the parish of Walsall, Staffordshire, that
sometimes persons were fined for neglecting to
attend Church-Ales. We find it stated that in
the year 1496, " John Arundel, Bishop of
Lichfield and Coventry, by a decree of confirma-
tion, under the seal of the diocese, directed to


the Mayor of Walsall and his brethren, for the
advantage of Walsall Church, declaring that
they (the mayor and his bretheren) shall keepe
the drynkynges iiii. times in the year, and hee
that is absent at any of these drynkynges to
forfeit a pounde of waxe to burn for the light of
the chapell of Soynte Kateryn, in the sayd
church." In the Bodleian Library there is
preserved a pre-Reformation agreement anent
Church-Ales. It is therein stated that " the
parishioners of Elvaston and Okebrook, in
Derbyshire, agree jointly to brew four ales
betwixt this (the time of the contract) and the
feast of St. John Baptist next coming ; and that
every inhabitant of the said town of Okebrook
shall be at the several ales ; and every husband
and his wife shall pay twopence, and every
cottager one penny ; and all the inhabitants of
Elvaston shall have and receive all the profits
and advantages coming of the said ales, to
the use and behoof of the said church of
Elvaston." John Aubrey, the antiquary, who
was born in 1626 and died in 1700, relates in his
" Natural History of Wiltshire " some interesting
facts on this subject. " There were no rates for
the poor in my grandfather's days ; " says he,
" but for Kingston Saint Michael (no small


parish) the Church-Ale of Whitsuntide did the
business. In every parish is (or was) a church
house to which belonged spits, crocks, &c,
utensils for dressing provision. Here the house-
keepers met and were merry, and gave their
charity. The young people were there too, and
had dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, &c,
the ancients sitting gravely by and looking on.
All things were civil, and without scandal." In
the same county at Castle-Combe, the Church-
Ale was conducted with considerable success.
No one in the parish was permitted to brew until
the church ale was sold.

In 1602 was published a " Survey of
Cornwall," from the pen of Richard Carew, and
it contains a description of the custom as
conducted in his time. l< For the Church-Ale,"
says this author, " two young men of the parish
are yearly chosen by their last foregoers to be
wardens, who make collection among the
parishioners of whatsoever provision it pleaseth
them voluntarily to bestow. This they employ
in brewing and baking against Whitsuntide, upon
which holy-days the neighbours meet at the
church-house, and there merrily feed on their own
victuals. When the feast is ended, the wardens
yield in their accounts to the parishioners, and


such money as exceedeth the disbursement is
laid up to defray any extraordinary charges
arising in the parish."

The Puritans had a great antipathy to the
feasts and ceremonies of the church, and Whit-
sun-Ales were strongly condemned by not a few
of their writers and preachers. Many good and
leading men recognised in the feasts a power for
good that merited a warm support. Pierce,
Bishop of Bath and Wells, in a letter to
Archbishop Laud, shewed : "By the benevolence
of the people at their pastimes, many poor
parishes have cast their bells and beautified their
churches, and raised stock for the poor." He
adverts to lawful sports and pastimes being
practiced in the churchyard after prayers in the
afternoon of Sunday. The church-ales were
very popular in the north of England, and
according to Hutchinson's " History of North-
umberland " it was the practice to hold them in
tents and booths erected in the churchyards.
Here " great feasts were displayed, and vast
abundance of meat and drink." Various enter-
tainments for the enjoyment of the people were
provided, including interludes, " being," it is
stated " a species of theatrical performance,
consisting of a rehearsal of some of the passages


in Holy Scripture personated by actors." Thorn-
ton, the historian of Nottinghamshire, says that a
shepherd kept ale to sell in Thorpe church. He
was the last of the inhabitants of the place, which
had been depopulated by enclosure.

In 1 65 1 the Puritans got from Judge
Richardson an order to stop church-ales in
Somerset. The circumstance was brought under
the notice of the King, and he directed the
order of the Judge to be annulled. Seventy-two
of the most learned and orthodox clergymen of
the county certified that " on these days (which
generally fell on a Sunday) the service of God
was more solemnly performed, and the services
better attended, than on other days."

Many entries bearing on church-ales appear
in old accounts of churchwardens, and it may
not be without interest to reproduce a few
examples. In the year 1526 we find that the
amount realised by a church-ale is set down at
£j 15s., being equal to about ^100 at the
present value. The accounts of St. Mary's
Church, Reading, state : —

1557. Item payed to Morrys Dauncers and the Mynstrells
mete and drink at Whytsontide ii]s. iujd.

The book of St. Laurence, Reading, also


contains payments relating to Whitsun-Ales, and
amongst others the following : —

1504. Item, Payed for bred and ale spent to one of the

church at Whitsontyd \}s. vj^.

Item for wyne at same tyme xiiij</.

At a vestry meeting held at Brentford in
1 62 1, several articles were agreed upon with
regard to the parish stock by the churchwardens.
According to Brand's " Popular Antiquities," the
preamble stated " that the inhabitants had for
many years been accustomed to have meetings at
Whitsuntide, in their church-house and other
places, there in friendly manner to eat and drink
together and liberally spend their monies, to the
end neighbourly society might be maintained,
and also a common stock raised for the repairs
of the church, maintaining orphans, placing poor
children in service, and defraying other charges.
In 1624 the gains of the Whitsun-Ales are put
down as follows : —

Imprimis, cleared by the pigeon-holes £4 19 o

by hocking 7 3 7

„ ,, by riffeling 200

,, ., by victualling S o 2

£ 22 2 9

Pigeon-holes was a game similar to our modern
bagatelle. A writer on Whitsuntide customs


describes " hocking as stopping the way with
ropes, and pulling up the passengers for a dona-
tion. It was a very popular sport at Whitsuntide,
but appears to have been last practised about
1640. The game is very ancient, being
mentioned by Herodotus. Its introduction into
this country could not have been later than the
eleventh century, when it is supposed to have
been instituted to commemorate the emancipation
of England from Danish tyranny by the death of
Hardicanute, which occured about Pentecost."

Church-Ales were held in different parts of
Derbyshire, say Cox and Hope in their " Chroni-
cles of All Saints', Derby," to help to obtain
money for building the beautiful tower, a tower
described by Hutton, the historian, as " the pride
of the place." The entries in the church-books
relating to three of the parishes are as follow : —

The A ell of Chaddesdyn,

Made by Thos. parker, thos. Hornby, whose sm mounted to

xxv/i. v\]s. \]d. thereof spendeth there i necessary expences

xxxiiijy. xd.

The entry relating to Brailsford reads thus : —

The Aell at Brayllsford.

Made by Edmund Torner, Ric-plesley, whoos sm mownteth

to vj//. \us. u\)d. The sm spended there xmjs xd.

And the third entry is : —

" The Aell made at Worsworth.

Made by X for Thakkar, Wyllm Seybrug. whoos sm

mowntith — Spended of this same sm for necessarys

xxviij*. ijV.



Rudder's " History of Gloucestershire " was
published in 1779, and it states that "a custom
existed at Wickham for the lord of the manor to
give a certain quantity of malt to brew ale to be
given away at Whitsuntide, and a certain quantity
of flour to make cakes. Every one who kept a
cow sent curd ; others plums, sugar, and flour.
A contribution of sixpence from each person was
levied for furnishing an entertainment, to which
every poor person of the parish who came was
presented with a quart of ale, a cake, and a piece
of cheese, and a cheesecake."

We gather from Miss Baker's " Glossary of
Northamptonshire Words" (pub. 1854), that
Whitsun or Church-Ales were celebrated at
Kingsutton early in the present century, in a
barn specially fitted up for the occasion. It is
stated that " The lord, as the principal, carried a
mace made of silk, finely plaited with ribbons,
and filled with spices and perfumes for such of
the company to smell as desired it. Six morris-
dancers were amongst the performers." The
same authority states that a Church-Ale was
held at Greatworth, in 1785, and that the unruly
were punished by oeing obliged to ride a
wooden-horse, and if still more riotous, were put
in the stocks, which was termed being my lord's


^N Lakeland, and one or two other
parts of the country, lingers the
ancient custom of rush-bearing.
It is one of those usages which
come down to us from antiquity,
and link the present, with its matter of fact
ways, to an older England, with its merry
sports and pastimes. In tracing the origin of
this custom we must go far back in our history,
to the ruder days of our fore-elders. At a time
long before rooms were paved or laid with
wood, and before carpets came into use, floors
were strewn with rushes. A few sweet herbs
were generally blended with the rushes to give
a pleasant odour.

Our first Norman king recognised the
importance of providing rushes for his palace.
He granted land at Aylesbury on the following
conditions, which are fully set forth in Blount's
" Tenures of Land " : — " Finding straw for the


bed of our lord the king, and to straw his
chamber, and by paying three eels to our lord the
king when he should come to Aylesbury in
winter. And also finding for the king, when
he should come to Aylesbury in summer, straw
for his bed, and moreover grass or rushes to
strew his chamber, and also paying two green
geese ; and these services aforesaid he was to
perform thrice a year, if the king should happen
to come three times to Aylesbury, and not

King John, in 1207, slept at the house of
Robert de Leveland, at Westminster ; and the
Barons of the Exchequer were directed to pay
for the straw bought on account of the visit of
the King. A charge was made in the house-
hold roll of Edward II. for John de Carleford
making a journey from York to Newcastle, for
a supply of rushes for strewing the king's
chamber. It is recorded that straw and rushes
would be permitted to remain on the floors
until they became rotten and offensive. The
refined feelings of Thomas a Beckett prompted
him to keep his house in a clean and tasteful
state. Every day in the winter he had his
dining-room strewn with clean straw, and in
summer with fresh gathered rushes. One


authority suggests that he did this to enable
those knights who came to dine with him, and
could not be seated on benches, to sit on the
floor without soiling their fine dresses.

Rushes were used as a token of respect. In
The Taming of the Shrew, Grumio asks, " Is the
supper ready, the house trimmed, rushes
strewed, cobwebs swept?" After the coron-
ation of Henry (Henry IV ., Act V., Scene 5),
when the procession is returning, the grooms

cry :

More rushes, more rushes.

In other plays of Shakespeare are allusions to
rushes. Several of the older poets and drama-
tists also refer to the subject. William Browne,
in his " Britannia's Pastorals ' in a description
of a wedding, thus writes :

Full many maids, clad in their best array,
In honour of the bride, come with their flaskets
Fill'd full with flowers : others in wicker baskets
Bring forth the marish rushes, to o'erspread
The ground whereon to church the lovers tread.

In the old play of the Two Noble Kinsmen,

the gaoler's daughter is represented carrying

" strewings " for the two prisoners' chambers.

In The Valentinian, by Beaumont and Fletcher,

occur the two lines which follow : —

Where is the stranger? Rushes, ladies, rushes,
Rushes as green as summer for this stranger.


The wits of the Elizabethan age had an old
saying, to the effect that many strewed green
rushes for a stranger who would not give one to
a friend. It was deemed an act of politeness to
cover the floor with fresh rushes for a guest,
and if this were not done the host was said not
to care a rush for him. It is from this practice
that we derive the common expression of not
caring a rush or straw for anyone. Strewing
rushes on the floor prevailed in the palaces of
Queen Elizabeth, and to a much later period
amongst the middle classes. To this day the
old usage is maintained at the Hull Trinity
House. This link with the past has greatly
interested several of our American friends
whom we have conducted over the ancient
building. Will Carleton, of Brooklyn, the
author of " Farm Ballads," and the Rev. Dr.
Robert Collyer, "the poet preacher" of New
York, were delighted with the old custom.

We have many notes from old parish
accounts, journals, and books respecting strew-
ing churches with rushes. A work issued in
15S7, entitled " The Herbell lo the Bible,"
refers to the "sedge and rushes, the whiche
manie in the countrie doe use in summer-time
to strew their parlors or churches, as well for
coolness as for pleasant smell."


In the olden times the parishioners carried
to the church, usually at the Feast of Dedica-
tion, rushes to cover the floor, and it was from
this practice arose the popular merry-making' of
rush-bearing'. The old church-wardens' accounts
contain numerous items bearing - on this subject ;
perhaps it will not be without interest to re-
produce a few examples. The books of St.
Mary-at-Hill, London, contain the following
entries. : —

1493. — For 3 burdens of rushes for new pews 3d.

1504. — Paid for 2 berdens rysshes for the strewyng the

newe pewes 3d.

In the accounts of the parish of St.
Margaret's, Westminster is an item : —
1544. — Paid for rushes against the Dedication Day. 5d.

Charges were made at Kirkham, Lancashire,
as follow : —

1604. — Rushes to strew the church cost this year ... 9s. 6d.
163 1.— Paid for carrying the rushes out of the

church in the sickness time 5s. od.

The old parish accounts at Castleton, Derby-
shire, include an item as under : —

1749 — Pd. at rush cart for ale is. 8d.

Down to the year 1820 the floor of Castleton
Church was unpaved, and it was covered with


It is stated in a Lincolnshire history,
published in 1834, that on the morning- of St.
Bartholomew's Day a company of village
maidens, dressed in their holiday attire, used to
march in procession to the small chapel of
Donington, and cover the floor with rushes ;
they next proceeded to a piece of land known as
the " Play Garths," where they were met by the
inhabitants, and the remainder of the day was
spent in rustic games.

We get a good idea of a rush-bearing in the
olden days from a manuscript account quoted by
Dr. Whittaker, the historian, whose works
attracted so much favourable attention during
the first quarter of the present century. The
notes relate to Wharton, by Morecambe Bay,
Lancashire, and appear to have been written
about the close of the eighteenth century.
"The vain custom of dancing, excessive
drinking, &c," states Lucas, the writer,
" having been for many years laid aside, the
inhabitants and strangers spend the Sunday
nearest St. Oswald's in duly attending the service
of the church, and making good cheer, within
the rules of sobriety, in private houses ; and
the next in several kinds of diversions, the
chiefest of which is usually a rush-bearing,


which is on this manner. They cut hard rushes
from the marsh, which they make up into long
bundles, and then dress them in fine linen,
silk ribands, flowers, &c. ; afterwards the
young women of the village who perform the
ceremony that year take up the burdens erect,
and begin the procession (precedence being
always given to the churchwarden's burden),
which is attended not only with multitudes of
people, but with music, drums, ringing of bells,
and all other demonstrations of joy they are
able to express. When they arrive at the church
they go in at the west end (the only public use
that I ever saw that door put to), and setting
down their burdens in the church, strip them of
their ornaments, leaving the heads or crowns of
them decked with flowers, cut papers, &c, in
some part of the church, generally over the
cancelli. Then the company return to the town,
cheerfully partake of plentiful collation provided
for that purpose, and spend the remaining part of
the day, and frequently a great part of the night
also, in dancing, if the weather permits, about
the may-pole adorned with greens and flowers,
or else some other convenient place." It will be
observed that in the foregoing sketch the rush-
cart is not named ; in many places it formed the


chief attraction of the rural rejoicings. Elijah
Riding's, a Lancashire bard, in his best poem,
"The Village Festival," pays particular
attention to it. He writes : —

Behold the rush-cart and the throng

Of lads and lasses pass along !

Now watch the nimble morris-dancers,

Those blithe, fantastic, antic prancers,

Bedecked with gaudiest profusion

Of ribbons in a gay confusion

Of brilliant colours, richest dies,

Like wings of moths and butterflies ;

Waving white kerchiefs here and there,

And up and down and everywhere.

Springing, bounding, gaily skipping,

Deftly, briskly, no one tripping,

All young fellows blithe and hearty,

Thirty couples in the party ;

And on the footpaths may be seen

Their sweethearts from each lane and green

And cottage home; all fain to see

This festival of rural glee ;

The love betrothed, the fond heart plighted,

And with the witching scene delighted ;

In modest guise and simple graces,

With roses blushing on their faces.

Behold the strong-limbed horses stand,

The pride and boast of English land,

Fitted to move in shafts or chains,

With plaited, glossy tails and manes ;

Their proud heads each a garland wears

Of quaint devices— suns and stars,

And roses, ribbon-wrought, abound ;

The silver plate, one hundred pounds,

With green oak boughs the cart is crowned,

The strong, gaunt horses shake the ground





The rushes were neatly tied in bundles, and
piled up into a pyramid, decorated with ribbons,
&c. In front of the load a sheet was suspended
on which were fastened the valuable articles
lent. " Arranging this sheet," says Bamford,
the Lancashire poet, " was exclusively the work
of girls and women ; and in proportion as it
was happily designed and fitly put together or
otherwise was the praise or disparagement
meted out by the public ; a point on which
they would not be a little sensitive. The sheet
was a piece of white linen, generally a good bed
sheet ; and on it were pretty rosettes, and quaint
compartments and borderings of all colours and
hues which either paper, tinsel, ribbons, or
natural flowers could supply. In these com-
partments were arranged silver watches, trays,
spoons, sugar tongs, tea-pots, quart tankards,
drinking cups, or other fittingarticlesof ornament
and value, and the more numerous and precious
the articles were, the greater was the deference
that party which displayed them expected from
the wondering crowd." On the Sunday follow-
ing the rush-bearing the banners and garlands
were hung up in the church. Music and morris
dancers formed an attractive feature in the
festival. We give an illustration of a Lan-


cashirc rush-bearing from sketches supplied by
a Rochdale correspondent in May, 1825, to
Mr. William Hone for his " Year Book."

The rush-bearing at Grasmere is conducted
much on the same lines as the one formerly
celebrated at Warton, already described. The
children are supplied with wooden standards,
which they dress with rushes, mosses, flowers,
and ribbons, forming crosses, shields, wreaths,
triangles, crowns, &c.

The juveniles assemble on the Saturday

evening in the village with their decorated

standards, and headed by a brass band, march

to the village church. Mr. Will Carleton

witnessed the pleasing custom in 1884, and

wrote an account of it. " The bouquets," he

says, " were so large and the children so small,

that the procession looked like a little garden of

flowers creeping away upon their stems ; or as

says the poet—

" Like a string of rainbows
Appears that cortege bright
Winding among the crooked lanes
In the golden evening light.

" The mountains, listening around, took up

the musicians' instrumental song, and echo after

echo went flying over the little fair heads as

they moved slowly toward the church. The


murmuring river welcomed them as their feet
pattered on aged doorstone, and those old
walls smiled to see the children come with their
flowers once more. After the bouquets had been
tastefully bestowed until the venerable sanctuary
looked as if it were adorned for a wedding,
there were some appropriate religious cere-
monies, and an old hymn was sung." A copy
of the rush-bearers' hymn is as follows : —

Our fathers to the house of God,

As yet a building rude,
Bore offerings from the flowery sod,

And fragrant rushes strew'd.

May we, their children, ne'er forget

The pious lesson given,
But honour still, together met,

The Lord of Earth and Heaven.

Sing we the good Creator's praise,
Who sends the sun and showers,

To cheer our hearts with fruitful days
And deck our world with flowers.

There, of the great Redeemer's grace,

Bright emblems here are seen !
He makes to smile the desert place.

With flowers and rushes green.

After the service the children are treated to
refreshments, and afterwards enjoy sports on
the village green.

A similar custom is still kept up at
Ambleside, and in a few old Lancashire towns
and villages the rush-cart may even yet be seen.


UMPTUARY laws formed a
curious feature in the every-day
life of the olden time, and amongst
the more important were those
regulating the Lenten fare of the
people. Our forefathers were not permitted to
partake of flesh meat in Lent unless in delicate
health, and then the privilege was granted by
license ; but a like privilege could be secured
by payment varying according to the rank of
the petitioner. Some people broke the laws,
and had to suffer severely for their offences.
We may give as an instance the landlady of the
u Rose Tavern," St. Catherine's Tower, London,
in whose house during the Lent of 1563 was
found a quantity of raw and cooked meat. She,
on this account, was put into the pillory, and
four women who had partaken of the forbidden
meat were put in the stocks all night. A few
years prior to the foregoing case strenuous

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Online LibraryWilliam AndrewsCuriosities of the church; studies of curious customs, services and records → online text (page 3 of 11)