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

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-* The Alms-house of Noble Poverty," and no
wayfarer has presented himself at the door of it
since the days of King Stephen to the present
hour who has not been entitled to receive a meal
of bread and beer. The stranger has only to
knock to receive a horn of ale and a dole of
bread, known as the " wayfarers' dole." These
charities were once common in this country ; but
we believe the Hospital of St. Cross is the only
one which remains. In the days of yore, a
charity existed at Sprotborough, near Doncaster,
somewhat similar to that at Winchester. On a
cross bearing a brass plate were the following
lines :

Whoso is hungry, and lists well to eat,

Let him come to Sprotborough for his meat ;

And for a night and for a day,

His horse shall have both corn and hay,

And none shall ask him when he goes away.


Doles of bread are given every Sunday in
the parish church of Hessle and in several other
churches in the neighbourhood of Hull. We
have observed the same custom in other parts of
the country.

Doles of fish are very numerous, and with
particulars of a few examples we close our paper.
John Thake, in his will, drawn up in 1537, left
his house and land on condition that his heirs,
annually on Friday, in the first week in Lent,
gave to the poor of Clavering, in Essex, one
barrel of white herrings and a cade of red her-
rings. At Dronfield, Derbyshire, in 1577,
Richard Stevenson left half a hundred of herrings,
and as much bread as could be made from a
"strike" of good wheat. The doles were to be
distributed every Friday during Lent for ever.
At Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, in 1664,
David Slater gave money to purchase bread and
herrings and a pair of kid gloves annually for the
parson of the parish for the time being. The
gloves were to be purchased ready for the first
Sunday in Lent. At Newmarket, in Suffolk,
there was a bequest of fish and fagots.


^g|r^iN the olden time the ways of dis-
tributing some of the English
charities were extremely curious,
and scrambling in churches and
graveyards for bread, cheese, and
other edibles was perhaps the most remarkable.
These old-time charities were somewhat
numerous, and we here present particulars of a
few of them.

Long, long, ago, so runs the old story, two
poor pauper sisters were walking to London to
claim an estate, and were weary, footsore, and
hungry. The good folk at Paddington gave
them relief. In course of time the claimants
obtained possession of their property, and left,
as a token of gratitude, a bequest of bread and
cheese, to be thrown from the church of St.
Mary's, Paddington, amongst the poor assembled
in the graveyard. This custom was observed
from a remote period down to the first quarter


of this century, and perhaps even to a later time.
It is noticed in a newspaper for the year 1821
as an annual practice to throw bread and
cheese from the belfrv of the church at eisrht
o'clock on the Sunday before Christmas Day.
We gather from a quaint paragraph in the pages
of the Grub Street Journal, dated December 21st,
1736, that ale was also given. " On Sunday,"
it is stated, " after divine service, was performed
the annual ceremony of throwing bread and
cheese out of the Paddington church steeple
among the spectators, and giving them ale.
The custom was established by two women, who
purchased live acres of land to the above use,
in commemoration of the particular charity
whereby they had been relieved when in extreme

At Barford, Oxfordshire, a piece of land is
known as " White-bread Close," and the rent was
formerly spent in buying bread, which was
thrown amongst the people and scrambled for at
the church door. It appears from a corres-
pondent of the Gentleman's Magazine for 1824,
that the distribution " occasioned such scenes of
indecent riot and outrage, even lighting in the
church itself, that a late curate very properly
effected the suppression of a practice productive


of this gross abuse."' A large number of boys
from the neighbouring villages attended, and
joined the lads of Barford in the scramble. It
is conjectured that a member of a wealthy local
family named Shepherd was the founder of the
chanty, to keep in remembrance his marriage.

Rudder, in his " History of Gloucestershire,"
and other writers notice a quaint scrambling
custom at St. Briavel's, Gloucestershire. The
best account of the ancient usuage is given in the
pages of the Gentleman 's Magazine for 1816, which
reads as follows : — " On Whit Sunday, at St.
Briavel's, in Gloucestershire, several baskets, full
of bread and cheese cut into small squares of an
inch each, are brought into the church ; and im-
mediately after divine service is ended, the
churchwardens, or some other persons, take
them up into the galleries, whence their contents
are thrown among the congregation, who have a
grand scramble for them in the body of the
church. This occasions as great a tumult and
uproar as the amusements of the village wake,
the inhabitants being always extremely anxious to
attend worship on this day. The custom is
holden for the purpose of preserving to the poor
of St. Briavel's and Hewelsfield the right of cut-
ting and carrvinof away wood from ^000 acres of


coppice land, and for which each house-keeper is
assessed twopence, to buy the bread and cheese
which are given away." This is the most
remarkable of the scrambling customs which
have come under our notice.

Leicestershire history furnishes facts about
another scrambling charity. According to an
account written in 1822, " a piece of land was
bequeathed to the use and advantage of the
rector of Haloughton, for providing two hare-
pies, and two dozen penny loaves, to be scrambled
for on Easter Monday annually. The land, be-
fore the enclosure took place, was called ' Hare-
crop Leys,' and at the time of dividing the fields,
in 1770, a piece was alloted to the rector in lieu
of the said Leys. The custom is still continued,
but instead of the hare the rector provides two
large raised pies, made of veal and bacon.
These are divided into parts, and put into a
sack; the penny loaves are cut into quarters and
put in a basket. Thus prepared, the men leave
the rectory, and are soon joined by the women
and children, who march to a place called ' Hare-
pie Bank,' about a quarter of a mile south of the
town. In the course of this journey the pieces
of bread arc occasionally thrown for scrambling,
but the pies are carried to the grand rustic


theatre of confusion." On arrival at the appointed
place, "the pies are promiscuously thrown," and,
says the notice, " every frolicsome athletic youth
who is fond of the sport rushes forward to seize
a bit and carry it away. Confusion ensues, and
what began in juvenile sport has occasionally ter-
minated in a boxing match." This ludicrous
custom appears to afford the inhabitants much
amusement. Blount, in his " Tenures of Land
and Customs of Manors," notices the usage at

Mr. Tuke, of Wath, near Rotherham, who
died in the year 1810, left, amongst other strange
bequests, forty dozen penny loaves to be thrown
from the church leads at twelve o'clock on
Christmas Day for ever. This is the latest in-
stance of a scrambling custom with which we
are acquainted.


UR old church books include many
items on briefs. They were Royal
letters which were sent to the clergy,
directing that collections be made
for certain objects. These docu-
ments were stamped with the Privy Seal, and
it was ordered that they be read in church after
the saying of the Nicene Creed. It was further
directed that they be entered in the parish
register. Briefs were granted for a variety of
objects, such, for example, as the rebuilding of
St. Paul's after the fire of London, for a fire
at Drury Lane Theatre, rebuilding churches,
the redemption of English slaves taken by
pirates, &c. With a view of rendering briefs
effective, it was ordered in 1677 that " the
preamble be pathetically penned as the occasion
requires to move the people to liberality upon so
pious and charitable a work." We may infer
from the smallncss of the sums collected, and an
entry in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, that the


injunction was necessary. Under date of June

30th, 1661, Pepys wrote : — " To church, where

we observe the trade of briefs is come now up

to so constant a course every Sunday, that we

resolve to give no more to them."

It will not be without interest to furnish a

copy of a brief, and we select one of some

historical importance : —

Charles II. by the grace of God, &c.
Whereas we are credibly informed by the humble
petition of the inhabitants of the town corporate of Scarborough,
in the North Riding of the County of York, as also by a cer-
tificate subscribed with the hands of divers of our Justices of the
peace for the said East and North Ridings, inhabiting near
unto the said Corporation, that during the late wars our said
town of Scarborough was twice stormed, and the said in-
habitants disabled from following their ancient trade ; whereby
they are much impoverished and almost ruined in their estates;
and that nothing might be wanting to make their condition
more deplorable, their two fair churches were by the violence
of the cannon beaten down ; that in one day there were three-
score pieces of ordnance discharged against the steeple of the
upper church there, called Saint Mary's, the choir thereof beaten
down, and the steeple thereof so shaken that notwithstanding
the endeavours of the inhabitants to repair the same, the steeple
and bells upon the 10th day of October last [1659] fell and
brought down with it most part of the body of the said church;
the other, called St. Thomas's church, was, by the violence of
the ordnance, quite ruined and battered down; so that the said
church, called St. Mary's, must be rebuilt or otherwise the said
inhabitants will remain destitute of a place wherein to assembly
themselves for the public worship of Almighty God. And that
the charges for the rebuilding the church, called St. Mary's,
will cost ^2,500 at the least, which of themselves they are not
able to disburse, their fortunes being almost ruined by the
calamities of the late war as aforesaid, &c.


A book preserved with the parish registers at

Hessle, near Hull, contains a list of the briefs

received and read in the church from 1731 to

1777. The mode of entering the documents

is as follows: —

Dunbar Harbour in ye shire of East Lothian. May ye
20th, 1739. A Brief then read in ye Parish Church of Hesle
in ye County of Hull, for ye making of ye Harbour of Dunbar
safe and commodious in ye Shire of East Lothian in Scotland.
The charge of making ye said Harbour safe and beneficial
amounts unto ye sum of nine thousand seven hundred eighty-
five pounds and upwards, and the sum of ten shillings and
eightpence halfpenny collected thereupon from House to

The collection for the foregoing was small,
but much larger than for rebuilding Gateshead
Church made in the same year. Only two
shillings and one penny were gathered for the
latter object, and a year later only two shillings
for rebuilding the church at Congleton.

The granting of briefs gave rise to much
abuse, and to check it, stringent Acts of Parlia-
ment were passed in the reigns of Queen Anne
and George IV., and finally they were stopped by
Lord Palmerston, when Prime Minister,
declining to advise the Crown to continue their


TOWNSMAN visiting the country
during the long dark nights
experiences much difficulty in find-
ing his way about the gloomy lanes
and sparingly-lighted village streets.
He realises how tiresome and dangerous it was
in the olden days to travel at night over the
dreary common, wild wolds, and lonely heaths,
unenclosed, with their indifferently constructed
roads. Gratitude for delivery from perilous
positions often induced people to leave money
setting up on high lamps, and for the ringing of
bells to guide the way-farer on his journey.

According to an old tradition, a lady was
lost on the Lincolnshire wolds, and feared that
she would have to remain wandering about in
the cold until daybreak. Happily, however,
on the still night air were wafted the welcome
sounds of the bell of St. Peter's Church,
Barton-on-Humber, which enabled her to direct


her steps to the town over the almost trackless
country. She was so grateful when she found
herself in safety that in her will she left a piece
of land to the parish clerk, on condition that he
should ring one of the church bells from seven
to eight o'clock every evening except Sunday,
commencing on the day of carrying the first
load of barley in every year till the following
Shrove Tuesday. Some twenty years ago the
ringing, which had been faithfully performed
from time out of mind, was discontinued, on
account of the annoyance the noise caused to
the inhabitants dwelling near the church. The
parish clerk still receives the proceeds of the
land, although the notes of the bell (welcome to
some persons) are no longer heard as day gives
way to night.

At the village of Hessle, near Hull, a bell is
still rung every night, except Sunday, at seven
o'clock. It is asserted by some of the inhabi-
tants that a ladv was lost near the place on a
dark night, and that she was enabled to find her
way by hearing the ringing of the church bells.
Thankful for the assistance thus rendered, she
left a piece of land to the parish clerk on condition
that he should ring a church bell every evening.
The deeds and papers preserved at the church


do not throw any light on the origin of this
custom, which is most probably derived from
the ancient practice of ringing the Curfew bell.

A Woodstock worthy, named John Carey,
left ten shillings annually to be paid for a bell
being rung from the old church tower at 8 p.m.,
for the guidance of travellers in the neighbour-
hood of the town. The Corporation of Wood-
stock have the management of this old bequest.
Mr. Carey clearly set forth in his will that if the
clerk or sexton neglected to ring the bell some
other persDn must be selected to perform the
duties. A similar bequest was made in the year
1664 by Richard Palmer, who bequeathed a sum
of money to pay a salary to the sexton of Work-
ingham Church, Berkshire, for ringing the
greatest bell half an hour every evening, at
eight o'clock, from the 10th of September to the
nth of March in every year. He desired that
strangers and others, who should happen on
winter nights, within hearing of the said bell, to
lose their way in the country, might be informed
of the time of night, and receive some guidance
into the right way.

Dunston Pillar is a conspicuous object in the
county of Lincoln, and was erected in the year
1 75 1 for the purpose of directing travellers over


Lincoln Heath. It had on its summit a large
lantern, which was lighted at night. We have
heard it related in the district that, on one occa-
sion, a post-boy who had received instructions to
keep the light to the right hand on his way home,
spent the night driving round the pillar. In
1 8 10 the lantern was removed and a statue of
George III., at the cost of Lord Buckingham-
shire, placed at the top of the pillar.

On the towers of churches in bygone times
lanterns were frequently lighted on dark nights
to enable wayfarers to direct their steps in the
right direction. Formerly a lighted lantern cast
its welcome rays from the tower of St. Mary's
Church, Beverley, to guide travellers over the
wild wolds in the neighbourhood of the town.
A beacon lamp was formerly suspended in the
centre of All Saints' Church steeple in the
city of York, for the aid of benighted folks in
the Forest of Galtres. We have seen it stated
that a lantern was formerly lighted on one of
the towers of a church at Newcastle-on-Tyne.
In reply to our inquiries, the Rev. J. R. Boyle,
F.S.A., said " I have often heard the statement
to which you refer. I imagine it has found its
way into the guide books, but, I am afraid, it
rests on no foundation. The only church in


the steeple of which such a custom was ever
practicable is that of St. Nicholas, now the
Cathedral. In the preparation of my chapter on
that church in ' Vestiges of Old Newcastle and
Gateshead/ I examined every accessible source
of information, but failed to find the least
evidence of the custom to which you refer. I
suppose the story must have originated from an
extract, printed by G. B, Richardson, from the
Corporation Accounts. In 1566 there are pay-
ments for wax for the lanterne of the Church.
But the word ' lanterne ' is not here used in its
modern architectural sense." At Lamborne, in
addition to a lighted lantern, a bell was tolled to
guide persons who crossed the bleak downs in
winter time.

It is stated in Sinclair's " Statistical Account
of Scotland " that the parish schoolmaster of
Corstorphine, Edinburghshire, has the profits of
a piece of land known as " Lamp's Acre." The
proceeds of the land were to cover the cost of
keeping lighted a lamp placed on Corstorphine
Church in winter time, to direct the traveller on
the Edinburgh road, which was both difficult
and dangerous to travel along. John Wardell
wished to shed some light on the dark streets of
London, and in his will, dated August 29th,



1656, he left sufficient property to pay the church-
wardens of St. Botolph, Billingsgate, says
Edwards in his " Remarkable Charities," to
provide a good and sufficient iron-and-glass
lantern with a candle for the direction of
passengers to go with more security to and from
the waterside all night long, to be fixed at the
north-east corner of the parish church of St.
Botolph, from the Feast Day of St. Bartholomew
to Lady Day. The clerk received a sovereign a
year for attending to the lantern. It appears
from the " Reports of Charities " that the annuity
is now applied to supporting a gas lamp placed
in the position indicated in the will. We find
the particulars of another bequest for maintaining
a lantern lighted with a candle, in the will of
John Cooke, dated the 12th of September, 1662.
He gave definite instructions as to the size of
candles to be used, and further stated that the
lantern had to be hanged out at the corner of St.
Michael's Lane, next Thames Street, from
Michaelmas to Lady Day, between the hours of
nine and ten o'clock at night, until four or five in
the morning. A gas lamp has taken the place of
the old lantern with its candles of a particular
size. The facts about the lighting of the streets
of London are full of historic interest, but do not


come within the scope of the present article.
We have mentioned lanterns, and may further
state, on the authority of Chambers's " Book of
Days," that in accordance with the old local rule
of London, as established by the Lord Mayor in
1416, all householders of the better class, rated
above a low rate in the books of their respective
parishes, should hang a lantern, lighted with a
fresh and whole candle nightly, outside their
houses, for the accommodation of foot passengers,
from All-hallows' evening to Candlemas day.
11 Hang out your lights ! " was once the familiar
cry of the old London watchmen. We have
seen a print of the period of James I. represent-
ing one of the guardians of the night, bearing
the following lines : —

A light here, maids, hang out your light,
And see your horns be clear and bright,
That so your candle clear may shine,
Continuing from six till nine ;
That honest men that walk along
May see to pass safe without wrong.


HE Puritans were greatly in favour
of long sermons, and in their
churches, near the pulpit, were
placed hour-glasses, for the pur-
pose of showing the length of
time occupied in preaching. A discourse
usually lasted from one to two hours. If a
clergyman finished preaching under an hour, he
was regarded as a lazy man, and obtained little
respect from his critical congregation. All our
ancestors did not, however, delight in long ser-
mons. It is recorded in Frosbroke's u British
Monachism," that it was the practice of a rector
of Bilbury, Gloucestershire, to take a couple of
hours in the delivery of his sermons. The
squire of the parish had no taste for his wordy
expositions ; and after hearing the text given
out, withdrew to enjoy his pipe, returning to
be present at the benediction. Sir Roger
L'Estrange tells a good story of a tedious


preacher. On one occasion, after listening for
an hour and three-quarters to a sermon, the
assembly were tired out, and also suffered from
cold. The sexton, observing their distressed
condition, determined to deliver them from their
trying position. He accordingly addressed the
minister as follows: ''Pray, sir, be pleased,
when you have done, to leave the key under the
door." He then quietly departed, and shortly
afterwards the preacher, profiting by the hint,
closed the service. A famous divine, named
the Rev. Daniel Burgess, frequently preached
for three hours at a time. One day he was
directing all his eloquence against the sin of in-
temperance, and after two turns of the glass he
noticed that many of his hearers were restless
and yawning. But he was fully resolved to
continue his sermon, observing that he had
much more to say against drunkenness, and,
turning the hour-glass, said, "We will have

another glass, and then ." He pleasantly

secured their attention for some time longer.
Bearing o'n this theme there is, in James Maid-
ment's "Third Book of Scottish Pasquils," an
amusing anecdote which is well worth repro-
ducing. " A humorous story," it is stated,
" has been preserved of one of the Earls of



Airly, who entertained at his table a clergyman
who was to preach before the Commissioner next
day. The glass circulated, perhaps, too freely ;
and whenever the divine attempted to rise, his

lordship prevent-
ed him, saying,
'Another glass —
and then ! ' After
conquering his
lordship, the
guest went home.
The next day the
latter selected for
his text, ' The
wicked shall be
punished, and
that right airly ! '
Inspired by the
subject, he was
by no means
sparing of his
oratory, and the
hour-glass was disregarded, although he was
repeatedly warned by the precentor, who, in
common with Lord Airly, thought the discourse
rather lengthy. The latter soon knew why he
was thus punished, by the reverend gentleman


Al St. Albaris Church, Wood Street, London.


(when reminded) always exclaiming*, not sotto
voce, i Another glass — and then ! '

It is related of the celebrated Dr Isaac
Barrow, a minister who flourished in the reign
of the second Charles, that one day he preached
out a large congregation, which included the
Lord Mayor and other members of the Corpora-
tion of London. When he had completed his
sermon, only an apprentice remained to keep
him company. "He was," writes hisbiographer,
" intolerably tedious in his sermons, and was
three hours and a half in delivering a sermon on
charity before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen ;
and on one occasion, when preaching in West-
minster Abbey, the servants of the church caused
the organ to be struck up against him, and he
was fairly blown out of the pulpit." Some
preachers find it difficult to bring their discourses
to a termination, and to this class must be
referred a minister of Kilellan, who preached
one day from eleven o'clock until six without
a break.

LordMacaulay,in his ''History of England,"
writing about Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salis-
bury, under the year 1687, alludes to the hour-
glass. " He was," says the historian, "often
interrupted by the deep hum of his audience ;


and when, after preaching out the hour-glass,
which in those days was part of the furniture of
the pulpit, he held it in his hand, the congrega-
tion clamorously encouraged him to go on till
the sand had run off once more."

Several of the poets refer to the hour-glass.
Shakespeare, for example, in " Henry V.,"

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Online LibraryWilliam AndrewsCuriosities of the church; studies of curious customs, services and records → online text (page 5 of 11)