No matter what the size of a community, traditions will form over time. Some will last for centuries with little or no change, whereas others will be more recent (modern) additions. Traditions and customs create a sense of community.
In Holsworthy – the nearest town to my two one-place study villages of Tetcott and Luffincott – there has been an annual fair in existence for over 800 years! Granted by Royal Charter to the Lord of the Manor in around 1160, St Peter’s Fair was originally held over the feast day of St Peter (29 June). The fair has changed significantly from its origins of trading and bargaining for three days but, for the last 300 years, the opening of the Fair has remaining fairly constant. Standing beneath the boughs of the Great Tree of Holsworthy at 8am, the Town Crier (accompanied by Court Leet members) declared the Fair open for three days. The tree has sadly long since gone but the tradition continues around a brass plaque set into the road surface with officers of the Court proclaiming the event open.
The highlight of St Peter's Fair has always been the amusements and fairground rides. Historically, this took place in ‘Fair Park’ along North Road but now, they take pride of place in the Square.
The town of Calne where I now live, having moved here in 2011, is steeped in tradition. This year saw the 31st annual Duck Race. One Saturday in May, ducks are launched down the River Marden. Three thousand numbered bath ducks are sold door-to-door by Calne Lions before the event, along with business ducks and school ducks (which are decorated). The three events attract crowds of more than 3,000 people with craft, food and community stalls around the town.
There is also an annual Bike Meet which began back in 2000. The first year, I am told, started with a few bike clubs attending. That is hard to believe now, just seventeen years later as, each year, the town centre is literally full of bikes! The basic concept was to “put Calne on the map” and that aim has most certainly been fulfilled with vintage, classic and veteran bikes coming in large numbers from far and wide (even from the Continent!).
Have you discovered any interesting traditions in your place? …. any which stand out from the crowd?
I have just returned from attending the British Association for Local History’s History Day. This was held in a converted department store know as ‘Resource for London’. It was a rather strange venue with an L-shaped conference room, making games of ‘dodge the pillar’ necessary. Living in the bottom left hand corner of the country meant that even getting the first train of the day was not enough for me to arrive at the beginning of the proceedings. I therefore missed what I understand was a thought provoking presentation on Housing and Local History: research agendas and practical issues. This was followed by the AGM and a sandwich lunch.
Various awards for outstanding service to local history and for journal articles were presented. The keynote lecture was by Professor Christopher Dyer on Local Societies on the move: migration and social mobility in the Middle Ages. Professor Dyer sought to overturn not only the old stereotype of a geographically and socially static Medieval society but also the more recent modification of that idea, which claims that it was the Black Death that was the impetus for change and opportunities for mobility.
His method, which he agreed was not without its imperfections, was to use locative surnaes as indications of geographical migration, Working, as he is, in the era when surnames were just beginning, it is possible to look at surnames that are also place names and assume that the holder of that name (or possibly their father or grandfather) had moved from a place of that name. On this basis, more than 40% of his sample, taken from the Lay Subsidy returns, had moved less than 10km.
When considering social mobility, Professor Dyer pointed out that a peasant who acquires more land is still a peasant and this is not an indicator of social mobility. Amongst other things, he has used Freemen’s Lists in fifteenth century York to compare the occupations of sons with that of their father. Roughly half of his sample had taken up a different trade but not necessarily one that reflected a change in status. Professor Dyer was looking for those moving from artisan to mercantile rank, rather than from one artisan occupation to another. Interestingly, those whose fathers worked in the more prestigious trades, such as goldsmiths, were much more likely to follow in the family tradition, than those whose fathers were, for example, carpenters.
It was good to see several members of our society at this event and now we look forward to our own conference and AGM on 28 October in Manchester.
I’ve just arrived home from the annual Conference & AGM of the Family and Community Historical Research Society (FACHRS pronounced like ‘Fackers’) in Leicester. It was a weekend well spent learning from excellent speakers and meeting lots of interesting researchers. As they describe themselves: ‘Our voluntary nation-wide research projects provide a forum for the sharing of information, expertise and a means of learning about alternative methods and sources.’
So what’s this got to do with the Society for One-Place Studies? FACHRS just happens to be doing a Faith project in 2017-18 called ‘Communities of Dissent’, led by Project Director Dr Kate Tiller of Oxford University. As members of the Society, we can freely piggyback on our Chair’s FACHRS membership and take advantage of the wealth of online resources, expert direction, conferences and other gatherings offered by FACHRS. With FACHRS researchers studying 50 places across England, Wales and Scotland, you should be able to find people who share some of your own interests. I was so impressed with everyone that I went ahead and paid for a membership but there was no pressure to do so.
The first phase of the project is now underway with the aim of everyone delivering a profile of non-conformity in their place by September. The speakers this weekend gave us lots to think about and included:
- Dr Kate Tiller who helped us to think more about the profile of non-conformity each of us is trying to deliver and asked us to consider how the social and institutional character of a place might be reflected in its experience of dissent.
- Dr Bob Schofield who shared his investigation of the social composition of Scar Top Sunday School in Yorkshire. In a separate session, Bob also engaged us in an interesting exercise of nominal record linkage, joining non-conformist baptism records to census records.
- Dr Christine Seal who focused on Methodism in the Durham Dales, using such sources as the occupations of those who signed the 1851 religious census returns.
- Frances Richardson, a PhD student studying non-conformity in North Wales. Frances identified some strong differences between the Welsh and English experience, but some of her findings seem familiar to what I’ve seen in southwest England.
- And then just a bit of time to ask questions and get better acquainted with the speakers and our fellow researchers. How the weekend flew by!
In Phase 2 of the project, we’ll be choosing themes such as architectural, social, cultural or other perspectives which interest us to delve more deeply into our communities. My head is already spinning with ideas. Don’t hesitate to contact Janet or myself if you’d like to engage with the FACHRS project.
Here in Britain we are in the run up to an election and I hasten to add that the title of this post is not meant to have any political connotations. As spring has finally sprung in the south-west of England, I thought I would take a quick look at a few May traditions that take place in communities not too far from me. Sadly, my own places have nothing so special as some of these.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the English May-day is Maypole Dancing, a ritual that some believe derived from pagan fertility rites. The practice was frowned upon by those of a Puritanical persuasion and was banned by Cromwell in 1654, only to be restored along with Charles II.
There are other customs that celebrate driving away the darkness of winter and the coming of spring. The 1st of May marks the Celtic festival of Beltane and many May celebrations are associated with fertility. Padstow in Cornwall stages its iconic 'Obby 'Oss Day, when the red and blue 'osses vie for supremacy as their supporters process through the streets to the accompaniment of drums and more accordions than you are likely to see in one place anywhere else.
Also in Cornwall at this time of year is the Helston Flora Day when the Furry Dance is performed through the town as part of the Hal an Tow pageant.
Abbotsbury in Dorset hold Garland Day. Traditionally this was when the fishing fleet was decorated with flowers to bring it luck in the fishing season. The demise of the fleet means that the garlands are now processed through the streets instead.
Kingsteignton in Devon stage a Ram Roast, a Medieval tradition, commemorating the end to an historical drought. The story goes that a ram was sacrificed and the drought ended.
Devon is also the location for the Pilton Green Man festival. This is a more recent combination of the ancient fair for which Pilton was granted a charter in the fourteenth century and Green Man celebrations that are part of a wider May-time folklore tradition.
There are many similar commemorations throughout the country, in May and at other times of year. These occasions really were high days and holy-days for the inhabitants of our places and the traditions are well worth investigating as part of the recreation of the past of our communities.