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Title: Old English Sports
Author: Ditchfield, P. H. (Peter Hampson), 1854-1930
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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OLD ENGLISH SPORTS

Pastimes and Customs

by

P. H. DITCHFIELD, M.A.

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society; Rector of Barkham, Berks
Hon. Sec. of Berks Archæological Society, etc.

First published by Methuen & Co., 1891



TO

LADY RUSSEL

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED WITH THE AUTHOR'S
KINDEST REGARDS.



PREFACE.


Encouraged by the kind reception which his former book, _Our English
Villages_, met with at the hands of both critics and the public, the
author has ventured to reproduce in book-form another series of
articles which have appeared during the past year in the pages of
_The Parish Magazine_. He desires to express his thanks to Canon
Erskine Clarke for kindly permitting him to reprint the articles,
which have been expanded and in part rewritten. The Sports and
Pastimes of England have had many chroniclers, both ancient and
modern, amongst whom may be mentioned Strutt, Brand, Hone, Stow, and
several others, to whose works the writer is indebted for much
valuable information.

The object of this book is to describe, in simple language, the
holiday festivals as they occurred in each month of the year; and
the sports, games, pastimes, and customs associated with these rural
feasts. It is hoped that such a description may not be without
interest to our English villagers, and perhaps to others who love
the study of the past. Possibly it may help forward the revival of
the best features of old village life, and the restoration of some
of those pleasing customs which Time has deprived us of. The writer
is much indebted to Mr. E.R.R. Bindon for his very careful revision
of the proof-sheets.

BARKHAM RECTORY,
1891.



CONTENTS.



CHAPTER I.

JANUARY.

Dedication Festivals--New Year's Day--"Wassail"--Twelfth
Night--"King of the Bean"--St. Distaffs Day--Plough
Monday--Winter Games--Skating--Sword-dancing

CHAPTER II.

FEBRUARY.

Hunting--Candlemas Day--St. Blaize's Day--Shrove-tide--
Football--Battledore and Shuttlecock--Cock-throwing

CHAPTER III.

MARCH.

Archery--Lent--"Mothering" Sunday--Palm Sunday--
"Shere" Thursday--Watching the Sepulchre

CHAPTER IV.

APRIL.

Easter Customs--Pace Eggs--Handball in Churches--Sports confined
to special localities--Stoolball and Barley-brake--Water
Tournament:--Quintain--Chester Sports--Hock-tide

CHAPTER V.

MAY.

May-day Festivities--May-pole--Morris-dancers--The Book of
Sports--Bowling--Beating the Bounds--George Herbert's description
of a Country Parson

CHAPTER VI.

JUNE.

Whitsuntide Sports--Church-ales--Church-house--Quarter-staff--
Whistling and Jingling Matches--St. John's Eve--Wrestling

CHAPTER VII.

JULY.

Cricket--Club-ball--Trap-ball--Golf--Pall-mall--Tennis--Rush-bearing

CHAPTER VIII.

AUGUST.

Lammas Day--St. Roch's Day--Harvest Home--"Ten-pounding"
--Sheep-shearing--"Wakes"--Fairs

CHAPTER IX.

SEPTEMBER.

Hawking--Michaelmas--Bull and Bear-baiting

CHAPTER X.

OCTOBER.

Tournaments--"Mysteries"--"Moralities"--Pageants

CHAPTER XI.

NOVEMBER.

All-hallow Eve--"Soul Cakes"--Diving for Apples--The Fifth
of November--Martinmas--"Demands Joyous "--Indoor Games

CHAPTER XII.

DECEMBER.

St. Nicholas' Day--The Boy Bishop--Christmas Eve--Christmas
Customs--Mummers--"Lord of Misrule"--Conclusion

INDEX



CHAPTER I.

JANUARY.

     "Come then, come then, and let us bring
      Unto our pretty Twelfth-Tide King,
      Each one his several offering."

                                 HERRICK'S _Star Song_.

Dedication Festivals--New Year's Day--"Wassail"--Twelfth
  Night--"King of the Bean"--St. Distaff's Day--Plough
  Monday--Winter Games--Skating--Sword-dancing.


In the old life of rural England few things are more interesting
than the ancient sports and pastimes, the strange superstitions, and
curious customs which existed in the times of our forefathers. We
remember that our land once rejoiced in the name of "Merry England,"
and perhaps feel some regret that many of the outward signs of
happiness have passed away from us, and that in striving to become a
great and prosperous nation, we have ceased to be a genial,
contented, and happy one. In these days new manners are ever pushing
out the old. The restlessness of modern life has invaded the
peaceful retirement of our villages, and railway trains and cheap
excursions have killed the old games and simple amusements which
delighted our ancestors in days of yore. The old traditions of the
country-side are forgotten, and poor imitations of town manners have
taken their place. Old social customs which added such diversity to
the lives of the rustics two centuries ago have died out. Very few
of the old village games and sports have survived. The village
green, the source of so much innocent happiness, is no more; and
with it has disappeared much of that innocent and light-hearted
cheerfulness which brightened the hours of labour, and refreshed the
spirit of the toiling rustic, when his daily task was done. Times
have changed, and we have changed with them. We could not now revive
many of the customs and diversions in which our fathers took
delight. Serious and grave men no longer take pleasure in the
playthings which pleased them when they were children; and our
nation has become grave and serious, and likes not the simple joys
which diversified the lives of our forefathers, and made England
"merry."

Is it possible that we cannot restore some of these time-honoured
customs? The sun shines as brightly now as ever it did on a May-day
festival; the Christmas fire glows as in olden days. Let us try to
revive the spirit which animated their festivals. Let us endeavour
to realize how our village forefathers used to enjoy themselves, how
they used to spend their holidays, and to picture to ourselves the
scenes of social intercourse which once took place in our own
hamlets. Every season of the year had its holiday customs and quaint
manner of observance, some of them confined to particular counties,
but many of them universally observed.

In the volume, recently published, which treated of the story and
the antiquities of "Our English Villages," I pointed out that the
Church was the centre of the life of the old village--not only of
its religious life, but also of its secular every-day life. This is
true also with regard to the amusements of the people. The festival
of the saint, to whom the parish church was dedicated, was
celebrated with much rejoicing. The annual fair was held on that
day, when, after their business was ended, friends and neighbours
met together and took part in some of the sports and pastimes which
I shall try to describe. The other holidays of the year were
generally regulated by the Church's calendar, the great
festivals--Christmas, Easter, Ascension Day, Whit Sunday---being all
duly observed. I propose to record in these pages the principal
sports, pastimes, and customs which our forefathers delighted in
during each month of the year, the accounts of which are not only
amusing, but add to our historical knowledge, and help us to realize
something of the old village life of rural England.

We will begin with New Year's Day[1]. It was an ancient Saxon custom
to begin the year by sending presents to each other. On New Year's
Eve the wassail bowl of spiced ale was carried round from house to
house by the village maidens, who sang songs and wished every one "A
Happy New Year." "Wassail" is an old Saxon word, meaning "Be in
health." Rowena, the daughter of the Saxon king Hengist, offered a
flowing bowl to the British king Vortigern, welcoming him with the
words, "Lloured King Wassheil." In Devonshire and Sussex it was the
custom to wassail the orchards; a troop of boys visited the
orchards, and, encircling the apple-trees, they sang the words--

     "Stand fast, bear well top,
      Pray God send us a howling crop;
      Every twig, apples big;
      Every bough, apples enow;
      Hats full, caps full,
      Full quarter-sacks full."

Then the boys shouted in chorus, and rapped the trees with their
sticks.

The custom of giving presents on New Year's Day is as old as the
time of the Romans, who attached superstitious importance to it, and
thought the gifts brought them a lucky year. Our Christian
forefathers retained the pleasant custom when its superstitious
origin was long forgotten. Fathers and mothers used to delight each
other and their little ones by their mutual gifts; the masters gave
presents to their servants, and with "march-paynes, tarts, and
custards great," they celebrated the advent of the new year. Oranges
stuck with cloves, or a fat capon, were some of the usual forms of
New Year's gifts.

The "bringing-in" of the new year is a time-honoured custom; which
duty is performed by the first person who enters the house after the
old year has expired. In the North of England this important person
must be a dark man, otherwise superstitious folk believe that
ill-luck would befall the household. In other parts of England a
light-complexioned man is considered a more favourable harbinger of
good fortune.

The Christmas holidays extended over twelve days, which bring us to
January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. It is stated that "in the
days of King Alfred a law was made with regard to holidays, by
virtue of which the twelve days after the Nativity of our Saviour
were made festivals." Twelfth Day Eve was a great occasion among the
rustics of England, and many curious customs are connected with it.
In Herefordshire the farmers and servants used to meet together in
the evening and walk to a field of wheat. There they lighted twelve
small fires and one large one[2], and forming a circle round the
huge bonfire, they raised a shout, which was answered from all the
neighbouring fields and villages. At home the busy housewife was
preparing a hearty supper for the men. After supper they adjourned
to the ox-stalls, and the master stood in front of the finest of the
oxen and pledged him in a curious toast; the company followed his
example with all the other oxen, and then they returned to the house
and found all the doors locked, and admittance sternly refused until
they had sung some joyous songs.

In the south of Devonshire, on the eve of the Epiphany, the
best-bearing trees in the orchard were encircled by the farmer and
his labourers, who sang the following refrain--

              "Here's to thee, old apple-tree,
     Whence thou may'st bud, and whence thou may'st blow,
     And whence thou may'st bear apples enow!
               Hats full! caps full!
               Bushel-bushel-sacks full,
               And my pockets full too! Huzza!"

The returning company were not allowed to enter the house until some
one guessed what was on the spit, which savoury tit-bit was awarded
to the man who first named it.

The youths of the village during the holidays had plenty of sport,
outdoor and indoor, which kept out the cold by wholesome exercise
and recreative games. Many a hard battle was fought with snowballs,
or with bat-and-ball on the ice; the barns were the scenes of many a
wrestling match or exciting game at skittles; and in the evenings
they played such romping games as blind-man's-buff, hunt the
slipper, and others of a similar character. While the company sat
round the yule-log blazing on the hearth, eating mince-pies, or plum
porridge, and quaffing a bowl of well-spiced elder wine, the mummers
would enter, decked out in ribands and strange dresses, execute
their strange antics, and perform their curious play. So the wintry
days passed until Twelfth Night, with its pleasing associations and
mirthful customs.

Twelfth Night was a very popular festival, when honour was done to
the memory of the Three Wise Men from the East, who were called the
Three Kings. The election of kings and queens by beans was a very
ancient custom. The farmer invited his friends and labourers to
supper, and a huge plumcake was brought in, containing a bean and a
pea. The man who received the piece of cake containing the bean was
called the King of the Bean, and received the honour of the company;
and the pea conferred a like privilege on the lady who drew the
favoured lot. The rest of the visitors assumed the rank of ministers
of state or maids of honour. The festival was generally held in a
large barn decorated with evergreens, and a large bough of mistletoe
was not forgotten, which was often the source of much merriment.
When the ceremony began, some one repeated the lines--

      "Now, now the mirth comes
       With the cake full of plums,
     When Bean is King of the Sport here.
       Beside, you must know,
       The Pea also
     Must revel as Queen of the Court here."

Then the cake was cut and distributed amid much laughter and merry
shouts. The holders of the bean and pea were hailed as king and
queen for the night, the band struck up some time-honoured melody,
and a country dance followed which was ever carried on with much
spirit. The king exercised his royal prerogative by choosing
partners for the women, and the queen performed a like office for
the men; and so they merrily played their parts till the hours grew
late.

But the holidays were nearly over, and the time for resuming work
had arrived. However, neither the women nor the men seemed to be in
any hurry to begin. The day after Twelfth Day was humorously called
St. Distaft's[3] Day, which was devoted to "partly work and partly
play." Herrick, the recorder of many social customs, tells us that
the ploughmen used to set on fire the flax which the maids used for
spinning, and received pails of water on their heads for their
mischief. The following Monday was called Plough Monday, when the
labourers used to draw a plough decked with ribbons round the
parish, and receive presents of money, favouring the spectators with
sword-dancing and mumming. The rude procession of men, clad in clean
smock-frocks, headed by the renowned "Bessy," who sang and rattled
the money-box, accompanied by a strangely-dressed character called
the Fool, attired in skins of various animals and having a long
tail, threw life into the dreary scenery of winter, as the
gaily-decked plough was drawn along the quiet country lanes from one
village to another. The origin of Plough Monday dates back to
pre-Reformation times, when societies of ploughmen called guilds
used to keep lights burning upon the shrine of some saint, to invoke
a blessing on their labour. The Reformation put out the lights, but
it could not extinguish the festival.

In the long winter evenings the country folk amused themselves
around their winter's fireside by telling old romantic stories of
errant knights and fairies, goblins, witches, and the rest; or by
reciting

                      "Some merry fit
      Of Mayde Marran, or els of Robin Hood."

In the Tudor times there were plenty of winter games for those who
could play them, amongst which we may mention chess, cards, dice,
shovel-board, and many others.

And when the ponds and rivers were frozen, as early as the twelfth
century the merry skaters used to glide over the smooth ice. Their
skates were of a very primitive construction, and consisted of the
leg-bones of animals tied under their feet by means of thongs.
Neither were the skaters quite equal to cutting "threes" and
"eights" upon the ice; they could only push themselves along by
means of a pole with an iron spike at the end. But they used to
charge each other after the manner of knights in a tournament, and
use their poles for spears. An old writer says that "they pushed
themselves along with such speed that they seemed to fly like a bird
in the air, or as darts shot out from the engines of war." Some of
the less adventurous youths were content with sliding, or driving
each other forward on great pieces of ice. "Dancing with swords" was
a favourite form of amusement among the young men of Northern
nations, and in those parts of England where the Norsemen and Danes
settled, this graceful gymnastic custom long lingered.

[Illustration: DANCING ON THE VILLAGE GREEN.]

The old country dances which used to delight our fathers seem to be
vanishing. I have not seen for many years the village rustics
"crossing hands" and going "down the middle," and tripping merrily
to the tune of a fiddle; but perhaps they do so still.

In olden days the city maidens of London were often "dancing and
tripping till moonlight" in the open air; and later on we read that
on holidays, after evening prayer, while the youths exercised their
wasters and bucklers, the maidens, "one of them playing on a
timbrel, in sight of their masters and dames, used to dance for
garlands hanged athwart the streets." Stow, the recorder of this
custom, wisely adds, "which open pastimes in my youth, being now
suppressed, worser practices within doors are to be feared." In some
parts of England they still trip it gaily in the moonlight. A
clergyman in Gloucestershire tried to establish a cricket club in
his parish, but his efforts were all in vain; the young men
preferred to dance together on the village green, and the more manly
diversion had no charms for them. Dancing was never absent from our
ancestors' festivities, and round the merry May-pole

                    "Where the jocund swains
     Dance with the maidens to the bagpipe strains;"

or in the festal hall, adorned with evergreens and mistletoe, with
tripping feet they passed the hours "till envious night commands
them to be gone."



CHAPTER II.

FEBRUARY.

     "Down with rosemary and bayes,
        Down with the mistleto,
      Instead of holly, now up-raise
        The greener box, for show."

     "The holly hitherto did sway;
        Let box now domineere,
      Untill the dancing Easter-day,
        Or Easter's eve appeare."

Hunting--Candlemas Day--St. Blaize's Day--Shrove-tide--
  Football--Battledore and Shuttlecock--Cock-throwing.


The fox-hounds often meet in our village during this cheerless
month, and I am reminded by the red coats of the huntsmen, and by
the sound of the cheerful horn, of the sportsmen of ancient days,
who chased the wolf, hart, wild boar, and buck among these same
woods and dales of England. All hearts love to hear the merry sound
of the huntsman's horn, except perhaps that of the hunted fox or
stag. The love of hunting seems ingrained in every Englishman, and
whenever the horsemen appear in sight, or the "music" of the hounds
is heard in the distance, the spade is laid aside, the ploughman
leaves his team, the coachman his stables, the gardener his
greenhouses, books are closed, and every one rushes away to see the
sport. The squire, the farmers, and every one who by hook or by
crook can procure a mount, join in the merry chase, for as an old
poet sings--

     "The hunt is up, the hunt is up,
      Sing merrily we, the hunt is up;
      The birds they sing,
      The deer they fling:
      Hey, nony, nony-no:
      The hounds they cry,
      The hunters they fly,
      Hey trolilo, trolilo,
      The hunt is up."

We English folks come of a very sporting family. The ancient Britons
were expert hunters, and lived chiefly on the prey which they
killed. Our Saxon forefathers loved the chase, and in some very old
Saxon pictures illustrating the occupations of each month we see the
lord, attended by his huntsmen, chasing the wild boars in the woods
and forests. The Saxon king, Edgar, imposed a tribute of wolves'
heads, and Athelstan ordered the payment of fines in hawks and
strong-scented dogs. Edward the Confessor, too, who scorned worldly
amusements, used to take "delight in following a pack of swift dogs,
and in cheering them with his voice." The illustration is taken from
an old illumination which adorned an ancient MS., and represents
some Saxons engaged in unearthing a fox.

[Illustration: HUNTING IN SAXON TIMES (from an ancient MS.).]

When the Normans came to England great changes were made, and
hunting--the favourite sport of the Conqueror--was promoted with a
total disregard of the welfare of the people. Whole villages and
churches were pulled down in order to enlarge the royal forests, and
any one who was rash enough to kill the king's deer would lose his
life or his eyesight. It was not until the reign of Henry III. that
this law was altered. William the Conqueror, who forbade the killing
of deer and of boars, and who "loved the tall stags as though he
were their father," greatly enlarged the New Forest, in Hampshire.
Henry I. built a huge stone wall, seven miles in circumference,
round his favourite park of Woodstock, near Oxford; and if any one
wanted a favour from King John, a grant of privileges, or a new
charter, he would have to pay for it in horses, hawks, or hounds.
The Norman lords were as tyrannical in preserving their game as
their king, and the people suffered greatly through the selfishness
of their rulers. There is a curious MS. in the British Museum,
called _The Craft of Hunting_, written by two followers of Edward
II., which gives instructions with regard to the game to be hunted,
the rules for blowing the horn, the dogs to be used in the chase,
and so on. It is too long to quote, but I may mention that the
animals to be hunted included the hare, hart, wolf, wild boar,
buck, doe, fox ("which oft hath hard grace"), the martin-cat,
roebuck, badger, polecat, and otter. Many of these animals have long
since disappeared through the clearing of the old forests, or been
exterminated on account of the mischief which they did. Our modern
hunters do not enjoy quite such a variety of sport.

Otter-hunting, now very rare, was once a favourite sport among
villagers who dwelt near a river. Isaac Walton, in his book called
_The Complete Angler_, thus describes the animated scene: "Look!
down at the bottom of the hill there, in the meadow, checkered with
water-lilies and lady-smocks; there you may see what work they make;
look! look! you may see all busy--men and dogs--dogs and men--all
busy." At last the otter is found. Then barked the dogs, and shouted
the men! Boatmen pursue the poor animal in the water. Horsemen dash
into the river. The otter dives, and strives to escape; but all in
vain her efforts, and she perishes by the teeth of the dogs or the
huntsmen's spears.

Foreigners are always astonished at our love of sport and hunting,
and our disregard of all danger in the pursuit of our favourite
amusement, and one of our visitors tells the following story: "When
the armies of Henry VIII. and Francis, King of France, were drawn up
against each other, a fox got up, which was immediately pursued by
the English. The 'varmint' ran straight for the French lines, but
the Englishmen would not cease from the chase; the Frenchmen opposed
them, and killed many of these adventurous gentlemen who for the
moment forgot their warfare in the charms of the chase."

But I must proceed to mention other February customs and sports.
Great importance was attached to the Feast of the Purification,
commonly called Candlemas Day (February 2nd), when consecrated
candles were distributed and carried about in procession. At the
Reformation this custom did not entirely disappear, for we find a
proclamation of Henry VIII., in 1539 A.D., which orders that "on
Candlemas Day it shall be declared that the bearing of candles is
done in memory of Christ the spiritual light, whom Simeon did
prophesy, as it is read in the Church on that day." Christmas
decorations were removed from the houses; the holly, rosemary, bay,
and mistletoe disappeared, to make room for sprigs of box, which
remained until Easter brought in the yew. Our ancestors were very
fond of bonfires, and on the 3rd of this month, St. Blaize's Day,[4]
the red flames might be seen darting up from every hilltop. But why
they should do this on that day is not evident, except that the good
Bishop's name sounded something like _blaze_, and perhaps that was
quite a sufficient reason! And why the day of St. Valentine should
have been selected for the drawing lots for sweethearts, and for the
sending affectionate greetings, is another mystery. St. Valentine
was a priest and martyr in Italy in the third century, and had
nothing to do with the popular commemoration of the day.

Now we come to the diversions of Shrove-tide,[5] which immediately
precedes the Lenten Fast. The Monday before Ash Wednesday was called
Collop Monday in the north, because slices of bacon (or collops)
were the recognized dish for dinner. But on Tuesday the chief
amusements began; the bells were rung, pancakes tossed with great
solemnity, and devoured with great satisfaction, as an old writer,
who did not approve of so much feasting, tells us--

    "In every house are shouts and cries, and mirth and revel rout,
     And dainty tables spread, and all beset with guests about."

He further describes this old English carnival, which must have
rivalled any that we read of on the Continent--

    "Some run about the streets attired like monks, and some like
        kings,
     Accompanied with pomp, and guard, and other stately things.
     Some like wild beasts do run abroad in skins that divers be
     Arrayed, and eke with loathsome shapes, that dreadful are to
        see,
     They counterfeit both bears and wolves, and lions fierce in
        sight,
     And raging bulls; some play the cranes, with wings and stilts
        upright."

But the great game for Shrove Tuesday was our time-honoured
football, which has survived so many of the ancient pastimes of our
land, and may be considered the oldest of all our English national
sports. The play might not be quite so scientific as that played by
our modern athletes, but, from the descriptions that have come down
to us, it was no less vigorous. "After dinner" (says an old writer)
"all the youths go into the fields to play at the ball. The ancient
and worthy men of the city come forth on horseback to see the sport
of the young men, and to take part of the pleasure in beholding
their agility." There are some exciting descriptions of old football
matches; and we read of some very fierce contests at Derby, which
was renowned for the game. In the seventeenth century it was played
in the streets of London, much to the annoyance of the inhabitants,
who had to protect their windows with hurdles and bushes. At
Bromfield, in Cumberland, the annual contest on Shrove Tuesday was
keenly fought. Sides having been chosen, the football was thrown
down in the churchyard, and the house of the captain of each side
was the goal. Sometimes the distance was two or three miles, and
each step was keenly disputed. He was a proud man at Bromfield who
succeeded in reaching the goal with the ball, which he received as
his guerdon. How the villagers used to talk over the exploits of the
day, and recount their triumphs of former years with quite as much
satisfaction as their ancestors enjoyed in relating their feats in
the border wars!

The Scots were famous formerly, as they now are, for prowess in the
game, and the account of the Shrove Tuesday match between the
married and single men at Scone, in Perthshire, reads very like a
description of a modern Rugby contest. At Inverness the women also
played, the married against the unmarried, when the former were
always victorious. King James I., who was a great patron of sports,
did not approve of his son Henry being a football player. He wrote
that a young man ought to have a "moderate practice of running,
leaping, wrestling, fencing, dancing, and playing at the caitch, or
tennis, bowls, archery, pall-mall, and riding; and in foul or stormy
weather, cards and backgammon, dice, chess, and billiards," but
football was too rough a game for his Majesty, and "meeter for
laming than making able." Stubbs also speaks of it as a "bloody and
murthering practice, rather than a fellowly sport or pastime." From
the descriptions of the old games, it seems to have been very
painful work for the shins, and there were no rules to prevent
hacking and tripping in those days.

Football has never been the spoilt child of English pastimes, but
has lived on in spite of royal proclamations and the protests of
peace-loving citizens who objected to the noise, rough play, and
other vagaries of the early votaries of the game. Edward II. and
succeeding monarchs regarded it as a "useless and idle sport," which
interfered with the practice of archery, and therefore ought to be
shunned by all loyal subjects. The violence displayed at the matches
is evident from the records which have come down to us, and from the
opinions of several writers who condemn it severely. Free fights,
broken limbs, and deaths often resulted from old football
encounters; and when the games took place in the streets, lines of
broken windows marked the progress of the players. "A bloody and
murdering practice," "a devilish pastime," involving "beastly fury
and extreme violence," the breaking of necks, arms, legs and
backs--these were some of the descriptions of the football of olden
times. The Puritans set their faces against it, and the sport
languished for a long period as a general pastime. In some places it
was still practised with unwonted vigour, but it was not until the
second half of the present century that any revival took place. But
football players have quickly made up for lost time; few villages do
not possess their club, and our young men are ready to "Try it out
at football by the shins," with quite as much readiness as the
players in the good old days, although the play is generally less
violent, and more scientific.

Hurling, too, was a fast and furious game, very similar to our game
of hockey, and played with sticks and a ball. Two neighbouring
parishes used to compete, and the object was to drive the ball from
some central spot to one, or other, village. The contest was keen
and exciting; a ball was driven backwards and forwards, over hills,
dales, hedges, and ditches, through bushes, briars, mires, plashes,
and rivers, until at length the wished-for goal was gained.
Battledore and shuttlecock were favourite games for the girls, which
they played singing quaint rhymes--

     "Great A, little A;
      This is pancake day!"

and the men also indulged in tip-cat, or billet.

There is one other custom, of a most barbarous and cruel
description, which was practised on Shrove Tuesday by our
forefathers, and which happily has perished,[6] and that was
throwing at cocks or hens with sticks. The poor bird was tied by the
leg, and its tormentors stood twenty-two yards distant and had three
throws each for twopence, winning the bird if they could knock it
down. The cock was trained beforehand to avoid the sticks, so as to
win more money for its brutal master. Well might a learned
foreigner remark, "The English eat a certain cake on Shrove Tuesday,
upon which they immediately run mad, and kill their poor cocks."
Cock-fighting was a favourite amusement on Shrove Tuesday, as well
as at other times. This shameful and barbarous practice was
continued until the eighteenth century; some of our kings took
delight in it, and in the old grammar schools in the North of
England it was sanctioned by the masters, who received from their
scholars a small tax called "cock-fight dues." Happily, with
bull-baiting, bear-baiting, dog-fighting, and the like, this cruel
and brutal pastime has ceased to exist. If we have lost some of the
simple joys and cheerful light-heartedness of our forefathers, we
have also happily lost some of their cruel disregard for the
sufferings of animals, and abandoned such barbarous amusements as I
have tried to describe. But the old sports of England were not all
like these; the archery, running, leaping, wrestling, football, and
other games in which our ancestors delighted, made the young men of
England a manly and a sturdy race, and our nation mainly owes its
greatness to the courage, manliness, and daring of her sons.

But Ash Wednesday has dawned, and all is still in town and village.
The Shrove-tide feast is ended, and the days of fasting and of
prayer have hushed the sounds of merriment and song.



CHAPTER III.

MARCH.

    "And now a solemn fast we keep,
     When earth wakes from her winter sleep."

    "And he was clad in cote and hode of grene;
     A shefe of pecocke arrowes bryght and shene
     Under his belt he bare ful thriftely,
     Well could he dresse his tackle yomanly;
     His arrowes drouped not with fethers lowe,
     And in hande he bare a myghty bowe."

Archery--Lent--"Mothering" Sunday--Palm Sunday--
    "Shere" Thursday--Watching the Sepulchre.


Of all the sports and pastimes of old England, archery was the most
renowned, and many a hard-fought victory has been gained through
the skill which our English archers acquired in the use of their
famous bows. "Alas, alas for Scotland when English arrows fly!" was
the sad lament of many a Highland clan, and Frenchmen often learnt
to their cost the force of our bowmen's arms. The accounts of the
fights of Creçy and Poitiers tell of the prowess of our archers; and
the skill which they acquired by practising at the butts at home has
gained many a victory. Archery was so useful in war that several
royal proclamations were issued to encourage the sport, and in many
parishes there were fields set apart for the men to practise.
Although the sport has died out as a popular pastime, the old name,
the butts, remains in many a town and village, recording the spot
where our forefathers acquired their famous skill. The name is still
retained in the neighbouring town of Reading, and in some old
records I find that in 1549 a certain "Will'm Watlynton received
xxxvi_s_. for making of the butts;" and there are several items of
charges in other years for repairing and renewing the same.

[Illustration: TWO ARCHERS WEARING ARMOR.]

Edward III. ordered "that every one strong in body, at leisure on
holidays, should use in their recreation bows and arrows, and learn
and exercise the art of shooting, forsaking such vain plays as
throwing stones, handball, football, bandyball, or cock-fighting,
which have no profit in them." Edward IV. ordered every Englishman,
of whatever rank, to have a bow his own height always ready for use,
and to instruct his children in the art. In every township the butts
were ordered to be set up, and the people were required to shoot
"up and down" every Sunday and feast-day, under penalty of one
halfpenny.

The sport began to decline in the sixteenth century, in spite of
royal proclamations and occasional revivals. Henry VIII. forbade the
use of the cross-bow, lest it should interfere with the practice of
the more ancient weapon, and many old writers lament over the decay
of this famous pastime of old England, which, as Bishop Latimer
stated in one of his sermons, "is a goodly art, a wholesome kind of
exercise, and much commended as physic."

The Finsbury archers had, in 1594, no less than one hundred and
sixty-four targets in Finsbury Fields, set up on pillars with
curious devices over them; but four years later Stow laments that
"by reason of closing in of common grounds, our archers, for want of
room to shoot abroad, creep into ordinary dicing-houses and
bowling-alleys near home."

The famous Robin Hood, who lived in the reign of Richard I., was the
king of archers. The exploits of this renowned outlaw and his merry
men form the subject of many old ballads and romances, and the old
oaks in Sherwood Forest could tell the tale of many an exciting
chase after the king's deer, and of many a luckless traveller who
had to pay dearly for the hospitality of Robin Hood and Little John.
The ballads narrate that they could shoot an arrow a measured mile,
but this is a flight of imagination which we can hardly follow!

    "But he was an archer true and good,
     And people called him Robin Hood;
     Such archers as he and his men
     Will England never see again."

Another ballad relates the prowess of William of Cloudslee, who
scorned to shoot at an ordinary target, and cutting a hazel rod
from a tree, he shot at it from twenty score paces, cleaving the rod
in two.

[Illustration: CROSS-BOW SHOOTING AT THE BUTTS (from MS. dated 1496).]

[Illustration: AN ARCHER.]

Like William Tell of great renown, our English archer could split an
apple placed on his son's head at the distance of six score paces.

In time of war the archers were armed with a body-armour, the arms
being left free. They had a long bow made of yew, a sheaf of arrows
winged with gray goose-feathers, a sword, and small shield. Such was
the appearance of the men who struck such terror among the knights
and chivalry of France, and won many victories for England before
the days of muskets and rifles.

We are now in the season of Lent, and our towns and villages were
very still and quiet during these weeks. But there was an old custom
on Refreshment[7] or Mid-Lent Sunday for people to visit their
mother-church and make offerings on the altar. Hence probably arose
the practice of "mothering," or going to visit parents on that day,
and taking presents to them. Herrick alludes to this pleasant custom
in the following lines--

    "I'll to thee a simnell bring,
     'Gainst thou go'st a mothering;
     So that when she blesseth thee,
     Half that blessing thou'lt give me."

Many a mother's heart would rejoice to welcome to the old village
home once again some fond youth or maiden who had gone to seek their
fortunes in the town, and many happy recollections would long linger
of "Mothering" Sunday. The cakes alluded to in the above verse,
which children presented to their parents on these occasions, were
called Simnells. In some parts of England--in Lancashire,
Shropshire, and Herefordshire--these cakes are still eaten on
Mid-Lent Sunday. Possibly they had some religious signification, for
the Saxons were in habit of eating consecrated cakes at their
festivals. The name Simnell is derived from a Latin word signifying
fine flour, and not from the mythical persons, Simon and Nell, who
are popularly supposed to have invented the cake. Hot cross buns are
a relic of an ancient rite of the Saxons, who ate cakes in honour of
the goddess of spring, and the early Christian missionaries strove
to banish the heathen ideas associated with the cakes (which latter
the people would not abandon) by putting a cross upon them.

In memory of our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the
people took branches of palm-trees and scattered them in the way, on
Palm Sunday our ancestors went in procession through the town or
village, bearing branches of willow, yew, or box (as there were no
palms growing in this country), which were subsequently carried to
the church and offered at the altar. This custom lingered on after
the Reformation, and until recent times the practice of going
a-palming, or gathering branches of willow, on the Saturday before
Palm Sunday, has continued. Sometimes in mediæval times a wooden
figure representing our Saviour riding upon an ass was drawn along
by the crowds in the procession, and the people scattered their
willow branches before the figure as it passed.

Thursday before Easter Day was called Shere, or Maundy, Thursday.
The first name is derived from the ancient custom of _shering_ the
head and clipping the beard on that day; and Maundy is a corruption
of the Latin word _mandatum_, which means "a command," and refers to
the command of our Lord to imitate His example in the humility which
He showed in washing the feet of His disciples. In memory of His
lowly act the kings and queens of England used to wash the feet of a
large number of poor men and women, and bestowed upon them gifts and
money. This practice was continued until the reign of James II., and
in our own day the Queen presents to a certain number of poor people
bags of silver pennies, called Maundy money, which is coined for
that special purpose.

Many of my readers are familiar with the rhyme concerning "Hot cross
buns," but perhaps they are not acquainted with the superstition
which our forefathers attached to them. A writer on Cornish customs
says: "In some of our farmhouses the Good Friday cake may be seen
hanging to the bacon-rack, slowly but surely diminishing, until the
return of the season replaces it by a fresh one. It is of sovereign
good in all manner of diseases that may afflict the family, or
flocks and herds. I have seen a little of this cake grated into a
warm mash for a sick cow." Hot cross buns were supposed to have
great power in preserving friendship. If two friends broke a bun in
half exactly at the cross, while standing within the church-doors on
Good Friday morning before service, and saying the words--

    "Half for you, and half for me,
     Between us two good-will shall be. Amen,"

then, so long as they kept their halves, no quarrel would arise
between them. In the West of England it was considered very sinful
to work on Good Friday, and woe betide the luckless housewife who
did her washing on that day, for one of the family, it was believed,
would surely die before the end of the year. There are many other
superstitions attached to the day, such as the preserving of eggs
laid on Good Friday, which were supposed to have power to extinguish
fire; the making of cramp-rings out of the handles of coffins, which
rings were blessed by the King of England as he crept on his knees
to the cross, and were supposed to be preservatives against cramp.

In old churchwardens' account-books we find such entries as the
following--

    "To the sextin for watching the sepulture two nyghts viii_d_."

    "Paide to Roger Brock for watching of the sepulchre 8_d_."

And as the nights were cold we find an additional item--

    "Paid more to said Roger Brock for syses and colles, 3_d._"

These entries allude to the ancient custom of erecting on Good
Friday a small building to represent the Holy Sepulchre, and setting
a person to watch for two nights in remembrance of the soldiers
watching the grave in which our Lord's Body was laid. At the dawning
of the Easter morn the bells rang joyously, and all was life and
animation. The sun itself was popularly supposed to dance with joy
on the Feast of the Resurrection. But the manners and customs,
sports and pastimes, which were associated with Easter, I will
reserve for my next chapter.



CHAPTER IV.

APRIL.

    "The spring clad all in gladness
     Doth laugh at winter's sadness;
     And to the bagpipe's sound
     The nymphs tread out their ground.

    "Fie then, why sit we musing,
     Youth's sweet delight refusing;
     Say dainty nymphs, and speak:
     Shall we play barley-breake?"

                        _Old Ballad_ (A.D. 1603).

Easter Customs--Pace Eggs--Handball in Churches--Sports
   confined to Special Localities--Stoolball and Barley-brake
   --Water Tournament--Quintain--Chester Sports--Hock-tide.


From the earliest days of Christianity Easter has always been
celebrated with the greatest joy, and accounted the Queen of
Festivals. Many curious customs are associated with this feast, some
of which represented in a rude, primitive way the Resurrection of our
Lord. There was an old Miracle Play which was performed at Easter;
for we find in the churchwardens' books at Kingston-upon-Thames, in
the reign of Henry VIII., certain expenses for "a skin of parchment
and gunpowder for the play on Easter Day," for a player's coat,
stage, and "other things belonging to the play."

Then there was the custom in the North of England of "lifting" or
"heaving," which was originally designed to represent our Saviour's
Resurrection. On Easter Monday the men used to lift the women, whom
they met, thrice above their heads into the air, and the women
responded on Easter Tuesday, and lifted the men. This custom
prevailed also in North Wales, Warwickshire, and Shropshire.

The Pace Eggs, or _Pasche_, or _Paschal_ Eggs, were originally
intended to show forth the same truth, as the egg retaining the
elements of future life was used as an emblem of the Resurrection.
These Pace eggs were dyed, decorated with pretty devices, and
presented by friends to each other. In the North of England, the home
of so many of our old customs, the practice of giving Pace eggs still
lingers on; and we find amongst the household expenses of King Edward
I. an item of "four hundred and a half of eggs--eighteenpence," which
were purchased on Easter Day. The prices current in the thirteenth
century for eggs would scarcely be deemed sufficient by our modern
poultry-keepers!

The decoration of churches and houses with flowers just risen from
their winter sleep, the practice of always wearing some part of the
dress new on Easter Day, all seem to have had their origin in the
holy lessons which cluster round the festival of the resurrection.
An old writer tells us that it was the custom in some churches for
the clergy to play at handball at this season; even bishops and
archbishops took part in the pastime; but why they should profane
God's house in this way we are at a loss to discover. The reward of
the victors was a tansy-cake, so called from the bitter herb tansy,
which was supposed to be beneficial after eating so much fish during
Lent. Of the various kinds of games with balls I propose to treat in
another chapter.

At Easter there were numerous sports in vogue in different parts of
the country. In olden times almost every county had its peculiar
sport, which was regarded as a monopoly of that district. People did
not work so hard in those days, and seem to have had more time and
energy for ancient pastimes. Many of these old games have entirely
vanished; others have left their old neighbourhoods, and received a
hearty welcome all over the country. Berkshire and Somersetshire
were the ancestral homes of cudgel-play, quarter-staff, and
single-stick. Skating and pole-leaping were the characteristic
sports of the fen country. Kent and Sussex were famous for their
cricket; the northern counties for their football. Scotland rejoiced
in golf, curling, and tossing the caber; while Cumberland and
Westmoreland, Cornwall and Devon, were noted for their vigorous and
active wrestlers. Curling, tossing the caber[8], and wrestling have
clung to their old homes; but the other sports have wandered far and
wide, and are no longer confined to their native counties.

At Easter the local favourite sport was renewed with zest and
eagerness, and almost everywhere foot-races were run, the prize of
the conqueror being a tansy-cake. Stoolball and barley-brake were
also favourite games in this month, as Poor Robin says in his
_Almanack_ for 1677. Barley-brake seems to have been a very merry
game, in which the ladies took part, and of which we find some very
bright descriptions in the writings of some old English poets. The
only science of the pastime consisted in one couple trying with
"waiting foot and watchful eye" to catch the others and bear them
off as captives.

An old writer thus describes a water tournament, which seems to have
been a popular pastime among the youths of London at Easter--"They
fight battels on the water. A shield is hanged upon a pole (this is
a kind of quintain) fixed in the midst of the stream. A boat is
prepared without oars, to be carried by the violence of the water,
and in the fore-part thereof standeth a young man ready to give
charge upon the shield with his lance. If so be he break his lance
against the shield, and do not fall, he is thought to have performed
a worthy deed. If so be that, without breaking his lance, he runneth
strongly against the shield, down he falleth into the water, for the
boat is violently tossed with the tide; but on each side of the
shield ride two boats furnished with young men, which recover him
that falleth as soon as they may. Upon the bridge, wharves, and
houses by the river-side, stand great numbers to see and laugh
thereat." Stow thus describes the water tournament--"I have seen
also in the summer season, upon the river Thames, some rowed in
wherries, with staves in their hands, flat at the fore-end, running
one against the other; and for the most part, one or both of them
were overthrown and well ducked." This sport on the water was a
variety of the famous quintain, which was itself derived from the
jousts or tournaments, only, instead of a human adversary, the
knight or squire, riding on a horse, charged a shield or wooden
figure attached to a piece of wood, which easily turned round upon
the top of a post. At the other end of the wood was a heavy bag of
sand, which, when the rider struck the shield with his lance, swung
round and struck him with great force on the back if he did not ride
fast and so escape his ponderous foe. There were other forms of this
sport, which is so ancient that its origin has been lost in
antiquity. Queen Elizabeth was very much amused at Kenilworth Castle
by the hard knocks which the inexpert riders received from the
rotating sand-bag when they charged "a comely quintane" in her royal
presence in the year 1575.

A handsome quintain still stands on Offham village green, in Kent,
although it is no longer used for the skilful practice of former
days. It is the custom to hoist married men, who are not blest with
children, on the quintain, which is made to revolve rapidly.
Sometimes discontented and disobedient wives share the same fate.

Chester was famous for its Easter sports, when the mayor with his
mace, the corporation with twenty guilds, marched to the Rood-eye,
to play at football. But "inasmuch as great strife did arise among
the young persons of the same city" on account of the game, a
change was made in the reign of Henry VIII., and foot-races and
horse-races were substituted for the time-honoured football, and an
arrow of silver was given to the best archer.

But Easter sports are almost finished: however, we have not long to
wait for another popular anniversary; for the famous Hock-tide
sports always took place a fortnight after Easter, and much
amusement, and profit also, were derived from the quaint observances
of Hock Monday and Tuesday. The meaning of the word and the origin
of the custom have been the subjects of much conjecture; but the
festival is supposed to be held in remembrance of the victory of our
Saxon forefathers over the Danes in the time of Ethelred. The custom
was that on Hock Monday the men should go out into the streets and
roads with cords, and stop and bind all the women they met,
releasing them on payment of a small ransom. On the following day
the women bound the men, and the proceeds were devoted to charitable
purposes. It is to be noted that the women always extracted the most
money, and in the old churchwardens' accounts we find frequent
records of this strange method of collecting subscriptions--_e.g._,
St. Lawrence's, Reading, A.D. 1499:--"Item, received of Hoc money
gaderyd" (gathered) "of women xx_s_. Item, received of Hoc money
gaderyd of men iiij_s_." We also find that the women had a supper
given to them as a reward for their exertions, for there is the
"item for wives' supper at Hock-tide xxiij_d_."

The observance of Hock-tide seems to have been particularly popular
in the ancient town of Reading. At Coventry there was an "old
Coventry Play of Hock Tuesday," which was performed with great
delight before Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth: the players divided
themselves into two companies to represent the Saxons and the Danes:
a great battle ensued, and by the help of the Saxon women the former
were victorious, and led the Danes captive. The queen laughed much
at the pageant, and gave the performers two bucks and five marks in
money.

So ends the month of sunshine and of shower; but the rustic youths
are making ready for the morris-dance, and the merry milk-maids are
preparing their ribbons to adorn themselves for the revels of May
Day. The May-pole is being erected on the village green, and all is
in readiness for the rejoicings of to-morrow.



CHAPTER V.

MAY.

    "Colin met Sylvia on the green
      Once on the charming first of May,
    And shepherds ne'er tell false, I ween,
      Yet 'twas by chance, the shepherds say.

    "Colin he bow'd and blush'd, then said,
      'Will you, sweet maid, this first of May,
    Begin the dance by Colin led,
      To make this quite his holiday?'

    "Sylvia replied, 'I ne'er from home
      Yet ventur'd, till this first of May;
    It is not fit for maids to roam,
      And make a shepherd's holiday.'

    "'It is most fit,' replied the youth,
      'That Sylvia should this first of May
    By me be taught that love and truth
      Can make of life a holiday.'"--LADY CRAVEN.

May Day Festivities--May-pole--Morris-dancers--The Book of
   Sports--Bowling--Beating the Bounds--George Herbert's
   description of a Country Parson.


The spring has dawned with all its brightness and beauty; the
nightingale's song is heard, and all nature seems to rejoice in the
sweet spring-time. Our forefathers delighted, too, in the advent of
the bright month of May, which the old poets used to compare to a
maiden clothed in sunshine dancing to the music of birds and brooks;
and May Day was the great rural festival of the year.

Long before the break of day, men and women, old and young, of all
classes, used to assemble and hurry away to the woods and groves to
gather the blooming hawthorn and spring flowers, and laden with
their spoils returned when the sun rose, with merry shouts and
horn-blowings, and adorned every door and window in the village. The
poet Herrick sings of this pleasant beginning to the day's
festivities. Addressing a maiden named Corinna, he says--

    "Come, my Corinna, come, and coming mark
     How each field turns a street, and each street a park,
     Made green and trimmed with trees; see how
     Devotion gives each house a bough
     Or branch; each porch, each door, ere this
     An ark, a tabernacle is
     Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove."

The men blew cow-horns to usher in the spring, and the maids carried
garlands to hang them in the churches; while at Oxford the
choristers of Magdalen College assemble at the top of the tower at
early dawn, and sing hymns of thankfulness because spring has come
again. This pleasing custom is still observed every year on the
first of May.

But let us away to the village green, where the May-pole is being
adorned with a few finishing touches, and is covered with flowers
and ribbons. It has been carried here by twenty or thirty yoke of
oxen, their horns decorated with sweet flowers, and then, with
shouts and laughter, and with song, the young men raise the massive
pole with handkerchiefs and flags streaming on the top, and the
rustic feast and dance begin.

           "The May-pole is up,
            Now give me the cup,
    I'll drink to the garlands around it;
            But first unto those
            Whose hands did compose
    The glory of flowers that crown'd it."[9]

A company of morris-dancers approach, and a circle is made round the
May-pole in which they can perform. First comes a man dressed in a
green tunic, with a bow, arrows, and bugle-horn, who represents
Robin Hood, and by his side, attended by some maidens, walks Maid
Marian, the May Queen.[10] Will Stukeley, Little John, and other
companions of the famous outlaw, are represented; and last, but not
least, comes the hobby-horse--a man with a light wooden framework
representing a horse about him, covered with trappings reaching to
the ground, so as to prevent the man's feet from being seen. The
hobby-horse careered about, pranced and curveted, to the great
amusement of the company. The morris-dancers are adorned with bells,
which jingle merrily as they dance. But a formidable-looking dragon
approaches, which hisses and flaps his wings, and looks very fierce,
making the hobby-horse kick and rear frantically. When the animals
have wearied themselves, the maidens dance again, and the archers
set up their targets on the lower end of the green, where a close
contest ensues, and after many shots the victor is crowned with a
laurel wreath.

Such were some of the sights and sounds of May Day in olden times.
But the Puritans, who slew their king, Charles I., were very much
opposed to all joyousness and mirth, and one of their first acts
when they came into power was to put down the May-pole. They ordered
that all May-poles (which they called "a heathenish vanity,
generally abused to superstition and wickedness") shall be taken
down by the constables and churchwardens, and that the said officers
be fined five shillings till the said May-poles be taken down. So
the merry May songs were hushed for many a long year, until Charles
II. was restored to his throne, and then the stately pole was reared
once more, and Robin Hood and his merry crew began their sports
again. But times change, and we change with them: customs pass away,
and with them have long vanished the May-pole and its bright group
of light-hearted rustics. An American writer who visited this
country thus describes his feeling when he saw an old May-pole still
standing at Chester--"I shall never forget my delight. My fancy
adorned it with wreaths of flowers, and peopled the green bank with
all the dancing revelry of May Day. I value every custom that tends
to infuse poetical feeling into the common people, and to sweeten
and soften the rudeness of rustic manners without destroying their
simplicity. Indeed, it is to the decline of this happy simplicity
that the decline of this custom may be traced, and the rural dance
on the green, and the homely May-day pageant, have gradually
disappeared in proportion as the peasantry have become expensive and
artificial in their pleasures, and too knowing for simple enjoyment.
Some attempts, indeed, have been made by men of both taste and
learning to rally back the popular feeling to their standards of
primitive simplicity; but the time has gone by, the feeling has
become chilled by habits of gain and traffic, the country apes the
manners and amusements of the town, and little is heard of May Day
at present, except from the lamentations of authors, who sigh after
it from among the brick walls of the city."

The name of the parish of St. Andrew _Undershaft_ records the place
where the city May-pole, or _shaft,_ was erected, and _Shaft Alley_
the place where it lay when it was not required for use.

The proclamation of James I., called the "Book of Sports," which was
renewed by King Charles I., throws some light upon the sports in
vogue during his reign. It was enacted "for his good people's lawful
recreation, after the end of Divine service, that his good people be
not disturbed, or discouraged, from any lawful recreation, such as
dancing for men and women, archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or
any such harmless recreations; nor from having May games, Whitsun
ales, and morris dances, and the setting up of May-poles, and other
sports therewith used, so as the same be had in due and convenient
time, without impediment or neglect of Divine service. And that
women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church for the
decorating of it, according to their old custom. But withal his
Majesty doth hereby account still as prohibited all unlawful games
to be used on Sundays only, as bear and bull-baiting, interludes,
and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited,
bowling."

Why his Majesty should have been so very severe on the game of bowls,
which is a very ancient pastime, and innocent enough, is not at first
quite clear; but it appears that the numerous bowling-alleys in
London were, in the sixteenth century, the resorts of very bad
company, and the nests of gambling and vice. Hence the severity of
King James' strictures on bowling.

The people of Lancashire in the time of James I. were as devoted to
sports and amusement as they are now; and when the king was making a
progress through Lancashire, "he received a petition from some
servants, labourers, mechanics, and other vulgar persons,
complaining that they were debarred from dancing, playing,
church-ales--in a word, from all recreations on Sundays after Divine
service." King James hated Puritanism and loved recreation; so he
readily granted the petition of the Lancashire folk, and issued a
proclamation encouraging Sunday pastimes, which is known as the
famous "Book of Sports."

In Ireland on May Day Bale-fires are lighted, and to this day young
men jump through the flames, and children are passed across the
embers, in order to secure them good luck during the coming year. On
this day, too, the Irish kings are supposed to rise from their
graves and gather together a ghostly army of rude warriors to fight
for their country. The wild cries of the shadowy host, the clashing
of shields, and the sound of drums are said to have been heard
during the period of the last rebellion in Ireland.

On one of the Rogation Days, or on Ascension Day, it was the custom
to go in procession round the boundaries of the parish to ask God's
blessing on the fruits of the earth, and as there were few maps and
divisions of land, to call to mind and pass on to the next
generation the boundaries of the township or village. The choir sang
hymns, and under certain trees, which were called Gospel Trees, the
clergyman read the Gospel for the day, with a litany and prayers.
Sometimes boys were whipped, or bumped against trees, or thrown into
a river, in order to impress upon them where the boundaries were.
But they received a substantial recompense afterwards, and the whole
company, when the procession was over, sat down to the perambulation
dinner, and talked about their recollections of former days.

The advantages of this practice are set forth in George Herbert's
description of a country parson. He says, "The country parson is a
lover of old customs, if they be good and harmless. Particularly he
loves procession, and maintains it, because there are contained in
it four manifest advantages, 1. A blessing of God for the fruits of
the earth. 2. Justice in the preservation of bounds. 3. Charity, in
loving, walking, and neighbourly accompanying one another, with
reconciling of differences at that time, if there be any. 4. Mercy,
in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution and largess, which
at that time is, or ought to be, used. Wherefore he exacts of all to
be present at the perambulation, and those that withdraw and sever
themselves from it he mislikes, and rebukes as uncharitable and
unneighbourly; and if they will not reform, presents them" (_i.e._
to the bishop for censure).

This custom is still preserved, or has been revived, in many
parishes, and at Oxford the boys may be seen on Ascension Day
bearing white willow-wands, and beating the bounds of some of the
old city parishes.



CHAPTER VI.

JUNE.

            "The woods, or some near town
    That is a neighbour to the bordering down,
    Hath drawn them thither, 'bout some lusty sport,
    Or spiced wassel-bowl, to which resort
    All the young men and maids of many a cote,
    Whilst the trim minstrell strikes his merry note."

                           FLETCHER, _The Faithful Shepherdess_.

Whitsuntide Sports--Church-ales--Church-house--Quarter-staff
--Whistling and Jingling Matches--St. John's Eve--Wrestling.


After May Day our villagers had not long to wait until the
Whitsuntide holiday came round. This holiday was notorious for the
"Church-ales," which were held at this season. These feasts were a
means of raising money for charitable purposes. If the church needed
a new roof, or some poor people were in sad straits, the villagers
would decide to have a "Church-ale"; generally four times a year the
feast was given, and always at Whitsuntide. The churchwardens
bought, and received presents of, a large quantity of malt, which
they brewed into beer, and sold to the company, and any inhabitant
of the parish who did not attend had to pay a fine. Every one who
was able contributed something to the entertainment. The feast was
held in the church-house, a building which stood near the church.
This was the scene of many social gatherings, and is thus described
by an old writer--

     "In every parish was a church-house, to which belonged
     spits, crocks, and other utensils for dressing provisions.
     Here the housekeepers met. The young people were there,
     too, and had dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, &c., the
     ancients (_i.e._ the old folk) sitting gravely by and
     looking on. All things were civil, and without scandal.
     The church-ale is, doubtless, derived from the Agapai or
     Love Feasts, mentioned in the New Testament."

Whether the learned writer was right in his conjecture we cannot be
quite certain, but church-ales subsequently degenerated into
something quite different from New Testament injunctions, and were
altogether prohibited on account of the excess to which they gave
rise. Let us hope that all these feasts were not so bad as they were
represented, and indeed in early times great reverence was attached
to them, which prevented excess. The neighbours, too, would come in
from the adjoining parishes and share the feast. An arbour of boughs
was erected in the churchyard, called Robin Hood's Bower, where the
maidens collected money for the "ales" in the same way which they
employed at Hock-tide, and which was called "Hocking." The old books
of St. Lawrence's Church, Reading (to which I have before referred),
contain a record of this custom--"1505 A.D. Item. Received of the
maidens' gathering at Whitsuntide by the tree at the church door,
ij^s. vi^d." The morris-dancers and minstrels, the ballad-singers
and players, were in great force on these occasions, and were
entertained at the cost of the parish. In the churchwardens' account
of St. Mary's, Reading, we find in the year 1557--

     "Item--paid to Morris-dancers and the Minstrels, meat and
     drink at Whitsuntide--iii^s. iiii^d."

When the feasting had ended, archery, running races in sacks,
grinning through a horse-collar (each competitor trying to make the
most ludicrous grimaces), afforded amusement to the light-hearted
spectators.

The game of quarter-staff is an old pastime which was a great
favourite among the rustics of Berkshire. The quarter-staff is a
tough piece of wood about eight feet long, which the player grasped
in the middle with one hand, while with the other he kept a loose
hold midway between the middle and one end. The object of the game
was, to use the forcible language of the time, to "break the head"
of the opponent. On the White Horse Hill, where Alfred fought
against the Danes, and carved out on the hill-side the White Horse
as a memorial of his victory, many a rural sport has been played,
and at the periodical "scourings of the Horse" many a Berkshire head
broken to see who was the noted champion of the game. An old
parishioner of mine, James of Sandhurst, was once the hero of
quarter-staff in the early part of the century. The whistling match
was not so dangerous a contest; the prize was conferred upon the
whistler who could whistle clearest, and go through his tune while a
clown, or merry-andrew, made laughable grimaces before him.

[Illustration: QUARTER-STAFF.]

Another diversion common at these country gatherings was the
jingling match. A large circle was inclosed with ropes, in which the
players took their place. All were blindfolded with the exception of
one, who was the jingler, and who carried a bell in each hand, which
he was obliged to keep ringing. His object was to elude the pursuit
of his blinded companions, and he won the prize if he was still free
when the play ceased. It was an amusing sight to see the men trying
to catch the active jingler, running into each other's arms, and
catching every one but the right one. When the jingling match was
over, a pig with a short, well-soaped tail was turned out for the
people to run after, and he who could hold it by the tail without
touching any other part obtained it for his pains. There was also a
game called Pigeon-holes, which appears to have been somewhat
similar to our present game of bagatelle.

And so with laughter and with song the feast ended, the evening
shadows fell around, and the happy rustics retired to their humble
thatched-roofed homes. The proceeds of these church-ales were often
considerable. "There were no rates for the poor in my grandfather's
time," says one writer, "the church-ale of Whitsuntide did the
business"; and whether the parishioners had to pay a tax for the
support of the King's army, or to repair the church, or to maintain
some orphan children, it was generally found "that something still
remained to cover the bottom of the purse."

Of the "mysteries," or miracle plays, as they were called, which
were performed in towns on Corpus Christi Day and at other times, I
propose to write in another chapter; and we will now proceed to the
hillsides near our villages on the eve of St. John's Day, when we
should witness the lighting of large bonfires, and some curious
customs connected with that ceremony. Both the old and the young
people used to sally forth from the village to some neighbouring
height, and there, amidst much laughter and with many a shout, they
lighted the large bonfire. Then they danced round the blazing logs,
and afterwards leaped through the flames, and at the close of the
ceremony each person brought away with him a burning branch. This
rite appears to have been a relic of Paganism. Probably the fire was
originally lighted in honour of the sun, which our forefathers
worshipped before they became Christians. The leaping through the
flames had also a superstitious meaning, and the simple people
thought that in this way they could ward off evil spirits and
prevent sickness. The Roman shepherds used to leap through the
Midsummer blaze in honour of Pales. The Scandinavians lit their
bonfires in honour of their gods Odin and Thor, and the leaping
through the flames reminds us of the worshippers of Baal and Moloch,
who, as we read in the Bible, used to "pass their children through
the fire" in awe of their cruel god. St. John's Day, or Midsummer
Day (June 24th), was chosen because on that day the sun reaches its
highest point in the zodiac. There is, however, another
interpretation of the meaning of the fires on St. John's Day, as
illustrating the verse which speaks of him "as a burning and a
shining light" (St. John v. 35); but this interpretation was
probably invented by some pious divine who endeavoured to attach a
Christian meaning to an ancient heathen custom. The connection of
the ceremony with the old worship of the sun is indisputable. Its
practice was very general in nearly all European nations, and in not
very remote times from Norway to the shores of the Mediterranean the
glow of St. John's fires might have been seen. The Emperor
Charlemagne in the ninth century forbade the custom as a heathen
rite, but the Church endeavoured to win over the custom from its
Pagan associations and to attach to it a Christian signification. In
the island of Jersey the older inhabitants used to light fires under
large iron pots full of water, in which they placed silver
articles--as spoons, mugs, &c., and then knocked the silver against
the iron with the idea of scaring away all evil spirits.[11]
Sometimes bones were burnt in the fire, for we are told in a quaint
homily on the Feast of St. John Baptist, that bones scared away the
evil spirits in the air, since "wise clerks know well that dragons
hate nothing more than the stink of burning bones, and therefore the
country folk gather as many as they might find, and burned them; and
so with the stench thereof they drove away the dragons, and so they
were brought out of great disease."

In some most remote northern parts of England the farmer lights a
wisp of straw, which he carries round his fields to protect them
from the tare and darnel, the devil and witches. In some places they
used to cover a wheel with straw, set it on fire, and roll it down a
hill. A learned writer on antiquities tells us that the people
imagined that all their ill-luck rolled away from them together with
this burning wheel. All these customs are relics of the old fire and
sun worship, to which our forefathers were addicted. Wrestling,
running races, and dancing were afterwards practised by the
villagers. Wrestling is a very ancient sport, and the men of
Cornwall and Devon, of Westmoreland and Cumberland, were famous for
their skill. A "Cornish hug" is by no means a tender embrace.
Sometimes the people bore back to their homes boughs of trees, with
which they adorned their doors and windows. At Oxford the
quadrangle of Magdalen College was decorated with boughs on St.
John's Day, and a sermon preached from the stone pulpit in the
corner of the quadrangle; this was meant to represent the preaching
of St. John the Baptist in the wilderness.

At length the villagers, wearied with their exertions, retire to
their cottage homes, marching in procession from the scene of their
observances; and silence reigns o'er the village for a few short
hours, till the sunlight summons them to their daily toil.



CHAPTER VII.

JULY.

    "Swift o'er the mead with lightning speed
      The bounding ball flies on;
    And hark! the cries of victory rise
      For the gallant team that's won."


Cricket--Club-ball--Trap-ball--Golf--Pall-mall--Tennis--
                      Rush-bearing.


At this time of the year all the cricket-clubs in town and village
are very busy, and matches are being played everywhere. It may not
therefore be inappropriate if I tell you in this chapter of the
history of that game which has become so universally popular
wherever our countrymen live. On the plains of India, in Australia
(as some of our English cricketers have learnt to their cost), in
Egypt, wherever Englishmen go, there cricket finds a home and a
hearty welcome. But it is not nearly so ancient a game as others
which I have already mentioned, although it had some fairly old
parents, simple and humble-minded folk, who would have been greatly
astonished to see the extraordinary development of their precocious
offspring.

Kent and Sussex were the ancestral homes of cricket, which is thus
described by an old writer--"A game most usual in Kent, with a
cricket-ball bowled and struck with two cricket-bats between two
wickets. The name is derived from the Saxon word _cryc_, baculus, a
bat or staff; which also signifies fulcimentum, a support or prop,
whence a cricket or little stool to sit upon. Cricket play among the
Saxons was also called _stef-plege_ (staff-play)."

I fear that our old writer must have made a great mistake if he
imagined that the Saxons ever played cricket, and I believe that the
word was not known before the sixteenth century. In the records of
Guildford we find that a dispute arose about the enclosure of a
piece of land in the time of Elizabeth; and in the suit that arose
one John Derrick stated in his evidence that he knew the place well
"for fifty years or more, and that when he was a scholar in the free
school at Guildford he and several of his companions did run and
play there at cricket and other plays." Also in Cotgrave's French
Dictionary, published in 1611, the word _crosse_ is translated "a
cricket-staff, or the crooked-staff wherewith boys play at cricket."

In the eighteenth century allusions to the game become more
frequent, although it was still a boy's game. It had its poet, who
sang--

    "Hail, cricket, glorious, manly, British game,
     First of all sports, be first alike in fame."

It had its calumniators, who said that it "propagated a spirit of
idleness" in bad times, when people ought to work and not play, and
that it encouraged gambling. But the game began to prosper, and
several noted men, poets and illustrious statesmen, recall the
pleasurable memories of their prowess with the bat and ball. In a
book of songs called _Pills to purge Melancholy_, published in 1719,
we find the verse--

    "He was the prettiest fellow
     At football or at cricket:
     At hunting chase or nimble race
     How featly he could prick it."

In the early part of the eighteenth century the game was in a very
rudimentary condition, very different from the scientific pastime it
has since become. There were only two wickets, a foot high and two
feet apart, with one long bail at the top. Between the wickets there
was a hole large enough to contain the ball, and when the batsman
made a run, he had to place the end of his bat in this hole before
the wicket-keeper could place the ball there, otherwise he would be
"run out."

The bat, too, was a curved, crooked arrangement very different from
our present weapon. The Hambledon Club, in Hampshire, which has
produced some famous players, seems to have been mainly instrumental
in reforming and improving the game. Its members introduced a limit
to the width of the bat, viz., four and a quarter inches--the
standard still in force--in order to prevent players, such as a hero
from Reigate, bringing bats as wide as the wicket. In 1775 they
wisely introduced a middle stump, as they found the best balls
harmlessly flying between the wide wickets. It was feared lest this
alteration would shorten the game too much, but it does not seem to
have had that effect, as in an All England match against the
Hambledon Club, two years later, one Aylward scored 167 runs, and
stayed in two whole days. England owes much to the old Club at
Hambledon for the improvements which it wrought in the game, which
has become our great national pastime.

Miss Mitford, in her charming book, _Our Village_, describes the
rivalry which existed between the village elevens at the beginning
of the nineteenth century, and gives a sketch of a match between two
Berkshire village teams, which brought about some very happy results
of a romantic nature. She tells us, too, of the comments of the
rustics on the "new-fashioned" style of bowling which one of the
team had introduced from London, which did not at all commend itself
to them, but effectually took their wickets. When that celebrated
company of cricketers, dressed in frock-coats and tall hats, whose
portraits adorn many a pavilion, competed for the honour of All
England, they were quite ignorant of "round-arm" bowling, which is,
of course, an invention of modern times. Only "lobs," or
"under-hands," were the order of the day. It has been stated that we
are indebted to the ladies for the important discovery of the modern
style of delivering the ball. The story may be legendary, but I have
read somewhere that the elder Lillywhite used to practise cricket
all through the winter, and that his daughters used to bowl to him.
During the bitter cold of a winter's day they wore their shawls, and
found it more convenient to bowl with extended arms than in the old
method. Their balls so delivered used to puzzle their father, and
often take his wicket; so he began to imitate them, and introduced
his new method into matches, and thus the age of round-arm bowling
was inaugurated. I cannot vouch for the truth of the story, and only
tell it as it was told to me.[12] At any rate Lillywhite was the
father of modern bowling, which would have startled and considerably
puzzled the veteran cricketers in the early part of the present
century.

The proper parent of cricket seems to have been club-ball, which is
a very old game, and of which there is a picture in the Bodleian
Library at Oxford, dated 1344 A.D. It represents a female throwing a
ball to a man who is in the act of raising his bat to strike it.
Behind the woman, at a little distance, appear several other figures
of men and women waiting attentively to catch or stop the ball when
hit by the batsman. There is a still more ancient picture of two
club-ball players, representing the batsman holding the ball also
and preparing to hit it, while the other player holds his hands in
readiness to catch the ball. He has the appearance of a very careful
fielder. Here we have the rudimentary idea of cricket; but how they
scored their game, what rules they had, we cannot determine.
Stool-ball claims also to be an ancestor of cricket, and consists in
one player defending a stool with his hand from being hit by a ball
bowled by another player. Here is a simple form of the modern game,
the stool being used as a wicket, and the hand for a bat.

Trap-ball is a much older game than cricket, and can be traced to
the beginning of the fourteenth century. The modern game differs
little from that which the old pictures describe, except in the
shape of the trap which holds the ball. But the most ancient of all
games of this nature is golf, or goff (as it used to be spelt),
which was played with a crooked club or staff, sometimes called a
bandy. Scotsmen are very fond of this game, which has lately
migrated into England and found many admirers. It was probably
introduced into Scotland from Holland, and was a popular pastime as
early as 1457. In spite of proclamations encouraging archery, and
forbidding golf, it continued to flourish; it has a long list of
royal patrons; and the Stuart monarchs seem to have been as
enthusiastic over the game as all true golfers ought to be. Poets
have sung the praises of golf, and the glory of the heroes who drove
their balls along St. Andrew's Links, or those of East Neuk. The
object of the game is to drive the ball into certain holes in the
fewest number of strokes. James II. was an expert golfer, and had
only one rival, an Edinburgh shoemaker, named Paterson.

[Illustration: PALL-MALL.]

If you have visited London you will probably have walked along the
street called Pall Mall, which name is derived from an old game
fashionable in the reign of Charles II. The merry monarch and his
courtiers frequently amused themselves with this game, which
somewhat resembled golf, and consisted in driving a ball by means of
a mallet through an iron hoop suspended from the ground in the
fewest blows. The game was played in St. James's Park, where the
street which bears its name now runs.

Tennis also has a history. It commenced its career as hand-ball, the
ball being driven backwards and forwards with the palm of the hand.
Then the players used gloves, and afterwards bound cords round their
hands to make the ball rebound more forcibly. Here we have the
primitive idea of a racket. France seems to have been the original
home of tennis, which in the thirteenth century was played in
unenclosed spaces; but in the fourteenth it migrated to the towns,
and walls enclosed the motions of the ball. In Paris alone there
were said to be eighteen hundred tennis-courts. In the sixteenth
century there were several covered tennis-courts in England, and
some of our English monarchs were very devoted to the game. Henry
VII. used to play tennis, and there is a record of his having lost
twelvepence at tennis, and threepence for the loss of balls. Henry
VIII. was also very fond of the game, and lost much money at wagers
with certain Frenchmen; but, like a sensible man, "when he perceived
their craft he eschewed their company, and let them go." He built
the famous court at Hampton, which still remains. Charles II. also
played tennis. The old game is very different from the modern
lawn-tennis which is now so popular: it was always the game of the
select few, and not of the many, like its precocious offspring; and
there are only thirty-one tennis-courts in England at the present
day. The court attached to the palace of the French King Louis XVI.
at Versailles was the scene of some very exciting meetings in the
early days of the French Revolution in 1789.

[Illustration: PALL-MALL.]

[Illustration: TENNIS.]

There were some other forms of ball-play, such as balloon-ball,
stow-ball, &c.; but of these it is hardly needful for me to speak,
as they are only varieties of those games which I have already
described. The history of football has been narrated in a preceding
chapter. You will be able to trace from the descriptions of these
old sports the ancestors of our noble game of cricket, and wonder at
the extraordinary development of so scientific a game from such rude
and simple beginnings.

The floors of the houses and churches of old England consisted
simply of the hard, dry earth, which the people covered with rushes;
and once a year there was a great ceremony called "Rush-bearing,"
when the inhabitants of each village or town went in procession to
the church to strew the floor with newly-cut rushes. The company
went to a neighbouring marsh and cut the rushes, binding them in
long bundles, and decorating them with ribands and flowers. Then a
procession was formed, every one bearing a bundle of rushes; and
with music, drums, and ringing of bells they marched to the church,
and strewed the floor with their honoured burdens. Long after the
rushes ceased to be used in churches the ceremony was continued, and
I have witnessed a rush-bearing procession such as I have described.
There was a rush-cart with a large pile of decorated rush-sheaves,
and some characters from the May-day games were introduced. A queen
sat under a canopy of rushes, a few morris-dancers performed their
antics, and a jester amused the spectators with his quaint sayings.
A village feast, followed by dancing round a May-pole, generally
formed the conclusion of the day's festivities. In 1884 this
pleasant custom was revived at Grasmere in the Lake district, when
the children of the village carried out a "rush-bearing" after the
manner of their forefathers, and the village green again resounded
with songs of joy.

I fear that our ancestors were not always very cleanly people; they
seldom washed their floors, and therefore they were obliged to adopt
some device to hide their uncleanliness. The old rushes were not
taken away before the new ones were brought in; hence the lowest
layer became filthy, and one writer attributes the frequent
pestilences which often broke out to the dirtiness of their floors
and the masses of filthy rushes lying upon them. Perhaps some of the
wise folks in Lancashire discovered this, for we find the following
entry in the account books of Kirkham Church, 1631--"Paid for
carrying the rushes out of the Church in the sickness time, 5._s_.
0_d_." Straw was used in winter: it would seem very strange to us to
have our floors covered with straw, like a stable!

In this matter of cleanliness we have certainly improved upon the
habits of our forefathers: dirty cottages are the exception, and not
the rule, as they were in the days of "good Queen Bess"; and the
absence of those terrible plagues which used to devastate our land
in former times is due in a great measure to the improved
cleanliness and more careful regard for sanitation by the people of
England.



CHAPTER VIII.

AUGUST.

    "Crowned with the ears of corn, now come,
     And to the pipe sing harvest home.
     Come forth, my lord, and see the cart
     Dressed up with all the country art:
     The horses, mares, and frisking fillies
     Clad all in linen white as lilies.
     The harvest swains and wenches bound
     For joy, to see the hock-cart crowned."

                             HERRICK'S _Hesperides_.

Lammas Day--St. Roch's Day--Harvest-home--"Ten-pounding"--
     Sheep-shearing--"Wakes"--Fairs.


The harvest fields have begun to ripen, and the corn will soon be
ready for the sickle; of this fact our forefathers were reminded by
the Lammas Festival, which was celebrated on the first of this
month. _Lammas_ is a shortened form of the word Loaf-mass, or feast
of the loaf. A loaf of bread was made of the first-ripe corn, and
used in Holy Communion on this day; so this feast was a preliminary
harvest thanksgiving festival--a feast of "first-fruits," such as
the Jews were commanded in the old Mosaic law to observe.

When the harvest was gathered in there were great festivities, and
it has been thought that August 16th, St. Roch's Day, was generally
observed as the harvest-home. St. Roch, or Roque, was a Frenchman,
who lived in the early part of the fourteenth century, and was
supposed to have performed miraculous cures, but August 16th seems
to have been rather early in the year for a harvest-home. However,
when the feast of ingathering did take place, there were great
rejoicings in our English villages, and the mode of its celebration
helped to knit together the masters and labourers, and to promote
good feeling between them.

When the fields were almost cleared of the golden grain, the last
few sheaves were decorated with flowers and ribbons, and brought
home in a waggon, called the "Hock-cart," while the labourers, their
wives and children, carrying green boughs, sheaves of wheat and rude
flags, formed a glad procession. All the pipes and tabors in the
village sounded, and shouts of laughter and of song were raised as
the glad procession marched along. They sang--

    "Harvest-home, harvest-home,
     We have ploughed, we have sowed,
     We have reaped, we have mowed,
     We have brought home every load.
         Hip, hip, hip, harvest-home!"

or, as they say in Berkshire--

    "Whoop, whoop, whoop, harvest whoam!"

Sometimes the most comely maiden in the village was chosen as
Harvest Queen, and placed upon her throne at the top of the sheaves
in the hock-cart as it was drawn homewards to the farm.

[Illustration: HARVEST-HOME.]

The rustics receive a hearty welcome at their master's house, where
they find the fuelled chimney blazing wide, and the strong table
groaning beneath the smoking sirloin--

                  "Mutton, veal,
    And bacon, which makes full the meal,
    With several dishes standing by,
    As here a custard, there a pie,
    And here all-tempting frumenty."

Frumenty, which is made of wheat boiled in milk was a standing dish
at every harvest supper. And then around the festive board old tales
are told, well-known jests abound, and thanks given to the good
farmer and his wife for their hospitality in some such homely rhymes
as these--

        "Here's a health to our master,
           The lord of the feast;
         God bless his endeavours,
           And send him increase.

        "May everything prosper
           That he takes in hand,
         For we be his servants,
           And do his command."

The youths and maidens dance their country dances, as an old writer,
who lived in the reign of Charles II., tells us:--"The lad and the
lass will have no lead on their heels. O, 'tis the merry time
wherein honest neighbours make good cheer, and God is glorified in
His blessings on the earth." When the feast is over, the company
retire to some near hillock, and make the welkin ring with their
shouts, "Holla, holla, holla, largess!"--largess being the presents
of money and good things which the farmer had bestowed.

Such was the harvest-home in the good old days--joy and delight to
both old and young. The toils of the labourers did not seem so hard
and wearisome when they knew that the farmers had such a grateful
sense of their good services; and if any one felt aggrieved or
discontented, the mutual intercourse at the harvest-home, when all
were equal, when all sat at the same table and conversed freely
together, soon banished all ill-feeling, and promoted a sense of
mutual trust, which is essential to the happiness and well-being of
any community. Shorn of much of its merriment and quaint customs,
the harvest-home still lingers on in some places; but modern habits
and notions have deprived it of much of its old spirit and
light-heartedness. We have our harvest thanksgiving services, which
(thank God!) are observed in almost every village and hamlet. It is,
of course, our first duty to thank God for the fruits of His bounty
and love; but the harvest-home should not be forgotten. When
labourers simply regard harvest-time as a season when they can earn
a few shillings more than usual, and take no further interest in
their work, or in the welfare of their master, all brightness
vanishes from their industry: their minds become sordid and
mercenary; and mutual trust, good-feeling, and fellowship cease to
exist.

Neither did the harvest-men allow drunkenness, laziness, swearing,
quarrelling, nor lying, to go unpunished. The labourers in Suffolk,
if they found one of their number guilty, would hold a court-martial
among themselves, lay the culprit down on his face, and an
executioner would administer several hard blows with a shoe studded
with hob-nails. This was called "ten-pounding," and must have been
very effectual in checking any of the above delinquencies.

Besides the harvest-home there was also observed another feast of a
similar character in the spring, when the sheep were shorn. A
plentiful dinner was given by the farmer to the shearers and their
friends, and a table was often set in the open village for the young
people and children. Tusser, who wrote a book upon _Five Hundred
Points of Husbandry_, did not forget the treats which ought to be
given to the labourers, and alludes to the sheep-shearing festival
in the following lines--

    "Wife, make us a dinner; spare flesh, neither corn,
     Make wafers and cakes, for our sheep must be shorn;
     At sheep-shearing, neighbours none other things crave,
     But good cheer and welcome like neighbours to have."

We have in many villages and towns a feast called "the Wakes," which
is one of the oldest of our English festivals. The day of "the
Wakes" is the festival of the Saint to whom the parish church is
dedicated, and it is so called because, on the previous night, or
vigil, the people used to watch, or "wake," in the church till the
morning dawned. It was the custom for the inhabitants of the parish
to keep open house on that day, and to entertain all their relations
and friends who came to them from a distance. In early times the
people used to make booths and tents with the boughs of trees near
to the church, and were directed to celebrate the feast in them with
thanksgiving and prayer. By degrees they began to forget their
prayers, and remembered only the feasting, and other abuses crept
in, so at last the "waking" on the eve of the festival was
suppressed. But these primitive feasts were the origin of most of
our fairs, which are generally held on the dedication festival of
the parish church.[13] The neighbours from the adjoining villages
used to attend the wakes, so the peddlers and hawkers came to find a
market for their wares. Their stalls began to multiply, until at
last an immense fair sprang into existence, which owed its origin
entirely to the religious festival of "the wakes." Fairs have
degenerated like many other good things, and we can hardly realize
their vastness in the middle ages. The circuit of a fair sometimes
was very great, and it would have been impossible in those days to
carry on the trade of the country without them. The great
Stourbridge Fair, near Cambridge, I have described in my former book
on _English Villages_. The booths were planted in a cornfield, and
the circuit of the fair, which was one of the largest in Europe, was
over three miles. All kinds of sports were held on these occasions:
plays, comedies, tragedies, bull-baiting, &c., and King James was
very wroth with the undergraduates of Cambridge who would insist
upon frequenting Stourbridge Fair rather than attend to their
studies.

The "Wakes," or village feast, was a great day for all sports and
pastimes. A writer in the _Spectator_ describes the "country wake"
which he witnessed at Bath. The green was covered with a crowd of
all ages and both sexes, decked out in holiday attire, and divided
into several parties, "all of them endeavouring to show themselves
in those exercises wherein they excelled." In one place there was a
ring of cudgel-players, in another a football match, in another a
ring of wrestlers. The prize for the men was a hat, and for the
women, who had their own contests, a smock. Running and leaping also
found a place in the programme. In Berkshire back-sword play and
wrestling were the favourite amusements for vigorous youths, and men
strove hard to win the honour of being champion and the prizes which
were offered on the occasion. There were "cheap jacks," and endless
booths containing all kinds of fairings, ribands, gingerbread cakes,
and shows, with huge pictures hung outside of giants and wild
Indians, pink-eyed ladies, live lions, and deformities of all kinds.
There were minor sports, such as climbing the pole, jumping in
sacks, rolling wheelbarrows blindfolded, donkey races, muzzling in a
flour-tub, &c.; but the back-sword play was the chief and most
serious part of the programme.

A good sound ash-stick with a large basket handle was the weapon
used, very similar to, but heavier and shorter than an ordinary
single-stick. The object is to "break the head" of the opponent--
_i.e._ to cause blood to flow anywhere above the eyebrow. A slight
blow will often accomplish this, so the game is not so savage
as it appears to be. The play took place on a stage of rough planks
about four feet high. Each player was armed with a stick, looping the
fingers of his left hand in a handkerchief or strap, which he
fastened round his left leg, measuring the length, so that when he
drew it tight with his left elbow up he had a perfect guard for the
left side of his head.[14] Guarding his head with the stick in his
right hand, he advanced, and then the fight began; fast and furious
came the blows, until at last a red streak on the temple of one of
the combatants declared his defeat. The _Reading Mercury_ of May 24,
1819, advertised the rural sports at Peppard, when the not very
magnificent prize of eighteenpence was offered to every man who broke
a head at cudgel-play, and a shilling to every one who had his head
broken.

Such was the sport which our old Berkshire rustics delighted in.
Back-sword play, wrestling, and other pastimes made them a hardy
race, full of courage, and developed qualities which it is hoped
their descendants have not altogether lost. The gallant Berkshire
Regiment, which fought so bravely at Maiwand, is composed of the
sons of those who used to wield the back-sword on the Berkshire
downs, and showed themselves not unworthy of their ancestry,
although the quarter-staff and ashen-swords are forgotten. The old
village feasts are forgotten too--more's the pity. Then old quarrels
were healed, old bitternesses removed: aged friends met, and became
young again in heart, as they revived old memories and sweet
recollections of youthful days. Rich and poor, the squire and the
farmer, the farmer and his labourers, all mingled together, class
with class; and good-fellowship, harmony, and mutual confidence were
promoted by these annual gatherings. It is true that these village
feasts degenerated, because the well-to-do folk abstained from them;
but would it not be possible to revive them, to preserve the good
which they certainly did, and to eliminate the evil which is so
often mingled with the good? Such a consideration is worthy of the
attention of all who have the welfare of the people at heart.



CHAPTER IX.

SEPTEMBER.

    "Nor is there hawk which mantleth her on pearch,
       Whether high tow'ring or accoasting low,
     But I the measure of her flight do search,
       And all her prey, and all her diet know."--SPENSER.

Hawking--Michaelmas--Bull and Bear-baiting.


Of all old English sports hawking is one of the most ancient and the
most fashionable. It has almost died out now, but there are one or
two hawking enthusiasts who have endeavoured to revive this old
English pastime, and on the Berkshire Downs a hawking party was seen
a few years ago. Hawking consists in the training and flying of
hawks for the purpose of catching other birds. Kings and noblemen,
barons and ladies of feudal times, used to delight in following the
sport on horseback, and to watch their favourite birds towering high
to gain the upward flights in order to swoop down upon some heron,
crane, or wild duck, and bear it to the ground. Persons of high rank
always carried their hawks with them wherever they went, and in old
paintings the hawk upon the wrist of a portrait was the sign of
noble birth. The sport was practised by our Saxon forefathers before
the Normans came, and the first trained hawk in England is said to
have been sent by St. Boniface, the "Apostle of the Germans," as a
present to Ethelbert, King of Kent, in the eighth century. The
history of the sport of the kings who loved to take part in it, and
of their adventures, would require a volume, and my space only
allows me to give you a brief account of the manner in which the
sport was conducted.

I may mention that before the reign of King John only kings and
noblemen were allowed to take part in hawking; but in the forest
Charter, which that monarch was compelled to sign, every freeman was
permitted to have his own hawks and falcons. The falconer, who took
care of the hawks, was a very important person. The chief falconer
of the King of France received four thousand florins a year, besides
a tax upon every hawk sold in the kingdom. The Welsh princes
assigned the fourth place of honour in their courts to this officer;
but this proud distinction had its responsibilities, and this high
official was only allowed to take three draughts from his horn, lest
his brain should not be as clear as it ought to be, and the precious
birds might be neglected.

Sometimes the hawking party went on foot, carrying long poles to
enable them to jump the ditches and to follow the course. Henry
VIII. nearly lost his life on one occasion through falling (his pole
having broken) into a bog, from which he was rescued by one John
Moody, who happened to see the accident. But mounted on gallant
steeds the lords and ladies were accustomed to follow their
favourite pastime, and amid the blowing of horns and laughter and
shoutings they rode along, galloping up-hill and down-hill, with
their eyes fixed upon the birds, which were battling or chasing each
other high overhead. The hawk did not always win the fight:
sometimes a crafty heron would turn his long bill upwards just as
the hawk was descending upon him, and pierce his antagonist through
the body.

Great skill and perseverance were required in training these birds.
When they were not flying after their prey, they were hoodwinked,
_i.e._ their heads were covered with caps, which were often finely
embroidered. On their legs they had strings of leather, called
_jesses_, with rings attached. When a hawk was being trained, a long
thread was fastened to these rings to draw the bird back again, but
when it was well educated, it would obey the voice of the falconer
and return when it had performed its flight. It was necessary for
the bird to know its master very intimately, so a devoted follower
of the sport would always carry his hawk about with him, and the two
were as inseparable as a Highland shepherd and his dog. The
sportsman would feed his bird and train it daily, and in an old book
of directions he is advised "at night to go to the mews, and take it
from its perch, and set it on his fist, and bear it all the night,"
in order to be ready for the morrow's sport.

[Illustration: A FALCONER.]

The mews were the buildings where the hawks were kept when moulting,
the word "mew" being a term used by falconers to signify to moult,
or cast feathers; and the King's Mews, near Charing Cross, was the
place where the royal hawks were kept. This place was afterwards
enlarged, and converted into stables for horses; but the old name
remained, and now most stables in London are called mews, although
the word is derived from falconry, and the hawks have long since
flown away.

The sport declined at the end of the seventeenth century, when
shooting with guns became general, but our language has preserved
some traces of this ancient pastime. When a person is blinded by
deceit, he is said to be "hoodwinked," and this word is derived from
the custom of placing a hood over the hawk's eyes before it was
released from restraint.

On the Feast of St. Michael, or Michaelmas, the tenants were in the
habit of bringing presents of a fat goose to their landlord, in
order to make him kind and lenient in the matters of rent, repairs,
and the renewal of leases, and the noble landlords used to entertain
their tenants right royally in the great halls of their ancestral
mansions, roast goose forming a standing dish of the repast. This is
probably the origin of the custom which prevails at the present time
of eating geese at Michaelmas.

When the harvest was over, and the farmers were not so busy, they
often amused themselves by the cruel sport of baiting a bull. An old
gentleman who lived at Wokingham was so fond of this savage pastime
that he left in his will a sum of money for the purpose of providing
every year two bulls to be baited for the amusement of the people of
his native town. The bulls are still bought, but they are put to
death in a more merciful manner, and the meat given to the poor.
Amongst the hills in Yorkshire there is a small village, through
which a brook runs, crossed by two bridges, and having a stone wall
on each side. Thus, when the bridges were stopped up, there was
formed a wall-encircled space, into which, once a year, at least, a
poor bull was placed, to be worried to death by dogs, and within the
memory of men now living this cruel sport has been carried on.

Nor was this only a sport for ignorant rustics; kings and noble
courtiers, and even ladies, used to frequent the bear-gardens of the
metropolis, and witness with delight the slaughter of bulls, and
bears, and dogs. Erasmus tells us that in the reign of Henry VIII.
"many herds of bears were maintained in this country for the purpose
of baiting." Queen Elizabeth commanded bears, bulls, and the
ape to be baited in her presence, and James I. was not averse
to the sight. The following is a description of this barbarous
entertainment--"There is a place built in the form of a theatre,
which serves for baiting of bulls and bears. They are fastened
behind, and then worried by great English bull-dogs; but not without
risk to the dogs from the horns of the one and the teeth of the
other." Even horses were sometimes baited, and sometimes asses.
Evelyn, in his _Diary_, thus describes the strange sight--"June
16th, 1670. I went with some friends to the bear-garden, where was
cock-fighting, dog-fighting, bear and bull-baiting, it being a
famous day for all these butcherly sports, or rather barbarous
cruelties. The bulls did exceedingly well, but the Irish wolf-dog
exceeded, which was a tall greyhound, a stately creature indeed, who
beat a cruel mastiff. One of the bulls tossed a dog full into a
lady's lap, as she sat in one of the boxes at a considerable height
from the arena. Two poor dogs were killed, and so all ended with the
ape on horseback, and I most heartily weary of the rude and dirty
pastime, which I had not seen, I think, in twenty years before."
Foreigners, who have visited England in by-gone times, often allude
scornfully to our forefathers' barbarous diversions; but on the
whole they seem rather to have enjoyed the sport. A Spanish nobleman
was taken to see a poor pony baited with an ape fastened on its
back; and he wrote--"to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs,
with the screams of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the
ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable!" But enough has been
said of these terrible and monstrous cruelties. Happily for us they
no longer exist, and together with cock-fighting, throwing at cocks
and hens, and other barbarous amusements, cannot now be reckoned
among our sports and pastimes. It was a happy thing for us when the
conscience of the nation was aroused, and the law stepped in to put
an end to such disgraceful scenes which were witnessed in the Paris
Garden at Southwark, or in the rude bull-run of a Yorkshire village.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was not known
in the days of bear-baiting and cock-throwing.



CHAPTER X.

OCTOBER.

    "Rivet well each coat of mail;
     Blows shall fall like showers of hail;
     Merrily the harness rings,
     Of tilting lists and tournay sings,
     Honour to the valiant brings.
        Clink, clink, clink!"--_Armourers' Chorus_.

Tournaments--_Mysteries_--_Moralities_--_Pageants_.


In the days of chivalry, when gallant knights used to ride about in
search of adventures; and when there were many wars, battles, and
crusades, martial exercises were the chief amusements of the people
of England. We have already mentioned some of these sports in which
the humbler folk used to show their strength and dexterity, and now
I propose to tell you of those wonderful trials of military skill
called tournaments, which were the favourite pastimes of the
noblemen and gentry of England in the middle ages, and afforded much
amusement to their poorer neighbours who flocked to see these
gallant feats of arms. Tournaments were fights in miniature, in
which the combatants fought simply to exhibit their strength and
prowess. There was a great deal of pomp and ceremony attached to
them. The lists, as the barriers were called which inclosed the
scene of combat, were superbly decorated, and surrounded by
pavilions belonging to the champions, ornamented with their arms and
banners. The seats reserved for the noble ladies and gentlemen who
came to see the fight were hung with tapestry embroidered with gold
and silver. Everyone was dressed in the most sumptuous manner: the
minstrels and heralds were clothed in the costliest garments; the
knights who were engaged in the sports and their horses were most
gorgeously arrayed. The whole scene was one of great splendour and
magnificence, and, when the fight began, the shouts of the heralds
who directed the tournament, the clashing of arms, the clang of
trumpets, the charging of the combatants, and the shouts of the
spectators, must have produced a wonderfully impressive and exciting
effect upon all who witnessed the strange spectacle.

The regulations and laws of the tournament were very minute. When
many preliminary arrangements had been made with regard to the
examination of arms and helmets and the exhibition of banners, &c.,
at ten o'clock on the morning of the appointed day the champions and
their adherents were required to be in their places. Two cords
divided the combatants, who were each armed with a pointless sword
and a truncheon hanging from their saddles. When the word was given
by the lord of the tournament, the cords were removed, and the
champions charged and fought until the heralds sounded the signal to
retire. It was considered the greatest disgrace to be unhorsed. A
French earl once tried to unhorse our King Edward I. when he was
returning from Palestine, wearied by the journey. The earl threw
away his sword, cast his arms around the king's neck, and tried to
pull him from his horse. But Edward put spurs to his horse and drew
the earl from the saddle, and then shaking him violently, threw him
to the ground.

The joust (or just) differed from tournament, because in the former
only lances were used, and only two knights could fight at once. It
was not considered quite so important as the grand feat of arms
which I have just described, but was often practised when the more
serious encounter had finished. Lances or spears without heads of
iron were commonly used, and the object of the sport was to ride
hard against one's adversary and strike him with the spear upon the
front of the helmet, so as to beat him backwards from his horse, or
break the spear. You will gather from these descriptions that this
kind of sport was somewhat dangerous, and that men sometimes lost
their lives at these encounters. In order to lessen the risk and
danger of the two horses running into each other when the knights
charged, a boarded railing was erected in the midst of the lists,
about four or five feet high. The combatants rode on separate sides
of this barrier, and therefore could not encounter each other except
with their lances.

[Illustration: A TOURNAMENT.]

In the days of chivalry ladies were held in high honour and
respect. It was their privilege to assign the prizes to those who
had distinguished themselves most in the tournament. They were the
arbiters of the sport; and, indeed, the jousts were usually held in
honour of the ladies, who received as their right the respect and
devotion of all true knights. This respect for women had a softening
and ennobling influence, which was of great value in times when such
influences were rare. It was probably derived (according to a French
writer) from our ancestors, the Germans, "who attributed somewhat of
divinity to the fair sex." It is the sign of a corrupt age and
degraded manners when this respect ceases to be paid.

Only men of noble family, and who owned land, were allowed to take
part in the jousts or tournament; but the yeomen and young farmers
used to practise similar kinds of sport, such as tilting at a ring,
quintain, and boat jousts, which have already been mentioned in a
preceding chapter. Richard I., the lion-hearted king, was a great
promoter of these martial sports, and appointed five places for the
holding of tournaments in England, namely, at some place between
Salisbury and Wilton, between Warwick and Kenilworth, between
Stamford and Wallingford, between Brackley and Mixbury, and between
Blie and Tykehill. But in almost every part of England tournaments
or jousts have been held, and scenes enacted such as I have
described. Sometimes two knights would fight in mortal combat. If
one knight accused the other of crime or dishonour, the latter
might challenge him to fight with swords or lances, and, according
to the superstition of the times, the victor was considered to be
the one who spoke the truth. But this ordeal combat was far removed
from the domain of sport.

When jousts and tournaments were abandoned, tilting on horseback at
a ring became a favourite courtly amusement. A ring was suspended on
a level with the eye of the rider; and the sport consisted in riding
towards the ring, and sending the point of a lance through it, and
so bearing it away. Great skill was required to accomplish this
surely and gracefully. Ascham, a writer in the sixteenth century,
tells us what accomplishments were required from the complete
English gentleman of the period. "To ride comely, to run fair at the
tilt or ring, to play at all weapons, to shoot fair in bow, or
surely in gun; to vault lustily, to run, to leap, to wrestle, to
swim, to dance comely, to sing, and play of instruments cunningly;
to hawk, to hunt, to play at tennis, and all pastimes generally
which be joined to labour, containing either some fit exercises for
war, or some pleasant pastime for peace--these be not only comely
and decent, but also very necessary for a courtly gentleman to use."
The courtly gentleman must have been very industrious to acquire all
these numerous accomplishments!

There was another form of spectacle which gave great pleasure to our
ancestors; and often in the market-places of old towns, or in open
fields, at the bottom of natural amphitheatres near some of the
ancient monasteries, were Scriptural plays performed, which were
called _Miracles_, or _Mysteries_, because they treated of scenes
taken from the Old or New Testament, or from the lives of saints and
martyrs. The performances were very simple and often grotesque, but
the plays were regarded by the monks, who assisted in these
representations, as a means of teaching the people sacred truths.
The miracle play of Norman and mediæval times was a long,
disconnected performance, which often lasted many days. In the reign
of Henry IV. there was a play which lasted eight days, and,
beginning with the creation of the world, contained the greater part
of the history of the Old and the New Testament. The words of the
play seem to us strange, and sometimes profane; but they were not
thought to be so by those who listened to them. The _Mystery_ play
only lasted one day, and consisted of one subject, such as _The
Conversion of St. Paul_. _Noah and the Flood_ was a very popular
piece. His wife is represented as being much opposed to the perilous
voyage in the ark, and abuses Noah very severely for compelling her
to go. Sometimes the authors thought it necessary to introduce a
comic character to enliven the dullness of the performance. But, in
spite of humorous demons, these mysteries ceased to attract, and
plays called _Moralities_ were introduced, in which the actors
assumed the parts of personified virtues, &c., and you might have
heard "Faith" preaching to "Prudence," or "Death" lecturing "Beauty"
and "Pride." The first miracle play performed in England was that of
_St. Catherine_, which was acted at Dunstable, 1110 A.D.; and
another early piece was the play called _The Image of St. Nicholas_.
These were of a religious nature and were performed in church during
Divine service. The following is an outline of the plot of the
latter: instead of the image of St. Nicholas, which adorned his
shrine, a man stood in the garb of the saint whom he represented.
The service is divided into two portions, and the play is produced
during the interval. A stranger appears at the west door, who is
evidently a rich heathen, and lays down his treasures before the
image of the saint and beseeches him to take care of them. A band of
thieves enter and steal the treasures, and when the heathen returns,
he is so enraged that he proceeds to chastise the image of the
saint; when lo! the figure descends, marches out of the church, and
convinces the thieves of their wickedness. Struck with fear on
account of the miracle, they restore the treasures, the Pagan sings
a song of joy, and St. Nicholas tells him to worship God, and to
praise Christ. Then, after an act of adoration to the Almighty, the
service is resumed.[15]

There were also strolling companies of minstrels, jugglers, and
jesters, who went about the country, and acted secular pieces
composed of comic stories, jokes, and dialogues, interspersed with
dancing and tumbling. The whole performance was very absurd and
often indecent, and the clergy did their utmost to suppress these
strolling companies.

The stage upon which the _Mysteries_ were played was built on
wheels, in order that it might be drawn to different parts of the
town. Sometimes religious plays were acted in churches before the
Reformation; but in Cornwall the people formed an earthen
amphitheatre in some open field, and as the players did not learn
their parts very well, a prompter used to follow them about with a
book and tell them what to say. Coventry, York, Wakefield, Reading,
Hull, and Leicester were famous for their plays, and in the
churchwardens' accounts we find many entries referring to the
performances.

1469.--_e.g._ Item paid to Noah and his wife ... ... xxi^d.
  "          "    for a rope to hang the ship in the church ... ii^d.

These performances would probably seem very foolish and childish to
a modern audience, but they helped to enliven and diversify the
lives of our more simple-minded forefathers.

The people, too, loved pageants which were performed on great
occasions, during a Royal progress for instance, or to welcome the
advent of some mighty personage. Great preparations were made for
these exhibitions of rustic talent; long verses were committed to
memory; rehearsals were endless, and the stories of Greek and Roman
mythology were ransacked to provide scenes and subjects for the
rural pageant. All this must have afforded immense amusement and
interest to the country-folk in the neighbourhood of some lord's
castle, when the king or queen was expected to sojourn there.
Shepherds and shepherdesses, gods and goddesses, clowns and mummers,
all took part in the play, and it may interest my readers to give an
account of one of these pageants, which was performed before Queen
Elizabeth when she visited the ancient and historic castle of
Sudeley.[16]

The play is founded on the old classical story of Apollo and Daphne.
The sun-god, Apollo, was charmed by the beauty of the fair Daphne,
the daughter of a river-god, and pursued her with base intent. Just
as she was about to be overtaken she prayed for aid, and was
immediately changed into a laurel-tree, which became the favourite
tree of the disappointed lover. The pageant founded on this old
classical legend commenced with a man, who acted the part of Apollo,
chasing a woman, who represented Daphne, followed by a young
shepherd bewailing his hard fate. He, too, loved the fair and
beautiful Daphne, but Apollo wooed her with fair words, and
threatened him with diverse penalties, saying he would change him
into a wolf, or a cockatrice, or blind his eyes. The shepherd in a
long speech tells how Daphne was changed into a tree, and then
Apollo is seen at the foot of a laurel-tree weeping, accompanied by
two minstrels. The repentant god repeats the verse--

    "Sing you, play you; but sing and play my truth;
     This tree my lute, these sighs my note of ruth:
     The laurel leaf for ever shall be green,
     And Chastity shall be Apollo's Queen.
     If gods may die, here shall my tomb be placed,
     And this engraven, 'Fond Phoebus, Daphne chaste.'"

A song follows, and then, wonderful to relate, the tree opens, and
Daphne comes forth. Apollo resigns her to the humble shepherd, and
then she runs to her Majesty the Queen, and with a great deal of
flattery wishes her a long and prosperous reign.

Such was the simple play which delighted the minds of our
forefathers, and helped to raise them from sordid cares and the dull
monotony of continual toil. In our popular amusements the village
folk do not take part, except as spectators, and therefore lose half
the pleasure; whereas in the time of the Virgin Queen the
rehearsals, the learning the speeches by heart, the dresses, the
excitement, all contributed to give them fresh ideas and new
thoughts. The acting may not have been very good; indeed Queen
Elizabeth did not always think very highly of the performances of
her subjects at Coventry, and was heard to exclaim, "What fools ye
Coventry folk are!" but I think her Majesty must have been pleased
at the concluding address of the players at Sudeley. After the
shepherds had acted a piece in which the election of the King and
Queen of the Bean formed a part, they knelt before the real Queen,
and said, "Pardon, dread Sovereign, poor shepherds' pastimes, and
bold shepherds' presumptions. We call ourselves kings and queens to
make mirth; but when we see a king or queen, we stand amazed. At
chess there are kings and queens, and they of wood. Shepherds are no
more, nor no less, wooden. In theatres workmen have played emperors;
yet the next day forgotten neither their duties nor occupation. For
our boldness in borrowing their names, and in not seeing your
Majesty for our blindness, we offer these shepherds' weeds: which,
if your Majesty vouchsafe at any time to wear, it shall bring to our
hearts comfort, and happiness to our labours."

When the Queen visited Kenilworth Castle, splendid pageants were
performed in her honour. As she entered the castle the gigantic
porter recited verses to greet her Majesty, gods and goddesses
offered gifts and compliments on bended knee, and the Lady of the
Lake, surrounded by Tritons and Nereids, came on a floating island
to do homage to the peerless Elizabeth, and to welcome her to all
the sport the castle could afford. For an account of the strange
conduct of Orion and his dolphin upon this occasion, we refer our
readers to Sir Walter Scott's _Kenilworth_, and the lover of
pageants will find much to interest him in Gascoigne's _Princely
Progress_. In many of the chief towns of England the members of the
Guilds were obliged by their ordinances to have a pageant once every
year, which was of a religious nature. The Guild of St. Mary at
Beverley made a yearly representation of the Presentation of Christ
in the Temple, one of their number being dressed as a queen to
represent the Virgin, "having what may seem a son in her arms," two
others representing Joseph and Simeon, and two others going as
angels carrying lights. The people of England seem always to have
had a great fondness for shows and pageants.



CHAPTER XI.

NOVEMBER.

    "The ploughman, though he labour hard,
     Yet on the holiday
       Heigh trolollie, lollie loe.
     No emperor so merrily
     Doth pass his time away;
       Then care away,
       And wend along with me."--_Complete Angler_.

              "The curious preciseness,
    And all pretended gravity of those
    That seek to banish hence these harmless sports,
    Have thrust away much ancient honesty."--IRVING'S _Sketch Book_.

All-hallow Eve--"Soul Cakes"--Diving for Apples--The Fifth of
November--Martinmas--_Demands Joyous_--Indoor Games.


The first of November is All Saints' Day, and the eve of that day,
called All-hallow Even, was the occasion of some very ancient and
curious customs. It seems to have been observed more by the
descendants of the Celts than by the Saxons; and Wales, Scotland,
and Ireland were the homes of many of the popular superstitions
connected with this festival. In Scotland the bonfires were set up
in every village, and each member of a family would throw in a white
stone marked with his name; and if that stone could not be found
next morning, it was supposed that that person would die before the
following All Saints' Day. This foolish superstition may be classed
with the other well-known superstition with regard to the sitting of
thirteen people at one table, in which some are still foolish enough
to believe.

All-hallow Even was supposed to be a great night for witches:
possibly it was with the intention of guarding against their spells
that the farmers used to carry blazing straw around their cornfields
and stacks. It was the custom for the farmer to regale his men with
seed cake on this night; and there were cakes called "Soul Mass
Cakes," or "Soul Cakes," which were given to the poor. These were of
triangular shape, and poor people in Staffordshire used to go
_a-souling_, i.e. collecting these soul cakes, or anything else they
could get.

On this night the fishermen of Scotland signed their boats, that is
put a cross of tar upon them, in order that their fishing might
prosper. The church bells were rung all night long for all Christian
souls, and we find from some old account books that the good folk
were very careful to have all their bell-ropes and bells in good
order for All-hallow Even. This ringing was supposed to benefit the
souls of the dead in Purgatory, and was suppressed after the
Reformation.

There were some very homely pastimes for All-hallow Even for the
young folk in the north of England. Apples were placed in a vessel
of water and "dived for"; or they were suspended from the roof and
caught at by several expectant mouths. Sometimes a rod was suspended
with an apple at one end, and at the other a lighted candle. The
youths had their hands tied behind their backs, and caught at the
apple, often causing the candle to swing round and burn their hair.
The cracking of nuts was an important ceremony among the young men
and maidens, who threw nuts into the fire, and from the way in which
they cracked, or burned, foretold all kinds of happiness or misery
for themselves. The nuts that burned brightly prophesied prosperity
to their owners, but those that crackled or burned black denoted
misfortune. In olden times, when people were more superstitious than
they are now, they attached great importance to these omens and
customs, but happily the young people of our times have ceased to
believe in magic and foolish customs, and country girls strive to
attract their swains by other charms than those of nut-cracking on
All-hallow Even.

We have still our bonfires on November 5th, but the event which
happened on that day is very recent as compared with many of the old
customs of which I have been writing. However, it is nearly three
hundred years ago since Guy Fawkes and his companions attempted to
blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder; and yet we still
light our bonfires and burn Guy Fawkes' effigy, with much
accompaniment of squibs and crackers, just as if the event which we
commemorate only occurred last year. Probably very few of our
rustics think much of the origin of the customs observed on November
the Fifth, or remember that it was instituted by the House of
Commons as "a holiday for ever in thankfulness to God for our
deliverance, and detestation of the Papists;" but this ignorance
does not prevent them from keeping up the custom and enjoying the
excitement of the bonfire and fireworks. If you are not acquainted
with the history of the conspiracy, I would advise you to read it in
some good history book, and--

    "Pray to remember
     The fifth of November
       Gunpowder treason and plot,
     When the King and his train
     Had nearly been slain,
       Therefore it shall not be forgot."

The Berkshire boys, as they carried their Guy and collected wood for
their bonfires, used to add the words--

    "Our king's a valiant soldier,
     With his blunderbuss on his shoulder,
     Cocks his pistol, draws his rapier;
     Pray give us something for his sake here.
     A stick and a stake, for our good king's sake:
     If ye won't give one, I'll take two,
     The better for me, and the worse for you.

     CHORUS--
       "Hollow, boys, hollow, boys, make the bells ring,
        Hollow, boys, hollow, boys, God save the King."

Some of the rhymes tell us about the nefarious deeds of wicked Guy
Fawkes, who

      "... with his companions did contrive
    To blow the House of Parliament up alive,
    With three score barrels of powder down below,
    To prove Old England's wicked overthrow;
    But by God's mercy all of them got catched,
    With their dark lantern, and their lighted match.
    Ladies and gentlemen sitting by the fire,
    Please put hands in pockets and give us our desire:
    While you can drink one glass, we can drink two,
    The better for we, and none the worse for you."

This rhyme was concluded with the following strange jingle--

    "Rumour, rumour, pump a derry,
     Prick his heart and burn his body,
     And send his soul to Purgatory."[17]

The streets of Oxford used to be the scenes of great encounters
between the townsmen and gownsmen (or college students) on this
night, who, on any other night in the year, never thought of
fighting. Happily in recent years these fights have ceased, but even
now the gownsmen are "gated" on the night of the Fifth of November,
_i.e._ are confined to their colleges, lest there should be a
renewal of these encounters. So severe were the battles in ancient
times, that the tower of Carfax Church was lowered because the
townsfolk used to ascend thither and shoot their arrows at the
undergraduates; and the butchers were obliged to ply their trade
beyond the city walls, because they had used their knives and
cleavers in their annual fight.

At Martinmas, or the Feast of St. Martin, it was the custom to lay
in a stock of winter provisions, and many cows, oxen, and swine were
killed at this time, their flesh being salted and hung up for the
winter, when fresh provisions were seldom to be had.

And now the long evenings have set in, and our ancestors in hall or
cottage assemble round the blazing hearth, and listen to the
minstrel's lays, and recite their oft-told tales of adventure and
romance. Sometimes they indulge in asking each other riddles, and
there exists at the present time an old collection of these early
efforts of wit and humour which are not of a very high order. The
book is called _Demands Joyous,_ and was printed in A.D. 1511. I may
extract the following riddles:--"What is it that never was and never
will be? Answer: A mouse's nest in a cat's ear. Why does a cow lie
down? Because it cannot sit. How many straws go to a goose's nest?
Not one, for straws, not having feet, cannot go anywhere."

With such feeble efforts of wit did the country folk try to beguile
the long evenings. In those days there were no newspapers, very few
books, even if they could be read, and the only means of gathering
information from other parts of the country were the peddlers or
wandering minstrels, who told them the news as they passed from
place to place. Consequently, the above humble efforts of wit were
not to be despised, and served to beguile the tediousness of the
long winter's night. Besides, the villagers had the carols to
practise for Christmas, many of which were handed down from father
to son for many generations, and probably both words and music
received many variations in their course. Old collections of these
carols still exist, such as the one entitled, "Good and True, Fresh
and New, Christmas Carols," which was made in the middle of the
seventeenth century. As an instance of the way in which the words
became changed as they were passed on by illiterate singers, I may
mention a carol of which the refrain is now printed "Now Well, Now
Well"; originally this must have been "Noel, Noel." Some of the
carols degenerated into songs about the wassail bowl, and the
virtues of strong ale, and our forefathers were not unlike some of
their children, who forget the Saviour in the enjoyment of His
gifts. And besides the carols the villagers had the ordinary hymns
to practise, with grand accompaniment of violins, flutes,
clarionets, etc., for each village had its own musicians, who took
great pride and interest in their playing, and used to practise
together in the evenings. The old instruments have vanished: we have
our organs and harmoniums: our choirs sing better and more
reverently; but there are no reunions of the village orchestra,
which used to afford so much pleasure to the rustics of former days.

In the lord's hall there were plenty of sedentary games, and amongst
these pre-eminently stands the noble pastime of chess. It is very
ancient, and is supposed to have been invented by Xerxes, a
philosopher in the court of Evil-Merodach, king of Babylon. It was
well known in England before the Conquest, and Canute was very fond
of the chessboard. King John was so engrossed in this game that when
some messengers came to tell him that the French king had besieged
one of his cities, he would not listen to them until he had finished
his chess. The complicated movements of the various men seem to show
that the game was developed and improved, and not the invention of
one man, but few changes have been made during several centuries.
Players are checkmated now in very much the same way as they were
five hundred years ago.

Besides chess they had backgammon, or tables, as the game was
called, Merelles, or Nine men's Morris (which also found its way to
the shepherds' cottages), dice, and card games, some of which I have
described before. Gambling was often carried on to a great extent,
but evidently our modern people are not wiser than their ancestors
in this matter; and instead of playing games for recreation, are not
satisfied until they lose fortunes on the hazard of a dice or a
card. Let us hope that men will at length become wiser as the world
grows older.

[Illustration: TWO INDIVIDUALS PLAYING CHESS AS TWO OTHERS LOOK ON.]

Erasmus, the learned Dutchman, in his _Colloquies_ suggests some
curious awards for victors. He represents two youths, Adolphus and
Bernard, who begin to play a game at bowls. Adolphus says, "What
shall he that beats get, or he that is beaten lose?" Bernard
replies, "What if he that beats shall have a piece of his ear cut
off? It is a mean thing to play for money: you are a German, and I a
Frenchman: we will both play for the honour of his country. If I
shall beat you, you shall cry out thrice, 'Let France flourish!' if
I shall be beat (which I hope I shall not), I will in the same words
celebrate your Germany." They bowl away: a stone represents the
Jack: a mischievous bit of brickbat rather interferes with the
German's accuracy, of aim, but in the end he wins, and the French
cock has to crow thrice, "Let Germany flourish." In another game
between two students who are contending in the play of striking a
ball through an iron ring, it is arranged that he that is beat shall
make and repeat extempore some verses in praise of him that beat
him. This certainly would make many a youth keen to win the contest!



CHAPTER XII.

DECEMBER.

    "The Darling of the world is come,
     And fit it is we find a room
     To welcome Him. The nobler part
     Of all the house here is the heart,

    "Which we will give Him; and bequeath
     This holly and this ivy wreath
     To do Him honour, who's our King,
     And Lord of all this revelling."

                       HERRICK, _A Christmas Carol_.

St. Nicholas Day--The Boy Bishop--Christmas Eve--Christmas
Customs--Mummers--"Lord of Misrule"--Conclusion.


Now dark and chill December has arrived; and very dark and chill it
must have seemed to our ancestors. No gaslights illuminated the
streets, here and there a feeble oil lamp helped to make the
darkness visible, when the oil was not frozen: the roads were deep
with mud, and everything outside was cold and cheerless. But within
the farmer's kitchen the huge logs burned brightly, and the
Christmas holidays were at hand with the accustomed merrymakings, to
cheer the hearts of all in the depths of the dreary winter.

But before Christmas Day arrived, the children enjoyed a great treat
on St. Nicholas' Day, December 6th, when it was the custom for
parents to convey secretly presents of various kinds to their little
sons and daughters, who were taught to believe that they owed them
to the kindness of St. Nicholas, who, going up and down among the
towns and villages, came in at the windows and distributed the
gifts. St. Nicholas, who died A.D. 343, threw a purse filled with
money into the bedroom of a poor man for the benefit of his three
daughters, who were in sore trouble; and this story seems to have
originated the custom which has been observed in many countries, and
brought much enjoyment to the young folk who received St. Nicholas'
bounty.

Before the Reformation there was another very strange custom
associated with this day; namely, the election of a boy bishop, who
was dressed in episcopal robes, with a mitre on his head, and who
actually was allowed to preach in the church. This was done
regularly at many of our cathedrals and collegiate churches, and we
find records of the custom amongst the archives of Salisbury and
many other places; even the service which they used is in existence.
The youthful bishop was elected by the choir-boys, and exercised his
functions until Holy Innocents' Day. On that day in great state he
entered the cathedral surrounded by the other boys, who played the
part of prebendaries, and attended by the dean and canons, who on
this occasion yielded up their dignity to the youthful prelate and
his followers. The collect for Holy Innocents' Day in our
Prayer-book formed part of the service. It was a strange ceremony,
not unmixed with irreverence, and happily has long been
discontinued, being forbidden by Royal proclamation in 1542, and
finally abolished by Elizabeth.

In the archives of the ancient town of Bristol there is a book of
directions for the Mayor and his brethren, and on St. Nicholas' Day
they are ordered to go to the Church of St. Nicholas and join in the
festival of the boy bishop, to hear his sermon and receive his
blessing. Then they dined together, and waited for the young bishop
to come to them, playing the meanwhile at dice, the town clerk being
ordered to find the dice, and to receive a penny for every raffle.
The bishop was regaled with bread and wine, and preached again to
the Mayor and corporation in the evening. I am informed that a
curious memorial of this custom existed until recent years in one
village at least. An old lady recollected that when she was a child
she was allowed to play with her companions in church on St.
Nicholas' Day.

But Christmas is approaching, and we must hasten to describe that
bright and happy festival. The holiday began on Christmas Eve, and
perhaps you have wondered why we hang up mistletoe, and decorate our
churches and houses with holly, why our ancestors brought in the
Yule-log, and performed many other customs which do not seem to be
very closely connected with the celebration of the birthday of our
Lord. But we must remember that our forefathers were originally
heathen, and at this period of the year they practised several
strange customs connected with their Druidical worship, and held
great feasts in honour of their gods. When Christian missionaries
converted these heathen, they strove to put down some of the old
idolatrous practices; but their efforts were in vain, for the people
were warmly attached to these old rights and usages. So a compromise
was effected: the old Pagan customs were shorn of their idolatry and
transferred to our Christian festivals. Cutting the mistletoe was
distinctly a rite practised by the Druids, who cut the sacred plant
with a golden knife, and sacrificed two white bulls to the sylvan
deities whom they thus sought to propitiate. We hang up our bunches
of mistletoe now, but we do not attach any superstitious importance
to it, nor imagine that any gods of the woods will be influenced by
our procedure. The bringing in of the Yule-log was a Norse custom
observed in honour of Thor, from whose name we derive our word
Thursday or Thor's-day. The mighty log was drawn into the baronial
hall with great pomp, while the bards sang their songs of praise and
chanted "Welcome Yule."

    "Welcome be Thou, heavenly King,
     Welcome, born on this morning;
     Welcome for whom we shall sing
          Welcome, Yule."

Herrick, who delighted so much in singing of

    "Maypoles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes--"

then bursts out in joyous strains:

    "Come, bring with a noise,
       My merry, merry boys,
     The Christmas log to the firing;
       While my good dame, she
       Bids ye all be free
     And drink to your heart's desiring.
       With the last year's brand
       Light the new block, and
     For good success in his spending,
       On your psaltries play,
       That sweet luck may
     Come while the log is a-teending."

We can fancy that we see the ceremony, the glad procession of
retainers and servants, the lights flaring in all directions: we can
hear the shouts and chorus of many voices, the drums beating and
flutes and trumpets sounding. The huge hearth receives the mighty
log, and the flames and sparks shoot up the gaping chimney.

At Court in olden times Christmas was kept right royally, if we may
judge from the extensive _menu_ of the repasts of King Henry III.
and his courtiers in the year 1247. He kept his Christmas at
Winchester Castle, and the neighbourhood must have been ransacked to
furnish supplies for the royal table. The choice dainties were as
follows: Boars, with heads entire, well cooked and very succulent,
48; fowls, 1900; partridges, mostly "put in paste," 500; swans, 41;
peacocks, 48; hares, 260; eggs, 24,000; 300 gallons of oysters; 300
rabbits, and more if possible; birds of various sorts, as many as
could be had; of whitings, "particularly good and heavy," and conger
eels the same; a hundred mullets, "fat and very heavy." For bread
the king paid £27 10s., at the price of four loaves to the penny.
When the king kept his Christmas at York in 1250, the royal treasury
must have been very full, for he ordered for the royal banquets 7000
fowls, 1750 partridges, besides immense numbers of boars, swans,
pheasants, &c. Of course the king had a very large retinue of
vassals and feudal lords to provide for; but the store seems
sufficiently vast to supply the wants of an army of faithful, but
hungry, subjects. Sometimes, when the king was short of money, there
was a considerable reduction in the amount of good things consumed
at Christmas.

Our ancestors were very careful to attend the services of the
church, which their loving hands had adorned with holly, bay,
rosemary, and laurel. They considered it a day of special
thanksgiving and rejoicing, as an old poet observed--

    "At Christmas be merry and thankful with all,
     And feast thy poor neighbours, the great and the small."

The solemn service of Holy Communion was celebrated on Christmas
Eve, in mediæval times--the only night in all the year when an
evening celebration was allowed. The halls of the knights and barons
of ancient days were thrown open to all comers, and open house was
kept for a fortnight. Rejoicing at Christmas time seems to have been
universal, and it is not for us to judge whether in their mirth they
sometimes forgot the reason of true Christmas joy, and thought more
of their feasting than of Him who was born on Christmas Day. But by
their hearty manner of keeping this annual festival, by the
hospitality which the farmers and rich men showed to their labourers
and poorer neighbours, they promoted, at any rate, "goodwill amongst
men"--old animosities, quarrels, and bitternesses were forgotten,
and the hearts of the poor cheered.

In the North of England every farmer gave two feasts, one called
"the old folks' night," and the other "the young folks' night." The
old Squire used to receive his tenants and neighbours at daybreak,
when the black-jacks were passed round, and woe betide the luckless
cook who had overslept herself, and had not boiled the Hackin, or
large sausage, ere the day dawned, for then she was seized by the
arms and made to run round the market-place, or courtyard, until
she was ashamed of her laziness.

And now let us enter the hall of some great baron and see how our
ancestors kept a merry Christmas. The panelled walls, and stags'
horns, and gallery at one end of the great room were hung with holly
and mistletoe. The Yule-log blazed upon the hearth, and then entered
the vassals, tenants, and servants of the lord to share in the
Christmas banquet. Rank and ceremony were laid aside: all were
deemed equal, whether lords or barons, serfs or peasants--a custom
which arose, doubtless, from the remembrance of Him who on the first
Christmas Day, "although He was rich, yet for our sakes became
poor."

And now on the huge oaken table were placed the various dishes of
the feast--a mighty boar's head, decorated with laurel and rosemary,
whose approach was often heralded with trumpets as the king of the
feast; then came a peacock, stuffed with spices and sweet herbs, and
adorned with its gay feathers, and then followed a goodly company of
geese, capons, sirloins of beef, pheasants, mince-pies, and
plum-porridge. A carol was often sung when the boar's head was
brought in; here is one from the collection of Wynkyn de Worde:

            Caput Apri defero
            Reddens laudes Domino,
        The Boar's Head in hand bring I
        With garlands gay and rosemary;
        I pray you all sing merrily
            Qui estis in convivio.

        The Boar's Head, I understand,
        Is the chief service in this land;
        Look wherever it be fande:
            Servile cum cantico.

        Be glad, lords, both more and lasse,
          For this hath ordained our stewárd
        To cheer you all this Christmasse,
            The Boar's Head with mustárd.[18]

Neither were the ale and wassail-bowl forgotten, and they circulated
sometimes too often, I fear, and laid the seeds of gout and other
evils, from which other generations suffer. But when the prodigious
appetites of the company had been appeased, the maskers and mummers
entered the hall and performed strange antics and a curious play,
fragments of which have come down to our own time. The youths of the
villages of England still come round at Christmas-time and act their
mumming-drama, in which "St. George" kills a "Turkish knight," who
is raised to life by "Medicine Man," and performs a very important
part of the play--passing round the money-box. This is a remnant of
the mumming of ancient days, and perhaps of some "mystery" play, of
which I told you in a previous chapter.

In Berkshire the characters are represented by "Molly," a stalwart
man dressed in a woman's gown, shawl, and bonnet, with a besom in
his hand, who strives in his dialogue to imitate a woman's voice;
King George, a big burly man dressed as a knight, with a wooden
sword and a home-made helmet; a French officer, with a cocked hat
and sword; a Doctor, who wears a pig-tail; Jack Vinny, a jester;
Happy Jack, a humorous character dressed in tattered garments, and
Old Beelzebub, who appears as Father Christmas. In some parts of the
royal county the part of King George is taken by an "Africky king,"
and a Turkish knight instead of the French officer. Very curious are
the words of the old play, and very ludicrous the representation
when the parts are acted by competent players.

There was also in the baron's hall a great person dressed in a very
fantastic garb, who was here, there, and everywhere, directing the
mummers, making jokes to amuse the company, and looking after
everybody. He was called the "Lord of Misrule." Sometimes his rule
was harmless enough, and did good service in directing the revels;
but often he was more worthy of his name, and was guilty of all
kinds of absurd and mischievous pranks, which did great harm, and
were very profane. But these were not part of the Christmas feast,
where all was happiness and mirth. Sir Walter Scott says, in his
description of the festival--

    "England was merry England when
     Old Christmas brought his sports again;
     A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
     A poor man's heart through all the year."

All the old poets sing in praise of the great day which, as Herrick
says, "sees December turned to May," and which makes the "chilling
winter's morn smile like a field beset with corn." Old carols chant
in reverent strains their homage to the infant Saviour: some reflect
time-honoured customs and social joys when old age casts aside its
solemnity and mingles once more in the light-hearted gaiety of
youth, and all unite in chanting the praises of this happy festival.
The poet Withers sings--

    "Lo! now is come our joyful'st feast!
       Let every man be jolly;
     Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
       And every post with holly.

    "Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
       And Christmas blocks are burning;
     Their ovens they with baked meats choke,
       And all their spits are turning.

    "Without the door let sorrow lie,
     And if, for cold, it has to die,
     We'll bury it in Christmas pie,
       And evermore be merry."

Thus the happy night was spent; and if, like grave elders, we look
down upon these frolics of a younger age, and think ourselves so
much wiser and better than our forefathers, we should not forget the
benefits which come from open-handed hospitality, goodwill, and
simple manners, nor scornfully regard honest merriment and
light-hearted gaiety. A light heart is generally not far removed
from a holy heart.

Yes, England was merry England then; and although there were plenty
of troubles in those days, when plagues decimated whole villages,
when wars were frequent, food scarce, and oppression common, yet the
Christmas festivities, the varieties of sports and pastimes which
each season provided, the homely customs and bonds of union between
class and class which these observances strengthened, added
brightness to the lives of our simple forefathers, who might
otherwise have sunk beneath the burdens of their daily toil. We have
seen how many customs and sports, which were at first simple and
harmless, degenerated and were abused: we have noticed some of the
bad features of these ancient pastimes, such as cruelty to animals
and intemperance; and are thankful that there is some improvement
manifest in these respects. But it is interesting to witness again
in imagination the scenes that once took place in our market-places
and on our village greens; and, if it be impossible to restore again
the glories of May Day and the brightness of the Christmas feast, we
may still find plenty of harmless and innocent recreation, and learn
to be merry, and at the same time wise.

       *       *       *       *       *



FOOTNOTES:


[Footnote 1: Although the 1st of January was popularly regarded as
the beginning of the year from early times, it was not until 1752
A.D. that the legal commencement of the year was changed from March
25th to the former date.]

[Footnote 2: These fires signified our Saviour and the Twelve
Apostles. One of the fires, which represented Judas, the traitor,
was extinguished soon after it was lighted, and the materials of the
fire kicked about.]

[Footnote 3: The distaff was the staff which held the flax or wool
in spinning. All maidens were engaged in this occupation, and a
"spinster" (_i.e._ one who spins) is still the legal term for an
unmarried woman.]

[Footnote 4: St. Blaize (or Blasius) was Bishop of Sebaste in
Armenia, and was martyred 316 A.D. His flesh was torn with iron
combs, so the wool-staplers have adopted him as their patron saint.]

[Footnote 5: _Shrove-tide_ and _Shrove Tuesday_ derive their names
from the ancient practice of confessing one's sins on that day. _To
be shriven,_ or _shrove_, means to obtain absolution from one's
sin.]

[Footnote 6: It was practised as late as the end of the last
century.]

[Footnote 7: So called from the Gospel of the day, which treats of
the feeding of the five thousand.--_Cf_. Wheatley on Prayer-book.]

[Footnote 8: The caber is a small tree, or beam, heavier at one end
than the other. The performer holds this perpendicularly, with the
smaller end downwards, and his object is to toss it so as to make it
fall on the other end.]

[Footnote 9: _A Pleasant Grove of New Fancies_, 1637.]

[Footnote 10: Sometimes the May Queen did not consort with
morris-dancers, but sat in solitary state under a canopy of boughs.]

[Footnote 11: A Correspondence in _Athenæum_, Sept. 20, 1890.]

[Footnote 12: The same story is told of Willes, who is supposed by
some cricketers to be the inventor of the modern style of delivery.]

[Footnote 13: The word _fair_ is derived from the ecclesiastical
term, _feria_, a holiday.]

[Footnote 14: _Cf._ Govett's _King's Book of Sports_, and _Tom
Brown's Schooldays,_ to which I am indebted for the above accurate
description of back-sword play.]

[Footnote 15: I am indebted for this description to Mr. W. Andrews'
interesting book on the _Curiosities of the Church_.]

[Footnote 16: Cf. _Annals of Winchcombe and Sudeley_, by Mrs.
Dent.]

[Footnote 17: Cf. _Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases_, by
Major B. Lowsley, R.E.]

[Footnote 18: The custom of bringing in the boar's head is still
preserved at Queen's College, Oxford. The story is told of a student
of the college who was attacked by a wild boar while he was
diligently studying Aristotle during a walk near Shotover Hill. His
book was his only means of defence, so he thrust the volume down the
animal's throat, exclaiming, "It is Greek!" The boar found Greek
very difficult to digest, and died on the spot, and the head was
brought home in triumph by the student. Ever since that date, for
five hundred years, a boar's head has graced the college table at
Christmas.]



INDEX.


Agape, suggested origin of "Church ales," 53

Ales, Church, 52, 53, 57

Alfred, laws relating to holidays, 5

All-hallow Eve, 105

Animals to be hunted, 16

April, 36

Archery, 25--31

Ascension Day, 50

Ascham's accomplishments of English Gentleman, 97


Back-sword play, 81

Baiting bears, bulls, &c., 89

Bale-fires, 50

Ball games, 20, 21, 61--71

Barley-brake, 39

Bath, wakes at, 81

Battledore, 23

Bean, King of, 7

Berks--Old sports, 81

"Bessy," 9

Blaize St., 18

Boar's head at Christmas, 123

Bonfires, 6, 57, 106, 108

Book of Sports, 48, 50

Bounds, beating, 50

Bowl, 49

Boy bishop, 116

Bull-baiting, 89

Burning wheel, 59

Butts, 27


Caber-tossing, 38

Candlemas, 18

Carols, 111

_Catherine, St._, miracle play, 99

Charlemagne, 58

Chess, 112

Chester, 41, 48

Choirs, Old, 111

Christmas holidays, 5
  customs, 118-126
  at Court, 120

Church decoration, 37, 49, 121

Churchwardens' accounts, 34, 36, 42, 54, 72, 100

Church ale, 52, 53, 57

Church house, 53

Cloudslee, William of, 28

Club-ball, 65, 66

Cock-fighting, 23, 24

Cock-throwing, 23

Collop Monday, 19

_Colloquies_ of Erasmus, 113

_Conversion of St. Paul_, mystery play, 98

Country parson, 51

Coventry, 42, 103

_Crafte of Hunting_, 16

Cricket, 38, 61-65

Cross-bow, 27

Cudgel-play, 38

Curling, 39

Customs, local, 4, 5, 6, 12, 20, 24, 33, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 50,
  54, 60, 62, 78, 81, 106, 108, 109, 117


Dances, country, on village green, 11

Dancing with swords, 10

December, 115

Dedication festivals, 3

_Demands Joyous_, 110

Devonshire custom, 4

Distaff, St., 9

Dragons, 59

Dues, Cock-fight, 24


Early sport, 14, 16

Easter, 36--41

Eighteenth century cricket, 63

Election of King of Bean, 7

England "Merry," 1, 125, 126

_English Villages, Our_, 3, 80

Epiphany, 5

Erasmus, _Colloquies_ of, 113

Evelyn's _Diary_, 90


Fairs, 3, 80

Falconer, 87

February, 13

Festivals, 3, 36, 50, 118

Finsbury, 28

Football, 20, 21, 41

Foot-races, 22, 38

Fox-hunting extraordinary, 17

France, home of tennis, 39


Gambling, 112

Games, minor ball, 71
  "  ball, 20, 21, 64, 71
  "  indoor, 21, 112

George Herbert, 51

Golf, 66, 68

Good Friday cake, 33

Gospel trees, 50

Grasmere, 72

Guildford, cricket at, 62

Gunpowder Plot, 108

Guy Fawkes, 107


Hambledon Cricket Club, 63, 64

Handball, 27

Handball in Church, 38

Harvest home, 75, 79

Hawking, 84

Heaving, 37

Herbert, George, 51

Herefordshire custom, 6

Herrick, 9, 31, 74, 115, 119, 125

Hobby-horse, 26

Hock-cart, 75

Hocking, 54

Hock-tide, 41, 42

Holland, golf introduced from, 66

Horse-collar, grinning through a, 54

Hot cross buns, 33, 34

Hunting, 13, 17

Hurling, 22, 23


Indoor games, 21

Ireland, 50

Isaak Walton, 17


January, 1

Jersey, 59

Jingling match, 56

John's, St., Eve, 57

Jousts, 94

July, 61

June, 52


Kenilworth Castle, pageants at 103

Kent and Sussex, first homes of cricket, 62

King of the Bean, 7


Lammas, 74

Lancashire, 49

Lawn-tennis, 70

Lifting, 37

Lillywhite, 65

Local customs, 4, 5, 6, 12, 19, 20, 24, 33, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41,
  50, 54, 60, 62, 78, 81, 107, 108, 109, 117, 123

"Lord of Misrule," 125


Magdalen hymn, 45

Magdalen pulpit, 60

March, 25

Martinmas, 110

Maundy Thursday--Money, 33

May--May Day, 44

May-pole, 45, 46, 48

May Queen, 46

"Merry England," 1, 125, 126

Mews, origin of word, 88

Michaelmas, 88

Midsummer Eve, 58

Minor ball-games, 71

Miracle plays, 36, 57, 98

Misrule," "Lord of, 125

Mitford, Miss, _Our Village_, 64

_Moralities_, 99

Mothering-Sunday, 31

Mummers, 124

_Mysteries_, 57, 98, 100


New Year's Day, 45

_Nicholas, St., The Image of_, mystery play, 99

Nicholas, Day, St., 116

_Noah and the Flood_, mystery play, 98

November, 105


October, 92

Old songs, 4, 6, 8, 13, 14, 23, 28, 36, 46, 63, 75, 76, 77, 109

Orchards, wassailing of, 4, 6

Otter-hunting, 17

_Our English Villages_, reference, 3, 80

_Our Village_, reference, 64

Outdoor winter sports, 7

Oxford customs, 109, 123


Pace, _Pasche, Paschal_, eggs, 37

Pageants, 101

Pall Mall, 68

Palm Sunday, 32

Park, St. James's, 68

Parson, country, 50

Pea, Queen of, 8

Pig-catching, 56

Pigeon-holes, 56

Plagues, 72

Plough Monday, 9

Pole-leaping, 38

Purification, 18

Puritans, 47


Quarter-staff, 38, 54, 56

Queen of the Pea, 8

Queen of the Play, 46

Quintain, 41


Reading town, 27, 42, 54

Reformation, 9, 18, 22

Refreshment Sunday, 31

Relics of Sun-worship, 51, 59

Revival of Bounds-beating, 51

Robin Hood, 28

Roch's, St., Day, 75

Rogation Days, 50

Royal golfers, 66
  " tennis players, 69, 70

Rush-bearing, rushes in Churches, 49, 71, 72


Salisbury, boy bishop, 116

September, 84

Sepulchres, 35

Sheep-shearing, 79

Shere Thursday, 33

Shrovetide, 19, 24

Simnell-cakes, 32

Single-stick, 35

Skating, 10, 38

"Spinster," derivation of, 9

Sports, Book of, 48, 49, 50

Sports, early, 14, 16

Songs, old, 4, 6, 8, 13, 14, 23, 28, 36, 46, 63, 75, 76, 77, 109

Soul-cakes, 106

Stool-ball, 66

Stuarts, 21, 48, 50, 66, 68, 80

Sudeley Castle, pageants at, 101

Sun-worship, relics of, 57, 59

Superstitions, 5, 33, 39, 50, 59, 106, 107

Sussex custom, 4

Sussex and Kent, first homes of cricket, 62


Tansy-cake, 38

Tennis, 68, 71

Tilting at a ring, 97

Tipcat called Billet, 23

Tournaments, 92

Trap-ball, 66

Tusser, _Five Hundred Points of Husbandry_, 79

Twelfth Day Eve, 5, 6

Twelfth Night, 7


_Undershaft_, St. Andrew, 48

Uncleanliness, 72


Valentine, St., 18


Wakes, 79, 80, 81

Walton, Isaak, 17

"Wassail," 4

Water tournament, 39, 40

Whistling match, 56

White Horse Hill, 54

Whitsuntide, 52

Willes, 65

Winter games, indoor, 10

Wise men from East, 7

Withers, Christmas song, 125

Wrestling, 59


Year, New, festivities, 4, 5

Yule-log, 118



       *       *       *       *       *

Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London & Bungay





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