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Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017 - A Happy New Year from Dark Dorset

At Dark Dorset we would like to wish our readers
A Happy New Year

Janus Head grotesque
All Saint's Church, Dorchester
January was established as the first the first month of the year by the Roman Calendar. It was named after the god Janus, the god of beginning and transitions. As depicted on All Saint's Church, Dorchester, he had two faces which allowed him to look backwards at the old year, and the other looked forward to what would happen in the coming year. 

It is the beginning of the new year, when most people reflect on the year before and practice the custom of making New Year resolutions, in which they commit themselves to better behaviour and healthier life choices.

Cream of the Well
  
The first water to be drawn from any spring-fed well on ‘New Year’s Day’, 1st January, was believed to have special significance. It was called the ‘Cream of the Well’, and it was believed that who ever obtained it was certain to have a lucky year. 

Girls were particularly fond of this custom, for the girl who managed to draw the Cream of the Well had the additional prize that she could expect to marry before twelve months were out. Since the Cream of the Well could only be drawn once, it was therefore customary for the person who claimed Cream of the Well to throw a little grass or flowers into the water, both as an offering to the resident well spirit and as a notification to the next to arrive that he or she had come too late. 

Sometimes a girl would purposely leave behind her glove or hankerchief embroidered with her initials, as a statement that she had got there first.

New Year's Day Weather-lore

In his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922, John Symonds Udal  wrote:
"It was from this source then, namely, a correspondent of the Dorset County Chronicle in December, 1891, that I am able to give the following item which being more extensive than mere " weather lore "—a subject which I deal with later — may claim, I think, to come under this chapter also.
 
It reads like a prophecy from Old Moore's Almanac or one of Mother Shipton's, and there is certainly an old-world savour about it, but I cannot give the actual source whence it was taken. It treats upon what we may expect should New Year's Day fall upon a Thursday.
 
" Winter and summer windie. A rainie harvest. Therefore we shall have overflowings; much fruit; plentie of honey; yet flesh shall be deare; cattel in general shall die; great troubles; warres."
* * * * *
Extract below taken from the Chambers Book of Days January 1st 1864, details the traditions of New Year's Day.
New Year's Day Festivities

'Long ere the lingering dawn of that blithe morn
Which ushers in the year, the roosting cock,
Flapping his wings, repeats his larnun shrill;
But on that morn no busy flail obeys
His rousing call; no sounds but sounds of joy
Salute the year—the first-foot's entering step,
That sudden on the floor is welcome heard,
Ere blushing maids have braided up their hair;
The laugh, the hearty kiss, the good new year
Pronounced with honest warmth. In village, grange,
And borough town, the steaming flagon, borne
From house to house, elates the poor man's heart,
And makes him feel that life has still its joys.
The aged and the young, man, woman, child,
Unite in social glee; even stranger dogs,
Meeting with bristling back, soon lay aside
Their snarling aspect, and in sportive chase,
Excursive scour, or wallow in the snow.
With sober cheerfulness, the grandam eyes
Her offspring round her, all in health and peace;
And, thankful that she's spared to see this day
Return once more, breathes low a secret prayer,
That God would shed a blessing on their heads.'
Grahame

As New-Year's Day, the first of January bears a prominent place in the popular calendar. It has ever been a custom among northern nations to see the old year out and the new one in, with the highest demonstrations of merriment and conviviality. To but a few does it seem to occur that the day is a memorandum of the subtraction of another year from the little sum of life; with the multitude, the top feeling is a desire to express good wishes for the next twelvemonths' experience of their friends, and be the subject of similar benevolence on the part of others, and to see this interchange of cordial feeling take place, as far as possible, in festive circumstances. It is seldom that an English family fails to sit up on the last night of the year till twelve o'clock, along with a few friends, to drink a happy New Year to each other over a cheerful glass. Very frequently, too, persons nearly related but living apart, dine with each other on this day, to keep alive and cultivate mutual good feeling. It cannot be doubted that a custom of this kind must tend to obliterate any shades of dissatisfaction or jealous anger, that may have arisen during the previous year, and send the kindred onward through the next with renewed esteem and regard. To the same good purpose works the old custom of giving little presents among friends on this day:

'The King of Light, father of aged Time,
Hath brought about that day which is the prime,
To the slow-gliding months, when every eye
Wears symptoms of a sober jollity.'

Charles Lamb had a strong appreciation of the social character of New-Year's Day. He remarks that no one of whatever rank can regard it with indifference. 'Of all sounds of all bolts,' says he, 'most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the old year. I never hear it without a gathering up of my mind to a concentration of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelvemonth; all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected, in that regretted time. I begin to know its worth as when a person dies. It takes a personal colour; nor was it a poetical flight in a contemporary, when he exclaimed:

"I saw the skirts of the departing year."'

One could wish that the genial Ella had added something in recommendation of resolutions of improvement of the year to come, for which Now-Year's Day is surely a most appropriate time. Every first of January that we arrive at, is an imaginary milestone on the turnpike track of human life: at once a resting-place for thought and meditation, and a starting point for fresh exertion in the performance of our journey. The man who does not at least propose to himself to be better this year than he was last, must be either very good or very bad indeed! And only to propose to be better, is something; if nothing else, it is an acknowledgment of our need to be so, which is the first step towards amendment. But, in fact, to propose to oneself to do well, is in some sort to do well, positively; for there is no such thing as a stationary point in human endeavours; he who is not worse today than he was yesterday, is better; and he who is not better, is worse.'

The merrymakings of New-Year's Eve and New-Year's Day are of very ancient date in England. The head of the house assembled his family around a bowl of spiced ale, comically called lamb's wool, from which ho drank their health; thou passed it to the rest, that they might drink too. The word that passed amongst them was the ancient Saxon phrase, Wass hael; that is, To your health. Hence this came to be recognised as the Wassail or Wassel Bowl. The poorer class of people carried a bowl adorned with ribbons round the neighbourhood, begging for something wherewith to obtain the means of filling it, that they too might enjoy wassail as well as the rich. In their compotations, they had songs suitable to the occasion, of which a Gloucestershire example has been preserved:

Wassail! wassail! over the town,
Our toast it is white, our ale it is brown:
Our bowl it is made of the maplin tree,
We be good fellows all; I drink to thee.

Here's to [The name of some horse] and to his right ear,
God send our maister a happy New Year;
A happy New Year as e'er he did see—
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Here's to [The name of another horse], and to his right eye,
God send our mistress a good Christmas pie
A good Christmas pie as e'er I did see—
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Here's to Filpail, and her long tail,
God send our measter us never may fail
Of a cup of good beer; I pray you draw near,
And then you shall hear our jolly wassail.

Be here any maids, I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone;
Sing hey 0 maids, come troll back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house, let us all in.

Come, butler, come bring us a bowl of the best:
I hope your soul in heaven may rest:
But if you do bring us a bowl of the small,
Then down fall butler, bowl, and all.'

What follows is an example apparently in use amongst children:

Here we come a wassailing,
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering,
So fair to be seen.

Chorus. Love and joy come to you,
And to your wassel too,
And God send you a happy New Year,
A New Year,
And God send you a happy New Year!
Our wassel cup is made of rosemary-tree,
So is your beer of the best barley.

We are not daily beggars,
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbours' children,
Whom you have seen before.

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring,
Let him bring us up a glass of beer
And the better we shall sing.

We have got a little purse,
Made of stretching leather skin,
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.

Bring us out a table,
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a mouldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf.

God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children,
That round the table go!

Good master and mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children,
Who are wandering in the mire.

Chorus. Love and joy come to you, &c.


The custom of wassail at the New Year was kept up in the monasteries as well as in private houses. In front of the abbot, at the upper end of the refectory table, was placed the mighty bowl styled in their language Poculum Caritatis, and from it the superior drank to all, and all drank in succession to each other. The corporation feasts of London still preserve a custom that affords a reflex of that of the wassail bowl. A double-handled flagon full of sweetened and spiced wine being handed to the master, or other person presiding, he drinks standing to the general health, as announced by the toastmaster; then passes it to his neighbour on the left hand, who drinks standing to his next neighbour, also standing, and so on it goes, till all have drunk. Such is the well-known ceremony of the Loviny Cup.


[Receipt for Making the Wassailbowl - Simmer a small quantity of the following spices in a teacupful of water, viz.:—Cardamums, cloves, nutmeg, mace, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander. When done, put the spice to two, four, or six bottles of port, sherry, or madeira, with one pound and a half of fine loaf sugar (pounded) to four bottles, and set all on the fire in a clean bright saucepan; meanwhile, have yolks of 12 and the whites of 6 eggs well whisked up in it. Then, when the spiced and sugared wine is a little warm, take out one teacupful; and so on for three or four cups; after which, when it boils, add the whole of the remainder, pouring it in gradually, and stirring it briskly all the time, so as to froth it. The moment a fine froth is obtained, toss in 12 fine soft roasted apples, and send it up hot. Spices for each bottle of wine:—10 grains of mace, 46 grains of cloves, 37 grains of cardamums, 28 grains of cinnamon, 12 grains of nutmeg, 48 grains of ginger, 49 grains of coriander seeds.—Mark Lane Express.]

Till very few years ago in Scotland, the custom of the wassail bowl at the passing away of the old year might he said to be still in comparative vigour. On the approach of twelve o'clock, a hot pint was prepared—that is, a kettle or flagon full of warm, spiced, and sweetened ale, with an infusion of spirits. When the clock had struck the knell of the departed year, each member of the family drank of this mixture 'A good health and a happy New Year and many of them' to all the rest, with a general hand-shaking, and perhaps a dance round the table, with the addition of a song to the tune of Hey tuttie taitic:

'Weel may we a' be,
Ill may we never see,
Here's to the king
And the gude companie!' &c.

The elders of the family would then most probably sally out, with the hot kettle, and bearing also a competent provision of buns and short-bread, or bread and cheese, with the design of visiting their neighbours, and interchanging with them the same cordial greetings. If they met by the way another party similarly bent, whom they knew, they would stop and give and take sips from their respective kettles. Reaching the friend's house, they would enter with vociferous good wishes, and soon send the kettle a-circulating. If they were the first to enter the house since twelve o'clock, they were deemed as the first-foot; and, as such, it was most important, for luck to the family in the coming year, that they should make their entry, not empty-handed, but with their hands full of cakes and bread and cheese; of which, on the other hand, civility demanded that each individual in the house should partake.

To such an extent did this custom prevail in Edinburgh in the recollection of persons still living, that, according to their account, the principal streets were more thronged between twelve and one in the morning than they usually were at midday. Much innocent mirth prevailed, and mutual good feelings were largely promoted. An unlucky circumstance, which took place on the 1st January of 1812, proved the means of nearly extinguishing the custom. A small party of reckless boys formed the design of turning the innocent festivities of firstfootinq to account for purposes of plunder. They Kept their counsel well. No sooner had the people come abroad on the principal thoroughfares of the Old Town, than these youths sallied out in small bands, and commenced the business which they had undertaken.

Their previous agreement was, to look out for the white neckcloths,—such being the best mark by which they could distinguish in the dark individuals likely to carry any property worthy of being taken. A great number of gentlemen were thus spoiled of their watches and other valuables. The least resistance was resented by the most brutal maltreatment. A policeman, and a young man of the rank of a clerk in Leith, died of the injuries they had received. An affair so singular, so uncharacteristic of the people among whom it happened, produced a widespread and lasting feeling of surprise. The outrage was expiated by the execution of three of the youthful rioters on the chief scone of their wickedness; but from that time, it was observed that the old custom of going about with the hot pint—the ancient wassail —fell off.

A gentleman of Preston has communicated to a popular publication that for many years past he has been in the habit of calling on a friend, an aged lady, at an early hour of New-Year's Day, being by her own desire, as he is a fair-complexioned person, and therefore assumed to be of good omen for the events of the year. On one occasion, he was prevented from attending to his old friend's request, and her first caller proved to be a dark-complexioned man; in consequence of which there came that year sickness, trouble, and commercial disaster.

In the parish of Berlen, near Snodland, in the county of Kent, are the remains of the old mansion of Groves, originally the property of a family named Hawks. On part of this house being pulled down in the latter part of the eighteenth century, there was found an oak beam supporting the chimney, which presented an antique carving exactly represented in the engraving at the head of this article. The words Wass hell and Drinc hello leave no doubt that the bowl in the centre was a representation of the wassail bowl of the time when the house was built, probably the sixteenth century. The two birds on the bowl are hawks—an allusion to the name of the family which originally possessed the mansion.


"The wassail bowle,' says Warton, 'is Shakespeare's Gossip's Bowl in the Midsummer Night's Dream. The composition was ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs or apples.' The word is interpreted by Verstegan as wase hale—that is, grow or become well. It came in time to signify festivity in general, and that of rather an intemperate kind. A wassail candle was a largo candle used at feasts.

There was in Scotland a first footing independent of the hot pint. It was a time for some youthful friend of the family to steal to the door, in the hope of meeting there the young maiden of his fancy, and obtaining the privilege of a kiss, as her first-foot. Great was the disappointment on his part, and great the joking among the family, if through accident or plan, some half-withered aunt or ancient grand-dame came to receive him instead of the blooming Jenny.

It may safely be said that New-Year's Day has hitherto been observed in Scotland with. a heartiness nowhere surpassed. It almost appears as if. by a sort of antagonism to the general gravity of the people, they were impelled to break out in a half-mad merriment on this day. Every face was bright with smiles; every hand ready with the grasp of friendship. All stiffness arising from age, profession, and rank, gave way. The soberest felt entitled to take a license on that special day. Reunions of relatives very generally took place over the festive board, and thus many little family differences were obliterated. At the pre-sent time, the ancient practices are somewhat decayed; yet the First of January is far from being reduced to the level of other days.

A grotesque manorial custom is described as being kept up in the reign of Charles II, in connection with Hilton in Staffordshire. There existed in that house a hollow brass image, about a foot high, representing a man kneeling in an indecorous posture. It was known all over the country as Jack of Hilton. There were two apertures, one very small at the mouth, another about two-thirds of an inch in diameter at the back, and the interior would hold rather more than four pints of water, 'which, when sot to a strong fire, evaporates after the same manner as in an Æolipile, and vents itself at the mouth in a constant blast, blowing the fire so strongly that it is very audible, and makes a sensible impression in that part of the fire where the blast lights.'

Now the custom was this. An obligation lay upon the lord of the adjacent manor of Essington, every New-Year's Day, to bring a goose to Hilton, and drive it three times round the hall fire, which Jack of Hilton was all the time blowing by the discharge of his steam. He was then to carry the bird into the kitchen and deliver it to the cook; and when it was dressed, he was further to carry it in a dish to the table of his lord paramount, the lord of Hilton, receiving in return a dish of meat for his own mess.

At Coventry, if not in other places throughout England, it is customary to eat what are called God-cakes on New-Year's Day. They are of a triangular shape, of about half an inch thick, and filled with a kind of mince-meat. There are halfpenny ones cried through the street; but others of much greater price--even it is said to the value of a pound—are used by the upper classes.

New-Years Gifts

The custom of making presents on New-Year's Day has, as far as regards the intercourse of the adult population, become almost if not entirely obsolete. Presents are generally pleasant to the receiver on any day of the year, and are still made, but not on this day especially. The practice on New-Year's Day is now limited to gifts made by parents to their children, or by the elder collateral members of a family to the younger; but the old custom, which has been gradually, like the drinking of healths, falling into disuse in England, is still in full force in France, as will presently be more particularly adverted to.

The practice of making presents on New-Year's Day was, no doubt, derived from the Romans. Suetonius and Tacitus both mention it. Claudius prohibited demanding presents except on this day. rand, in his Popular Antiquities, observes, on the authority of Bishop Stillingfleet, that the Saxons kept the festival of the New Year with more than ordinary feasting and jollity, and with the presenting of New-Year's gifts to each other. Fosbroke notices the continuation of the practice during the middle ages; and Ellis, in his additions to Brand, quotes Matthew Paris to shew that Henry III extorted New-Year's gifts from his subjects.
The New-Year's gifts presented by individuals to each other were suited to sex, rank, situation, and circumstances. From Bishop Hall's Satires (1598), it appears that the usual gifts of tenants in the country to their landlords was a capon; and Cowley, addressing the same class of society, says:

"When with low legs and in an humble guise
Ye offered up a capon-sacrifice
Unto his worship at the New-Year's tide.'

Ben Johnson, in his Masque of Christmas, among other characters introduces 'New-Year's Gift in a blue coat, serving-man like, with an orange, and a sprig of rosemary on his head, his hat full of brooches, with a collar of gingerbread, his torch-bearer carrying a marchpane, with a bottle of wine on either arm.' An orange stuck with cloves was a common present, and is explained by Lupton, who says that the flavour of wine is improved, and the wine itself preserved from mouldiness, by an orange or lemon stuck with cloves being hung within the vessel, so as not to touch the liquor.

Gloves were customary New-Year's gifts. They were formerly a more expensive article than they are at present, and occasionally a sum of money was given instead, which was called 'glove-money: Presents were of course made to persons in authority to secure favour, and too often were accepted by magistrates and judges. Sir Thomas More having, as lord chancellor, decided a cause in favour of a lady with the unattractive name of Croaker, on time ensuing New-Year's Day she sent him a pair of gloves with forty of the gold coins called an angel in them. Sir Thomas returned the gold with the following note: 'Mistress, since it were against good manners to refuse your New-Year's gift, I am content to take your gloves, but as for the lining I utterly refuse it.'


When pins were first invented and brought into use about the beginning of the sixteenth century, they were a New-Year's gift very acceptable to ladies, and money given for the purchase of them was called 'pin-money,' an expression which has been extended to a sum of money secured by a husband on his marriage for the private expenses of his wife. Pins made of metal, in their present form, must have been in use some time previous to 1543, in which year a statute was passed (35 Hen. VIII. c. 6), entitled 'An Acte for the true making of Pynnes,' in which it was enacted that the price charged should not exceed 6s. 8d. a thousand. Pins were previously made of boxwood, bone, and silver, for the richer classes; those used by the poor were of common wood—in fact, skewers.

The custom of presenting New-Year's gifts to the sovereigns of England may be traced back to the time of Henry VI. In Rymer's Faedera, vol. x. p. 387, a list is given of gifts received by the king between Christmas Day and February 4, 1428, consisting of sums of 40s., 20s., 13s. 4d., 10s., 6s. 8d., and 3s. 4d.


A manuscript roll of the public revenue of the fifth year of manuscript roll of the public revenue of the fifth year of Edward VI has an entry of rewards given on New-Year's Day to the king's officers and servants, amounting to £155, 5s., and also of sums given to the servants of those who presented New-Year's gifts to the king.


A similar roll has been preserved of the reign of Philip and Mary. The Lord Cardinal Pole gave a 'saulte,' with a cover of silver and gilt, having a stone therein much enamelled of the story of Job; and received a pair of gilt silver pots, weighing 1433/4 ounces. The queen's sister, the Lady Elizabeth, gave the fore part of a kyrtell, with a pair of sleeves of cloth of silver, richly embroidered over with Venice silver, and rayed with silver and black silk; and received three gilt silver bowls, weighing 132 ounces. Other gifts were—a sacrament cloth; a cup of crystal; a lute in a case, covered with black silk and gold, with two little round tables, the one of the phisnamy of the emperor and the king's majesty, the other of the king of Bohemia and his wife. Other gifts consisted of hosen of Garnsey-making, fruits, sugar-loaves, gloves, Turkey hens, a fat goose and capon, two swans, two fat oxen, conserves, rose-water, and other articles.


During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the custom of presenting Now-Year's gifts to the sovereign was carried to an extravagant height. The queen delighted in gorgeous dresses, in jewellery, in all. kinds of ornaments for her person and palaces, and in purses filled with gold coin. The gifts regularly presented to her were of great value. An exact and descriptive inventory of them was made every year on a roll, which was signed by the queen herself, and by the proper officers. Nichols, in his Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, has given an accurate transcript of five of these rolls. The presents were made by the great officers of state, peers and peeresses, bishops, knights and their ladies, gentlemen and gentlewomen, physicians, apothecaries, and others of lower grade, down to her majesty's dustman. The presents consisted of sums of money, costly articles of ornament for the queen's person or apartments, caskets studded with precious stones, valuable necklaces, bracelets, gowns, embroidered mantles, smocks, petticoats, looking-glasses, fans, silk stockings, and a great variety of other articles.

Howell, in his History of the World, mentions that 'Queen Elizabeth, in 1561, was presented with a pair of black silk knit stockings by her silk-woman, Mrs. Montague, and thence-forth she never wore cloth hose any more.' The value of the gifts in each year cannot be ascertained, but some estimate may be made of it from the presents of gilt plate which were in all instances given in return by the queen; an exact account having been entered on the roll of the weight of the plate which each individual received in return for his gift. The total weight in 1577-8 amounted to 5882 ounces. The largest sum of money given by any temporal lord was £20; but the Archbishop of Canterbury gave £40, the Archbishop of York £30, and other spiritual lords £20 or £10. The total amount in the year 1561-2 of money gifts was £1262, 11s. 8d. The queen's wardrobe and jewellery must have been principally supplied from her New-Year's gifts.

The Earl of Leicester's New-Year's gifts exceeded those of any other nobleman in costliness and elaborate workmanship. The description of the gift of 1571-2 may be given as a specimen:

'One armlet, or shakell of gold, all over fairely garnished with rubyes and dyamondes, haveing in the closing thearof a clocke, and in the fore part of the same a fayre lozengie dyamonde without a foyle, hanging thearat a round juell fully garnished with dyamondes, and perle pendant, weying 11 oz. qu. dim., and farthing golde weight: in a case of purple vellate all over embranderid with Venice golde, and lyned with greeve vellat.'

In the reign of James I the money gifts seem to have been continued for some time, but the ornamental articles presented appear to have been few and of small value. In January 1601, Sir Dudley Carleton, in a letter to Mr. Winwood, observes:

'New-Year's Day passed without any solemnity, and the accustomed present of the purse and gold was hard to be had without asking.'

Mr. Nichols, in a note on this passage, observes:

'During the reigns of King Edward VI., Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, the ceremony of giving and receiving New-Year's gifts at Court, which had long before been customary, was never omitted, and it was continued at least in the early years of King James; but I have never met with a roll of those gifts similar to the several specimens of them in the Progresses of Queen Elizabeth.'

He afterwards, however, met with such a roll, which he has copied, and in a note attached to the commencement of the roll, be makes the following remarks:

'Since the note in that page [471 of vol. i., Progresses of James I] was printed, the roll here accurately transcribed has been purchased by the trustees of the British Museum, from Mr. Rodd, book-seller of Great Newport Street, in whose catalogue for 1824 it is mentioned. It is above ten feet in length; and, like the five printed in Queen Elizabeth's "Progresses," exhibits the gifts to the king on one side, and those from his majesty on the other, both sides being signed by the royal hand at top and bottom. The gifts certainly cannot compete in point of curiosity with those of either Queen Mary's or Queen Elizabeth's reign. Instead of curious articles of dress, rich jewels, &c., nothing was given by the nobility but gold coin.'

The gifts from the nobility and prelates amounted altogether to £1293, 13s. 4d. The remainder were from per-sons who held some office about the king or court, and were generally articles of small value. The Duke of Lennox and the Archbishop of Canterbury gave each £40; all other temporal lords, £20 or E10; and the other spiritual lords, £30, £20, £13, 6s. 8d., or £10. The Duke of Lennox received 50 ounces of plate, the Arch-bishop of Canterbury 55 ounces; those who gave £20 received about 30 ounces, and for smaller sums the return-gift was in a similar proportion.


No rolls, nor indeed any notices, seem to have been preserved of New-Year's gifts presented to Charles I., though probably there were such. The custom, no doubt, ceased entirely during the Commonwealth, and was never afterwards revived, at least to any extent worthy of notice. Mr. Nichols mentions that the last remains of the custom at court consisted in placing a crown-piece under the plate of each of the chaplains in waiting on New-Year's Day, and that this custom had ceased early in the nineteenth century.
There is a pleasant story of a New-Year's gift in the reign of King Charles I, in which the court jester, Archy Armstrong, figures as for once not the maker, but the victim of a jest. Coming on that morn to a nobleman to bid him good-morrow, Archy received a few gold pieces; which, however, falling short of his expectations in amount, he shook discontentedly in his hand, muttering that they were too light. The donor said: 'Prithee, then, Archy, let me see them again; and, by the way, there is one of them which I would be loth to part with.' Archy, expecting to get a larger gift, returned the pieces to his lordship, who put them in his pocket, with the remark: 'I once gave my money into the hands of a fool, who had not the wit to keep it.'—Banquet of Jests, 1634

It cannot be said that the custom of giving presents to superiors was a very rational one: one can even imagine it to have been something rather oppressive— 'a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance.' Yet Robert Herrick seems to have found no difficulty in bringing the smiles of his cheerful muse to bear upon it. It must be admitted, indeed, that the author of the Hesperides made his poem the gift. Thus it is he addresses Sir Simon Steward in:

'A jolly
Verse, crowned with ivy and with holly;
That tells of winter's tales and mirth,
That milkmaids make about the hearth;
Of Christmas' sports, the wassail howl,
That's tost up after fox-i'-th'-hole;
Of blind-man-buff, and of the care
That young men have to shoe the mare;
Of twelfth-tide cakes, of pease and beaus,
Wherewith ye make those merry scenes;
Of crackling laurel, which fore-sounds
A plenteous harvest to your grounds;
Of those, and each like things, for shift,
We send, instead of New Year's gift.
Read then, and when your faces shine
With buxom meat and cap'ring wine,
Remember us in cups full crown'd,
And let our city-health go round.
Then, as ye sit about your embers,
Call not to mind the fled Decembers;
But think on these, that are t' appear
As daughters to the instant year;
And to the bagpipes all address,
Till sleep take place of weariness.
And thus throughout, with Christmas plays,
Frolic the full twelve holidays.'

The custom of giving of presents among relatives and friends is much declined in England, but is still kept up with surprising vigor in Paris, where the day is especially recognized from this circumstance as Le Jour d' Etrennes. Parents then bestow portions on their children, brothers on their sisters, and husbands make settlements on their wives. The mere externals of the day, as observed in Paris, are of a striking character: they were described as follows in an English journal, as observed in the year 1824, while as yet the restored Bourbon reigned in France: 'Carriages,' says this writer, 'may be seen rolling through the streets with cargoes of bon-bons, souvenirs, and the variety of etceteras with which little children and grown up children are bribed into good humour; and here and there pastrycooks are to be met with, carrying upon boards enormous temples, pagodas, churches, and playhouses, made of fine flour and sugar, and the embellishments which render French pastry so inviting. But there is one street in Paris to which a New-Year's Day is a whole year's fortune—this is the Rue des Lombards, where the wholesale confectioners reside; for in Paris every trade and profession has its peculiar quarter. For several days preceding the 1st of January, this street is completely blocked up by carts and wagons laden with cases of sweetmeats for the provinces. These are of every form and description which the most singular fancy could imagine; bunches of carrots, green peas, hoots and shoes, lobsters and crabs, hats, books, musical instruments, gridirons, frying-pans, and sauce-pans; all made of sugar, and coloured to imitate reality, and all made with a hollow within to hold the bon-bons.


The most prevailing device is what is called a cornet; that is, a little cone ornamented in different ways, with a bag to draw over the large end, and close it up. In these things, the prices of which vary from one franc (tenpenee) to fifty, the bon-bons are presented by those who choose to be at the expense of them, and by those who do not, they are only wrapped in a piece of paper; but bon-bons, in some way or other, must be presented. It would not, perhaps, be an exaggeration to state that the amount expended for presents on New-Year's Day in Paris, for sweet-meats alone, exceeds 500,000 francs, or £20,000 sterling. Jewellery is also sold to a very large amount, and the fancy articles exported in the first week of the year to England and other countries, is computed at one-fourth of the sale during the twelvemonths. In Paris, it is by no means uncommon for a man of 8000 or 10,000 francs a year, to make presents on New-Year's Day which cost him a fifteenth part of his income. No person able to give must on this day pay a visit empty-handed.

Everybody accepts, and every man gives according to the means which he possesses. Females alone are excepted from the charge of giving. A pretty woman, respectably connected, may reckon her New-Year's presents at something considerable. Gowns, jewellery, gloves, stockings, and artificial flowers fill her drawing-room: for in Paris it is a custom to display all the gifts, in order to excite emulation, and to obtain as much as possible. At the palace, the New-Year's Day is a complete jour de fete. Every branch of the royal family is then expected to make handsome presents to the king. For the six months preceding January 1824, the female branches were busily occupied in preparing presents of their own manufacture, which would fill at least two common-sized wagons.


The Duchess de Berri painted an entire room of japanned panels, to be set up in the palace, and the Duchess of Orleans prepared an elegant screen. An English gentleman, who was admitted suddenly into the presence of the Duchess de Berri two months before, found her and three of her maids of honour, lying on the carpet, painting the legs of a set of chairs, which were intended for the king. The day commences with the Parisians, at an early hour, by the interchange of their visits and bon-bons. The nearest relations are visited first, until the furthest in blood have had their calls; then friends and acquaintances. The conflict to anticipate each other's calls, occasions the most agreeable and whimsical scenes among these proficients in polite attentions. In these visits, and in gossiping at the confectioners' shops, which are the great lounge for the occasion, the morning of New-Year's Day is passed; a dinner is given by some member of the family to all the rest, and the evening concludes, like Christmas Day, with cards, dancing, or any other amusement that may be preferred.'

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Happy Birthday Mary Shelley - author of Frankenstein

Few seaside towns can claim so many literary associations as Bournemouth. The remains of writer, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, author of one of the most famous of all Gothic horror novels - Frankenstein, is buried in the cemetery of St. Peters in the centre of the town.

Portrait of Mary Shelley,
painted by Richard Rothwell in 1840.
Mary Shelley was born on the 30th August 1797, in Somers Town, London. She was the second daughter of feminist and writer Mary Wollstonecraft and political journalist William Godwin (who are aso interred in her grave). Her mother died shortly after Mary's birth from a hemorrhage  sustained either during delivery or by the actions of the midwife. Unusual for girls at the time, Mary received an excellent education. She published her first poem at the age of ten.

Percy Bysshe Shelley and his first wife Harriet often visited Godwin's home and bookshop in London. At the age of 16 Mary eloped to France and then Switzerland with Shelley. During May of 1816, the couple travelled to Lake Geneva. Apparently inspired by a ghost tale contest among her friends, Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont Mary had what she called a waking dream that became the manuscript for her most famous work, entitled ‘Frankenstein' or 'The Modern Prometheus'.


It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who tries to create a living being for the good of humanity but instead produces a monster.  Frankenstein creates his monster by assembling parts of dead bodies and activating the creature with electricity.  The monster, which has no name in the book, is actually a gentle, intelligent creature.  However, everyone fears and mistreats him because of his hideous appearance.  Frankenstein rejects the monster and refuses to create a mate for him.  The monster's terrible loneliness drives him to seek revenge by murdering Frankenstein's wife, brother, and best friend.  Frankenstein dies while trying to track down and kill the monster, who disappears into the Arctic at the end of the novel. 



Film Posters for Universal Studios 1931
 version of 'Frankenstein'
Many films have been based on the character of Frankenstein's monster, the most iconic being played by Boris Karloff in the Universal Studios 1931 version of the novel.  Most are simply tales of horror and have little to do with the serious themes of Shelley's novel.  These themes include the possible dangers involved in scientific experimentation with life and the suffering caused by judging people by their appearance. 

Mary and Shelley married in 1816 after Shelley's first wife committed suicide by drowning. In 1818 the Shelleys left England for Italy. The Italian adventure was, however, blighted for Mary by the death of both her children Clara, in Venice and their son Will died from malaria in Rome.  Mary suffered a nervous breakdown after the death and almost died of a later miscarriage. It was followed by the birth of her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley sailed up the Italian coast and was caught in a storm on his return. He drowned on the 8th July along with his friend Edward Williams and a young boat attendant.

To support herself and her child, Mary wrote novels, including Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), and the autobiographical Lodore (1835).  She spent much of her life in promoting her late husband's work, including editing and annotating unpublished material. She returned to England, never to re-marry.


The Grave of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
She died on 1st February 1851 in Chester Square, London of what some suspect to be a brain tumor, before her to move to live with her son Percy Florence Shelley at Boscombe Manor. Her last book, sometimes considered her best work, was ‘Maria', which was published posthumously.  Her son brought his mothers remains to be interred in St. Peter's Churchyard in Bournemouth, along with Percy's heart, which was not originally buried with his body. It was retrieved from his funeral pyre by his friend Trelawny and kept by Shelley's wife Mary, pressed flat, in a copy of the poet's "Adonais" and was interred for the first time in Mary's tomb.

Source: www.darkdorset.co.uk

Monday, 22 August 2016

Happy Birthday "Folklore" - On this day, the 22nd August 1846, the term Folk-Lore, was 'born'

William John Thoms

On this day, the 22nd August 1846, the term "Folklore", was coined, by English antiquarian, William John Thoms (1803-1885).
Thoms is credited with inventing the term under the pseudonym Ambrose Merton in a letter to the London literary magazine ‘Athenaeum’. 

He invented this composite word to replace the various other terms used at the time including (1803-1885)"popular antiquities" or "popular literature" to describe people’s traditional beliefs, ballads, proverbs, customs, popular superstitions and legends.

During the 1800's, scholars like Thoms, believed that folklore in ancient times had been shared by all members of a society. Most ancient peoples lived in rural communities. Over the centuries, large numbers of people moved to cities and gradually lost touch with so-called "authentic" folk uneducated peasants called ‘folk’, whose way of life had changed little for traditions. According to the scholars of the 1800’s, those traditions were preserved by hundreds of years.


The Brothers Grimm
Amongst the most notable leading folklore scholars were two German brothers, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. From 1807 to 1814, they collected folk tales from peasants who lived near Kassel, in Germany. The Grimms believed that by collecting the tales, they were preserving for all time the heritage of all Germans. The stories they collected became famous as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

But some versions of these tales are found throughout Europe, the Near East, and Asia. Today, scholars consider folk to be any group of people who share at least one common linking factor. This factor may be, Geography, as in folklore of the English Countryside, Religion, as in Jewish folklore, Occupation, as in Fisherman folklore, Ethnic background, as in French-Canadian folklore. Some scholars believe that even a family can be considered folk because many families have their own traditions and stories.

Characteristics of folklore

Folklore can be short and simple or long and complicated. Brief proverbs, such as "Time flies" and "Money talks," are famous examples of folklore. On the other hand, in other parts of the world, some folk plays begin at sundown and end at dawn. It is extremely difficult to make up folklore.

The songs, stories, and other material that became folklore were, of course, thought up by various people. But those individuals had the rare ability to create a subject and a style that appealed to others over the years. Folklore survives only if it retains that appeal.

People would not bother to retell tales or continue to follow customs that had no meaning for them. This is the reason people keep on using the same folklore over and over. To be considered authentic folklore, an item must have at least two versions.


For example, scholars have identified more than 1,000 versions of the fairy tale about Cinderella. These versions developed over hundreds of years in many countries, including China, France, Germany, and Turkey. Changes in folklore often occur as a story passes from person to person. These changes, called variations, are one of the surest indications that the item is true folklore. Variations frequently appear in both the words and music of folk songs. The same lyrics may be used with different tunes, or different words may be set to the same music. For example the nursery rhymes "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" have the same melody. 

Kinds of folklore:  

Myths
Myths are stories that explain how the world and humanity reached their present form. Myths differ from most types of folk stories because myths are considered to be true among the people who develop them. Many myths describe the creation of the earth. In some of these stories, a god creates the earth. In others, the earth emerges from a flood. A number of myths describe the creation of the human race and the origin of death.
Folk Tales
Folk tales are fictional stories about animals or human beings. Most of these tales are not set in any particular time or place, and they begin and end in a certain way. For example, many English folk tales begin with the phrase "Once upon a time" and end with "They lived happily ever after." Fables are one of the most popular types of folk tales. They are animal stories that try to teach people how to behave. One fable describes a race between a tortoise and a hare. The tortoise, though it is a far slower animal, wins because the hare foolishly stops to sleep. This story teaches the lesson that someone who works steadily can come out ahead of a person who is faster or has a head start. In many European fairy tales, the hero or heroine leaves home to seek some goal. After various adventures, he or she wins a prize or a marriage partner, in many cases a prince or princess. One popular kind of folk tale has a trickster as the hero. Each culture has its own trickster figure. Most tricksters are animals like the wolf, fox and the cunning hare who act like human beings.
 Legends
Legends, like myths, are stories told as though they were true. But legends are set in the real world and in relatively recent times. Many legends tell about human beings who meet supernatural creatures, such as fairies, ghosts, vampires, and witches. A number of legends are associated with famous people who have died. Others tell of holy persons and religious leaders. Some legends describe how saints work miracles. The action in myths and folk tales ends at the conclusion of the story. But the action in many legends has not been completed by the story's end. For example, a legend about a buried treasure may end by saying that the treasure has not yet been found. A legend about a haunted house may suggest that the house is still haunted. A number of legends tell about the Loch Ness Monster, a lake monster in Scotland; and the Beast of Exmoor, a large cat that haunts the Somerset moors. Some people believe these creatures actually exist. From time to time, various expeditions have tried to find both of them.
 Folk songs
Folk songs have been created for almost every human activity. Some are associated with work. For example, sailors sing songs called ‘shanties’ while pulling in their lines. Folk songs may deal with birth, childhood, courtship, marriage, and death. Parents sing folk lullabies to babies. Children sing traditional songs as part of some games. Other folk songs are sung at weddings and funerals. Some folk songs are related to seasonal activities, such as planting and harvesting. Many are sung on certain holidays. The English Christmas folk song "I saw three ships " is a popular example. Some folk songs celebrate the deeds of real or imaginary heroes. But people sing many folk songs simply for enjoyment.
Superstitions and Customs

Cerne Abbas Giant
A large number of superstitions and customs supposedly help control or predict the future. The people of fishing communities may hold elaborate ceremonies that are designed to ensure a good catch as in the custom of the Abbostbury Garland. Many people try to foretell future events by analysing the relationships among the planets and stars.

Superstitions and customs are involved largely in marking a person's advancement from one stage of life to another. For example, one such superstition concerns the Cerne Abbas Giant's powers of fertility and the belief that childless couples who made love on a phallic part of the figure would soon be blessed with children. While young women wishing to keep their lovers faithful would walk around the hill figure three times.
 Holidays
Holidays are special occasions celebrated by a group, and almost all of them include some elements of folklore. Christmas is especially rich in folklore. A national group may celebrate this holiday with its own special foods and costumes. Many groups have variations of the same folk custom. In a number of countries, for example, children receive presents at Christmas. In Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Father Christmas or Santa Claus brings the presents. In Italy, an old woman named La Befana distributes the gifts. In some countries of Europe, the gifts come from the Christ child. In others, the Three Wise Men bring them.
 Folklore and the arts
Folklore has made a major contribution to the world's arts. Many folk stories and folk songs are beautiful works of art themselves. Folklore has also inspired masterpieces of literature, music, painting, and sculpture. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer used a number of folk tales in his famous Canterbury Tales. William Shakespeare based the plots of several of his plays on folk tales. These plays include King Lear, The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew.

Certain legends and myths have attracted artists, composers, and writers for centuries, most recent revival has been made by Seth Lakeman in his songs that have been inspired by legends and folk stories of the south west of England like Childe the Hunter, Kitty Jay, The White Hare and The Hurlers.

One legend tells about a medieval German scholar named Faust who sold his soul to the devil. This legend has been the basis of many novels, plays, operas, and orchestral works. Faust, a drama by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is perhaps the greatest work in German literature.
 Folklore and society
Folklore reflects the attitudes and ideals of a society. For example, much folklore reflects how a society regards the roles of males and females in real life. In many examples of Western folklore, women are depicted as passive and uncreative. A society that produces such folklore considers men superior to women.

This attitude appears in a 18th century Scottish proverb “A crooning cow, a crowing Hen and a whistling Maid boded never luck to a house”. According to the proverb, a girl who whistles like a boy and a hen that crows like a rooster are unnatural. The proverb implies that women should not try to take part in activities traditionally associated with men, an idea that has become outdated in modem society.

A common wedding custom calls for the groom to carry his bride over the threshold of their home. This custom suggests that the woman is weak and must be carried through the doorway - and presumably through life - by the strong male. In many Western fairy tales, a female is captured by a villain and waits quietly until a heroic male rescues her.



Monday, 1 August 2016

Crying the Neck, Corn Dollies and Fairy Folk: Customs and Traditions of Lammas


The 1st August is the ancient festival of ‘Lammas Tide’, which traditionally is the start of the harvest calendar: - a time of giving thanks to ‘Mother Nature’ for all her fruits and reaping what has been sown.

The Celts originally called it ‘Lugnasad’ and would celebrate by honouring ‘Lugh’, the sun god; however, the Saxons renamed the festival ‘hlaf-maesse’ meaning ‘loaf mass’, which later became ‘Lammas’, as we know it today. Traditionally it was the day when the first new grain was milled and baked into small loaves of bread, which were offered on the altar for a blessing and as thanks-giving for the first fruits of the harvest. Sometimes this service was reserved for ‘Garland Sunday’, the first Sunday after Lammas Day.

Music Barrows and Fairy Folk
Bincombe Bumps Music Barrows

The Dorset landscape would not be complete without its numerous ancient earthworks and barrows. In the past these burial mounds were believed to be inhabited by fairies, and at Lammas they are said to rise on pillars to reveal the revelling fairies dancing inside to the sweet sound of fairy music.

On Bincombe Hill, overlooking Weymouth, six such hillocks - which date back to the Bronze Age can be seen They were known locally as 'Music Barrows', for it was said if you put your ear to the top of one at noon, you would be able to hear the plaintive tones of music.

Corn Dollies

A traditional Corn Dolly
Corn dollies are a form of straw work made for, and associated with, harvest customs of Europe before mechanisation.
Before Christianisation, in traditional pagan European culture it was believed that the spirit of the "corn" (in modern American English, "corn" would be "grain") lived amongst the crop, and that the harvest made it effectively homeless.

Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest, hollow shapes were fashioned from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crops. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in their homes until the "corn dolly" was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season. "Dolly" may be a corruption of "idol" or may have come from the Greek word 'eidolon' (that which represents something else) as does the word 'idol'.

Crying the Neck

'Crying the Neck', ‘Crying the Nack’ or ‘Crying the Mare’, is a harvest festival tradition practiced in the West Country of England, in particular Cornwall, Devon, and parts of West Dorset.

In The Story of Cornwall, by Kenneth Hamilton Jenkin, the following explanation is given on the practice:
"In those days the whole of the reaping had to be done either with the hook or scythe. The harvest, in consequence, often lasted for many weeks. When the time came to cut the last handful of standing corn, one of the reapers would lift up the bunch high above his head and call out in a loud voice.....,

"We have it! We have it! We have it!"
The rest would then shout,

"What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee?"

and the reply would be:

"A neck! A neck! A neck!"

Everyone then joined in shouting:

"Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck! Hurrah for Mr. So-and-So"

(calling the farmer by name.)"
Although mostly discontinued the tradition is still practised by members of the Old Cornwall Society every year.

Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days August 1st 1864, details the traditions of Lammas.

"LAMMAS - This was one of the four great pagan festivals of Britain, the others being on 1st November, 1st February, and 1st May. The festival of the Gule of August, as it was called, probably celebrated the realisation of the first-fruits of the earth, and more particularly that of the grain-harvest. When Christianity was introduced, the day continued to be observed as a festival on these grounds, and, from a loaf being the usual offering at church, the service, and consequently the day, came to be called Half-mass, subsequently shortened into Lammas, just as hlaf-dig (bread-dispenser), applicable to the mistress of a house, came to be softened into the familiar and extensively used term, lady. This we would call the rational definition of the word Lammas.
There is another, but in our opinion utterly inadmissible derivation, pointing to the custom of bringing a lamb on this day, as an offering to the cathedral church of York. Without doubt, this custom, which was purely local, would take its rise with reference to the term Lammas, after the true original signification of that word had been forgotten. It was once customary in England, in contravention of the proverb, that a cat in mittens catches no mice, to give money to servants on Lammas-day, to buy gloves; hence the term Glove-Silver. It is mentioned among the ancient customs of the abbey of St. Edmund's, in which the clerk of the cellarer had 2d.; the cellarer's squire, 11d.; the granger, 11d.; and the cowherd a penny. Anciently, too, it was customary for every family to give annually to the pope on this day one penny, which was thence called Denarius Sancti Petri, or Peter's Penny.'—Hampson's Medii AEvi Kalendarium.
What appears as a relic of the ancient pagan festival of the Gule of August, was practised in Lothian till about the middle of the eighteenth century. From the unenclosed state of the country, the tending of cattle then employed a great number of hands, and the cow-boys, being more than half idle, were much disposed to unite in seeking and creating amusement. In each little district, a group of them built, against Lammas-day, a tower of stones and sods in some conspicuous place.
On Lammas-morning, they assembled here, bearing flags, and blowing cow-horns—breakfasted together on bread and cheese, or other provisions—then set out on a march or procession, which usually ended in a foot-race for some trifling prize. The most remarkable feature of these rustic fetes was a practice of each party trying, before or on the day, to demolish the sod fortalice of some other party near by. This, of course, led to great fights and brawls, in which blood was occasionally spilt. But, on the whole, the Lammas Festival of Lothian was a pleasant affair, characteristic of an age which, with less to gain, had perhaps rather more to enjoy than the present"
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