Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview

6
RITES OF HOSPITALITY AND CHARITY

THE long tradition of generosity at Christmastide (whether or not realized in practice) has been described in a previous chapter. The expectation that resident landowners would entertain tenants and guests from the neighbourhood continued right up until the later nineteenth century, when the decline of British agriculture and increasing rural depopulation put paid to the old social and economic relationships of the countryside. For some time before then, however, the scale of entertainment had probably been decreasing with the diminishing size of gentry households, and the increasing commercialization of labour services: a story much better illustrated in the case of harvest suppers, to be considered below. Echoes of the traditional festive obligations are occasionally found in the mid-nineteenth century, such as the case of the farmer in 1847 who made sure to entertain all his labourers 'as usual' to a dinner of goose and plum pudding on Christmas Day with plenty of cider. 1 This is an aspect of Victorian social history which has been very little studied, and not much is at present known about it.

The folklore collections are much more useful for certain related practices. One was the development, and public endorsement, of early winter celebrations related to particular trades and crafts. Just as agricultural workers had their sheep-shearing feasts and harvest homes, so artisans held equivalent festivities associated with medieval patron saints, at a time of year when food was abundant but the season of privation on its way. They began near the end of autumn, with the day of the cobbler saints Crispin and Crispinian on 25 October. At Cuckfield in the Sussex Weald, master cobblers in the nineteenth century always gave a dinner to their employees on that date. At nearby Horsham all shoemakers 'could be depended upon to get thoroughly drunk'. 2 In Herefordshire at the same time boys sang:

The 25th of October: Cursed be the cobbler That goes to bed sober. 3

On 23 November fell the old feast of Clement, patron of ironworkers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and anchor-makers. In Staffordshire country almanacs of the late seventeenth century, this was marked with a pot, 'from the

-54-

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Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements and Note xiii
  • Contents xv
  • List of Plates xvii
  • List of Maps xx
  • 1 - The Origins of Christmas 1
  • 2 - The Twelve Days 9
  • 3 - The Trials of Christmas 25
  • 4 - Rites of Celebration and Reassurance 34
  • 5 - Rites of Purification and Blessing 42
  • 6 - Rites of Hospitality and Charity 54
  • 7 - Mummers' Play and Sword Dance 70
  • 8 - Hobby-Horse and Horn Dance 81
  • 9 - Misrule 95
  • 10 - The Reinvention of Christmas 112
  • 11 - Speeding the Plough 124
  • 12 - Brigid's Night 134
  • 13 - Candlemas 139
  • 14 - Valentines 146
  • 15 - Shrovetide 151
  • 16 - Lent 169
  • 17 - The Origins of Easter 179
  • 18 - Holy Weekz 182
  • 19 - An Egg at Easter 198
  • 20 - The Easter Holidays 204
  • 21 - England and St George 214
  • 22 - Beltane 218
  • 23 - The May 226
  • 24 - May Games and Whitsun Ales 244
  • 25 - Morris and Marian 262
  • 26 - Rogationtide and Pentecost 277
  • 27 - Royal Oak 288
  • 28 - A Merrie May 295
  • 29 - Corpus Christi 304
  • 30 - The Midsummer Fires 311
  • 31 - Sheep, Hay, and Rushes 322
  • 32 - First Fruits 327
  • 33 - Harvest Home 332
  • 34 - Wakes, Revels, and Hoppings 348
  • 35 - Samhain 360
  • 36 - Saints and Souls 371
  • 37 - The Modern Hallowe'En 379
  • 38 - Blood Month and Virgin Queen 386
  • 39 - Gunpowder Treason 393
  • 40 - Conclusions 408
  • Notes 428
  • Index 519
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