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Old Customs
from throughout Berkshire

In the early 19th century, the age-old custom of electing the Mayor of Bartlemas on Mace Monday (the first Monday after 25/26 July), was still observed in Newbury. After the election at the Bull and Dog Inn, a dinner of bacon and beans was served. Afterwards, a cabbage stalk on a pole was paraded in the Mayoral Procession.

Until 1883, a type of cake special to Berkshire was sold at the Clementide sheep fair in Lambourn on St. Clement's Day, 23rd November. Made from a special dough, with butter, currants, spice, candied peel and sugar, the cakes could be plate-sized and cost up to 5 shillings. The Clementide Celebrations were popular on the Downs as St. Clement was the patron saint of blacksmiths and was thus associated with Wayland the Smith who was said to have lived up on the Ridgeway.

At Cumnor on Christmas day afternoon, parishioners were traditionally entertained at the vicarage, with ale and beer brewed from four bushels of malt, bread made from two bushels of wheat and over 25 kgs. of cheese.

There is a curious legal custom from both Enborne and Chaddleworth parish. If a copyholder's wife survived him, she forfeited her rights to her husband's lands. However, if she rode into court backwards on the back of a large black ram, the manor steward would be obliged to return her lands when she repeated the following lines:

Here I am, riding upon a black ram,
Like a whore as I am;
And, for my Crincum Crancum,
Have lost my Bincum Bancum;
And, for my tail's game,
Have done this worldly shame.
Therefore, I pray you, Mr. Steward,
Let me have my land again.

Aldermaston is one of only eleven places, left in the country, that still holds a Candle Auction. Once common, these rare affairs are controlled by a tallow candle in Aldermaston Parish Hall. A pin is placed an inch from the flame and bidding continues until the pin falls. The last to bid secures the lot. In Aldermaston's case this will be the three year lease of a field called Church Acre.

Lady Elizabeth Marvyn, widow of Richard Perkins of Ufton Court, left money for the Ufton Bread Dole in her will, of 1581, in thanks for finding her way home after getting lost in some local woods. It is distributed every Palm Sunday from a certain window at the Court.

Though once widespread, Hungerford is now the only place in the country still to maintain tha annual Hocktide festival on the sceond Tuesday after Easter. To celebrate the town's patronage from Prince John of Gaunt, the town-crier blows his horn and calls together the Hocktide Court in the town hall. Here, all commoners, living in the most ancient house in the High Street, must pay a fine to ensure their rights of fishing and grazing. While the court continues, "Tutti-Men" with florally decorated poles are led through the streets by the "Orange-Man" to collect kisses from all the ladies resident in the High Street. They receive an orange in return. Various traditional suppers, ale-tastings, lunches and balls follow.

The old Berkshire custom of performing "Rough Music" is well recorded in several villages, including Arborfield and Warfield, during the nineteenth century. If a husband was known or suspected of having beaten his wife, the neighbours would gather at night outside their house and, with sheep bells, horns, pots and pans, anything they could bang together, they would make "Rough Music" to reprimand the man and keep him awake.

Wokingham was once well-known for its bull-baiting. In 1661, a local Butcher, George Staverton, left the rent from his house to provide a bull for the townsfolk to bait in the Market Place. This horrible sport continued in the town annually until banned by the Corporation in 1821. The nation following suit six years later; but the Wokingham bull was still provided as beef for the poor and overenthusiastic locals siezed the creature in 1832 and held the last ever bull-baiting in the country.

The 'Scouring of the White Horse' at Uffington used to take place every seven years. Locals gathered on White Horse Hill to clear the ancient chalk hill-figure of encroaching flora. Afterwards, there was a fair at the nearby hillfort with many games and competitions, including the old Berkshire sport of Back-Swording. The festival may date back to Bronze Age Pagan. King Alfred is thought to have cleaned the beast in Saxon times, but the ceremony lapsed after 1857. The celebrations were similar to those once held at Chapel Row in Bucklebury.

During the third week in July, the ancient ceremony of Swan-Upping takes place along the Thames in eastern Berkshire, between Windsor and Pangbourne. Red, green and blue liveried swanherds from the Queen's, Vintners' Company and Dyers' Company crews, respectively, row up the river seeking out swans. The birds are turned upside down (upping) and have their beaks checked for the customary nicks which show to which crew they belong. New cygnets are nicked accordingly. At Windsor, the crews salute the Queen and there is a large feast of roast cygnet upon the course's completion.

On Royal and National occasions, large crowds gather beneath Abingdon's fine town hall in order to receive the traditional distribution of celebratory buns. Often marked with suitable initials, they ware hurled from the roof by the town officials. The origin of the ceremony is unknown, but the local museum has a collection of buns dating back two centuries.

The "Mayor of Ock Street" is elected in Abingdon every year on the Saturday on or before 20th June. The residents of the street vote for one amongst the local Morris Men, who is declared Mayor at 4:00pm. The ceremony has associated with an ox roast ever since the winner won a pair of ox horns after a dispute at the Abingdon Fair of 1700.


 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.