British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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10                                      NEW YEAR'S DAY.                          [JAN. I.
college going in a body on New Year's Day to their Prin­cipal, and each presenting him with an epistle by way of a New Year's gift, wishing him a happy New Year.
We learn from the same writer, that it was formerly the practice at Queen's College to give a needle and thread to the Fellows, being a rebus on their founder's name, Eglesfield, aiguille in French signifying a needle, and fil a thread (p. 38).
A grotesque manorial custom is described as being kept up in the reign of Charles II., in connection with Hilton. There existed in that house a hollow brass image, about a foot high, representing a man kneeling in an indecorous position. 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, says Plot (History of Staffordshire, 1686, p. 433), ' when set to a strong fire, evaporates in the same manner as in an iEolopile, 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.'
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 Hiltonwas 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 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.
An annual payment, called Moseley's Dole, was formerly made by the corporation, consisting of a penny a piece to all the inhabitants of Walsall, and of the adjoining parish of Rushall, which is supposed to have anciently formed part of that of Walsall.
Three persons were employed to make the distribution,
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