British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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Feb. 3.]                        shrove tuesday.                                 85
The way of making reprisal, in such cases, is by a rope drawn across the road of the mischievous, by means of which their flight is suddenly interrupted, and themselves ignominiously hurled to the ground with the loss of their artillery.—Heath, Account of Islands of Stilly, 1750, p. 127.
In The History and Antiquites of Ludlow, 1822 (pp. 188-189), occurs the following account of a custom formerly observed on this day: " The corporation provide a rope, three inches in thickness, and in length thirty-six yards, which is given out at one of the windows of the Market-House as the clock strikes four, when a large body of the inhabitants divided into two parties—one contending for Castle Street and Broad Street wards, and the other for Old Street and Corve Street wards—commence an arduous struggle, and as soon as either party gains the victory by pulling the rope beyond the prescribed limits, the pulling ceases, which is, howevor, renewed by a second, and sometimes by a third contest; the rope being purchased by subscription from the victorious party, and given out again. Without doubt this singular custom is symbolical of some remarkable event, and a remnant of that ancient language of visible signs, which, says a cele­brated writer, "imperfectly supplies the want of letters, to perpetuate the remembrance of public or private transactions." The sign, in this instance, has survived the remembrance of the occurrence it was designed to represent, and remains a profound mystery. It has been insinuated that the real occasion of this custom is known to the corporation, but that for some reason or other, they are tenacious of the secret. An obscure tradition attributes this custom to circumstances arising out of the siege of Ludlow by Henry VI., when two parties arose within the town, one supporting the pretensions of the Duke of York, and the other wishing to give admittance to the king; one of the bailiffs is said to have headed the latter party. History relates that, in this contest, many lives were lost, and that the bailiff, heading his party in an attempt to open Dinham Gate, fell a victim there."
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