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. 4.]                              ASH WEDNESDAY.                                        93
The intention of crowing the hour of the night was no doubt intended to remind waking sinners of the august effect the third crowing of the cock had on the guilty-Apostle St. Peter; and the limitation of the custom to the season of Lent was judiciously adopted; as, had the practice continued throughout the year, the impenitent would become as habituated and as indifferent to the crow of the mimic cock as they are to that of the real one, or to the cry of the watchmen. The adaptation to the precincts of the Court seems also to have had a view, as if the institutor (probably the Royal Confessor) had considered that the greater and more obdurate sinners resided within the purlieus of the palace. Gent Mag. 1785, vol. Iv. p. 341.
The beginning of Lent was at one time marked by a custom now fallen into disuse. A figure, made up of straw and cast-off clothes, was drawn or carried through the streets amid much noise and merriment; after which it was either burnt, shot at, or thrown down a chimney. This image was called " Jack o'Lent," and was, according to some, intended to represent Judas Iscariot. Elderton, in a ballad, called Lenton Stuff, in a MS. in the Ashmolean Museum, thus concludes his account of Lent:
" Then Jake a' Lent comes justlynge in, With the hedpeece of a herynge, And saythe, repent yowe of yower syn,
For shame, syrs, leve yower swerynge: And to Palme Sunday doethe he ryde,
With sprots and herryngs by hys syde, And makes an end of Lenton tyde!"
N. & Q. 1st 8. vol. xii. p. 297.
In Ben Jonson's Tale of a Tub, occurs the following :
"On an Ash Wednesday, When thou didst stand six weeks the Jack o' Lent, For boys to hurl three thro vs a penny at thee."
Brand's Pop. Antiq. 1849, vol. i. p. 101.
It was once customary for persons to wear black clothes during Lent. Eoberts in his Cambrian Pop Antiq. (1815, p. 112), says this usage was entirely laid aside in his time; but of late years it has been somewhat revived.
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