British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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94                                      ASH WEDNESDAY.                          [Feb. 4.
It is observed by Mr. Fosbroke that ladies wore friars' girdles during this season, and quoting from Camden a Remains he tells us how Sir Thomas More, finding his lady scolding her servants during Lent, endeavoured to restrain her. " Tush, tush, my lord," said she, "look, here is one step to heavenward," showing him a friar's girdle. "1 fear me," said he, " that one step will not bring you one step higher."
In a curious tract written about 1174 by FitzStephen, a monk of Canterbury, and entitled Descriptio Nobilissimce Civitatis Londonice, there is an interesting account of the metropolis and its customs in Henry II.'s time. Speaking of the season of Lent the writer says, " Every Friday afternoon a company of young men ride out on horses fit for war and racing, and trained to the course. Then the citizens' sons flock through the gates in troops, armed with lances and shields, and practise feats of arms; but the lances of the more youthful are not headed with iron. When the king lieth near, many courtiers, and young striplings from the families of the great, who have not yet attained the warlike girdle, resort to these exercises. The hope of victory inflames every one. Even the neighing and fierce horses shake their joints, chew their bridles, and cannot endure to stand stilL At length they begin their race; afterwards the young men divide their troops and contend for mastery."
At Felstead the churchwardens distribute, as the gift of Lord Rich, seven barrels of white herrings and three barrels and a half of red on Ash Wednesday, and the six following Sundays, to ninety-two poor householders of the parish, selected by the churchwardens, in shares of eight white herrings and four red a piece. A list is kept of the persons receiving this donation, and they continue to receive it during their lives, unless they misconduct themselves or enter the workhouse.Old English Customs and Charities, 1842, p. 9.
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