British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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112                               ST. david's day.                    [March I,
entries of payments, such as the following, are recorded in the "Privy Purse Expenses of Henry the Seventh," a monarch whose liberality is not proverbial:
" March 1 (1492). Walshemen on Saint David Day, £2." "March 6 (1494). To the Wulshemen towardes their feste, £2. "óMed. AEvi Kalend, vol. i. p. 168.
From Poor Robin's Almanack for 1757 it appears that, in former times in England, a Welshman was burnt in effigy on this anniversary:
" But it would make a stranger laugh To see th' English hang poor Taff: A pair of breeches, and a coat, Hat, shoes, and stockings, and what not, All stuffed with hay to represent The Cambrian hero thereby meant: With sword sometimes three inches broad, And other armour made of wood, They drag hur to some publick tree, And hang hur up in effigy."
To this custom Pepys probably alludes in his Diary for 1667 (Bohn's Edition, 1858, vol. iii. p. 761):
" In Mark Lane I do observe (it being St. David's Day) the picture of a man dressed like a Welshman, hanging by the neck upon one of the poles that stand out at the top of the merchant's houses, in full proportion; and very hand≠somely done, which is one of the oddest sights I have seen a good while."
Brand, in his Pop. Antiq. (1849, vol. i. p. 105), thinks that from this custom arose the practice, at one time in vogue amongst pastrycooks, of hanging or skewering taffies or Welshmen of gingerbread for sale on St. David's Day.
The goat has by time-honoured custom been attached to the regiment of the Royal Welsh (23rd) Fusiliers, and the following extract, taken from the Graphic (No. 171, March, 8th, 1873), shows how St. David's Day is observed by the officers and men of this regiment:
The drum-major, as well as every man in the regiment, wears a leek in his busby; the goat is dressed with rosettes and ribbons of red and blue. The officers have a party, and the drum-major, accompanied by the goat, marches round the table after dinner, carrying a plate of leeks, of which he
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