British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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April 25.]                    st. mark's day.                                201
frequently confounded with the processions of the Rogations, which depended upon the movable feast of the Ascension, and were also called Litanies, though it does not appear that the processions of St. Mark were ever called Eogations. A mistake of this kind was committed by the author of a Saxon homily on the Litania Major, by applying to it the term Gang Days, the Saxon name of the three days preceding Holy Thursday.—Med. AEvi Kalend. vol. i. p. 219.
St. Mark's Day is observed at Alnwick by a ridiculous custom in connection with the admission of freemen of the common, alleged to have reference to a visit paid by King John to Alnwick. It is said that this monarch, when attempting to ride across Alnwick Moor, then called the Forest of Aidon, fell with his horse into a bog or morass where he stuck so fast that be was with great difficulty pulled out by some of his attendants. Incensed against the inhabitants of that town for not keeping the roads over the moor in better repair, or at least for not placing some post or mark pointing out the particular spots which were impassable, he inserted in their charter, both by way of memento and punishment, that for the future all new created freemen should on St. Mark's Day pass on foot through that morass, called the Freemen's Well. In obe­dience to this clause of their charter, when any new freeman is to be made, a small rill of water which passes through the morass is kept dammed up for a day or two previous to that on which this ceremonial is to be exhibited, by which means the bog becomes so thoroughly liquified that a middle sized man is chin deep in mud and water in passing over it. Besides which, not unfrequently, holes and trenches are dug; in these, filled up and rendered invisible by the liquid mud, several freemen have fallen down and been in great danger of suffocation. In later times, in proportion as the new-made freemen are more or less popular the passage is rendered more or less difficult.
Early in the morning of St. Mark's Day the houses of the new freemen are distinguished by a holly-tree planted
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