British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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206                                     ROGATION WEEK.                         [April 26.
or three wells or tanks, situate in the village, the water with which the town was provided was carried up the then pre­cipitous road, on the backs of horses and donkeys, and sold from door to door.
The Bezant was an acknowledgment on the part of the mayor, aldermen and burgesses of the borough to the lord of the manor of Mitcombe, of which Enmore Green forms a part, for the permission to use this privilege ; no charter or deed, however, exists among their archives, as to the commencement of the custom, neither are there any records of interest con­nected with its observances beyond the details of the expenses incurred from year to year. On the morning of Rogation Monday, the mayor and aldermen accompanied by a lord and lady appointed for the occasion, and by their mace-bearers carrying the Bezant, went in procession to Enmore Green. The lord and lady performed at intervals, as they passed along a traditional kind of dance to the sound of violins; the steward of the manor meeting them at the green, the mayor offered for his acceptance, as the representative of his lord, the Bezant,—a calfs head, uncooked,—a gallon of ale, and two penny loaves, with a pair of gloves edged with gold lace, and gave permission to use the wells, as of old, for another year. The steward, having accepted the gifts, retaining all for his own use, except the Bezant, which he graciously gave back, accorded the privilege, and the ceremony ended.
The Bezant, which gives its name to the festival is some­what difficult to describe.* It consisted of a sort of trophy, constructed of ribbons, flowers, and peacock's feathers, fastened to a frame, about four feet high, round which were hung jewels, coins, medals, and other things of more or less value, lent for the purpose by persons interested in the niatter;f and many traditions prevailed of the exceeding value to which in earlier times it sometimes reached, and of
* Bezant heing the name of an ancient gold coin, the ceremony probably took its name from such a piece of money being originally tendered to the lord of the manor.—Book of Days, vol. i. p. 585.
f Hutchins says this beson or byzant was so richly adorned with plate and jewels, borrowed from the neighbouring gentry, as ic be worth uo less than 1500/.- History of Dorset, 1803, vol. ii. p. 425.
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