British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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314                                     MIDSUMMER EVE                            [JUNE 23.
after the sun setting, there were usually made bonfires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them; the wealthier sort also, before their doors near to the said bonfires, would set out tables on the vigils, furnished with sweet bread and good drink, and on the festival days with meats and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity, praising God for His benefit bestowed on them. On. these occasions it appears that it was customary to bind an old wheel round about with straw and tow, to take it to the top of some hill at night, to set fire to the combustibles, and then roll it down the declivity.
The Status Scholce Etonensis, a.d. 1560 (MS. Addit. Brit. Mus. 4843), says:—"In hac vigilia moris erat (quamdiu stetit) pueris, ornare lectos variis rerum variarum picturis, et carmina de vita rebusque gestis Joannis Baptists et prge-cursoris componere: et pulchre exscripta affigere clinopodiis lectorum, erud1st legenda."
The annual setting of the watch on St. John's Eve, in the city of Chester, was an affair of great moment. By an ordinance of the mayor, aldermen, and common councilmen, of that corporation, dated in the year 1564, and preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the Br1sth Museum, a pageant which is expressly said to be " according to ancient custom," is ordained to consist of four giants, one unicorn, one dromedary, one camel, one luce, one dragon, and six hobby­horses, with other figures. By another MS. in the same library, it is said that Henry Hardware, Esq., the mayor in 1599, caused the giants in the Midsummer show to be broken, " and not to goe the devil in his feathers;" and it appears that he caused a man in complete armour to go in their stead; but in the year 1601, John Batclyffe, being mayor, set out the giants and Midsummer show as of old
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