British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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June 23.]                       midsummer eve.                               317
bearers, rode on horseback. The watch was attended by men bearing cresset-lights,* which were provided partly by the companies, and partly by the City Chamber. Every cresset-bearer was presented with a " strawen hat and a painted badge, beside the donation of his breakfast next morning." The constables, one half of whom went out on the Eve of St. John, and the other half on the Eve of St. Peter, were dressed in " bright harnesse, some over gilt, and every one had a jornett of scarlet thereupon, and a chain of gold, his henchman following him, and his minstrels before him, and his cresset light at his side. The Mayor himself came after them, well mounted, with his sword-bearer before him, in fair armour on horseback, preceded by the waits, or city minstrels, and the Mayor's officers in liveries of woosted, or sea-jackets party-coloured. The sheriff's watches came one after the other in like order, but not so numerous; for the Mayor had, beside his giant, three pageants; whereas the sheriff had only two besides their giants, each with their morris-dancer and one henchman."
Stow says that King Henry VIII., in the first year of hi& reign, came privately into Westcheap to view the setting of this watch, " being clothed in one of the coates of his guard," and at the next muster, which was on St. Peter's night, " the king and queene came roially riding to the signe of the King's Head in Cheape, and there beheld the watche of the citie, which watche was set out with divers goodly shewes, as had been accustomed." In the 31st year of this reign (1539), however, the Midsummer Watch was discontinued; but it was revived, for one year only, by Sir Thomas Gresham,
* Cresset-lightA kind of fire-basket let into an iron frame at the end of a long pole, and so contrived that the basket remained in a horizontal position, whichever way the pole was carried. These poles were usually borne on men's shoulders. Cresset-lights were also used as beacons and served instead of lighthouses for signals along the coast. The badge of the Admiralty was anciently a cresset. Shakspeare makes Glendower say, in " Henry IV." (Act iii. s. 1) :
" At my nativity, The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes, Of burning cressets."
Douce, in his Illustrations of Shahspeare, imagines the word to have been derived from the French word croiseta cruet, or earthen pot.
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