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.                                 319
companies, and designed to several parts of the town, where they are to keep the watch until the sun dismisses them in the morning. In this business the fashion is for every watchman to wear a garland, made in the fashion of a crown imperial, bedecked with flowers of various kinds, some natural, some artificial, bought and kept for that purpose, as also ribbands, jewels ; and for the better garnishing whereof, the townsmen use the day before to ransack the gardens of all the gentlemen within six or seven miles round Nottingham, besides what the town itself affords them: their greatest ambition being to outdo one another in the bravery of their garlands." This custom was kept up till the reign of Charles I.
About the year 750, says Plott, a battle was fought near Burford, perhaps on the place still called Battle-Edge, west of the town, towards Upton, between Cuthred or Cuthbert, a tributary king of the West Saxons, and Ethelbald, king of Mercia, whose insupportable exactions the former king not being able to endure, he came into the field against Ethelbald, met and overthrew him there, winning his banner, whereon was depicted a golden dragon ; in memory of which victory, the custom of making a dragon yearly, and carrying it up and down the town in great jollity on Midsummer Eve, to which they added the picture of a giant, was in all likelihood first instituted.—Plott, Natural History of Oxfordshire, 1705, p. 356.
A very curious practice is observed on Midsummer Eve at Kidderminster, arising from the testamentary dispositions of two individuals once resident there. A farthing loaf is given to every person born in Church Street, Kidderminster, who chooses to claim it. The bequest is of very ancient standing, and the farthing loaf, at the time of its date, was far different to what it is now-a-days. The day is called Farthing Loaf Day, and the bakers' shops are amply provided with these diminutives, as it is the practice of the inhabitants throughout
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