British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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874                                    BIDDENHAM CUSTOM.                     [SEPT. 22.
Monday, September 21st (1741), being St. Matthew's Day, waited on my lord mayor to the great hall in Christ's Hospital, where we were met by several of the presidents and governors of the other hospitals within the city, and being seated at the upper end the children passed two and two, whom we followed to the church, and after having a sermon came back to the grammar-school, where the boys made speeches in commemoration of their benefactors, one in English, the other in Latin, to each of whom it is custom­ary for the lord mayor to give one guinea, and the two sheriffs half-a-guinea a-piece as we did; afterwards, the clerk of the hospital delivered to the lord mayor a list of the several governors to the several hospitals nominated the preceding year. Then the several beadles of all the hospitals came in, and laying down their staves on the middle of the floor, retired to the bottom of the hall. Thereupon the lord mayor addressed himself to the city marshal, inquiring after their conduct, and if any complaint was to be made against any one in particular, and no objection being made, the lord mayor ordered them to take up their staves again; all which is done in token of their submission to the chief magistrate, and that they hold their places at his will, though elected by their respective governors. We were afterwards treated in the customary manner with sweet cakes and burnt wine.
Sept. 22.]                         Bedfordshire.
On this day, at Biddenham, shortly before noon, a little procession of villagers convey a white rabbit decorated with scarlet ribbons through the village, singing a hymn in honour of St. Agatha. This ceremony is said to date from the year of the first Crusade. All the unmarried young women who meet the procession extend the first two fingers of the left hand, pointing towards the rabbit, and say—
" Gustin, Gustin, lacks a bier! Maidens, maidens, bury him here."
The Penny Post, November 1870*
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