freeze the pot upon the fier.
the day lengthens,
The cold strengthens.
New Year's Day. On this day the head of the household would
gather family and servants about a bowl of spiced ale (called
lambs wool) to toast in the New Year. The toast was "Wass
Hael" (To your health), and the bowl was known as the
6: Twelfth Day (the 12th day after Christmas).
Marked with fire dances in fields, a Twelfth Day Cake (baked
with a pea or bean inside and washed down with honey-spiced
ale from the Wassail Cup or bowl). People also toasted fruit
trees on Twelfth Day - an old fertility ritual - singing:
Here's to thee; old apple tree
Whence thou mayst bud, whence thous mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
Three score bushes full
And my pockets full, too!
Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!
Day often coincided with St Distaff's Day, which was the traditional
day on which women returned to their spinning.
work and partly play
You must on St Distaff's Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them:
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St Distaff all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport goodnight,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.
9th and 10th:
The first Sunday after Epiphany was Plough Sunday, the next
day Plough Monday. On the Sunday the plough was often dragged
into Church and blessed by the priest, and on Monday young
men dragged the plough through the village streets to the
field where there would again be sword dances (an ancient
fertility rite) and a priestly blessing of the clods and plough.
Now was the time when traditionally men would take ploughs
back into the fields to turn over the frozen ground before
it thawed and became too muddy to work. In practice this early
in January was often far too cold to work outside.
St Hilary's Day: In 1205 there was a terrible frost across
many of the English counties, and after that time St Hilary's
Day became known as the coldest day of the year in popular
21st: St Agnes' Day: St Agnes was the patroness
of maidens. On this day girls sometimes fasted all day and
then at night would eat a salt-filled, hard-boiled egg (including
the shell!) so that she would dream of her lover at night
(if maidens didn't fancy the salty and shelled egg, they could
replace it with a raw red herring).
25th: St Paul's Day: Many people believed you could
predict weather on St Paul's Day:
"If Saint Paul's Day be faire and cleare
It doth betide a happy yeare;
But if by chance it then should rain
It will make deare all kinds of grain;
And if ye clouds make dark ye skie,
Then neats and fowles this yeare shall die;
If blustering winds do blowe aloft,
Then wars shall trouble ye realm full oft."
Saint Paul's Day there was always a big celebration in St
Paul's cathedral, London.
fill-dyke'. (The month of snow melt)
2nd: Candlemass: yet more weather lore ...
"If Candlemas Day be fair and clear,
There'll be five winters in the year."
Candlemas Day is fine and clear,
A shepherd would rather see his wife on a bier."
3rd: St Blaise's Day: St Blaise saved a boy from
choking to death on a fish bone by touching his throat, thus
on St Blaise's Day people with diseases of the throat went
to their local priest who touched their throats and said,
"May the Lord deliver you from the evil of the throat,
and all other evil."
22nd: Shrove Tuesday: there is no meat or fat allowed
in Lent, so all fat is used up in pancakes on this day. Other
popular festivities to mark Shrove Tuesday included cock-fighting
and throwing, pancake tossing, rope pulling and egg rolling
2nd: Feast of St Chad: "Sow beans and peas
on David and Chad, be the weather good or bad."
20th: Mothering Sunday (Mid-Lent, fourth Sunday
in Lent). Worshippers presented gifts to the Mother Church,
and children brought gifts of cakes and flowers to mothers.
During Lent people ate Simnel cakes, which were raised cakes
made of fine flour and water coloured dark yellow with saffron.
The inside was filled with plums and lemon peel etc. The cake
was boiled in a cloth for several hours, brushed over with
an egg, then further baked. This made the crust as hard as
21st: Feast of St Benedict: "If peas are not
sown by Benedick, They had better stay in the rick."
25th: Lady Day: start of the legal New Year, and
one of the four main tax and rent days of the year.
The Barn will fill.
Make May Flowers.
Summer is icumen in!
Loud sinf cuckoo!
And bloweth meade,
And springeth wood anew.
Ewe bleatheth after lamb.
Low'th after calf the cow,
Buck he verteth.
Merrily sing cuckoo!
Well singest thou, cuckoo!
Nor ever cease thee now.
8th: Good Friday: people attended church and,
sometimes, took part in strange Easter Friday rituals which
involved burying the cros (so it could be 'ressurrected'
on Easter Day).
9th: Holy Saturday
Easter Day: easter eggs were exchanged, hot cross buns eaten,
and whatever wasburied on Friday now dug up. Sometimes an
Easter-ale was held: a strong brew of ale was prepared and
sold to parishioners in support of the local church or a
charity. These church-ales could be held at any time throughout
the year - a Whitsun-ale, for example.
24th: St George's Day: This was a day of large
agricultural fairs throughout England.
25th and 26th: Hocktide Monday and Tuesday (the
Monday and Tuesday following the second Sunday after Easter):
Hocktide was traditionally a time when persons of the opposite
sex were 'tripped up' and forced to give to charity. In
Conventry there was a pageant and play attached to the ceremony.
In Hungerford Hocktide was marked with especial ceremony
in the late fourteenth century for it was at this time in
1360 that John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, granted the
town fishing rights in the nearby River Kennet.
about this time of year, varying in actual date from village
to village, was held the custom of Rush-bearing when the
rushes strewn across the church floor were ceremonially
changed with fresh rushes gathered from local waterways.
not a clout,
Till May be out.
May there are many May fairs and hiring fairs. Although
the first day in May was the principal day of games and
sport, May-games could be held at any time throughout the
1st: May Day: People greet the dawn with May
it is in May:
The foules syngeth her lay;
knighttes loveth the tornay;
Maudens so dauncen and thay play.
tyme of May, the nyghtyngale
In wode makith miry gale
So doth the foules grete and smale,
Som on hulle, som on dale.
Day ceremonies were very ancient and very 'pagan'. They
revolved about the ancient custom of going into the forests
(where frustrated clerics believed the revellers indulged
in rampant sex) and bringing home a branch or small tree:
the May Pole. This was called 'bringing home the May'. Village
women or maidens would then dance about this tree with ribbons.
The most beautiful maid was often crowned the Queen of May,
but a man was also sometimes crowned beside her ... the
Green Man, a direct descendent of the ancient worship of
the God of the forests.
16th to 18th: Rogation Days: The priest leads
a procession about the boundaries of the village fields,
halting at all corners to ask God's blessing on all growing
things. Some peasant men also took their adolescent sons
about the boundaries of their family strips and beat them
at each boundary, ensuring the boy would never forget them!
This was known as 'beating the bounds'.
holidays and fairdays in the summer season the young men
of London marched into the nearby fields and exercised themselves
by "leaping, shooting with the bow, wrestling, casting
the stone, playing with the ball, and fighting with their
shields." Meanwhile the young women played upon their
citherns (or cisterns) and danced to the music - often continuing
well into moonlight.
29th: Whitsunday: one of the two popular horseracing
seasons of the nobility (the other being Easter).
In somer at Whitsontyde,
Whan knightes most on horsebacke ride;
A cours, let they make on a daye,
Steedes, and Palfraye, for to assaye;
Whiche horse, that best may ren,
Three myles the cours was then,
Who that myght ryde him shoulde
Have forty pounds of redy golde. [Forty
pounds was an extraordinary sum!]
'running-horses' were extremely expensive as well, sometimes
coming from from as far away as Spain. Tilting and quintain
were also popular horseback games along with straight racing.
weather in June,
Corne sets in tune.
9th: Corpus Christi: Many processions
and miracle plays performed in towns.
St Barnabas Day:
bright, Barnaby bright,
The longest day and the shortest night
23rd and 24th:
Midsummer Eve and Day (the Feast of St John the Baptist).
The night of Midsummer's Eve was an ancient pagan festival
connected strongly to the ancient worship of the sun. From
this point the sun slid irrovocably towards winter as the
days became shorter, and on the night before Midsummer's
Day fire dances and festivals were held on hill and in field.
Typical was the rolling down a hill of a wheel of straw
set alight, symbolising the decline of the sun. The fires
were bonfires, or bone-fires, as bones were burned to keep
evil witches and spiteful fairies at bay. Midsummer's Day
was marked by festivals (often drunken) in the fields and
in the towns.
doth the joyfull feast of John the Baptist take his turne,
When bonfiers great, with loftie flame, in every towne
And yong men round about with maides doe daunce in every
With garlands wrought of Mother-wort, or else with Vervaine
And many other flowres faire, with Violets in their handes,
Whereas they all do fondly thinke, that whosoever stands,
And thorow the flowres beholds the flame, his eyes shall
feel no paine.
When thus till night they daunced have, they through the
With striving mindes doe run, and all their hearbes they
cast therin ...
men often jumped through the flames to prove their bravery.)
London, in addition to the bonefires and feasts, "every
man's door was shaded with green birch, long fennel, Saint
John's Wort, orpin, white lilies, and the like, ornamented
with garlands of beautiful flowers." Citizens stood
outside to watch pageants, one of which included four giants,
one unicorn, one dromedary, one luce [no-one seems to know
what that was!], one camel, one ass, one dragon, six hobby-horses
and sixteen naked boys. By the sixteenth century the Lord
Mayor of London had decided to do away with the giants,
the dragon and the sixteen naked boys ...
the country Sheep-shearing festivals were often held during
tempest, good Julie,
Least Corne looks rulie.
15th: St Swithin's Day:
Swithin's Day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain:
St Swithin's Day, if thou be fair,
For forty days it will rain no more.
August and warm,
Doth harvest no harme.
1st: Lammas Day: a kind of a harvest festival,
and also one of the main rent and tax payment days of the
year. Many fairs held this day. Lammas bread was bread especially
baked from the new harvest.
any fair or festivity held in England there were likely
to be seen jugglers, tumblers, leapers, vaulters, balance-mistresses
and masters (men and women who balanced things on their
extremities: e.g. knives or wheels), bagpipers, dancers,
puppet-masters, tinkers, fire-eaters, bears and bulls for
baiting, bears for juggling, cocks for fighting, cocks for
throwing, dancing horses, dogs and hares, singing asses,
and peddlars selling everything from the blood of Christ
Himself to pots for the housewife to use on her hearth.
24th: Feast of St Bartholomew: fairs held across
England, the most famous being that held in Smithfield (London)
which was both a trading and pleasure fair.
Till fruit be in loft.
7th: the Worcester Great Fair. (There are many
fairs held throughout September, typically hiring fairs
where labourers hire themselves out for the next year.)
Horn Monday (the first Monday after the first Sunday after
4th September): horn dances, with the use of stag horns.
The origins of this are obscure, but definitely pagan!
14th: Holy Cross Day Nutting Day. Young
people gather nuts on this day.
14th - 16th: Barnstabe Fair in Devonshire (the
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday preceeding September 20th).
21st: Feast of St Matthew:
Mathee shut up the Bee;
St Mattho, take out thy hopper and sow;
St Matthy all the year goes by;
St Matthie sends sap into the tree.
Feast of In-Gathering:
We have reaped, we have sowed,
We have brougt home every load,
Hip, hip, hip, harvest-home!
29th: Michaelmas: the start of the new agricultural
year. People often marked the day with goose for dinner.
To blowe the hog mast.
7th 9th: The Nottingham Goose Fair (the
first Thursday, Friday and Saturday in October).
Let ship no more saile.
1st and 2nd:
the Feast of All Saints (All Hallows) and All Souls Day:
people went a-soulling on these days, begging for cakes
in remembrance of the dead. Soul cakes were buns rich in
eggs and milk, spices and saffron, generally round or oval
( a rent quarter day): a time for hearty feasting esp. on
roast goose) and drinking.
At Christmas remember.
21st: Feast of St Thomas: often a day when the
annual slaughter of the pigs began.
Vigil of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ: a carol
for Christmas Eve (regarding Herod's slaughter of the Innocents):
lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully, lullay.
How may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling,
For whom we do sing;
By by, lully, lullay.
In his raging
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might
In his sight
All young children to slay.
woe is me,
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing,
by by, lully, lullay.
the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas Day). medieval
people celebrated much as do now they went to mass
where, apart from the religious service, they might also
see a nativity play. After church they feasted (often at
their lord's expense), drank, caroused and had a good time.
So began the Twelve Days of Christmas, a time of holiday
husband and huswife now cheefly be glad,
things handsome to have, as they ought to be had;
They both do provide against Christmas doo come,
to welcome good neighbour, good cheere to have some.
breade and good drinke, a good fier in the hall,
brawne, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall.
mutton, and porke, shred pies of the best,
veale, goose and capon, and turkey well drest;
Cheese, apples and nuts, joly Carols to hear,
as then in the countrie is counted good cheere.
Christmas be merie and thankfull withall,
And feast thy poore neighbours, the great with the small,
Yea, all the yeere long, to the poore let us give,
Gods blesing to folow us while wee doo live.
towns people often elected a Lord of Misrule for the season
of holidays he was in charge of sundry games and
festivities. The clergy of medieval cathedral churches often
participated in a strange festival called the Festival of
Fools: within a cathedral a bishop or archbishop of fools
was elected. The bishop of fools wore outrageous clothing
and masks, was waited upon by the clergy and conducted the
singing of obscene songs in the choir during mass. At the
end of mass they led a dance throughout the cathedral, dancing
and singing and exposing themselves.
of the Christmastide festivities practiced in the home were
relics of the ancient Yule festival (Yule is a Scandinavian
word of no clear origins, but it refers to the winter solstice
fire festivals): the Yule candle and log, Yule cake and
also visit Old London Maps
on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.
© Sara Douglass Enterprises Pty Ltd 2006
specifically stated otherwise
No material may be reproduced without permission