As the leaves turn gold we face long dark evenings without the usual round of social gatherings.
While many have anticipated the prospect with despair, I have taken the opportunity to look at times gone by.
What would we have been missing in a 19th Century lockdown ?
All Hallows Eve
I started with Halloween. In the 1880s Queen Victoria was reported to have enjoyed the “Scottish” festival with processions of sprites and goblins at Balmoral, followed by dancing around the bonfire into the early hours but that was it. Some customs may have been followed quietly, if at all, in nineteenth century Lincolnshire but community events were not commented upon, with the “Spring Halloween” of St Mark’s Eve receiving more attention. The few mentions of the October festival are from the early twentieth century and relate old superstitions and folklore which are no longer practised.
Today is all hallows eve, the eve of all saints day, and to-night churchyards yawn and graves give up their dead, or at least their ghosts walk if old tales be true. To-night too those who have the temerity to eat an apple before the looking glass will see their future spouse looking over their shoulder in the glass, and other forms of divinations may be practised to the same end. What is the connection , by the way, between apples and all hallows eve, that so many spells and games with apples form art of the old celebrations? Biting the twirling apple hung by a string or the apple floating in a tub of water are the most characteristic of the latter. But all these things are a memory nowadays and there is probably not a house in Lincoln in which the eve will be anything but Tuesday night. In the colonies old English Customs thrive the better, as it were, for exile. All Hallows Eve a mere name in England is observed in Canada, throughout the length and breadth of the land. Apples will be bobbed for “candy” will be pulled, and large parties and “socials” for charitable purposes given to-night. Lincolnshire Echo – Tuesday 31 October 1905
A later, 1956, article revisits the “old Halloween” before providing an insight into the contemporary experience.
I would like to write about one of the strange facts that people associate with October. On the last night of this month, so people say, witches ride their broomsticks high above the trees and chinmney pots, goblins come in from the woods and turn the milk sour and ghosts wander the earth under the light of the moon. It is the night for strange tales by the light of the fireside and the night for jack o’lanterns and roasting chestnuts, the night when fortunes are told and the long dead superstitions come to life again. At this time of year people associate themselves with supernatural influences, that is mostly superstitious. We know that Halloween was celebrated in Britain before the arrival of christianity. The people who took part in the celebrations were mainly druids … But to-day it is the children and young people who really take part in this anvcient festival. … Boys and girls go from door to door wearing weird coloured masks and carrying turnip lanterns, turnips through whose hollowed out eyes and mouth glow eerily. Halloween parties are held in rooms with decorated silhouettes of witches and broomsticks, apples are roasted or bobbed for, and people gather round to have their fortunes told. Boston Guardian – Wednesday 07 November 1956
While Halloween seems to have been pretty quiet in the 19th Century, people did come together to appreciate the countryside and woodlands.
One Autumn pastime that quickly came to the fore was nut gathering, it was clearly common place. Frequent mention of the practice appears in the press, sometimes to prohibit it, on other occasions a couple of sentences simply referred to an outing having taken place and “a good time was had by all“. I was intrigued by the phrase “Nutting Party” this was about more than a small family outing to gather hazlenuts and filberts.
There seem to be various types of party undertaking this venture which varied from pleasant community outings to the wanton destruction of woodland. Although this may have depended on your viewpoint.
The following Lady’s Own article embodies the fondness of a certain class for the venture.
Nutting : Those … who have passed the spring time of life …. Who can remember without regret the pleasures of his earlier years – the sports, the freedom, the exuberence of delight which accompanies youth … The seasons as they pass fleetly on bear with them recollections of past enjoyments, which it is some relief in our chequered career to cherish. With September comes our excursions in the green fields, before the cold winds of coming winter have robbed the trees of their freshness – when the clustering fruit of the hazel would tempt our longing palates, and would create as much joy as that which Aladdin experienced in the enchanted cave of precious stones. Many a nutting expedition in thick woods can we remember! Many a day passed with companions, lightsome and careless as ourselves in the fastnesses of nature. Surpassingly beautiful is the rich mellowness of Autumn. … It is difficult to account for the many ceremonies practised anciently with nuts. They were then thrown in all the avenues leading to the nuptial apartment, before the feet of the passing bride; and the ceremony of strewing nuts was the conclusion of the wedding day. … nuts are very useful under different point of view … giving light, warmth and food.. Numerous divinations and superstitious practices were formerly done with nuts, particularly about the eve of all hallows. Lady’s Own Paper – Saturday 08 October 1853
An article in the Lincolshire Chronicle at around the same time provides a different perspective, revealing a possible cause for the controversies surrounding the practise.
The Nutting Season: what a fine season for nutting parties; and where we should like to know is the place presenting such facilities for this autumnal enjoyment as Bourne? A large and well ordered wood, within a mile of the town is, through the kindness of the noble proprietor , at the service of the inhabitants. We are gratified to add that this indulgence is duly appreciated, as nothing annoys those who enjoy this privilege more than wanton mischief. The author of the “year book” says ” of all places at this season give me the nut wood, and the old umbrageous lanes, with the tall hazel thickets and hedges. How many delightful days spent in these places with young hearts and congenial souls come back upon the memory. They set out a la gipsy in a common cart or waggon containing eatables and drinkables, sundry rheumatic old maids and young wives to whom the talk would be too exhausting; the eternal gabbling of the damsels and the screeching and screaming at getting over the stiles; the arrival in the wood; the rushing away to pull down the brown clusters; the meeting to show plunder and take tea on the grass; the sentimental song in a trilling voice by the young lady of the party; what pleasures of the city and artificial life are worth one day of this description! Alas the game laws should have thrown their baleful interdict on even the pleasure of nutting. Alas! that in thousands of woods and woodland places throughout the kingdom, the nuts should fall and rot by the bushels lest pheasants should be disturbed”. Should we not then appreciate the privilege vouchsafed to us by the “Lord of Burghley” Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 26 September 1851
Having established the usual approach and outline for the pastime I looked more closely at a couple of local stories which resulted in events which were clearly not so commonplace. In October 1820 a nut gathering party from Louth set out for Burwell. It has to be said that the composition of the group suggests they sought monetary gain rather than the light relief described above. They certainly encountered a very different experience.
Shooting a Nut gatherer at Little Cawthorpe: James Lee, aged 50, late of Little Cawthorpe was put on his trial on an indictment … charged with wilfully, maliciously, feloniously and unlawfully shooting with a loaded gun at, and wounding in the left leg, William Fawley, nail maker of Louth on the 1st day October last. … The prosecutor Fawley was one of a party of about 20 mechanics and others of Louth who on the day stated went to gather nuts in Burwell and Muckton Woods.
The prisoner, Lee, was an assistant gamekeeper, employed with other servants… to protect the woods from nut gatherers and other trespassers. A severe conflict arose between two of these servants and four of the trespassers from Louth, … and blood was shed by the blows given on either side. An attempt was made afterwards by the four servants to apprehend these more violent offenders, and in the course of it words arose with others of the nut gatherers , whose bags were seizd and cut by the keepers, and the nuts scattered, so that as little advantage as possible should be had from committing the trespasses.
The prisoner having during some altercation lost the custody of another man whom he had seized chose to take Fawley, ( who had not been of the fighting party) and was assuming to conduct him to Louth as a prisoner, when Fawley not considering himself bound to go with him, ran off: on which the prisoner discharged his gun at him, ath the distance of 18 yards and dreadfully lacerated his left leg and foot. It became necessary to convey Fawley to Louth in a cart; he was in a very dangerous state for a fortnight and under surgical care for three months after.
John Sirey , gardener to MB Lister, Esq of Burwell Park was called for the defence, to show the lawless and persevering conduct of the trespassers; Thomas Cartwright to prove that the prisoner was a mild, good tempered man and human man; and the Rev Wm Chaplin to give him a most excellent character particularly for having conducted himself for many years as a game keeper with more caution , consternation and propriety than any man in such a situation whom he ( Mr Chaplin) had ever known.
The judge [spent some time directing the jury on the law and the technicalities of the three possible outcomes.] Having retired for a quarter of an hour the Jury and brought in a verdict of guilty with intent to do Grevious Bodily Harm :
Sentence Death – reprieved Stamford Mercury – Friday 10 March 1820
Throughout the period landowners and estate managers posted warnings in the press about the destruction of trees and threatened the prosecution of nutting parties. In 1857 another notice relating to Burwell Wood appeared announcing the complete closure of the wood to strangers due to the damage done by nutting parties.
The practice continued locally as a report in the 1891 York Herald underlines.
A skeleton in a Lincolnshire wood: A party of ladies and gentlemen were nutting in Greenfield woods, near Alford, Lincolnshire when to their horror they discovered the clothed skeleton of a man. They immediately gave notice to the police , and Superintendent Wood and Dr Handsley proceeded to the spot and found a body as described. It was afterwards identified as that of Henry Taylor, a labourer, lately residing at Ailby, near Alford, who had been missing since the 28th May last. This wood had previously been searched by the police , and also by the deceased friends but the body had been overlooked owing to the fact that it was lying in a small grip or ditch, and was concealed by the overhanging nut trees and long grass.
As we seem to have moved away from the more pleasant pursuits and inevitably reached the macabre despite the absence of Halloween maybe it is time to take a look at November 5th.
Guy Fawkes Celebrations
The history of November 5th is one peppered with the twists and turns of political and religious divides. Dissenters used it as a night of riot and violence, carrying effigies of their enemies off to the bonfires. In the early 1800s The Times first reported the appearance of children begging in the street seeking recompence for their “Guy”.
Lincolnshire was no exception to these events, local newspaper reports slowly reveal the transition from early days of mischief to more organised community events. Boston, Spalding and Stamford among others, saw tar barrels set alight and rolled through the streets. Policeman were attacked and injured and various fires set. Guys were displayed for coin in order to purchase fireworks for the evenings entertainment.
On 5th November 1813 the Rev. William Chaplin of Thorpe Hall, South Elkington celebrated the capture of Guy Fawkes along with the more recent news of the allied defeat of Napolean at the Battle of Leipzig with two suitable effigies.
In rural Lincolnshire the firing of pistols was a particular problem and Alford was no exception in struggling with an unruly element.
When shall we mend ? a question that we may reasonable ask when the youth of a Christian community are retrograding into a state of semi barbarism … last Sunday evening, in leaving a place of worship, a woman with a child in her arms was seized and thrown down in the street and this is not a solitary case. … On the 5th November a large bonfire was made and squibs etc. were thrown about until near midnight, near to a number of thatched houses. Happily no other mischief was done than the stealing of kids, wood, doors and anything else these ill taught urchins could lay their hands upon. Everynight since the report of pistols has been heard in the streets ; and the question now seems to be are we to quietly submit to these nightly molestations or will some kindly gentlemen come forward, act the part of the philanthropists, and use their influence to stem the torrent of immorailty? Stamford Mercury – Friday 15 Nov. 1839
The above article was followed immediately by the information that a spacious Temperance Hall had been recently erected at Alford.
Nationally legislation was introduced to prevent the disruption of the riotous behaviour on November 5th, this dampened spirits in the towns but the festivities frequently moved slightly further afield.
Guy Fawkes day passed off very quietly at Alford. There was no public demonstration although several fires were made on private grounds and a few fireworks discharged. The small boys, as is usual, ran about the streets but beyond harrassing the police nothing took place. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 November 1876
Belleau with Aby – Guy Fawkes Day falling on a Sunday, the various rites and ceremonies connected therewith were duly observed on Sat eve. Bands of juveniles dressed in fantastic costume paraded the village and solicited all good folk to “Remember Remember the fifth of November. Fires were lighted in various parts and cast a lurid glare over the busy scene; and to terminate the proceedings in a befitting manner there was a good display of fireworks. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 November 1876
Gradually the community took back November 5th working together to organise the event, although the intention to burn one effigy remained a step to far for some.
Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated in Alford on monday last. a figure on horseback representing the much talked of Egyptian rebel was a prominent part of the make up of the procession. Arabi was preceded by a sais, or running footman, according to Eastern Custom; next came the Excelsior brass band , followed by a misc. body carrying torches. The music was of an inspiring character. At the large bonfire built in Mr Hibbitt’s field, near to the Grammar School, boys great and small enjoyed themselves as is usual on such occasions. Later in the evening the procession returned through the town but the torches this time were coloured ones, supplied by Brook and Co of London. The rain fell fast during the whole evening which considerably marred both effect and pleasure as well as curtailing the procedings. It really was too bad of some of our radical friends to object to the supposed indignity said to be intended by the burning of Arabi, which atrocity however was not carried out. All’s well, it is said, that ends well and we shall be able to congratulate sympathisers with the great rebel upon the feelings they exhibited if through supineness or lack of spirit of our own or any other authority he does not receive his deserts. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 Nov. 1882
Guy Fawkes day arrangements for Alford are upon a scale not previously attempted. The volunteer and excelsior bands will combine and form one monster band , and a procession will be lighted with coloured and brilliant lights one way through the town and the other way by ordinary torches , and during the evening balloons are to be despatched. An application was made to the magistrates on Tuesday last for sanction to be given to these arrangements , but the chairman observed there was no power to do this: if however all was orderly carried out, there would be no interference. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 02 Nov. 1883
The event continued in the same vein, a later article reveals that it was in the hands of a committee and supported by community donations.
Guy Fawkes Celebration.—This was held on Wednesday last and so far the weather permitted proved success. The Committee were very successful In their appeal for cash as well in kind : for which they desire to testify their thanks, to the respective donors- Tolerably punctual to the time announced, the procession started led by number of men carrying flambeaux, next in order came the band, formed by the amalgamation of the Excelsior with the Rifle Corps Band. Then came the only and original Guy (Guido Fawkes) who was represented being taken prisoner by some stalwart myrmidions of the law, when in the very act of attempting to fire his train of powder which was to have sent the Houses of Parliament to immortal smash. The procession was brought up by number of boys carrying torches, formed thus the procession attended by an immense number of people marched to a field at the West End of the town where a large fire had been kindled. Here the continuance of such nefarious practices on the part of Guido Fawkes were successfully put an end to, by his incineration, amid the plaudits of the whole of the spectators. The procession reformed and marched back the market place, coloured fires being burnt on the journey, the effect being very pretty, seen from short distance. At this time the rain began to decend somewhat heavily but the procession crowded on to the Market-place attended an immense number of spectators, where after listening to a few tunes played by the band the crowd to the strains the National Anthem quickly dispersed. Boston Guardian – Saturday 15 Nov. 1884
Alford Winter Fair
Early November was the season for the Alford Winter Fair, as with the descriptions of the Guy Fawkes festivities the earlier reports of the fair bring to mind scenes more akin to a frontier town that a Lincolnshire farming community. Primarily about livestock the fair was a large draw and grew to include the elements of the large Bartholomew Fair.
Alford: the 8th November being our fair we had a large arrival of pickpockets. The fair seemed more remarkable for bustle and pocket emptying than for business ; several unsuccessful and some successful attempts were made; two small farmers were left to return home sans money, one being robbed of 6l, the other of 35l. Stamford Mercury – Friday 15 Nov. 1839
Alford: the Winter Fair held here on Monday last was considered larger and better attended than on any former occasion. A considerable impetus was given to the stock trade of all descriptions by the unprecedented number of buyers in attendance. There were upwards of 1000 sheep penned , which met with a brisk demand … About 1200 beast were exposed for sale. The fair was held as last year in Mr Hibbitts close and in Mr Rose’s paddock adjoining the sheep market. The farmers and dealers grumbled very much (and not without cause) at the inconveninece of having so frequently during the day to pass from one lot to another. It is hoped before the next winter fair such arrangements will be effected as to remove all cause for complaint on the part of the public. Hordes of itinerant chapmen with dog carts and “ladies of easy virtue” came int town the evening before the fair, and so crowded were the common lodging houses that many had to put up with very inconvenient accomodation. During the fair we heard of nothing demanding the immediate attention of the police , except a small transaction that took place in the suburbs of the town , between a gentleman from a neighbouring parish ( who has arrived at the venerable age of three score and ten) and a young frail one in her “teens” , in which the old lothario was relieved of his purse and cash amounting to 15l. What a lesson for youth, and how disgraceful to old age ! At what period may we ask do mankind turn wise? Stamford Mercury – Friday 12 Nov 1852
Alford Winter Fair – the stock fair was as usual held in the fields belonging to the Windmill and the White Horse Hotels, and attracted a large company. The pleasure portion of the fair consisted of a shooting gallery, an art exhibition and Ginnetts circus. The circus was well patronised and the performances received merited applause. Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 10 November 1882
Alford Fair was held on Sat last, Nov 8th. The ground was well filled with stalls, shooting galleries, swings and roundabouts, the last named with the inevitable organ which music (?) was ground out to the no small delight of the many patrons but somewhat to the annoyance of the inhabitants, who thought it was just possible to have too much of a good thing. There was very large attendance of visitors throughout the whole the day and taken altogether the business done was satisfactory. The various public houses certainly had no room for complaint as unceasing stream of thirsty souls were to be seen doing a pilgrimage to the shrines of Bacchus, whence after paying their ablations, they emerged borne down by the weight of the penance imposed by his high priests, as evidenced by their somewhat erratic and unsteady gait. Many, too, paid court to terpischore at the various inns, much to their own enjoyment and we hope also to the satisfaction and profit of the musicians. Boston Guardian – Sat 15 Nov 1884
Alford Fair is once more upon us—and the Market-place and its approaches are in the possession of vendors of all sorts. Booths where all kinds of possible and seemingly impossible feats ef endurance are watched; shooting galleries with their everlasting popping and bell-ringing; ring throwing. Aunt Sally, bazaars, &c., &c. And then there is the roundabout, where the patrons sit a-horseback according to their own sweet will, and are whirled around and around to the strains, “Oh, shade of Orpheus”—strains they are—of barrel organ that emits sounds comparable to something between a foghorn and a set of broken-winded bagpipes. As an accompaniment to these dulcet strains (?) a small boy incessantly belabours drum, to the no small annoyance of the surrounding inhabitants. Hurrah for an English fair and its accompanying saturnalia. Boston Guardian – Saturday 14 November 1885
Reports reflect the gradual decline of business at the fair around the turn of the century. A brief 1916 article confirms the existence of the stock fair but the amusements are expectedly absent at this time. While in 1925 mention is made of children dressing “grotesquely” on the 5th November to obtain coins for the fair, the reporter however indicates that this is preferable to their carolling which will inevitably follow.
So to return to the beginning, what would we have been missing in a 19th Century lockdown ? Well, while we may have been pleased to avoid some of the more violent and bawdy aspects of venturing out in the early 1800s, I truly believe we would still have missed the opportunity to get together, after all there was a lot to talk about.