Easter brings its Pace eggs, symbols of the Resurrection, and Yorkshire children roll them against one another in fields and gardens. The Biddenham cakes are distributed, and the Hallaton hare-scramble and bottle-kicking provide a rough scramble and a curious festival for Easter Monday. On St. Mark’s Day the ghosts of all who will die during the year in the villages of Yorkshire pass at midnight before the waiting people, and Hock-tide brings its quaint diversions to the little Berkshire town of Hungerford.
The diversions of May Day are too numerous to be chronicled here, and I must refer the reader to my book for a full description of the sports that usher in the spring; but we must not forget the remarkable Furry Dance at Helston on May 8th, and the beating of the bounds of many a township during Rogation Week. Our boys still wear oak-leaves on Royal Oak Day, and the Durham Cathedral choir sing anthems on the top of the tower in memory of the battle of Neville’s Cross, fought so long ago as the year 1346.
Club-feasts and morris-dancers delight the rustics at Whitsuntide, and the wakes are well kept up in the north of England, and rush-beating at Ambleside, and hay-strewing customs in Leicestershire. The horn dance at Abbot Bromley is a remarkable survival. The fires on Midsummer Eve are still lighted in a few places in Wales, but are fast dying out. Ratby, in Leicestershire, is a home of old customs, and has an annual feast, when the toast of the immortal memory of John of Gaunt is drunk with due solemnity. Harvest customs were formerly very numerous, but are fast dying out before the reaping-machines and agricultural depression. The “kern-baby” has been dead some years.
Bonfire night and the commemoration of the discovery of Gunpowder Plot and the burning of “guys” are still kept up merrily, but few know the origin of the festivities or concern themselves about it. Soul cakes and souling still linger on in Cheshire, and cattering and clemmening on the feasts of St. Catherine and St. Clement are still observed in East Sussex.
Very remarkable are the local customs which linger on in some of our towns and villages and are not confined to any special day in the year. Thus, at Abbots Ann, near Andover, the good people hang up effigies of arms and hands in memory of girls who died unmarried, and gloves and garlands of roses are sometimes hung for the same purpose. The Dunmow Flitch is a well-known matrimonial prize for happy couples who have never quarrelled during the first year of their wedded life; while a Skimmerton expresses popular indignation against quarrelsome or licentious husbands and wives.
Many folk-customs linger around wells and springs, the haunts of nymphs and sylvan deities who must be propitiated by votive offerings and are revengeful when neglected. Pins, nails, and rags are still offered, and the custom of “well-dressing,” shorn of its pagan associations and adapted to Christian usage, exists in all its glory at Tissington, Youlgrave, Derby, and several other places.