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The village wakes or feasts are very prevalent seasons of festivity and amusement throughout this county. They begin on a Sunday, and continue through most, or perhaps all, of the ensuing week. Mr. Farey says that these rural festivals were thought by many well-informed persons with whom he conversed, to be rather beneficial than otherwise. A thorough cleaning of the cottage, and mostly a white-washing of its rooms, annually precede the wakes: the children and parents are then, if possible, new clothed: previous economy is exercised by most for accumulating the means of providing meat, ale, &c. and various exertions are made on these recurring occasions, which tend to keep alive feelings and principles, which otherwise the poor-law system might utterly extinguish. Mr. Pilkington however observes, that at these times, it frequently happens that the lowest class of people by their festivity contract so large debts, that they are scarcely able to discharge them before the return of another wake. Thus, in consequence of their extravagance for a few days, they will become embarrassed and distressed throughout the remainder of the year.—Undoubtedly these festivities are frequently abused, but we incline to the opinion of Mr. Farey and his friends, that upon the whole, the good arising from occasional festivity and a little domestic pride among the poor, considerably counterbalances the evil.-In some villages, entertainments were formerly provided at the public houses; and the inhabitants, who are customers, might freely come and eat, without any charge, excepting for the liquor they drank ; but this custom is now very little known. - The disgraceful sports of bull-baiting, badger and bear-baiting, cock-fighting and throwing, which were formerly very common at these wakes, are now falling into disuse.—Cocking and dog-fighting continue, we regret to say, to be too much practised, and specimens of the pugilistic art are occasionally exhibited at these festivities.
In Dodsworth’s manuscripts, in the Bodleian library, there is the following record. “The inhabitants of Elvaston and Ockbrook were formerly required by mutual agreement to brew four ales, and every ale of one quarter of malt, and at their own costs and charges, betwixt this and the feast of St. John the Baptist next coming. And every inhabitant of Ockbrook shall be at the several ales, and every husband and his wife were to pay two-pence, every cottager one penny, and all the inhabitants of the said towns of Elvaston, Thurlaston and Ambaston, shall have and receive all the profits and advantages, coming of the said ales, to the use and behoof of the said church of Elvaston ; and the inhabitants of the said towns of Elvaston, Thurlaston and Ambaston, shall brew eight ales betwixt this and the feast of St. John the Baptist, at which ales, and every one of them, the inhabitants shall come and pay as before rehearsed, who, if he be away at one ale to pay the t'oder ale for both, or else to send his money. And the inhabitants of Ockbrook shall carry all manner of tymber, being in the Dale wood now felled, that the said priest chyrch of the said towns of Elvaston, Thurlaston and Ambaston shall occupy to the use of the said church.” This appears to be the ancient method of paying money for the repairs of country churches. *
Football continues to be played at in many parts of England on Shrove-Tuesday and AshWednesday, but the mode of playing this game at Ashbourn and Derby, differs very much from the usual practice of this sport. In the town of Derby the contest lies between the parishes of St. Peter and All Saints, and the goals to which the ball is to be taken are, Nun's mill for the latter, and the Gallows' balk on the Osmaston road for the former. None of the other parishes of the borough take any direct part in the contest, but the inhabitants of all join in the sport, to
The Whitsun Ales were derived from the Agapai, or love-feasts of the early christians, and were so denominated from the church wardens buying, and laying in from presents also, a large quantity of malt, which they brewed into beer, and sold out in the church or elsewhere. The profits, as well as those from sundry games, there being no poor rates, were given to the poor, for whom this was one mode of provision, according to the christian rule, that all fes. tivities should be rendered innocent by alms. Aubrey thus describes a Whitsun Ale. “In every parish was a churchhouse, to which belonged spits, crocks, and other utensils for dressing provisions. Here the housekeepers met. The young people were there too, and had dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, &c. the ancients sitting gravely by, and looking on. It seems too that a tree was erected by the church door, where a banner was placed, and maidens stood gathering contributions. An arbour, called Robin Hood's bower, was also put up in the church-yard. The modern Whitsun Ale consists of a lord and lady of the ale, a steward, sword-bearer, purse-bearer, mace-bearer, train-bearer or page, fool, and pipe and tabor man, with a company of young men and women, who dance in a barn.
gether with persons from all parts of the adjacent country. The players are young men from eighteen to thirty or upwards, married as well as single, and many veterans who retain a relish for the sport are occasionally seen in the very heat of the conflict. The game commences in the market-place, where the partisans of each parish are drawn up on each side; and, about noon, a large ball is tossed up in the midst of them. This is seized upon by some of the strongest and most active men of each party. The rest of the players immediately close in upon them, and a solid mass is formed. It then becomes the object of each party to impel the course of the crowd towards their particular goal. The struggle to obtain the ball, which is carried in the arms of those who have possessed themselves of it, is then violent, and the motion of this human tide heaving to and fro, without the least regard to consequences, is tremendous. Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats, and lost hats, are among the minor accidents of this fearful contest, and it frequently happens that persons fall in consequence of the intensity of the pressure, fainting and bleeding beneath the feet of the surrounding mob. But it would be difficult to give an adequate idea of this ruthless sport: a Frenchman passing through Derby remarked, that if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting. Still the crowd is encouraged by respectable persons attached to each party, and who take a surprising interest in the result of the day's sport; urging on the players with shouts, and even handing to those who are exhausted, oranges and other refreshment. The object of the St. Peter's party is to get the ball into the water, down the Morledge brook into the Derwent as soon as they can, while the All Saints' party endeavour to prevent this, and to urge the ball westward. The St. Peter players are considered to be equal to the best water-spaniels, and it is certainly curious to see a great number of men up to their chins in the Derwent continually ducking each other. The numbers engaged on both sides exceed a thousand, and the streets are crowded with lookers
The shops are closed, and the town presents the aspect of a place suddenly taken by storm. - The origin of this violent game is lost in its antiquity, but there exists a tradition, that a cohort of Roman soldiers, marching through the town to Derventio, or Little Chester, were thrust out by the unarmed populace, and this mode of celebrating the occurrence has been continued to the present day. It is even added that this conflict occurred in the year 217, and that the Roman troops at Little Chester were slain by the Britons. — This game is played in a similar manner at Ashbourn, but the institution of it there is of a modern date. In Scotland, * it appears
that there is an ancient game at football which resembles the Derby football very closely.- A desperate game at football, in which the ball is struck by the feet of the players, is also played at Ashover and at other wakes.
At Duffield wakes an ancient custom or right is kept up of hunting wild animals in the forest there. This is called the squirrel hunt. The young men of the village assemble in troops on the wakes Monday, some with horns, some with pans, and others with various articles calculated to make a great noise. They then proceed in a body to Kedleston park, and with shouting and the noise of the instruments, frighten the poor little animals until they drop from the trees and are taken by the hunters. After taking several in this manner, the hunters go back to Duffield, release the squirrels, and re-commence hunting them again in a similar manner.
Hunting is a favourite diversion among the higher, middle, and even the lower classes of the present day, throughout the county.
On Easter Monday and Tuesday an ancient custom prevails at Buxton called lifting, as it con
« Sir Frederick Morton Eden, in the “Statistical account of Scotland,” says that at the parish of Scone, county of Perth, every year on Shrove Tuesday the bachelors and married men drew themselves up at the cross of Scone, on opposite sides ; a ball was then thrown up, and they played from two o'clock until sun-set. The game was this: he who at any time got the ball into his hands, ran with it until overtaken by one of the opposite party; and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, he ran on; if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party, but no person was allowed to kick it. The object of the married men was to hang it, that is, to put it three times into a small hole in the moor, which was the dool or limit on the one hand : that of the bachelors was to drown it, or dip it three times in a deep place in the river, the limit on the other : the party who could effect either of these objects won the game; if neither won, the ball was cut into equal parts at sun-set. In the course of the play there was usually some violence between the parties; but it is a proverb in this part of the country, that “ All is fair at the ball of Scone.”
sists in lifting a person in a chair three times from the ground. On Monday the men lift the women, and on Tuesday the women retaliate on the men. The ceremony ceases, however, at twelve o'clock each day. This is performed mostly in the open streets, though sometimes it is insisted on and submitted to within the house. The lifters, as they are called, go in parties, and, with a permitted freedom, seize the person whom they intend to lift; and having persuaded or obliged him or her to sit on the chair, lift whoever it is three times, with cheering, and then require a small compliment. The women's lifting-day, partaking more of the burlesque, is the most amusing. A little resistance, real or affected, creates no small merriment. The usage is a vulgar commemoration of the resurrection, which the festival of Easter celebrates.
The throwing of quoits is a very prevalent amusement in many parts of the county. Skittle playing is also much practised.
Cricket playing, bowling and billiards may be mentioned as forming part of the recreations of the middle and higher classes of society.
The afternoons and evenings of most of the fairs are devoted to amusement and jollity, among the younger people. When these form the principal concern of the day, and the stalls are chiefly furnished with ribands, toys, cakes, &c. it is called a gig-fair. Shows, mountebanks, gipsies, and occasionally stage-plays are met with on these occasions.
Races are held at Derby, Chesterfield, Buxton, Wirksworth and at Alfreton. At Derby the race-ground is on a fine open piece of land on the banks of the Derwent; and the race-stand is a very elegant and commodious building. There are stands, of handsome structure, at Chesterfield and Buxton.
There are four theatres for dramatic entertainments in the county; namely, at Derby, Chesterfield, Buxton and Ashbourn.— In most of the principal places there are assembly rooms, which will be more particularly mentioned in the descriptions of the towns.
The amusement of archery has been introduced within the last eleven years, by the nobility and gentry of the county. Meetings are annually held, during several weeks of the summer, at Chatsworth and Kedleston, and occasionally in the pleasure-grounds of the subscribers. Prizes are awarded to the successful archers, and the sport of the day usually concludes with a supper and ball.
The superstitions of this county resemble, for the most part, those entertained by the vulgar in other districts of England; but by the spread of information they are rapidly dying away. Formerly, in the Peak hundreds, many of the miners believed that the motions of hazel twigs, held in the hand, would indicate the situation of lead and other ore; and it was also thought that meteors appeared over such veins. This latter opinion may have had some rational foundation, but the uncertainty of such phenomena would suffice to render it very fallacious. It was also thought that the blooming of pease had some connexion with the fire-damp, but this and other similar superstitions are now completely exploded. We agree with Mr. Farey, that it would be generally beneficial if the Astrological nonsense which is still permitted, by the Stationers' Company, to occupy several pages of Moore's Almanac, were entirely expunged from a work which circulates extensively among the most ignorant and most credulous portion of the community. It has been asserted that a strange belief in fairies still exists about Matlock, and in some of the romantic valleys; and it is possible that among such scenery superstition may continue to be very impressive, but we are certain that all such follies are on the decline. Some persons at Castleton are said to imagine that the sun dances up and down on Easter Sunday morning, when seen at its rising from Castleton hill; and even such a circumstance may be accounted for, by the natural laws of refraction, as the beams have to pass through various mountain mists, which offer different media for the light. — From the same cause the rainbows are vivid and more varied in the north Peak than in almost any other part of England.
Sitting in the parish stocks is fallen entirely into disuse throughout Derbyshire; and yet, strange to say, the stocks are frequently repaired or re-erected. We suspect that some parish job is the cause of this ridiculous custom being upheld.
Money is given to the mole-catchers in many villages for destroying moles; and we have seen
an account for mole-catching at Etwall
, which amounts on an average, for the last ten years, to more than ten pounds annually. For 1828, it was £11. 13s. 10d.-Sparrows and other small birds are caught by the boys and taken to the parish officers, who reward them at the rate of a farthing per head.
The parish pounds for stray or trespassing cattle, are well built and regulated in most parts of the county. Many villages have their small local prisons or round-houses. There is a very good building of this sort at Ticknall, and we are happy in saying that these places of confinement are so little useful, that at Shirland, the round-house is occupied as a cottage by a labourer and his family, as tenants to the parish.
The great commercial improvements at Glossop, Chapel-en-le-Frith and other parts Peak, have effected a great change in the manners of the Peak within a few years; and the miners are, generally speaking, becoming a far more intelligent class of society than they were formerly. The following extract from Pilkington must therefore be taken with great allowances for alterations that have occurred since his time.
“Formerly the manners of the inhabitants of the northern and southern parts of Derbyshire were considerably different from each other. And this is still in some measure the case. It has been observed, that civilization does not take place so early in a mountainous as in a champaign country. This may, in some degree, account for the rude manners of those who live in the Peak of Derbyshire. But their general employments and pursuits have probably contributed in an equal degree to produce this effect. Having always been engaged in mineral concerns, and having but little intercourse with the rest of the world, they could not receive that polish, which a free and extensive commerce with neighbouring countries frequently gives. Nor could it be reasonably expected, that much refinement would arise from the regulations, by which they were directed in their general employments, more especially in prosecuting the business of the mines. The third act of stealing from the lead mines in Derbyshire, was by a law of Edward I. punished in the following manner. A hand of the criminal was nailed to a table, and in that state he was left without meat or drink, having no means for freedom, but employing one hand to cut off the other. The inhabitants of a country, which could require or even admit of such savage and barbarous laws, must be a long time before they could arrive at any high degree of civilization and refinement. They have now, from the introduction of manufactures amongst them, a more free intercourse with the world. The company who visit the baths and medicinal waters, and examine the other curiosities with which the county abounds, must also have some influence upon the minds of those with whom they converse. But there is no circumstance which has an equally powerful tendency to refine their manners, as the establishment of Sunday-schools. The effect which these institutions have already produced, in some situations, is very obvious. As the children of the present generation become better acquainted with their duty, they will improve in their reverence for God and religion, in kindness towards each other, in civility to strangers, and in the practice of modesty and decency."
Philip Kinder, in the preface to his intended History of Derbyshire, written about the middle of the seventeenth century, has the following observations relating to the character and modes of living of the inhabitants of Derbyshire. “ The common sort of people, out of a genuine reverence, not forced by feare or institution, doe observe those of larger fortunes, courteous and readie to show the waies and help a passenger : you may say they are lazie and idle in a better sense, for (except the grooves) they have not whereon to set themselves on worke, for all theire harvest and sede tyme is finished in six weeks; the rest of their tyme they spend in fothering their cattle, mending their stone enclosures, and in sports.
“ The countrie women here are chaste and sober, very diligent in their huswifery; they hate idleness, love and obey their husbands, only in some of the great townes many seeming sanctificators use to follow the Presbyterian gang, and upon a lecture-day put on their best rayment, and hereby take occasion to goo a gossiping. Your merry wives of Bentley will sometimes look in ye glass, chirpe a cupp merrily, yet not indecently. In the Peak they are much given to dance after the baggpipes, almost every town hathe a baggpipe in it.
“ Their exercises, for the greate part, is the Gymnopaidia or naked boy, an ould recreation among the Greeks: with this in foote-races, you shall have in a winter's day, the earth crusted over with ice, two antagonists, stark naked, runn a foote-race for two or three miles, with many hundred spectators, and the betts very small.
“ They love their cards. The miners at Christmas tyme will carry tenn or twenty pounds about them, game freely, returne home againe, all the year after good husbands.
“For diet, the gentrie, after the southern mode, have two state-meales a-day, with a bit in ye buttery to a morning draught; but your peasants exceed the Greeks, who had four meales a-day, for the moorlanders add three more; ye bitt in the morning, ye anders meate and ye yenders meate, and so make up seaven, and for certaine ye great housekeeper doth allow his people, especially in summer tyme, so many commessations.
“ The common inhabitants doe prefer oates for delight and strength above any other graine; for here you may find jus nigrum, the Lacedæmonian pottage, to be a good dish, if you bring a Lacedæmonian stomach. It is observed, that they have for the most part fair, long, broad teeth, which is caused by the mastication of their oat bread.”