Traditions and Folklore

Herbal Lore

on Monday, 09 November 2015. Posted in Traditions and Folklore

In times gone by, the Rev. W. Zapprell Allan of Broad Chalke claimed that there was no wise woman better than Old Dame Zargett with her knowledge of herbs and simples.

The most highly regarded of all the herbs were hellebore, rosemary, lavender, sage, comfrey, rue, wormwood, marjoram and vervain, with verbena, mint and chamomile following close on their heels. Kathleen Wiltshire, long-term resident of All Cannings, lists almost 60 in her book ‘Wiltshire Folklore’, available at WSHC, and I have listed just a few for you here.

Betony was the one herb not to be without. It is a woodland plant with purple-red flowers that bloom from June to September and, excepting the roots, the whole plant is of good use. ‘Sell your coat and buy betony’ is an old Wiltshire saying. It was said to have still surpassed modern drugs during WWII being especially helpful for the burns of RAF pilots.

I don’t know about you, but I usually try to avoid brambles, especially when picking blackberries, but they were very good at easing scalds. Just dip nine leaves in water and apply to the wound whilst repeating a chant three times to each leaf:

‘Three ladies came from the east,

One brought fire, and two brought frost,

Out with the fire, and in with the frost,

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy ghost,

Amen-Amen-Amen’

The bramble was considered to be a sacred plant, in the same vein as the rowan and oak. Brambles could also be used as a cure for whooping-cough if they were forming an arch with the tip of the arch sending down a new root. Initially the treatment was just to crawl under the arch, but it was later modified, usually by repeating the process nine times on nine consecutive days.

Fleabane does what it says on the tin! It was burnt to drive out fleas and other insects from the straw used on floors in rooms.

Strictly Come Dancing Wiltshire!

on Thursday, 11 December 2014. Posted in Archives, Traditions and Folklore

With the final of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing approaching, it seemed a good chance to explore the history of dancing in Wiltshire and the archival documents and historic photographs we have in our collections… there are some gems!

The English country dance was an ordinary, everyday dance, danced for pleasure, without ceremony and relatively easy to learn. Many people are familiar with country dancing from their school days, and it was an integral part of the social life of many English villages for several centuries.

Dancing often formed the focus of a community festival or celebration. A spring time festival known as ‘clipping the church’ involved parishioners assembling in the church yard, holding hands and enclosing the church before performing a short dance. This was sometimes performed by school children, including in Warminster, Trowbridge and in Bradford-in-Avon, where the Shrove Tuesday tradition continued until the mid-19th century.

Morris dancing was more ceremonial, spectacular and only performed by men. The first reference to Morris dancing dates back to 15th century, and by the end of the 16th century it had become particularly associated with May Day and village fairs and fetes.

Although Morris Dancing declined during the 19th century, this 1856 broadside advertising ‘Celebration of Peace’ in Salisbury, celebrating the end of the Crimean War included ‘Morrice Dancers’ as part of the procession.

 

A Tribute to theTin Tabernacle

on Tuesday, 26 August 2014. Posted in Architecture, Traditions and Folklore

I came across a beautiful example of a tin tabernacle whilst exploring the area of Braydon recently, and I began wondering about the history of these most temporary of religious structures. Here’s what I discovered!

Britain saw a ‘revival’ of preaching in the 19th century through to the outbreak of WWI, with mass meetings attended by huge audiences. By the late 1850s churches were becoming overcrowded and the search was on for new buildings to use as places of worship. Non-conformists were not bound by the Anglican parish system and found it much easier to expand with new builds or altering existing buildings. Smith (2004) in his book Tin Tabernacles states that over 100,000 people were converted during this time, 80% of whom were non-conformist.

Welcome, the tin tabernacle!

What's Inn a Name?

on Wednesday, 16 July 2014. Posted in Traditions and Folklore, Wiltshire Places

Some of the most popular talks I give are those dealing with the meaning of inn and pub names. Currently we don’t have a great variety of pub names in Wiltshire but we do still have some interesting ones. The Green Dragon at Alderbury was used by Charles Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewitt, as he was staying nearby while writing this novel. Dickens used many hostelries in his books and in this case he renamed it the Blue Dragon; perhaps the sign was somewhat faded to a pale blue and he misinterpreted it as it would have been unlikely that the name was on the building.

The green dragon came from the earls of Pembroke and many of the early names used the badges of great families. The red lion of John of Gaunt, the black bear of the earls of Warwick and the white hart of Richard II are still common today. From the 18th century the full coat of arms was often used so that in Fovant we have the Pembroke Arms. The association with the badge or coat of arms often indicated that the family owned the property or were the chief landowners in the area.

Truffles – what a rare treat indeed!

on Tuesday, 07 January 2014. Posted in Traditions and Folklore, Wiltshire People

We all like to indulge in the odd luxury if we can, including a good truffle or two perhaps…

Did you know that these chocolate treats originally contained truffles of the fungal variety when they were first produced in Belgium? At the time it was this truffle that was at the height of fashion.


Truffles were once common in England, especially in the south. The hunting of them became a cottage industry in rural Wiltshire from the late 17th century to the early 20th. The earliest known description of the truffle is by Tancred Robinson in 1693. “Those observed in England are all included in a studded Bark or coat; the Tubercules resembling the Capsules or Seed–Vessels of some Mallows and Aloeas the inward substance is of the consistence of the fleshy part in a young chestnut, of a paste colour, of a rank or hircine odour, and unsavoury, streaked with many white Veins or threads, as in some Animals’ Testicles; the whole is of a globose figure, though unequal and chunky”. The size can range from 3mm to that of a grapefruit, can be found near trees or in forested areas, and are especially associated with beech trees which do not give too much shade. The first definitively English truffle was the ‘Trub’, documented and written up in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1693.

Truffles have held a certain mystique for many years in history as well as today, but just what is that that makes them so special?

A Christmas Custom

on Tuesday, 10 December 2013. Posted in Traditions and Folklore

Mummers’ plays were an important part of Christmas for many agricultural labourers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These seem to be first recorded in the mid 18th century and although there are medieval precedents the connections between the two are uncertain. The later ones provided an opportunity for poorly paid labourers to make some extra income by taking their play around the houses of local farmers and gentry where they would normally receive food, drink and some money.

 

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