Random recollections of Customs that pervaded here in the present Century – 1880
From Hugo Grimes, Nov 2006.
This used to be a very great day in this neighbourhood. It was the regular custom for everybody to start off to the woods and "go a Maying". The time for starting was five o'clock in the morning and the return home about seven. The principle object was to get beech boughs with their young green leaves to decorate the town, and to place some in the shop windows before the business of the day commenced. It was considered most unlucky for the inhabitants if beech leaves were not brought in to the house before breakfast, while those who had beech leaves on their table at breakfast would be prosperous throughout the year.
The schools had some of them a whole holiday and others half holiday on "May Day" and every boy and girl wore a beech leaf in their jacket or frock. If however any had not donned the bit of green woe to those unfortunate ones they were scoffed and jeered at by all the rest throughout the day and were twitted with some provincial epithet which at present I cannot recollect, but which implied that they were drowsy slug-a-beds and consequently were not entitled to join their companions in their various games of play.
I remember very well as children we used to implore our mother to let us sit up the night before so that we might be among the first to start away in the morning. It is many years now since our streets were decorated with "May Boughs ".
At five minutes to twelve o’clock on "Shrove Tuesday” the bells of the Parish church used to strike “Pan on" "Pan on." To remind the cook that it was time to get ready to make the pancakes. This old custom prevailed to the year 1881 when it was discontinued.
The Sunday nearest to the 25th. September was a very great day in Wotton. It was the anniversary of the opening of the Blue Coat School and in the afternoon the head boys in their new "liveries" were examined by the Vicar in their "faith and duty". They were ranged along the front of the organ gallery while the Vicar questioned them from the reading desk. The church was literally packed and very often the church yard was crowded also.
The service was partially choral and the organist was assisted with a band of violins and kettle drums, and the choir was considerably increased on this occasion. The preacher was a stranger and special hymns were sung before and after the sermon. The collection was for the school and generally ranged from twenty five – thirty pounds and occasionally exceeded this last sum. The service which was of course lengthy always terminated with the “HALLELUYAH CHORUS".
After attending Church in the morning the young people all went in the afternoon to Nibley Knole the place all sorts of games were played, and the older ones to look on the vendors of Hot Cross Buns, peppermints and ginger beer and a thriving trade was done. The scene was very gay and animated.
In the earlier part of the present century the Christmas Holidays were looked forward to with much more pleasure and excitement than at the present day. The hopes and expectations of the family gathering the large parties the preparations, the entertainments caused a wonderful amount of interest and there seemed to be a never ending round of jollity and feasting.
Besides this there were lots of things to distract the attention, the decorating of the rooms with holly and mistletoe, the carol singing at one another's houses the mumming and the waisailers and last but not least twelfth night with the processions with fancy costumes made of coloured paper and its trusty cake. All these came in the Christmas Holidays in the days gone by and they made us happy and jovial while in the day we were occupied with sliding and snowballing, making snowmen and putting water on our slides to make them longer and thicker the next morning.
Skating was not so much in vogue and a pair of skates took away most of our pocket money, in picking out a plum when they made the attempt. Then on other evenings we used to dress up as mummers and call at each other's houses and give them our performance. Our costumes were homemade and very original we were all in white generally old shirts or nightgown, with stars of coloured paper, red, purple, gold, and blue in fact any very bright colour, tacked on them every here and there regardless of regularity or pattern, and a mesh over our faces or else we were properly done up with burnt cork and made to look our parts.
Old Father Christmas had a long white beard and a long hazel stick such as farmers walk with at the present day and he was of course bowed with age, the tallest was George and the shortest the Doctor, there were generally five of us in each performance and the Drama preformed was as follows:-
In came I, good old Father Christmas,
Christmas or Christmas not,
I hope old Father Christmas,
Will never be forgot.
Roast beef, plum pudding, mince pies,
No one likes these better than I,
A room, a room, a room my friends
Give us a room to rhyme,
We've come to show activity
Upon this Christmas Time,
Acting youth or acting age,
The like was never acted on the stage,
and if you don’t believe now what I say,
Enter the brave St. George, and clear the way.
In comes I St George the valiant knight with my sword prepared for the fight, I fought the dragon brought him to the slaughter and for this won the King of Egypt's daughter. Which man so brave will dare to stand before me with sword in hand? Soon would I cut him up as small as flies and send him to Jamaica for to make mince pies.
Turkish knight advances
Here come I a Turkish knight, with my good sword prepared to fight. I'll fight St. George a man of courage bold and if his blood be hot I'll quickly make it cold.
To this St. George replies.
If thou art a Turkish knight draw out thy sword and with me fight.
They fight, the Turkish knight falls and then St. George exclaims
Ladies and Gentlemen
See what I’ve done,
I’ve cut down the Turk.
Like the evening sun.
Is there any Doctor in the land that can be found? Who can cure this Turkish knight of his deadly wound. In comes I a little Italian -Doctor, and I can cure.
What canst thou cure?
I can cure the Itch, the Stitch also the rheumatic gout, pains within and pains without. I’ll take an old woman of ninety nine and wrap her up in a bundle with turpentine, I’ve a bottle in my pocket called Nokum, pokum alicampune, which quickly will affect the brain, so I'll touch his eyes, nose, mouth and chin and say "Rise up and fight him once again”.
The dead man being touched in this way rises up ready for another encounter.
In the early years of this present century the Market was still in a very flourishing condition. It was held on the Friday and was a scene of great activity.
The Market house was then open all round, and five or six butchers had stalls and other trades were also represented, there was a large fishmongers stall at the back of the Swan underneath the present Billiard room and at the back where the Swan carriage houses are now are stood two or three shops and adjoining them was a gentlemen's residence which was formally the Mayors house and was now occupied by Mr, Walter Miles whose sister kept a young ladies school there, and whose brother Mr. William Miles was master of the Bluecoat School till 1835. This was a very good looking house a connter push [not sure what is meant by this?] of the one in High St. now occupied by Mr Hancock the Chemist.
The Crown Inn then extended four or five feet further into the road way in fact as far as the present gutter and from the first floor there was a covered passage connecting this hotel with the Star. The Star inn was the house where the Bristol coaches used to start from, and it was also the Blue House that it was the Headquarters of the Tory party.
In consequence of the inconvenience to traffic these arches or roadway from one house to another were removed, and the houses opposite the Swan Hotel were pulled down. The space thrown into the road and the wall off the Crown Inn was put back to its present site. The stocks which stood at the right hand side of the stoning Chipping were removed and placed under the Market house and the Market House itself was enclosed with iron railings from the time the Market begun to decline and in a few more years it was considered a thing of the past.
The farmers of the surrounding neighbourhood used to frequent the market continued for many years to meet on Friday evenings at the Swan to discuss business matters and the lingering habit still holds on, though business transactions have long ceased. The railway carried them twice a week at reduced fares to the market centres of Bristol and Gloucester and local dealings are now only on the most limited scale. There is a market of livestock held at Charfield held twice a month in lieu of the annual fair at Wotton.
At this time the Petty Sessions were held in the Great Room of the White Lion.
The assembly rooms where balls and other evenings entertainments were held was attached to the Crown and the Star had a very handsome billiard room, all these hotels have had their prosperous days and are now simply public houses of the ordinary stamp.