The History of Honley and its Hamlets from the Earliest Time to the Present (1914) by Mary A. Jagger
The dwellers in Honley, even to the middle of last century, drank in superstition with their mother’s milk, and many of us yet living once accepted for truth the old legends and superstitions heard in the chimney corners of our homes during long winter evenings or in summer twilights. Often the moral and intellectual training of our youth was re-inforced by stories of the pair of flitting spirits known as “Peggy o’th Lanthorn,” and “Will o’th Wisp,” and other supernatural terrors. There are a few people still left who are well versed in the ancient lore of our native hill-sides. They have heard much about superstitions concerning birth, death, children, lucky or unlucky days, and numbers. In old oral traditions, feathered and other animals, as well as insects, played important parts either as safe weather-glasses, or as signs and omens of coming good or ill. The heavenly bodies were of great consequence, and supposed to have much bearing upon good or bad luck. Ailments had to be cured by strange charms and incantations, whilst the prognostics about every part of the human body were very numerous. In my childish days, fairies, witches and boggarts were believed to haunt every hedge-bottom and field-corner at the approach of gloaming, a few of our old bridle-gates still retaining their names as “boggart lanes,” as being more particularly the favourite resorts of these wandering spirits. I suppose that the faith in fairies and boggarts is dispelled in present-day youthful minds, but older people will recall their early beliefs in the mysteries which flitted around wood and stream after dark.
Before the days of trained nurses, there were many women in Honley who took upon themselves these duties without payment. The Victoria Cross has often been conferred for deeds which bear no comparison to the unrecorded self-sacrifices of these women amongst the humble tragedies of life. They were ready for a night’s vigil by the side of the sick or dying, helping to bring children into the world, or performing the last requirements of the dead. I knew one old dame who was in great request for these offices of non-payment. She firmly believed in all death signs, especially the “foot-pad” with whom she seemed to be on the most friendly and resigned terms. When on her way to a sick-bed if the “foot-pad wi e’en as big as tea-plates” appeared either padding after her, or running before her; she concluded that doctors and prayers were of no avail. Memory can bring back to life other old dames — relatives and otherwise — who sat in their rocking-chairs around household hearths predicting misfortune or death all the year round. Sending forth volumes of smoke from long clay-pipes with enjoyable puffs, they would indulge in graphic descriptions and sighing ejaculations regarding death-bed signs and other mysteries; which proved rather too stimulating for childish imaginations. If the return home from some isolated dwelling had to be taken in the dark, bush, tree or animal were wont to assume strange forms. We glanced with fear at the dark wood we passed, whilst each sound of nature gave brisk shocks of terror; conjectures soon becoming realities to heated imaginations.
At the present day, superstition of any kind is looked upon as an ill weed which is best exterminated. Yet if we pretend to despise these ancient superstitions in which former generations were cradled, the belief in signs, omens, forewarnings, etc., is not only strong in one class of people, but often the rich and better educated pin their faith in them. The horse-shoe is still to be found nailed to the stable-door as a protection for the cattle against witchcraft, and we pick it up from muddy roads in delighted glee as a lucky find. We none of us like to hear the prolonged howling of a dog, strange raps, or the death-tick in the silence of night. If a cinder flies out of the fire, we are in haste to see if it is shaped like a purse or coffin; and I know people upon whom the first sight of the new moon through glass or otherwise exerts great influence for good or evil. Our visits to friends are supposed to be foretold beforehand by the appearance of “strangers” upon the bars of their fire-grates as they name the flakes of soot; and they would not watch us out of sight at our departure. We yet consider it unlucky to turn away, without reward, the first person who crosses the threshold on Christmas Day morning. A friend attributed the loss of her money to the fact, that a careless servant allowed a red-haired youth to “let in” Christmas, in place of one possessing the desired black locks.
I cannot spare the space to detail all the familiar superstitions that were accepted for truth when I was a child, and which are still with us; but will enumerate a few. It is unlucky if without money in your pocket when hearing the cuckoo, — to burn evergreens which have decorated the home at Christmas,—to disturb martin-nests in window-corners, — to see the moon through glass, — to shake hands across a table or person, — for thirteen to sit down at dinner; and not receive a coin back when selling cattle — “God’s silver or luck penny,” as it is named. The superstitions with regard to children are many and varied. If a child does not cry when baptised it will not thrive, — its nails must not be cut before a year old, else it will turn out a thief; and it must not gaze into the looking-glass before a year old. A child’s first visit to a house is of importance. It must of necessity receive an egg, a pinch of salt, a piece of bread, and a few matches to light it to heaven at the last. With regard to death, the howling of a dog, the crowing of a cock at midnight, hovering of birds or bird against a window, three raps heard from an invisible hand, falling of a picture, a loud report from an unknown source, etc., are all considered sure harbingers of death. It is thought that a person cannot die on a feather-pillow, and that three funerals follow each other. With the mention of these few every-day superstitions still common in Honley, the subject must now close though it would fill a volume, folk-lore being bound up with our lives from birth to death.
Many of our old customs, like our superstitions, come down to us from Scandinavian and Norse myths, others are remnants of Catholic or religious festivals; and a few are honoured in memory of National and other events. Formerly the most observed locally was Honley Feast. It will be gathered from the history of the Church, that in 1503, we had “A Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded and erected of old.” The Feast was first honoured in memory of the dedication of a place of worship, but whether it was the Chapel of 1503, or one previously occupying the site, I am unable to say. The exact date of the origin of Honley Feast is lost in the mists of antiquity. One however can safely infer that its observance dated further back than the Reformation, the Feast always beginning upon the first Sunday following the 19th of September. This date corresponds with the festival of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Calendar. Honley dwellers of a past day being proof against innovations did not alter the date of their religious feast at the Reformation, but held to the observance of the older Catholic festival. It will be seen in the history of Honley Church, that it had to suffice for the Spiritual needs of many neighbouring parishes. As time went on Churches were erected in these various places, but their dwellers still made the yearly pilgrimage to the Mother Church, and the custom has continued to this day. As years passed, the once religious festival gradually developed to one of popular merrymaking. During the time of the Commonwealth, these feasts were prohibited by Act of Parliament. Honley natives, however, clung tenaciously to the holding of their feast. Thus whether Honley Feast is considered a mere drunken festival by many, or a hearty joy by others; it has been faithfully honoured generation after generation. In the past, perhaps the ways of celebrating the festival were coarse and brutal, but the customs were only in keeping with the spirit of that rough-hewn age. There were bull-baitings in Thirstin, feuds with neighbouring parishes fought out, personal combats, drinking bouts of long duration, and public-houses filled to overflowing from early morning until night to the accompaniment of fiddle and song. Honley had many civil and religious feuds with neighbouring townships, notably Crosland and Netherthong regarding Ecclesiastical contentions, and Skelmanthorpe on account of bull-baiting and fighting taunts. These quarrels were yearly renewed at the Feast, the representatives of physical strength in the village being sought up for the occasion. An old fighting champion, who in his youth had helped to thrash “Skelman-thorpers” out of the place at the Feast, when recalling its past glories, sorrowfully exclaimed to me:—
If, however, the sport of bull-baiting was cruel, we must remember that it was a National pastime at that period. If feuds and personal combats sometimes left life-long disablement of body to members of attacking or defending parties, we have substituted a modern form of bodily havoc in football fields. If personal combats with only nature’s weapons between them were the order of the day, perhaps they proved cheaper in the end than calling in the aid of law. If the stalwart son of the village indulged in a week’s spree, I think in the end that he was not more of a physical wreck than many of our present-day youths.
But we will no longer dwell upon the savage ways of honouring Honley Feast in the good old days. We will recall memories of the Feast of our childhood and youth. At that time the field behind the Coach and Horses Inn, and two fields skirting the “Gate” were not then taken into the private grounds of the late Captain Jessop as at present. Here the Feast traffic was located on its arrival, the village children having previously prepared the way by pulling down the walls of these once enchanted fields. This custom of levelling the walls weeks prior to the Feast, was not only yearly observed by the children, but encouraged by mine host, Mr. Charles Walker, of the Coach and Horses Inn. He always smiled with good-natured assent to the destruction of the boundaries of his property. During this self-appointed labour, our imaginations were so held captive by thoughts of anticipated wonders, that we were tempted to go meet them half way. Vague reports and deceptive messengers enticed youthful feet day by day to stray as far as Brooke Wood. The more adventurous even travelled as far as the Birks, only to return home neither sadder nor wiser, but fuller of “thick-coming fancies.” At least we were in the midst of food-providing that was an important part of the festival. There were huge pieces of beef ready for roasting, pots of pickled cabbage, currant-puddings, veal and fruit pies baking, and casks of home-brewed beer blowing out their spigots in their impatience to be tapped, — provisions so abundant that would have served for an old-time Christmas. At last was hailed with joyful rapture the arrival of those attractions provided for youthful enjoyment. There came Pablo’s Circus, Womb well’s Menagerie, Wild’s Theatre, and other celebrated travelling shows. In addition, there were Taylor’s Bazaar, Waxworks, Swings, Roundabouts, Flying-boxes, Shooting-tents, Pea Saloons, and numerous other alluring attractions. These found their resting place in the fields, whilst stalls containing brandy-snap, nuts, fruit and other tempting contents lined the streets of Honley from end to end. Now began the Feast in real earnest. Not only Honley, but the surrounding townships became “lands flowing with milk and honey;” open house being kept for all. There were universal meetings of parted friends and households both amongst rich and poor.
The Feast during the last century was the one bright visitation in the lives of Honley people, who were not surfeited with amusements in those days. The village during the festival was the common centre to which vast crowds could be seen coming by road, lane, field-path and hill-side. There are people still living who will vividly recall the congested state of the streets, especially the dangerous “Gate” where most of the traffic was located. Also memories of those wandering Thespians who once commanded our childish worship. There was Wallett, the Queen’s jester, dazzling youthful eyes by his gallant bearing when stepping into Pablo’s Circus ring. We can yet recall the thrill when watching a sparkling fairy-like Hebe walk upon a tight rope, stretching outside from the top of the Circus to a distant field, and who in addition could have walked upon the heads of the people. Here came as an honoured guest, the notable Sam Wild, the hero who surmounted all difficulties and overcame all obstacles on the stage. There was also his brother, Tom Wild. Those Bohemian strollers who, when they had doffed the “sock and buskin,” were still veritable Kings and Queens in our imaginations, were the only means of bringing before the eyes of country dwellers of that date stage-plays which once held captive the minds of the people. Many of us will recall the narrow seats, draughts, dim lights and other primitive furnishings that were the only luxuries of the travelling booths of that day. But on the other hand. Think of the romance which surrounded the flapping canvas of the tent when listening to sensational plays of the order of “Jack Shephard,” “Mungo Park,” “Every inch a Sailor,” “Black-eyed Susan,” “The Green Bushes,” “The Murder of Maria Martin in the red bam,” etc! There were also the wild animals of Jerry Wombwell, more wonderful in childish imaginations than the winged steed of Pegasus, having journeyed from some far-off land — Jerusalem perhaps. Then did we not despise home-fare in those days for the glory of consuming delicious peas in fascinating saloons, and drinking coloured water of the hues of the rainbow, that it was a miracle we were not poisoned. And oh! the empty ache in our hearts at the departure of these delirious joys!
In 1869, there was an alteration in the character of the Feast. On account of the fields being enclosed in private grounds, the traffic had to be located elsewhere. Renting the ground to one travelling proprietor of amusements curtailed many sources of enjoyment; and the attractions became limited. There came a change also in the old magic and delight of the Feast, and the halo which once surrounded its clang and clatter gradually faded. Stephenson in one of his poems writes:—
The change was in ourselves, for we had grown older. There was change also in the village. Railways and education advanced, whilst the glory of the Feast decayed. Gradually the once romantic strolling-players were left to their rather sordid surroundings. The robust fare of beef and beer had not the same taste in the mouth as of old, and crowds that once gathered dispersed themselves over wider areas year by year. No longer was the merry making of a week’s duration, nor the once important army of public-house waiters in request. No longer was the bell-man sent around the streets of the village to announce the disbandment of the latter in his famous couplet, that:—
Yet if the Feast had rather a blinking existence, the date still remained a memorial of old days until another change. In 1911, there came the startling proposition from outside dwellers, not only to ignore the festival of the once popular fixture, but to alter the date — a date which had once served as an Almanack to the whole country-side! The Feast, as far as regarded a general holiday had to be moved back to the first week in September, and this modern innovation came into force in 1912. At the time, I wondered what thoughts agitated the minds of thousands scattered over the civilized world when they read in the newspapers that henceforth the old name was to suggest new things? Whether the time-honoured event will regain its old prestige, or that the once red-letter festival will become a dead-letter festival, time must determine.
There was a custom observed at Honley Feast when I was-a girl of cutting sticks from mountain ash-trees, locally named “ wiggin-trees.” These “ wiggin ” sticks were stripedr coloured, and sported during the festival. As mountain-ash was formely carried as a protection against witchcraft, no doubt this custom was the remnant of an old superstition in connection with the dedication of the Church. The introduction of more fashionable aids to walking or amusement amongst our “ young bloods ” have now ousted the gaily coloured “ wiggin ” sticks.
The local observance of Christmas ranks next in importance to keeping the Feast, though the same new forces are at work which are slowly but surely destroying the once distinctive character of old-time Christmas customs in Honley. Plum pudding, mince pies, spice cake, cheese, etc., are still prepared by all good housewives, if the custom of brewing “a barrel full of beer” is not so common in homes as formerly. The old sacredness of the misletoe is yet honoured by its importance along with evergreens in the decoration of houses. People who live in towns may only think of the “Waits” as tiresome persons who make night hideous with their discordant noises. We older people in Honley have happier memories of Christmas nights, when we listened with bated breath for the first strains of “Christians awake,” or “While Shepherds watched their flocks by night.” Mellowed and softened by distance, the music was not sung by ordinary mortals, but sounded in childish ears akin to the angel’s song of long ago. Then there was the haunting tune of “The Misletoe Bough,” the words of which brought vividly to youthful imaginations that old chest in the castle, the fairy bride, and the gallant Sir Lovel who, when oldy “wept for his fairy bride,” that we also wept at the repetition of the old-world romance. The young people can still repeat with fluency the old wishing rhyme of “pockets full of money, and barrels full of beer” when “letting in” Christmas.
Sword dancers, mummers, wassailers, peace egg actors, etc., are all relics of long-past pagan customs, catholic worship, or ancient Mystery Plays. The white steed Gleipnir belonging to the Norse God Woden, from whose name comes our Wednesday, re-appears again in the wooden horse danced around by boys in their Christmas plays. Honley boys still keep up a few observances of these old plays even if only remnants of the past. They yet bedeck themselves with ribbons, tinsels, and imitation swords when attempting to imitate the wonderful achievements of St. George and other gallant knights described in the Peace Egg book, not forgetting the black demon. We have also merrymakings of various degrees ranging from a ball to a “Laking” or “Playing Night,” when “Here comes three jolly, jolly sailor boys” is sung as the merrymakers march around in couples on stone flagged cottage-floors. The lilting strain of the old ditty is trilled forth with youthful vigour, the only requirement for enjoyment being a pillow or cushion to be “kissed on the floor.” Other merrymakings also vary in character from the stately dinner-party at “Th’ Maisters” to a humble boiling of toffee, when the dwellers in some “yerd” or “fowd” join their finances for the purpose of purchasing treacle and butter. Do we not all remember those “laking nights” and “boiling of toffee nights” of the past? How we pulled, turned, twisted, thumped and kneaded that toffee until it almost begged to be eaten! The various games particularly associated with Christmas festivities at each of our homes, such as “blindman’s buff,” “hunt the slipper,” “kiss on the floor,” “guessing riddles,” etc., are also still popular amongst us.
February 14th is a festival in the Romish Church, dedicated to St. Valentine. On this date birds begun to pair according to Shakespere, so perhaps they originated the custom of sending confessions of love on this date, and naming the missives valentines. Once St. Valentine’s morning was laden with such momentous meaning, that all work was neglected in houses and mills in Honley until the advent or knock of the postman. Then what agitating tremors when breaking the seal of the envelope containing those wonderful missives! Now we no longer see those embroidered works of art containing expressions of never dying affection, or effusions on the order of:—
Modern lovers now despise the go between of St. Valentine, and Cupid’s emblems have given place to Christmas Cards and good wishes.
Formerly the first day of April in Honley was dedicated to foolish habits of sending people upon useless errands, or practising deceptions of various kinds; and then rewarding them with the mirthful exclamation of “Old April fool!” We are, however, growing less credulous. The art of making dupes, or inducing people to undertake laughable journeys upon that day is more difficult than of old; and the custom has fallen into neglect except amongst children.
I can find no old tradition giving a clue to the origin of the numerous tricks which were practised upon people on this night of All Hallows’ E’en. When younger, I have known doors taken off hinges, gates opened in fields so that cattle could stray if wishful and be impounded in the days of the pindar. Also posts, doors, and other property were often whitewashed, and door-latches tied. In cases of long-standing feuds between families, the night served as a pretext for petty revenge either in one shape or another. The advent of policemen, gas and other modern means of detection now act as a deterrent to people with mischievous intentions.
We associate Easter with our Saviour’s Resurrection, but it was originally a Pagan festival dedicated to the goddess of Spring. The many old customs prevailing in Honley which are associated with this season beginning a few days before Ash-Wednesday and ending at Easter, are relics of older Catholicism; great licence being allowed upon the days previous to the Lenten fast. We will take them in order as they occur, all forming part of old-time preparations for Easter.
When sides of home-cured bacon and hams hanging from house-beams were considered the best pictures in a dwelling, Collop-Monday was set apart to test their quality. It was general for boys and girls, and often adult people, to go around the village on that day, calling at houses where these “pictures” were known to be hung with the smiling request of “Pray dame a collop.” A large slice of bacon was generally given to each caller. Often sufficient bacon was collected which served a family in poor circumstances for a considerable length of time.
This day was named from the practise of being shriven before keeping the Lenten fast. After the ceremony, the bell was rung, and the people could then partake of food. In various countries the time of ringing the bell varied. In Hon-ley, the ringing of the “pancake bell,” as it is named, was at eleven o’clock in the morning. Formerly before the ringing of the bell, “barring out” was a popular custom in our schools. As the hands of school-clocks neared the figures of eleven, the severity of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses relaxed. Descending from their usual dignified attitudes, they allowed themselves to be decoyed outside upon various pretexts. The scholars fearless of future chastisement would then lock the school-house door, and with whoops of delight rush out of school by another entrance, and salute the ringing of the bell. We held to a childish belief that by so doing, pancakes would by some unaccountable means tumble down from the Church steeple into our pinafores which we held out in wistful anticipation. An ancient custom of throwing pancakes down from the steeple in some places may have given rise to this idea. (Perhaps in Honley in far off days). Formerly at the ringing of the “pancake bell,” parish and other apprentices were set at liberty for the day. The custom of making and eating pancakes on Shrove-Tuesday is still kept up, and this hastily-prepared fare if properly managed is delicious eating. Other customs, such as tossing the pancake, presenting the first one made in the pan to a poorer neighbour, etc., are fallen into disuse.
The yellow catkins which are generally bursting out upon willow-trees at the time when Palm Sunday falls due, are gathered and worn on this day. The catkins are locally named palms for that reason.
The old custom of preparing and eating Good-Friday cakes can be traced to Pagan times, when bread was an offering to the gods. There are also strong connecting links with the observances of the early Churches when vigorous fasts and greater simplicity of worship prevailed. The old custom of making a cross upon the cakes can also be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times. According to old superstitious belief, the marking of the cross was made as a preventative against all evils. Time has brought new rituals into our Good-Friday religious services, but as yet, there has been no change in Honley regarding the baking and eating of Good-Friday cakes.
The custom of members of the various Benefit Clubs meeting, worshipping, and eating together upon this day, was one of the great annual events in the place. Men laid aside work at loom and farm, and journeyed to Honley; each Club having its own appointed meeting-place at various Inns. Here friends who had not seen each other since the previous Anniversary, talked and recalled memories of youth and early manhood. Then at the order of officers who carried upon their persons the emblems of authority, the members comprising the rank and file fined the streets on either side with the precision of well-trained soldiers. Clad in their best clothes, and wearing white cotton gloves were men of all ages, sizes and conditions; each father, husband, son, brother or sweetheart no doubt being duly admired by his women kind, who stood hovering near. The great event however was the march to and from the service in Church. Each member linked his smallest finger with that of his opposite neighbour, and then began that mysterious process of continually “opening out, and opening in” akin to the country dance in character, but of slower movement, which eventually brought the procession to the gates of the Church. With what rapt wonder and admiration did we gaze upon the soldier-like march to and from Church! That long-haired Druid was the Ancient Briton of our History books, and the green-clad forester, the Robin Hood of fire-side romances!
The custom of Benefit Clubs attending Church upon Easter Monday dates far back according to entries in an old Sunday School book. A collection was also the rule, the proceeds being given to the funds of the National School which was a Voluntary Institution at that time. I will not describe the feasting which followed the service in Church, which amongst many members was perhaps rather of the Bacchanalian order. Honley people, whose memories of by-gone Anniversaries of their Benefit Clubs are vivid, prefer to dwell upon old associations connected with these once red-letter days whose glories are now only of the past.
There were also Benefit Clubs for women, many of which were named “Briefs.” We had one in Honley known as “The Ancient Shepherdesses,” which boasted a large number of members. They also honoured their Anniversary, naming it “The Yearly Day,” on which they met, worshipped and eat, but not in the robust style favoured by their menkind. The members of “The Ancient Shepherdesses” partook of tea in preference to dinner, flavouring the brown liquid with “yellow-cream.” In the early history of this feminine Club, it was the custom when walking to and from Church on “The Yearly Day” for each member to wear a white deep-fringed silk shawl upon her shoulders, and also white gloves upon her hands. Previous to the day, there was much borrowing from neigh-hours of these shawls laid away in lavender by members who did not possess the once valued shoulder coverings. As time passed, this pretty ceremony was not observed by the younger members, and gradually the distinguishing symbols disappeared. The Club however continued to flourish for a long time, but was eventually disbanded, and the funds distributed amongst the remaining members.
The particulars of the festival of the Mechanics’ Institute, which was also held upon Easter Monday, appears in the history of that Institution.
I can find no trace of the observance of the crowning of the May Queen, or dancing around the May-pole in Honley. Old people always declared that a May-pole once stood in Town-gate, and they invariably named the present open space May-pole hill. The same name is also found in entries in ancient books, valuations, etc., so that no doubt old English games took place here. When I was a girl, an old song of eight verses containing eight lines each, and named “The May-pole” was popular in Honley. I have heard people who have long since gone to their rest sing it often. At the call of my father, who was fond of the song, I once heard three prominent members of the old Choral Society sing it in fine style at Christmas without the aid of words or music. I will copy three verses from the eight which may recall to mind the once well-known song of “The May-pole.”
The rest of the five verses which I can remember run on until in the last verse these young men and maidens of a bygone time part, and agree to meet again on the next May-day.
If, however, we no longer assemble upon May-pole hill to dance around the pole, we had one good custom which was long observed upon May-day. Before the advent of motor cars, Honley horses attracted attention by their beauty and strength. In those days, owners and those who had charge of them were proud of their beasts. Many of us can recall the grand horses once owned by Messrs. Farrar Brothers, Messrs. John Littlewood & Sons, Messrs. Joshua Beaumont & Sons and other well-known firms. There was also the famous chestnut “Bob,” owned by Messrs. James Shaw & Co., of Neiley Mills, but I must refrain from describing the breeding, beauty, and strength of many of those once well-known animals. No doubt for many days previous to May-day, they were groomed to misery. But when gaily decorated and led forth by proud teamers on chat morning, their coats shining like satin; they were indeed a sight to gladden the eyes of a horse-lover. Few horses are now decorated in Honley for May-day. Perhaps that is the reason why I noticed a look of settled misery in the eyes of many unkempt creatures who were no doubt regretting that they had not experienced the joyousness of a May-day custom.
In local vocabulary, May 29th is named “Rump Day,” the leaf of the oak-tree being known as “rump.” This memory of the escape of King Charles when hiding in the branches of an oak-tree after the battle of Worcester is still recalled. Children carrying a twig of the oak-tree in their hands on this morning repeat the old rhyme of:—
This threat is put into execution by belabouring any other child who is without a branch or sprig from an oak-tree.
The celebration of the defeat of the gunpowder plot is not kept up as enthusiastically as formerly, though we still eat our home-made parkin, light bonfires in folds and yards, and discharge fireworks upon November fifth. Woods, hedges, and other wild bits of nature disappear for increasing population, so that the happy hunting-grounds for discovery of fuel for bonfires are curtailed year by year. When the passing away of Honley Feast had left us children sad and sobered, our sorrow was gradually turned to joy in our eager anticipation for the coming bonfire night. We were wont to sally forth after school-hours in October twilights independent of sex. Armed with implements of a primitive character, secretly purloined from household stores, we explored forbidden grounds. When the herculean task of digging up a root of an old tree was accomplished, we dragged our trophy home in triumph, adding root to root, and guarding our treasures with watchful eyes from the pilferings of neighbouring bonfire architects. When the eventful day arrived, we went from door to door in the small area over which the light of our anticipated bonfire was supposed to shine with the request:—
Or to make use of local idiom:—
It was seldom that the request for coal to help to set alight the bonfire was refused.
In the days of home products, it was customary for the young people in Honley to make their own fireworks. This manufacturing business required much secrecy to escape watchful parental eyes, who were more concerned for our safety than ourselves. One youth would be an adept in the art of rolling eases to hold gunpowder, another in “twitching” the ends, a third a specialist in “touch-paper” preparations, and so on. We were also great authorities in those days regarding gunpowder, “steel-filings,” salt-petre, sulphur, and other dangerous compounds. Modern firework miracles were undreamed about, so that whether our home-made squibs were a success or failure, we were happy and content with them. When the fireworks were all exploded, our joys were not ended. There came the excitement of roasting potatoes, which if not lost in the fire, were generally raw inside and burnt to a cinder outside; but affording exquisite delight when eating in comparison to consuming unromantic potatoes of later life. Alas! This dissipation came to an end with the dying out of our glorious fire to which we paid a dejected visit on the following morning only to find expired embers.
This drastic remedy for erring husbands, wives, or other people who had acted wrongly, or offended the village ideas of right and justice, was once common in Honley, though now seldom put into practice. It was the custom to model a straw man or woman according to the sex of the culprit, fasten the effigy to a long pole, set it alight, and burn it in front of the offender’s house. The pole that was generally in request was the long pole or “stang” used by dyers for their vats, hence came the name of “Riding the Stang.” It was an old belief which is not yet extinct in Honley that if the effigy was carried into three townships, “Riding the Stang” was not an illegal act. I can recall to mind three rather vivid “Stang-ridings” in my life-time. If a man had a bad wife, the “nonimy” as we named it ran as follows:—
I do not remember the words of the “nonimy” relating to misdeeds committed by a man. Enjoying the privileges of the male sex, perhaps they escaped punishment.
BIRTH. — The birth of children was often made an excuse for a drinking bout, or as it was named “washing the head” of the newly arrived infant.
MARRIAGE. — Previous to Honley Church being licensed for marriages, people had to journey to Almondbury to be married, — the men clad in flowered waistcoats, — the women decked in bonnets with abundance of ribbons, and their shoulders covered by silk or Paisley shawls. Upon the arrival back of bridegroom and bride, many rough, and often indecent pranks were practised upon them; but these tricks have now fallen into disrepute. It was common for bridegroom and bride to stealthily proceed to Almondbury by different routes, return in the same secret manner after the ceremony, and thus escape attention. One respectable man went to Almondbury wearing his clogs and blue apron twisted around his body, and after the ceremony returned to his weaving. The bride, a sweet and comely maiden journeyed there by another route in print dress, apron, and handkerchief upon head. The modern rites attending marriage are now of a more refined character. “Wedding Ale” however is still demanded and drunk, for many people in Honley would not only look with disfavour upon a “dry-wedding,” but consider it rather unlucky.
DEATH. — Many of the old customs observed at death and burial are still followed, but more have been abandoned. The tolling of the Church bell for the dead dates back to the Seventh Century. It is a relic of the Roman Catholic custom of ringing the bell when a person was dying, so that prayers would be offered for the soul passing away; hence it is named the “passing-bell.” We now ring it after death, but this beautiful old custom of tolling out the years of a departed neighbour is seldom now observed. The use of flowers, and formerly of sweet herbs at funerals is also of great antiquity. At the death of a female, either in girlhood or early womanhood, it was customary in Honley for those of her own sex and as near her age as possible to carry the coffin to the grave. Their black garments were relieved with white bonnets, veils and gloves. This fashion is no longer with us. Carrying the coffin “shoulder-height,” or upon men’s shoulders, covered by a velvet or silk pall which generally belonged to one of the Benefit Clubs was in use amongst us; but this custom is also discontinued. Persons who were bidden to funerals of people in superior stations of life, for the purpose of acting as “bearers,” were supplied with black silk or crape streamers to hats, broad silk sashes to be put crossways on bodies and black kid gloves. These costly trappings are now things of the past. Other customs such as bidding of friends and relatives to the funeral, — providing wine and biscuits previous to the funeral, and tea afterwards, — giving a last look at the dead, — burial at the third day, — attendance at Church on the Sunday following a funeral, — wearing of black garments for a year, — the widow’s bonnet and her general effacement for a longer period; and the providing of funeral cards are still observed.
The beautiful old custom of “singing away” the dead is rarely, if ever, practised now, though once common in Honley. I can recall such funerals of the past when carrying a humble worshipper to his or her last resting-place. The coffin carried “shoulder-height” and the long procession following singing the well-known hymns of “Oh! God our help in ages past” and “Thee we adore Eternal Name.” Words and tune borne on summer’s breeze or winter’s wind to listening ears, may perhaps have proved more suggestive to many than sermons. The funeral of members of Brass Bands or other Musical Societies are now often accompanied to the grave by the beautiful strain of the “Dead March,” which has replaced the “singing away” of the past.