Chapter 7: Long Lane, Bothenhampton, 1826
Plough Monday was a popular festival day throughout most of England and represents the start of the agricultural year. In his 19th century work, The Every Day Book, William Hone wrote of the Plough Monday traditions that had survived to his time:
“In some parts of the country, and especially in the north, they draw the plough in procession to the doors of the villagers and townspeople. Long ropes are attached to it, and thirty or forty men, stripped to their clean white shirts, but protected from the weather by waistecoats beneath, drag it along. Their arms and shoulders are decorated with gay-coloured ribbons, tied in large knots and bows, and their hats are smartened in the same way. They are usually accompanied by an old woman, or a boy dressed up to represent one; she is gaily bedizened, and called the Bessy. Sometimes the sport is assisted by a humorous countryman to represent a fool. He is covered with ribbons, and attired in skins, with a depending tail, and carries a box to collect money from the spectators. They are attended by music, and Morris-dancers when they can be got; but there is always a sportive dance with a few lasses in all their finery, and a superabundance or ribbons. When this merriment is well managed, it is very pleasing.”
Of course, I was drawn to this because of the Newfoundland tradition of mummering - quite similar - having evolved from such English festivals. Mummering during the Christmas season here, like mummering that accompanied Plough Monday, underwent a period during which it was frowned upon, and even outlawed. Activities sometimes got a little out of control, especially if a good deal of liquor was involved. People often felt threatened in their own homes. Fortunately, these traditions have been revived in recent years as events especially entertaining for children.
Below is a picture of the Mummers Parade in St. John’s from Melissa Hogan’s blog Suitcase and Heels.
For comparison, here is a picture at Bankside in London from the Traditional Customs and Ceremonies website (Photo Credit: Pixyledpublications).
It’s not difficult to trace how the mummering tradition migrated to Newfoundland along with people from the English south coast and West Country – although the first Monday after the twelve days of Christmas would hardly be a good time to begin the agricultural season here! It’s easy to imagine how it shifted back into the Christmas holidays.
In this chapter we are introduced to the protagonist’s brother, a crewman on board the HMS Winchester out of the port of Southampton. Edward Duncan captured the image of many British vessels. His engraving of the Winchester, shown below, was coloured by the artist William John Huggins in 1830 using aquatint, an intaglio printmaking technique.
Reference is made (in Ananias) to the commander of this particular ship, Captain Charles Austen. Although famous back in the day, his notoriety would eventually pale by comparison to his sister, the author Jane Austen.
Bridport is located at the confluence of two rivers: the Asker and the Brit. And, as this is a pivotal chapter after which there is no going back, readers may wish to gain a sense of Bridport through recent photographs of these waterways that were at one the lifeblood of the town. It would be a shame if you left Bridport without ever gaining an appreciation for this gorgeous setting.
Finally, the literary nerds out there may be interested to learn that Bridport is the home of the international creative writing competition, The Bridport Prize.
Alas! Ananias is not eligible as the novel award is limited to entries from Great Britain.