The Madness of March

March is the third month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the second of seven months to have 31 days. In the northern hemisphere, March 1st is the meteorological beginning of spring and, in the southern hemisphere, the beginning of autumn.

In the northern hemisphere, the astrological beginning of spring is marked by the March/spring/vernal equinox on March 20th/21st. In the southern hemisphere, this equinox marks the astrological beginning of autumn.

The March equinox has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth in the northern hemisphere. Many cultures celebrate spring festivals and holidays around the equinox, including Easter and the Passover.

The name of March comes from Martius, the first month of the earliest Roman calendar. It was named after Mars, best known as the Roman god of war, but he was also a god of fertility and agriculture.

As the god of war, his month (March) marked the beginning of the season of warfare, which lasted until October. Chariot races, horse races and dressing and dancing in battle armour were just three of the ways in which Romans celebrated the skills of battle during this month.

In his role as god of fertility and agriculture (which he shared with other gods/goddesses like Ceres and Cybele) Mars oversaw the new growth of spring and the continuation of life through the fertility and procreation in people, animals and plants.

The Anglo Saxon names for March were Hlyda or Lide monath (stormy or loud month) or Hraed monath (rugged month). The ‘loudness’ reflected in these names refers to the March winds, which were considered very noisy – as described in this little rhyme:

March brings breezes loud and shrill,
Stirs the dancing daffodil.
~Sara Coleridge (1802–1852), “The Months,” Pretty Lessons In Verse, For Good Children; With Some Lessons in Latin, In Easy Rhyme, 1834

Another Saxon name for March was Lentmonath which is named after the March equinox and the gradual lengthening of days. This name gradually became simply, Lent – the 40 days leading up to Easter in the Christian Church, during which people traditionally fasted.

The birth flower for March is the daffodil (narcissus) – also known as the Lent Lily as it blooms throughout that period:

The astrological signs for March are Pisces until the 20th and Aries after that:

The birthstones for March are aquamarine and bloodstone:

The month of March has long been associated with ‘madness’, which is largely based on the hilarious pre-mating rituals of hares at this time. ‘Boxing hares’ can be seen across the countryside during spring. My first image on this post shows a couple of wicker-built hares at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire doing just that.

Below is a video I found which shows mad March hares in action – part of it in slow motion. It is titled Mad March Hares Boxing and is by Stephen de Vere:

There are several special days celebrated in March and these are just five of them:

  1. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales and his feast day (St.David’s Day) is celebrated on March 1st, the date of his death in 589 AD. David was a Welsh bishop of Mynyw during the 6th century, and was later regarded as a saint. A number of miracles are attributed to him and a white dove (which became his emblem) is said to have settled on his shoulder after one of them.

St. David’s Day celebrations, Cardiff Bay, 2008. Creative Commons

2. In Cornwall, March 5th is St. Piran’s Day. Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall, said to  have discovered tin in the county. Saint Piran’s flag is also the flag of Cornwall and it symbolises the discovery of tin in Kernow (Cornwall).

St. Piran’s Day parade in Penzance, Cornwall, 2007.
Public Domain

3. Mothers’ Day in the U.K. can be either March or April as the date varies according to the date of Easter that year. It always falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This year it was March 11th – and a pleasant day I had, too. I wrote a post about the history and celebrations of this day three years’ago, which can be found here.

4. Pi Day is something I’d never heard of until this year when blogging friend Joy Pixley from the U.S. kindly mentioned it to me in a comment on my February post. It’s a celebration in the United States and sounds like a fun-filled day. This is how Wikipedia describes it:

Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (3/14 in the month/day date format) since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day.

Pi Day has been observed in many ways, including eating pie, throwing pies and discussing the significance of the number π, due to a pun based on the words “pi” and “pie” being homophones in English and the coincidental circular nature of a pie.”

Larry Shaw, the founder of Pi Day, at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Author Ronhip (Ron Hipschman). Creative Commons

5. Saint Patrick’s Day is on March 17th. Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He was a 5th century Romano-Christian missionary and is considered responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland, as well as driving snakes out of the island. His day is celebrated in many countries worldwide, i.e. wherever Irish people travelled to and settled over the years. Green is the colour of the day as it represents the ‘Emerald Isle’.

There are many historical events and birthdays in March, but this post is already long enough. However, I can’t finish without quoting this well known saying about March, and contemplating whether it was actually true this year.

March comes in like a lion …

and goes out like a lamb.

There seem to have been lions and lambs wandering about in no particular order this past month. We’ve had some lovely days mixed up with wet and windy and even cold and snowy ones. We’ll just have to wait and see what April brings (tomorrow!).

To really, really, really finish, here are a few more photos taken at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire on March 5th this year. We were amazed by the colourful displays in the flower beds so early in the year – but it was lovely to see, even in the rain.

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I hope to be back on my blog a lot more often very soon. I’ve missed many posts from much loved followers, but so many things have taken my time this past year. I’ll be glad to get back to normality. My next Month-by-Month post will be that last – meaning, I will have done all twelve months. I can only say that I’ve learned a lot myself in doing them. Millie.

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February Fill Dyke and all that Jazz . . .

February is the second month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is the shortest of the months, with only 28 days in common years and 29 days every fourth or leap year. Having only 28 days, February is the only month that can pass without having a full moon – as occurred this year (2018) when the last full moon was on January 31. February is also the third and last month of winter in the northern hemisphere, the equivalent of August, the last month of summer, in the southern hemisphere.

January and February did not exist in the old Roman calendar. The winter season was a monthless period and the year consisted of only ten months. These two months were added around 700 BC/BCE by Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (after Romulus).

The name of the month comes from either the name of the old Roman god, Februus, or from februa, which signifies the festivals of purification celebrated in Rome on February 15  (a full moon in the old Roman lunar calendar).

The Anglo Saxon names for February were Solmonath, meaning Mud Month, and sometimes Kalemonath, named after cabbage. Solmonath was the usual name – and we don’t have to look too far to see why. These photos were taken down our local lanes this week. No shortage of mud here!

A Victorian painting by Benjamin Williams Leader entitled February Fill Dyke (first exhibited in 1881) became very popular when later shown at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition. However, the painting was of a November evening after rain! (What a swizz!)  You can see the painting here.

Solmonath has sometimes also been thought by some to mean Sun Month – the month when the sun seems to be (noticeably) coming back from its winter retreat ‘down under’. That makes sense, since ‘sol’ means ‘sun’ in Latin. And, according to the Venerable Bede, February was known as Cake Month – when Anglo Saxons offered cake to their gods.

In the UK, although February can still be cold, many of us start looking forward to spring. Some parts of the country can be covered in snow, while others see little but grey skies, wind and rain. One day can be nice and sunny, and the next day it snows – as  these photos from the last couple of days show:

Garden in the sunshine, February 25:

Garden and lane in the snow, February 26:

The unpredictable nature of the month forms the basis of this rhyme, which often means little to people, even in Britain:

February fill the dyke
Be it black or white
But if it’s white
It’s better to like

So, whether the month is rainy and black/grey or white and snowy, the dykes still fill up. And what is a dyke…? Simply another old English name for a ditch. And across the countryside, farmers have dug thousands of drainage ditches over the years, Here are some photos of  a couple of dykes I took around our lanes a couple of days ago:

The birth flowers for February are the viola/violet and the primrose:

February’s birthstone is the amethyst:

Amethyst. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

The birth signs for February are Aquarius (until the 19th) and Pisces (from the 20th onwards):

In the UK there are a few special days to note, some of which are also celebrated elsewhere in the world. As I’ve written posts about some of them in past years, I won’t repeat them here.The two main ones are Shrove Tuesday, commonly known as Pancake Day  and celebrated as Mardi Gras in some countries.

and Saint Valentines Day.

To finish, here are just a few  of the many famous historic events that took place in February:

  1. February 7, 1964. The Beatles first visit to the USA:

2. February 8, 1587.  Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I of England:

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. Artist: Nicholas Hilliard c 1578. Public Domain.

3. February 12, 1809. President Abraham Lincoln of the U.S.A was born:

Abraham Lincoln. Artist: Alexander Gardner, 1821-1882. Author: Moses Parker Rice copyrighted the portrait in the late 19th century. Public Domain

4. February 21, 1804. British engineer, Richard Trevithick, demonstrated the first steam engine on wheels

Portrait of Richard Trevithick. 1816. Author: John Linnell 1792-1882. Public Domain

5. February 23, 1863. Lake Victoria in Africa was declared to be the source of the Nile by British explorers John Speke and JA Grant:

Routes taken by different explorers around Lake Victoria. Image produced by Richard G. Clegg using freely available map data and software. Creative Commons

One more day to go and it will be March. Let’s hope the sun finds its way back soon!

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Jumping into January

January is the first month of the year in the Gregorian and Julian calendars and has a length of 31 days.

January and February did not exist in the earlier Roman calendar, both months being added by Numa Pompilius (the legendary second king of Rome, coming after Romulus) around 700 BCE/BC. Pompilius wanted to make the calendar equal to the standard lunar year of 365 days. (Note. The Julian calendar,  introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE/BC replaced/refined the Roman calendar.)

In the northern hemisphere January is the second month of winter and is generally the coldest of all the months. In the southern hemisphere, January is the second month of summer and the seasonal equivalent of July in the northern hemisphere.

The Roman name for the month was Januarius, named after the two-faced  god, Janus, who had two faces and was able to look backwards at the old year and forwards into the new one.

Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome. Author: Loudon dodd, Creative Commons

Janus also kept the gate of Heaven, so he became known the god of doors and gates. This is generally stretched to include beginnings, transitions, time, passages, and endings – all of which are fitting for a god of the first month of the year.

The Anglo Saxon name for January was Wulf monath. It was given that name because wolves often came into the villages in search of food in January, the heart of winter. Not surprisingly, the first full moon of the year is named after howling wolves and as such is known as Wulf Moon.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In other cultures this first full moon of the year was known as Ice Moon, Snow Moon, Old Moon and the Moon after Yule.

In 2018 the full moon will be on the night between 1 and 2 January and is another supermoon to look out for. There is also another full moon in January (also a supermoon), near to the end. As the second full moon of the month, with no given name, it is known as a Blue Moon. In 2018 this will be on January 31. In some areas it will look red due to the total lunar eclipse it causes – thus making it a blood moon. So we will have a Blue, Supermoon, Blood Moon to look forward to.

Enough about the moon. Let’s move on…

The birthstone for January is the garnet, a word that comes comes from the 14th century Middle English word gernet – which means meaning dark red.

A small sample of garnet. Author: Teravolt (talk). Creative Commons

The zodiac signs for January are Capricorn until January 19th and Aquarius from the 20th onwards.

The birthflower for January are the Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation) and the Galanthus (snowdrop).

There are many customs and traditions connected to January around the world and many of them start with New Year’s Eve and resolutions. I wrote a post about New Year’s Eve last year (Ring in the New Year!). I have also  previously written posts about a couple of other January traditions. One was about Wassailing and Twelfth Night on January 5-6 and the other about Burn’s Night on January 25th. So on this occasion, I’ll leave those three alone. But here are a few more:

  1. The start of January does not seem to have been at all favoured in the past. In medieval times, good fortune for the coming year depended upon events on January 1st. To find out if they would have good luck, or not, farmers would put a flat cake on one of the horns of a cow. The farmer and his workers would sing and dance around the cow until the cake was thrown off. If it fell in front of the cow, it signified good luck. If it fell behind the cow, they would have bad luck during the coming year. To the earlier Saxons, January 2nd was the unluckiest day of the year and anyone born on that day could expect an unpleasant death.
  2. January 7th, the day after the feast of the Epiphany (and Twelfth Night), was known by different names by men and women of the past. To women, the day was Distaff Day or sometimes, Roc Day. The distaff, or rock, was used in spinning and was the medieval symbol of women’s work. In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas – and in Catholic countries today, Distaff Day is still one of the unofficial holidays. To men who lived and worked in the countryside, January 7 was known as Plough Day – the day they would return to work in the fields.
  3. January 13th was the day of St Hilary’s Feast (St Hilary lived AD 310 – c. 367):

    The ordination of Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the 14th century, Author: Richard de Montbaston et coolaborateurs. Public Domain

This day became known as the coldest day of the year due to particularly cold events of the past starting on, or around, that date. One of the most severe winters known began around January 13 1205. In Britain, the River Thames froze over and ale and wine turned to solid ice and needed to be sold by weight! This big freeze lasted until March 22nd. Farmers in England were unable to till the ground and sow their crops. Consequently, food prices soared that year.

4. January, in general, has become known as the coldest month of the year. One of the worst cold spells in Britain was between 1550 and 1750 – a period that became known as the Little Ice Age. Winters were so cold that the Thames froze over each year, often for three months at a time. During that time the Thames was wider and slower than it is now, and its flow was further obstructed by the medieval Old London Bridge. The Thames  froze over several times in the 16th century. In 1536, Henry VIII is said to have travelled from London to Greenwich by sleigh along the Thames, and in 1564, Elizabeth I took walks on the ice. But the first frost fair was recorded as being held on the Thames in London in 1608. Tents, side shows and food stalls were set up  and even ice bowling took place.

A page from ‘The Great Frost: cold doings in London’. Printed in London in 1608. Attributed to Thomas Dekker. Public Domain

The last frost fair was held in 1814, beginning on February 1st and lasting for four days. An elephant was led across the river below Black friar’s Bridge.

5. January 20th is the Eve of St Agnes. This was traditionally the night when girls and unmarried women would perform certain rituals before going to bed in order to dream of their future husbands. The rituals seem quite peculiar and laughable to us today, but such rituals were performed in all seriousness, and in the belief that they would work. One ritual involved transferring pins one at a time from a pincushion to a sleeve whilst reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Another involved walking backwards upstairs to bed and another was fasting all day. Yet another tradition was to eat a portion of dumb cake (a salty cake prepared with friends in silence) before going to bed. The Eve of St Agnes was also the subject of a poem by Keats.

St Agnes herself is the patron saint of girls, engaged couples, rape survivors, virgins and the Children of Mary. This is what Wikipedia tells us about her:

Saint Agnes of Rome was a member of the Roman nobility born in AD 291 and raised in an Early Catholic family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on 21 January AD 304. Agnes was a beautiful young girl of wealthy family and therefore had many suitors of high rank. Details of her story are unreliable, but legend holds that the young men, slighted by her resolute devotion to religious purity, submitted her name to the authorities as a follower of Christianity.  

Accounts of her execution are steeped in legend and cannot be proven true, but archaeological evidence indicates that a young girl of about thirteen years of age, a virgin named Agnes, was martyred in Rome and honoured for her sacrifice.

Saint Agnes, circa 1620. Artist: Domenichino. Oil on canvas. Now in The Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. Source: Web Gallery of Art. Public Domain

This post is long enough, so I won’t include famous anniversaries but here are just a few famous birthdays for the month:

  • January 3, 1892. J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien was an academic and writer, and a professor of English language and literature at Oxford University. He is now famously remembered as creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien, aged 24, in army uniform. Photo taken in 1916. Public Domain

  • January 13, 1926Michael Bond. A Newbury-born BBC cameraman, better known as the creator of Paddington Bear, a little bear bear found at Paddington Station in London, wearing a sou’wester, wellington boots and a duffle coat.

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station, 3rd May, 2007. Author: Stefan Oemisch. Creative Commons

  • January 15, 1929Martin Luther King, an American clergyman and leading civil-rights campaigner and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking against the Vietnam War at St Paul’s Campus, University of Minnesota. 22 April, 1967. Author: Minnesota Historical Society Creative Commons

  • January 18, 1736James Watt. A Scottish engineer and inventor, whose improvements to Newcomen’s steam-engine helped to power the factories of his partner Mathew Boulton, and ultimately the industrial revolution.

James Watt by John Partridge, after Sir William Beechley. 31 December 1806. Author: Antonia Reeve. Public Domain

January 24, AD 76. The Roman emperor, Hadrian, who visited Britain c A.D. 121 and ordered the building of the 73 mile Hadrian’s Wall from the Solway Firth to the Tyne to keep out the Scots.

To finish with this is a photo of some early flowering snowdrops at the front of our house. They have been in bud for a few days now.

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Christmas in Wonderland at Doddington Hall

Doddington Hall is a large mansion or ‘prodigy house’ built between 1593 and 1600 by Robert  Smythson, one of England’s most renowned Elizabethan architects. It is situated in the village of Doddington in Lincolnshire, just outside the historic city of Lincoln. The hall is complete with a gate house and lovely gardens, including a walled garden, and has remained in the same family for 400 years. The Hall itself is surrounded by the extensive Doddington Estate, part of which is devoted to the sustainable growing of several species of Christmas trees which are sold on the site every year.

This year, Doddington Hall is once more open to the public for the festive season, decorated with another Christmassy theme. It is open from November 25 – December 22 and, for the first time, it will also be open on December 28 and 29. Last year the theme was A Fairytale Christmas (which I wrote about here) and the 2017 theme is Christmas in Wonderland – meaning the Wonderland from the Lewis Carroll story of Alice in Wonderland.

Alice Falling Down the Rabbit Hole. Image from Shutterstock

On our approach to the hall was an unusual sleigh pulled by unicorns.

This is not as strange as it may seem, considering that unicorns are on the family crest, and there are topiary unicorns to welcome visitors at the front entrance. On the front door was a Christmas wreath, in keeping with this year’s theme, in which TIME plays a dominant part, thanks to the White Rabbit’s obsession with it.

Once through the door, we were straight into the Great Hall, which this year is devoted to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Image courtesy of Pixabay

The long table in the middle was set out with colourful foods, and sleeping in a teapot we found the Dormouse. Side tables displayed a variety of decorative objects associated with the tea party, some of them created from newspaper:

The next room we entered on the ground floor was decorated with all things pertaining to the White Rabbit. Watches and clocks seemed to dominate the room, not to mention the wonderful  papier maché version of the White Rabbit himself:

From there we headed out to the ground floor hall, where a table invited us to eat and drink…

Naturally, we declined the kind offers of refreshment and headed for the stairs, all aptly decked out with roses and playing cards, all the way up to the top floor:

The first room we entered on the first floor was the Queen of Hearts’ bedroom, complete with the necessary jam tarts:

Also on this floor was  what we called the Roses Room. Painting the Roses Red is a song featured in the 1951 Disney film of Alice in Wonderland.

We carried on up the stairs to the top (second) floor, where we found a dodo waiting for us. The photo is a bit ‘glary’ but it’s the only one we took.

One room on this floor was dedicated to the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, known for repeating the question Whooo Are Youuu?

Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham: Advice From a Caterpillar. Public Domain

Lastly, we had a look in the Long Gallery which is also on the top floor. Last year this room was dedicated to the Ice Queen. The snowy woodland scene was similar this year, minus the purple lights, but instead of the Ice Queen’s throne was a display of flamingos. Small flamingos also hung on the trees in place of Christmas baubles. (Flamingos are the birds used by the Queen of Hearts in a croquet game).

One room wasn’t open when we were there as some of the ‘elf helpers’ hadn’t arrived. Perhaps some of the characters from the story that we couldn’t find were in there – including the Cheshire Cat. But as we were going on to see the pantomime, Aladdin, later on, we hadn’t time to wait and see.

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Dancing Into December

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.
~Sara Coleridge (1802–1852)

It’s hard to write about the month of December without having Christmassy thoughts, or hoping it will snow on Christmas Day. But, as I write this, Christmas is still three weeks away and already town centres are manic and car parks full as people ‘shop till they drop’. The insides of stores, restaurants and cafes have had decorations and Christmas trees up for a few weeks now: far to early, in my book – and I won’t begin to say what I think about the constant bomdardment of Christmas adverts on TV. Now, I’m no ‘BAH HUMBUG’ (I love Christmas!) but all this commercialism somewhat dampens the run-up to Christmas for me and I live with my memories of the simple Christmases we enjoyed in the 1950s and 60s.

So, moan over and on to a few facts about December…

I’ve written several posts in the past about different Christmas traditions, so here I’ll focus on some of the things connected to December that aren’t completely about Christmas – although I can’t help mentioning it at times. Even my calendar for this month is Christmassy… well, sort of.

December is the twelfth and last month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and one of seven months with 31 days. It is the first month of meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the first month of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The name ‘December’ comes from the Latin word decem, which means ten, because December was originally the tenth month of the year when the Roman calendar began in March. December always starts on the same day of the week as September and always ends on the same day of the week as April.

The Anglo Saxon name December was Ærra Geola, or the month before Yule’, and was followed by Æftera Geola, or ‘after Yule‘ (i.e. January)Yule was Giuli, or Geola, the ancient name in the Germanic lunar calendar for the winter festival celebrated by the peoples of Northern Europe. Early references to it are in the form of the month names given above. Later, following the adoption of Christianity, yule came to refer to the twelve-days of Christmas holiday associated with the Feast of the Nativity.

The pagan celebration of Yule revolved around the Winter Solstice and is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. (I wrote a little about the festival of Saturnalia in Ancient Rome in the Winter Solstice post I’ve linked to above). The Winter Solstice falls on December 21st, is the shortest day of the year and was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. Many ancient people worshipped the sun and the Norse and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel (or houl) that changed the seasons. It is from the name for this wheel that the word yule is thought to have come.

To the Norse and Germanic peoples, Yule celebrations involved feasting and drinking and making sacrifices to the gods in return for their protection against the spirits of the dead who were believed to return to their families during the midwinter – the darkest time of year. Celebrations also involved the continuous burning of the Yule log. This ‘log’ was often an entire tree trunk, which was dragged into the home with great ceremony to be laid across the central hearth where its warmth and light would bring cheer throughout the days of the festival. The middle illustration below (dated 1832) suggests that the custom continued well into the 19th century in the UK, and probably even longer in rural areas.

The making of a chocolate Yule log – a chocolate-covered, rolled chocolate cake (swiss roll) – is probably the only reminder of Yuletide celebrations today, along with celebrations and bonfires of various pagan groups.

Many other cultures also have winter festivals that are celebrations of light. In the Jewish religion there is Hannukah (or Chanukah) celebrated in November and December.

Contemporary candelabrum in the style of a traditional Menorah. Iy has 8 candles to be lit during services. Author: 39james Creative Commons

This festival commemorates a time, 2,500 years ago when the Syrian king Antiochus, tried to make Jewish people worship Greek gods. A statue of Antiochus was erected in Jerusalem and the Jewish people were ordered to bow down before it. Worshipping idols is strictly forbidden in the Ten Commandments and a small group of Jews, called Maccabees, rebelled. After three years, Jerusalem was recaptured, but the Temple had been destroyed. After cleaning and repairing it the people rededicated it to God by lighting the lamp – the Menorah, the symbol of God’s presence. Today, Hannukah is celebrated by lighting one candle every day for eight days.

Diwali (or Deepavali) Festival of Lights is the most popular of the Hindu festivals from Southern Asia, but since it is celebrated over five days between October and November – and nothing to do with December – I won’t say much about it here. In the UK the main Diwali celebrations are in the city of Leicester. It’s a fun time and aptly call a Festival of Lights – fireworks and all.

The zodiac signs for December are Sagittarius until December 21 and Capricorn from December 22 onwards:

December’s flower is the narcissus:

December’s birthstones are the turquoise  and zircon:

If cold December gave you birth—
The month of snow, and ice, and mirth—
Place on your hand a turquoise blue,
Success will bless whate’er you do.
~Author unknown, A Gem for Every Month, c.1883

And these are a few of the dozens of notable events that have occurred in December, historically:

December 1, 1918: Iceland was granted independence by the Danish parliament.

December 1, 1990: England was connected to mainland Europe for the first time since the Ice Age when engineers dug a railway tunnel under the English Channel and broke through the last rock layer.

Course of the Channel Tunnel. Author: Mortadelo2005. Creative Common

December 3, 1967: The first successful heart transplant was performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard at Cape Town, South Africa, on Louis Washkansky, who lived for 18 days.

Dr Christiaan Barnard in 1960, Author Benito Prieto Coussent. Creative Commons

December 4,1872: Crew from the British brigantine Die Gratia boarded a deserted ship drifting mid Atlantic. The captain’s table was set for a meal aboard the US ship Marie (sometimes given as Mary) Celeste but the Captain, crew and passengers were all missing

The Brigantine, Amazon, entering Marseilles in November 1861. In 1868, she was renamed Marie Celeste. Author; Possibly Honore Pellegrin. Source: scanned from Slate Magazine, December 6 2011. Public Domain

December 9, 1993 : A five-day repair job in space on the $3 billion Hubble Space Telescope was finished by U.S. astronauts.

The Hubble Space telescope as seen from departing Space Shuttle Atlantis. flying STS-125 in 2009. Author Ruffinax. Public Domain

December 13, 1642 – New Zealand was discovered by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman of the Dutch East India Company.

December 25, 1818: Silent Night was performed for the first time at the Church of St. Nikolaus in Oberndorff, Austria.

Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. Photo : Gakuro, Dec 3 2005. Creative Commons

December 26, 1991: The end of the Soviet Union began.

Post Soviet States in alphabetical order. Wikimedia Commons

December 29, 1940:  During the Blitz, German aircraft dropped thousands of incendiary bombs on the centre of London, causing the worst fire damage since the great fire of 1666. St. Paul’s Cathedral survived but eight other Wren churches, plus the Guildhall and Old Bailey, were badly damaged.

There are a couple of December customs in the UK that deserve a mention. One is that of Christmas markets, which I’ve previously written two posts about here and here. Another is that of pantomime  (“panto’ as we call it) which I won’t say much about now as I intend to write a post about it soon to explain its origins and how it has evolved into what it is today. Many of the major cities and towns put on a yearly pantomime, which generally run from early December to early January.

Cover, Pantomime F. Warner & Co 1890. Source: Unknown. User: Wetman on en. wikipedia. Public Domain

For anyone who’s never heard of pantomime, this is the dictionary definition of the term:

A theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.

At the New Theatre Royal in the city of Lincoln this year, the chosen fairy tale is Aladdin, which we’ve booked to see on the 14th December. I haven’t been to a panto for years, so I’m really looking forward to it.

I’ll finish with a short poem and a few photos taken at 7.30 this morning (Monday, December 4th) from my bedroom window. The field is classed as ‘Ridge and Furrow’ – a term described by Wiki as “an archaeological pattern of ridges and troughs created by a system of ploughing used in Europe during the Middle Ages” As such, the field can’t be built on. The ridge and furrow pattern can be seen very clearly in the last photo.

The sheep have only been there for a couple of weeks and will be gone again soon. They were put there to ‘clean up’ the field, or nibble away at the longish grass left by the bullocks there over the summer.

Anyway, it was a typical frosty, December morning. The sun was rising and the ‘supermoon’ still hadn’t set at 7.30 am.

And I leave the last word about December to Dr. Seuss:

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?
~Dr. Seuss

*****

Refs:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/December https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/months/december.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/wintersolstice.shtml
http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/yule/
http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/the_wheel_of_the_year/yule_-_winter_solstice.asp
ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-yule-2562997\
http://www.historyplace.com/specials/calendar/december.htm

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Navigating our way through November

November is the eleventh month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the fourth and last month to have 30 days. It was the ninth month of the ancient Roman calendar (when the year started in March) its name deriving from the Latin word ‘novem’ which means nine. In the northern hemisphere, November is the third and last of the autumn months and in the southern hemisphere it is the third and last of the spring months.

To the Anglo Saxons,  November was Windmonath  meaning Wind Month. Another name they had for it was Blotmonath meaning  ‘Blood or Sacrifice Month’. November was the time of year when many of the livestock were slaughtered and meats were preserved, often by smoking, for use during the winter. Only animals required as breeding stock were herded  into the byres until the spring.

For similar reasons the Dutch called November, Slachtmaand, or Slaughter Month; in Welsh it was Tachwedd, referring to slaughter, or the killing of animals, and in Finland it was called Marraskuu, which means the Month of the Dead.​

In Britain, November is probably the least favourite month of the year. Days have grown short and nights are long, many days are cloudy and grey and the weather is gradually turning colder. Ground frosts become more frequent as the days pass and November can often be very windy, too (hence the Anglo Saxon name). Conversely, some days can be gloriously sunny and seem too mild for November.

These little poems illustrate two sides of November weather. The second one doesn’t make the month sound completely unattractive, as does the first. (Perhaps Thomas Hood was having a bad day when he wrote his. 🙂 )

No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!
~ Thomas Hood 1799 -1845

*

November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.
With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.
The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.
~  Elizabeth Coatsworth

The birthstone for November is topaz . . .

. . . and the  zodiac signs are Scorpio (October 23 – November 21) and Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

The birth flower for  this month is the chrysanthemum:


These are just a few of the many famous  people who were born in November:

1. Marie Curie, French-Polish chemist and physicist who discovered radium, born November 7, 1867:

Marie Curie, Nobel Prize Portrait 1903. Author: Nobel Foundation. Public Domain

2. Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. Author of Treasure Island born November 13, 1850:

Author Robert Louis Stephenson Author: Ris-pic 1 .jpg Knox Series. Public Domain

3. French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,  born on November 24, 1864.

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec 1894. Author: Paul Sescau 40002. Public Domain

4. Grace Darling (full name Grace Horsley Darling) was born on 24 November 1815 in Bamburgh, Northumberland. Grace was a lighthouse keeper’s daughter who, on September 7 1838, risked her life when she and her father rowed out for a mile in the height of a storm to rescue nine mariners ship-wrecked on a rock and take them back to shore. The story is now legendary.

Grace Darling. A photographic reproduction of a Public Domain work of art. by Thomas Musgrave Joy. Photograph by Thos, Musgrave. is also Public Domain. 

5. American author, Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was born November 29, 1832:

Louisa May Alcott at the age of 20, 1857. Author Unknown. Public Domain

6. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister, was born November 30 1874.

Winston Churchill in Downing Street giving his famous Victory sign. Author: British Government. Public Domain

7. American author Mark Twain,  author of several books, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was born November 30, 1835:

Mark Twain photo portrait. February 7, 1871. Author: Mark Brady Public Domain

8. Irish author Jonathan Swift, author of  Gulliver’s Travels, was also born on November 30, but in 1667:

Jonathan Swift dated 1710. Oil on canvas by Charles Jervas (1675-1739). Source: National Portrait Gallery. Public Domain.

And these are some of the special dates remembered in November:

A post about events celebrated in Britain in November would not be complete without a mention of Guy Fawkes’ Night, or Bonfire Night. I don’t intend to go into what the Gunpowder Plot was all about here, having written posts about it in previous years. The first, in 2014, was A Penny for the Guy, which was a simple post, mostly about the ways in which celebrations of Bonfire Night have changed over the years, particularly since I was a child. The second, in 2015 was titled, Remember, Remember…  This one did outline what the Gunpowder Plot was about and basically, what happened to the thirteen plotters, including Guy (or Guido) Fawkes. Besides, I’m sure many people  will have watched the recent three part dramatization of the story on TV.  But here are a few illustrations from those posts anyway:

In years gone by there were many dates celebrated in November which are mostly overlooked or gone altogether nowadays. Some of these included All Saints’ Day on November 1, when people remembered the saints, outstanding Christians, many of whom were martyrs who had given their lives for their faith.

The forerunners of Christ with saints and martyrs, dated 1423-24. Author en Fra Angelico. Current location National Gallery, London. Public Domain.

All Souls Day on November 2 was when people remembered all those who had died. Families would take flowers to the graves of deceased  family members and had their names read out in church.

Another saint’s day was Martinmas Day on November 11. This was a time for celebrations, feasts and hiring fairs at which labourers would seek new posts. Farmers traditionally provided a cake and ale feast for the workers, the cakes being made with seeds and whole grains and called Hopper Cakes. Nowadays, and since 1918, November 11 has been celebrated as Armistice Day  Or Poppy Day) and all remnants of Martinmas Day have gone. On Armistice Day, people remember all the soldiers who died during two World Wars and all other wars:

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In the USA, the celebration of Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November and has been held every year since 1783. I’ll  give only an over-simplified summary here, as I’m sure there will be lots of posts about it already out there.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims/Pilgrim Fathers after their first harvest in the New World. The Pilgrims were people who had fled from the unsettled and dangerous environments in England and Holland to find a place to live where they could worship as they chose without being persecuted for it. In 1620 they set sail aboard The Mayflower and eventually reached Cape Cod in New England.

Embarkation of the Pilgrims, Photo of an oil painting from 1857, currently located in Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain

Today, Thanksgiving is a time for being with family and loved ones and remembering all the things in life to be thankful for. Family meals and general ‘get-togethers’ are a big part of the festivities.

And here are a few more random facts and dates about November:

  • November 26, 1922: archaeologist Howard Carter and his crew entered the four-room Egyptian tomb of 18-year-old King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings.

Informal portrait of Howard Carter next to the train station in Chicago, 1924. Author: Chicago Daily News. Public Domain

The Valley of the Kings, Luxor. Photographer Peter J. Bubenik, 1995 Creative Commons

  • November 17, 1869: the Suez Canal officially opened.

Suez Canal between Kantara and El Fedane. The first vessel through the Canal, based on an engraving 1869 Public Domain

  • November 7, 1783 saw the last public hanging in England. Highwayman John Austin, was  hanged at Tyburn, near to where Marble Arch(in London) now stands.

    The “Tyburn Tree” – the permanent gallows at Tyburn, (London) which was where Marble Arch now stands. Used from the 16th century until the  hanging of John Austin 1783 Public Domain

  • November  8, 1920: The Daily Express newspaper first published the cartoon strip ‘Rupert Bear’.

    Rupert Bear Exhibition in the Museum of Canterbury. Author: Elliott Simpson, 2006. Creative Commons

  • November 21 1783. The first flight by man in a hot air balloon (designed by the Montgolfier Brothers) was performed by Jean-François de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes.

!786 depiction of historic Montgolfier Brothers’ 1783 flight, Illustration with engineering proportions and descriptions. Author unknown Public Domain

  • November 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall came down and East Germany opened its borders to West Germany.

The Berlin Wall in 1986 by Thierry Noir. Creative Commons

This post has already grown much longer than I had intended, so I’ll ignore all the interesting facts on my list and finish with a few photos taken on a lovely sunny day last week at the RHS Garden at Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, Yorkshire. (RHS = Royal Horticultural Society).

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Scarecrows at Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire

This week, Nick and I are enjoying a few days in my home town of Southport, a seaside resort on the Lancashire coast. We’ve visited a few relatives and spent time in nice places while we’ve been over here, so I thought I’d share a few photos we took at Rufford Old Hall.

Rufford Old Hall is a National Trust property near the town of Rufford in Lancashire. It is a beautiful Tudor building, built by Robert Hesketh in the 1530s and was owned by the Hesketh family for 400 years until it was donated to the National Trust in 1936. Only the timber-framed Great Hall survives from the original structure. The Jacobean-style rustic brick east wing was added in 1662. A third wing was added in the 1820s.

The Hall is surrounded by Victorian and Edwardian gardens and woods and flanked by a branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

We took photos of the Hall and gardens but also of fifteen scarecrows, many of which could probably be described as  unusual or even a little bit weird, placed across the grounds. One was hidden indoors, which we only found when we decided to head into the tea shop for a cup of tea.

I believe the ‘Scarecrow Event’ is held annually and the scarecrows are made by members of the local community and Rufford Old Hall staff and volunteers. Participants, mostly children – and being half-term, there were a lot of them there – are given a map with the locations marked on to help them find the scarecrows. They are also given a little bit of information about the origin of ‘scarecrows’, which I’ll summarise here:

In medieval Britain, scarecrows were originally young boys who were given the job of scaring away the birds from the corn fields (wheat, barley, oats or rye). Originally called bird ‘scarers’ or ‘shooers’, they would patrol the fields with bags of stones and chase away any bird that tried to land by waving their arms or throwing stones. The birds were mostly crows and starlings. The Great Plague of 1348 wiped out so much of the population there were just not enough boys for this job left. People started to stuff sacks with straw and carve faces in turnips to make ‘scarecrows’ they could stand against poles. Of course, wherever available, boys would continue to do this job as well, and did so until the early 1800s when factories and mines offered children better pay. Either way, life was not easy for many youngsters – but that’s another story.

I’ll say no more about the scarecrows. Here are all fifteen of them:

I’ll finish with a few more photos of Rufford Old Hall and the lovely gardens in their autumnal dress:

 

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Onward into October

In the northern hemisphere October is the second of the autumn months. In the southern hemisphere it is a spring month, the seasonal equivalent of April in the north. The month has 31 days and is the tenth of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, although it kept its original name from the Roman calendar in which ‘octo’ means “eight” in Latin.

Among the Anglo Saxons, October was known as Wintirfilleth, Wintirfylleth or Winterfilled meaning winter full  or winter fulfilling. According to Bede, the word meant ‘winter full moon’, the first full moon of October, after which winter was supposed to begin. This idea stems from a time when the pagan Anglo Saxons believed the year was divided into two seasons, just summer and winter.

As winter did not actually start at that time, it has also been suggested that the full moon was simply a signal that winter was on its way, and a warning to people to start preparations for harsh weather ahead. Among several other tasks this could involve food preservation, the housing of livestock in byres and barns, and strengthening homes e.g. repairing thatched roofs, doors and window shutters.

The October birth flower is the calendula and the birthstone is the opal. It is said that the opal will crack if it is worn by someone who was not born in October.

The  October Zodiac signs are Libra (Sept 23 – Oct 22) and Scorpio (Oct 23 – Nov 21)

There are several historical anniversaries in the month of October in the UK. I imagine few are known, let alone ‘celebrated’ but here are some of them anyway:

  • 2nd Oct 1452:  Britain’s last Plantagenet king, Richard III was born.

Richard III painted in 1520, Author unknown. Uploaded to Wikipedia by Silverwhistle. Public Domain

  •  6th Oct 1892: Death of the English Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who immortalised ‘The Six Hundred’ in his poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1862. Photograther: Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1873). Public Domain

  • 7th Oct 1920: Women became eligible for admission as full members of Oxford University and given the right to take degrees.
  • 4th Oct 1066: Harold II, England’s last Anglo-Saxon King was killed at the Battle of Hastings in Sussex – possibly by an arrow in the eye as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry.

“Here sits the King of the English” . Harold II ‘s coronation 1066. Author: Norman and English embroiderers. Public Domain

  • 20th Oct 1632: Birth of English architect Christopher Wren who was responsible for the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral following the Great Fire of London..

Christopher Wren’s Cathedral, as built. Public Domain

  • 24th Oct 1537: Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died following the birth of the future king Edward VI.

Jane Seymour, Queen of England. Date 1536.Artist: Hans Holbein Public Domain

  • 28th Oct 1831: English physicist Michael Faraday demonstrated the dynamo, founding the science of electro-magneticism.
  • 29th Oct 1618: English courtier, writer and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded on the orders of King James I.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s first pipe in England. Author: Frederick William Fairholt (1814-1866)

There are a number of Special Events celebrated worldwide in October. The most well known one to many of us is probably HALLOWEEN. Here is just a little about the history of the event and its traditions:

Halloween or Hallowe’en  is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. It is also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve and is a celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31st.

Many Halloween traditions originated from the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’, which was celebrated at the end of the harvest season. Samhain was a time to take stock of supplies, prepare for winter and to ask the priests to pray for families as they faced the dark days of winter ahead. They believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the dead would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits, or appease them.

The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them. This festival was later Christianised as Halloween.

Halloween activities today include trick or treating, attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, playing pranks – to name just a few.  In many parts of the world the Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve include attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead. Some Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve. This tradition can still be seen today in the eating of certain vegetarian foods, including apples, potato pancakes and soul cakes.

In Munich (Germany) the big October attraction is OKTOBERFEST!

This festival claims to be the world’s biggest folk festival as well as being a great time to enjoy drinking beer. Over the last ten years or so the festival has attracted around six million visitors every year. Between them, visitors get through almost seven million litres of beer and consume thousands of grilled sausages, chickens, giant pretzels,  and even wild oxen. The festival lasts just over two weeks (often from mid-September to early October) and takes place in a meadow outside Munich’s city centre. Besides eating, drinking and dancing, visitors can enjoy parades and fairground rides, and admire the many people dressed in traditional Bavarian clothes.

The history of this festival dates from the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. Celebrations involved shooting displays and horse-racing – as well as much eating and drinking. Such a fun time was had by one and all it was decided to repeat the event every year.

This post has now become far too long to add photos of our gardens and local lanes, so I’ll finish with just a few of the many photos we took around the grounds of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire last week. The autumn colours were a delight (although the red oak in the last photo is not a species native to Britain and was ‘imported’ from North America).

Refs:
Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October
timeanddate,com https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/months/october.html
Historic UK http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Historic-October/
Images are either my own photos or from Shutterstock, Pixabay or Wikipedia. Those from Wikipedia are credited as such.

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The Workhouse at Southwell

Anyone who has read Dickens will have heard of ‘the workhouse’ and the fear it struck into the hearts of some of the poorest people in society. Although the initial intentions of setting workhouses up may have been admirable, stories about just how harsh, strict, austere and, in some cases, cruel, these places were still linger today.

So what, exactly, were these ‘workhouses’, when were they set up and why?

In the early 1800s, the rising cost of caring for the poor and elderly in their own homes was unpopular with ratepayers. It was Reverend Becher in the town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, who devised a new system to cut these costs.

A network of hundreds of specially designed workhouses, 15-20 miles apart, was set up across the country as part of the most ambitious welfare construction ever attempted in Britain: the New Poor Law of 1834. Workhouses were places where the poorest people in society had to work in return for food, shelter and medical care. Life inside was intended to be basic and dull, so that only those people in real need (paupers) could find shelter there, while those who weren’t destitute wouldn’t ask for help, knowing they’d be sent to the workhouse.

The people who set up the Poor Law didn’t intend to be cruel, only fair and efficient, yet workhouses were an odd combination of care and deterrence. ‘Inmates’ were fed, housed and clothed, but the stigma on those who went there, together with the hard, tedious work and sometimes, corrupt staff, ensured workhouses were places of last resort. They not only catered for the most poor, but also for the elderly without work, deserted wives, unmarried mothers, children without parents and those with physical and/or mental disabilities. They also took in vagrants/tramps and offered them a meal and a bed for the night. Altogether, the Workhouse at Southwell could accommodate 158 paupers.

In the model of the Southwell workhouse below, we can see how the ‘wings’ to either side of the central section separated the men women and children – something so hard for most families to bear. The central area largely provided accommodation for the Master and Matron, with the children’s dormitory and schoolroom on the very top floor. Later on, a new schoolroom was built attached to the workhouse and can be seen to the far left of this model. Men were housed in the wing to the right of the front door (blue in the model) and women in the (yellow) wing to the left:

The plan below shows the layout of the site and the notes explain a little about different areas:

The workhouse staff was headed by the Master, who reported to elected Governors who were answerable to the taxpayers. The Master, who was often seen as cruel and corrupt, had responsibility for the day to day running of the house. The most important woman in the workhouse was the Matron, who would simply have been the Master’s wife in the earlier years of the system, with no formal qualifications. As nursing standards rose, things changed, and later matrons were expected to have the necessary nursing qualifications.

The Schoolteacher’s job was not an enviable one and the turnover of teaching staff was high. Schoolteacher’s were badly paid and of low status, despite high standards being expected from them by the school inspectors. It was usually a live-in job which involved supervising the children throughout the day as well as instructing them in the classroom. The Guardians abolished the Workhouse school at Southwell in 1885, and children were sent to local schools instead.

On entering the Workhouse, all new inmates were bathed and given the workhouse clothes/uniform to wear:

    Inmates were also categorised, with future treatment and daily workload in mind:
  • Able bodied (separate groups for men and women)
  • The old and infirm (also separate groups)
  • Children

1. Able bodied men and women were called ‘idle and profligate’ or, ‘the undeserving poor’. These people were considered to be physically capable of work but were not employed due to their own idleness, incompetence or lack of training – although it was often due to the general levels of unemployment and scarcity of work and not their own fault at all! Consequently, jobs in the workhouse for these people were hard and were what gave the workhouse its name. One of the jobs for able-bodied men was splitting rocks (or old bones for fertilizer) out in the men’s  yard at the back of the workhouse. They could also be given decorating duties, turning a mill handle and digging in the gardens.

Able bodied women generally came to the workhouse due to loss of a husband, or because the husband was out of work or she and a low-paid husband could not afford to keep a large number of children. These women did all the everyday housework, including cleaning the building and scrubbing stone floors, meal preparation and back-breaking clothes washing – which was done in buckets or bowls at the pump in the yard at first, then inside the ‘wash house’ once it was built:

Women also did needlework (e.g. lace-edged doilies for selling) and knitting.

2.  The old and Infirm were also called the ‘blameless’ or ‘deserving’ poor. They were people who could no longer work due to age-related disabilities. Younger people with disabilities were also in this category. Any elderly who were able to work could be given the task of picking oakum (old tarred rope) which was then sent to be made into caulking for ships. Oakum picking was a job that any groups could also be assigned to and was very hard on the fingers.

3. While the adults were working the children would be ‘educated’, which involved 3 hours a day in the schoolroom followed by what was called ‘industrial’ work: boys often worked in the gardens while girls did needlework and cooking. Children were allowed time to play in the little playground of the schoolhouse, and a large number of hoops were recorded as being ordered. Other toys came from local benefactors.

The main meal of the day at Southwell was dinner at midday, for which inmates were given one hour. This meal consisted of boiled meat, peas and potatoes on most days with soup on others. On Saturday a simple suet pudding was served. Although bland, the food was better than what these people would have had before they came to the Workhouse. Weekly and daily allowances/rations of different foods were strictly observed as lists around the kitchen areas show:

Food allowances chart 2

The Workhouse rules were strictly adhered to and anyone who broke them was punished. Punishments were different for different offences, but often involved limiting food rations, offenders typically being given potatoes, bread or rice instead of the usual meat. Repeat offenders were given solitary confinement for 24 hours and severe cases of injury to others for example, were sent to the magistrate.

These are some of the many photos we took of different areas outside the Southwell Workhouse (including a couple taken through upstairs windows):

And these are just a few of the dozens we took inside the workhouse:

By the late 19th century the focus in workhouses had changed from that of deterring the able-bodied to providing shelter and nursing for those who could never be in work. Consequently, the numbers of  inmates and staff changed. In the earlier days at Southwell, the ratio between the two was an average of 4 members of staff to 135 inmates. By 1900 it had become fewer than 80 inmates to the 135 staff, plus a porter, a nurse and assistant nurse. Seamstresses, laundry maids cooks and gardeners soon followed – all doing jobs formerly done by inmates. New, more comfortable  furniture was brought in, chamber pots replaced earthen closets, and eventually flushing water closets. A new infirmary building was added in 1871 and  by 1905 children were being housed in separate homes or were boarded out. In 1913 workhouses became ‘institutions’, though most adopted less stigmatised names: the workhouse at Southwell, for example, became Greet House, named after the river that runs below it.

The 20th century saw huge changes in the ways the poor, the elderly and people unable to work were treated. The Welfare State, which came into being in 1948, brought financial benefits and healthcare to many people. Many former workhouses were taken over by the new National Health Service as state hospitals, and at Greet House elderly patients were moved out of the old, Victorian building into the two infirmaries – one for men, one for women – while the old building housed staff and provided kitchens for cooking residents’ food. Until 1977, the former ‘women’s wing’ of the workhouse was used as temporary ‘bed-sit’ accommodation for homeless mothers and children awaiting more permanent housing. The last residents moved out in the 1990s when a new home was especially built. This is how the ‘bedsit’ looks today:

The Work house at Southwell was left derelict for some time and fell into disrepair until 1997 when the National Trust recognised it as being ‘the best preserved workhouse standing in England and well worth saving’.

“Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, 1838. Public Domain. Illustration shows Oliver saying “Please, sir, I want some more”.

Refs: Most information taken from the book purchased, free leaflets and the information boards at the Workhouse in Southwell.

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Sauntering into September

September is the ninth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is also the third month to have 30 days and the month with the longest name – having nine letters.

September in the Northern Hemisphere is the equivalent of March in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, September 1 is the beginning of the meteorological autumn and in the Southern hemisphere, the beginning of the meteorological spring.

The word September comes from old Roman word, Septem, which means seven. September was the seventh month in the then Roman calendar. The Romans believed the month was under the care of Vulcan, the god of fire and forge – which led to their belief that the month would be associated with fire, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Vulcan. Roman god of fire and forge

The Anglo Saxons called it Gerst Monath, or Barley Month. September was the time for harvesting the barley and making barley brew. Another name they gave to the month was simply, Haefest Monath, meaning Harvest Month.

These are  a few of the customs associated with the Harvest:

1. Calling the Mare. When the last crops were being gathered in, farmers had a custom called ‘Calling the Mare’.  The last sheaf gathered in on each farm was made into the rough shape of a mare and sent round to any farmers who hadn’t yet finished harvesting. This was a way of warning them that any crops not yet in were in danger of being eaten by wild horses. Reapers from farms that had finished would run round to fields where the reapers were still working and throw the ‘mare’ over the hedge into  the field, shouting, ‘Mare, Mare’ before running away. In turn, when those reapers finished harvesting, they would run and do same to others not finished.  The last farmer to finish kept the ‘mare’  all year as a sign he was the slowest farmer of that year.

2. Making Corn Dollies  A corn dolly was said to house the spirit of the corn goddess and the custom of making them dates back hundreds of years. People believed the corn goddess lived in the corn and would die unless some of the corn saved and made into a corn dolly for the goddess to rest in until next spring.

Note: Corn dollies, or corn mothers are a form of straw work, traditionally made as part of the harvest. The term ‘dolly’ did not mean the same as it does to us today and the ‘dolly’ could be any number of shapes/designs. ‘Dolly’ may be a corruption of the word ‘idol’, or it may have come directly from the Greek word eidilon (apparition) meaning ‘something that represents something else’.

3. Michaelmas Day – the feast of St Michael, the Archangel, was celebrated on September 29 and represented the last day of the harvest season. The Harvest began on August 1 and was called Lammas (loaf mass) as I described in my August post.

Michaelmas Day was also the day for the winter night curfew to begin. It was the first hint that winter was on the way. It involved tolling of the bell (usually the church bell): one strike for each of the days of the month that had passed in the current year, and was generally rung at 8 pm.

Curfew bell iat Leadhills, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Author: Rosser1954 Creative Commons

The actual word, ‘curfew’, is thought to be derived from the French ‘couvre feu’ meaning fire cover’. It was the time for fires to be doused or covered before people went to bed.

Couvre feu utensil for extinguishing the fire in the fireplace. Date 1891. . Public Domain

‘Curfew’ lasted throughout the winter until Shrove Tuesday, which was, and still is, 6 weeks before Easter – usually in February or early March.

Michaelmas Day was also sometimes called Goose Day – the time for goose fairs to start in some English towns. Goose fairs are still held in places, the most famous one being the Nottingham Goose Fair, now held around October 3. Of course, geese are no longer sold and modern fairs consist mostly of various rides and stalls:

Nottingham Goose Fair at night, October 2007.  A view from the Ferris wheel Author: KickingKarl Creative Commons

The custom of goose fairs is said to date back to time of Queen Eiizabeth 1 (16th c). It is said that Elizabeth was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Armada was brought to her – and the custom of eating goose as part of a celebratory meal stuck.

The Michaelmas Daisy, a type of aster (Aster novi-belgii), which has small pink to lavender flowers, obviously got its name from this time, as it is flowering then.

Some Michaelmas Superstitions:

1.  The devil stamps (or spits) on bramble bushes after Michaelmas, so don’t pick blackberries after that date.

2.  The Victorians believed that a tree planted on that day would grow very well.

3. In Ireland, finding a ring in a Michaelmas pie meant you were soon to be married!

September’s gemstone is the sapphire and the flower for September is the aster:

The astrological signs for September are Virgo and Libra:

Virgo (zodiac element, earth) is the sign from August 23-September 22. It is represented by ‘The Maiden’ and symbolises knowledge, shyness, clarity of thought and introspective behaviour.
Libra (zodiac element, air) is the sign from September 23-October 22. It is represented by the scales symbol because the Romans saw it as the sign during which the seasons are the most balanced. It symbolises people who are active, love being in the open, who are peaceful and fair and hate being alone.

Festtivals & Traditions associated with September include:

  • The Game of conkers. Conkers are the fruits of the horse chestnut tree and children have being playing games with them for years. Conkers are threaded with string and the object of game is to hit – and hopefully break or crack –  your opponent’s conker:
  • The Horn Dance is an English folk dance dating back to the Middle Ages held at Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire. It is s performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and stop to perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village to the tunes played by the musician. These include ‘The Farmers Boy’ and ‘Uncle Mick’. The modern version involves reindeer antlers, a hobby horse, Maid Marian and a ‘Fool’!
  • The Gurning Competition at Egremont Crab Fair in the English Lake District.  To gurn means to distort the face – so the object is to see who can pull the most awful face!

A man ‘gurning’. Originally posted on Flickr and uploaded to Creative Commons in 2009. Author: Mark

September Anniversaries:

There are dozens of anniversaries celebrated in September worldwide, so I’ve just picked a few British ones here. I’m sure you can all can think of lots in whichever part of the world you live in. (Not all anniversaries are of happy events, of course, and I’ve use the word ‘celebrated’ in the sense of something being ‘remembered’.)

  • September 1 1939: Germany invaded Poland, so beginning the Second World War.
  • September 2 1666: A fire started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane in London. It spread rapidly and almost completely destroyed all of the old city of London. This became known as The Great Fire of London.
  • September 3 1928: Alexander Fleming returned to his laboratory after a holiday. He noticed that staphylococci bacteria growing on pieces of apparatus he’d left unwashed had been killed by an unidentified mould. This was the first step in the discovery of penicillin.
  • September 6 1997: The funeral of Princess Diana took place in London.
  •  September 22 1880: Christabel Pankhurst, the future leader of the suffragette campaign in Britain, was born at Old Trafford in Manchester.
  • September 27 1825: A steam engine called Active pulled the first passenger train on the Stockton and Darlington Railway.
  • September 29 1066: William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey with a Norman army. At Christmas he was crowned King of England.
  • September 29 1929: Under the direction of the home secretary, Robert Peel, Britain’s first professional police force, the Metropolitan Police, is formed. The force is based in Scotland Yard in Westminster, London.

To finish with, here are some photos of our garden and the lanes around the village as we stroll into September. First, the lanes, which are showing signs that leaves are now past their best and beginning to fade, while colourful autumn fruits are in abundance. Most of the wheat and barley has been harvested and bales of straw stand in the fields of stubble. Conkers and acorns are not yet ripe:

Our garden doesn’t look much different to the way it looked for my August post a month ago, although the apples and pears have grown and ripened and foliage in general has lost some of its vibrancy. The colours of the flowers are still good, although they will undoubtedly die off over the coming weeks.

And absolutely last, here’s a YouTube video of the beautiful song, Try to Remember… Unfortunately, it always makes me weepy – just like the willow in the song. (Too many memories…) The song was written by Paul McCartney and Harvey Schmidt and this version is sung by US folk-singing foursome, The Brothers Four.

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