Every-Day Book


June 23.

St. Etheldreda, or Audry, A. D. 679. St. Mary of Oignies, A. D. 1213.

Midsummer-The Bonfire.

Midsummer-The Bonfire.

This engraving represents a rejoicing formerly common to this season; it is from a French print, inscribed "Le Feu de St. Jean Mariette ex."

The summer solstice has been celebrated throughout all ages by the lighting up of fires, and hence on "St. John's eve," or the vigil of the festival of St. John the Baptist, there have been popular ceremonials of this kind from the earliest times of the Romish church to the present. Before, however, particularizing any of these celebrations, it may be worth while to notice the following practice, which is still maintained.

Midsummer Eve, in Ireland.

At Stoole, near Downpatrick, in the north of Ireland, there is a ceremony, commencing at twelve o'clock at night on every Midsummer-eve.—Its sacred mount is consecrated to St. Patrick: the plain contains three wells, to which the most extraordinary virtues are attributed. Here and there are heaps of stones, around some of which appear great numbers of people running with as much speed as possible; around others, crowds of worshippers kneel with bare legs and feet as an indispensable part of the penance. The men, without coats, with handkerchiefs on their heads instead of hats, having gone seven times round each heap, kiss the ground, cross themselves, and proceed to the hill; here they ascend on their bare knees, by a path so steep and rugged that it would be difficult to walk up: many hold their hands clasped at the back of their necks, and several carry large stones on their heads. Having repeated this ceremony seven times, they go to what is called St. Patrick's chair, which are two great flat stones fixed upright in the hill; here they cross and bless themselves as they step in between these stones, and while repeating prayers, an old man, seated for the purpose, turns them round on their feet three times, for which he is paid; the devotee then goes to conclude his penance at a pile of stones named the altar. While this busy scene of superstition is continued by the multitude, the wells, and streams issuing from them, are thronged by crowds of halt, maimed, and blind, pressing to wash away their infirmities with water consecrated by their patron saint; and so powerful is the impression of its efficacy on their minds, that many of those who go to be healed, and who are not totally blind, or altogether crippled, really believe for a time that they are by means of its miraculous virtues perfectly restored. These effects of a heated imagination are received as unquestionable miracles, and are propagated with abundant exaggeration.*[1]

The annual resort of the ignorant portion of our Roman Catholic countrymen, was never so numerously attended as it has been during the late anniversary of this festival, in 1825. The extent of the number of strangers from very remote parts of the country was unprecedented. The usual ablutions, penances, and miraculous results, were performed, and attested by the devotees, who experienced some disappointment in not having the accustomed arch-officiater to consummate the observances by thrice revolving the votary in the chair of St. Patrick. This deprivation, it is said, marks the sense of a dignitary of the church respecting this annual ceremony.* [2]

Ancient Custom of


on St. John's Eve.

The curfew-bell, commanded by William the Conquerour to be nightly rung at eight of the clock, as a warning, or command, that all people should then put out their fires and lights, was continued throughout the realm till the time of Henry the First, when Stow says, that it followed, "by reason of warres within the realme, that many men gave themselves to robbery and murders in the night." Stow then recites from an ancient chronicler, Roger Hoveden, that in the yeare 1175, during the time of a council held at Nottingham, a brother of the earle Ferrers, was "in the night privily slaine at London, and thrown out of his inne into the durty street; when the king understood thereof he sware that he would be revenged on the citizens. It was then a common practice in this city, that a hundred or more in a company, young and old, would make nightly invasions upon houses of the wealthy, to the intent to rob them; and if they found any man stirring in the city within the night, that were not of their crue, they would presently murder him: insomuch, that when night was come, no man durst adventure to walk in the streets. When this had continued long, it fortuned, that a crue of young and wealthy citizens assembling together in the night, assaulted a stone house of a certaine rich man, and breaking through the wall, the good man of that house having prepared himself with other in a corner, when hee perceived one of the theeves, named Andrew Bucquint, to lead the way, with a burning brand in the one hand, and a pot of coles in the other, which he assaied to kindle with the brand, he flew upon him, and smote off his right hand, and then with a loud voyce cryed 'theeves.' At the hearing whereof, the theeves took their flight, all saving he that had lost his hand, whom the good man (in the next morning) delivered to Richard de Lucie, the king's justice. This theefe, upon warrant of his life, appeached his confederates, of whom many were taken, and many were fled. Among the rest that were apprehended, a certaine citizen of great countenance, credit, and wealth, named John Senex, who for as much he could not acquit himselfe by the water-doome (as that law was then tearmed) hee offered to the king five hundred pounds of silver for his life. But forasmuch as he was concemned by judgement of the water, the king would not take the offer, but commanded him to be hanged on the gallowes, which was done, and then the city became more quiet for a long time after."

It appears that the city of London was subject to these disorders till 1253, when Henry III. commanded watches to be kept in the cities, and borough towns, for the preservation of the peace; and this king further ordained "that if any man chanced to be robbed, or by any means damnified, by any theefe or robber, he to whom the charge of keeping that county, city, or borough, chiefly appertained, where the robbery was done, should competently restore the losse."

This origin of the present nightly watch in London was preceded by other popular customs, or they rather, it may be said, assisted in its formation. "In the months of June and July, on the vigils of festivall dayes, and on the same festivall dayes in the evenings, after the sun-setting, there were usually made bone-fires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them. The wealthier sort also before their doores, neere to the said bone-fires, would set out tables on the vigils, furnished with seete bread, and good drinke, and on the festivall dayes with meats and drinkes plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit, and be merry with them in great familiarity, praysing god for his benefits bestowed on them. These were called bone-fires, as well of amity amongst neighbours, that being before at controversie, were there by the labour of others reconciled, and made of bitter enemies, loving friends; as also for the vertue that a great fire hath, to purge the infection of the ayre.

"On the vigil of St. John Baptist, and on Sts. Peter and Paul the apostles, every man's doore being shaddowed with greene birch, long fennel, St. John's wort, orpin, white lilies, and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautifull flowers, had also lamps of glasse, with oyle burning in them all the night; some hung out branches of iron curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps lighted at once, which made a goodly shew, namely in new Fish-street, Thames-street, &c.

"Then had ye, besides the standing watches, all in bright harnesse, in every ward and street of this city and suburbs, a marching watch, that passed through the principall streets thereof, to wit, from the little conduit by Paul's gate, through West Cheape, by the Stocks, through Cornehill, by Leadenhall to Aldgate, then back down Fen-church-street, by Grasse-church, about Chrasse-church conduit, and up Grasse-church-street into Cornhill, and through it into West Cheape again, and and so broke up.

"The whole way ordered for this marching watch, extended to three thousand two hundred taylors' yards of assize: for the furniture whereof with lights, there were appointed seven hundred cressets, five hundred of them being found by the companies, the other two hundred by the chamber of London. Besides the which lights, every constable in London, in number more than two hundred and forty, had his cresset: the charge of every cresset was in light two shillings foure pence, and every cresset had two men, one to beare or hold it, another to bear a bag with light, and to serve it: so that the poore men pertaining to the cressets, taking wages, (besides that every one had a strawen hat, with a badge painted, and his breakfast in the morning,) amounted in number to almost two thousand.

"The marching watch contained in number two thousand men, part of them being old souldiers, of skill to bee captaines, lieutenants, serjeants, corporals, &c. wifflers, drummers, and fifes, standard and ensigne-bearers, sword-players, trumpeters on horsebacke, demilaunces on great horses, gunners with hand-guns, or halfe hakes, archers in cotes of white fustian, signed on the breste and backe with the armes of the city, their bowes bent in their hands, with sheafes of arrowes by their sides, pike-men in bright corslets, burganets, &c., holbards, the like billmen in almaine rivets, and aperns of mayle in great number.

"There were also divers pageants, and morris dancers attendant on the setting of this marching watch. The constables, were divided into two parties; one halfe consisting of one hundred and twenty, were appointed on St. John's eve, the other halfe on St. Peter's eve." They were "in bright harnesse, some over-gilt, and every one a jornet of scarlet thereupon and a chaine of gold, his hench-man following him, his minstrels before him, and his cresset light passing by him." In the procession were "the waytes of the city, the maiors officers, for his guard before him, all in a livery of wosted, or say jackets, party coloured; the maior himselfe well mounted on horseback, the sword-bearer before him in faire armour, well mounted also, the maiors foot-men, and the like torch-bearers about him; hench-men twaine, upon great stirring horses following him. The sheriffes watches came one after the other in like order, but not so large in number as the maiors: for whereas the maior had, besides his giant, three pageants, each of the sheriffes had, besides their giants, but two pageants; each their morris-dance, and one hench-man, their officers in jackets of wosted, or say, party-coloured, differing from the maiors, and each from other, but having harnessed men a great many, &c. This Midsummer watch was thus accustomed yeerely, time out of minde, untill the yeere 1539, the thirty-first of Henry the Eighth, in which yeere, on the eighth of May, a great muster was made by the citizens at the Miles end, all in bright harnesse, with coats of white silke or cloth, and chaines of gold, in three great battels, to the number of fifteen thousand, which passed thorow London to Westminster, and so through the sanctuary, and round about the parke of St. James, and returned home thorow Oldborne."

In that year, 1539, king Henry VIII. forbid this muster of armed men, and prohibited the marching watch altogether, and it was disused "til the yeere 1548." When sir John Gresham, then lord mayor, revived the marching watch, both on the even of St. John the baptist, and of St. Peter the apostle, and set it forth, in order as before had been accustomed; "which watch was also beautified by the the [sic] number of more than three hundred demilances and light-horsemen, prepared by the citizens to be sent into Scotland, for the rescue of the town of Haddington." After that time the marching watch again fell into disuse; yet, in the year 1585, "a booke was drawne by a grave citizen, (John Mountgomery,) and by him dedicated to sir Tho. Pullison, then l. maior, and his brethren the aldermen, containing the manner and order of a marching watch in the citie, upon the evens accustomed; in commendation whereof, namely, in times of peace to be used, he hath words to this effect: 'The artificers of sundry sorts were thereby well set aworke, none but rich men charged, poor men helped, old souldiers, trumpeters, drummers, fifes, and engine-bearers, with such like men meet for the prince's service, kept in use, wherein the safety and defence of every common-seale consisteth. Armour and weapons being yeerely occupied in this wise, the citizens had of their owne readily prepared for any neede, whereas, by intermission hereof, armorers are out of worke, souldiers out of use, weapons overgrowne with foulnesse, few or none good being provided,'" &c. Notwithstanding these plausible grounds, the practice was discontinued.

There can be little doubt that so great an array of armed citizens, was not only viewed with distrust by the government, but had become of so great charge to the corporation, that it was found mutually convenient to substitute a less expensive and less warlike body to watch and ward the city's safety. The splendour wherein it was annually set forth was, however, a goodly sight, and attracted the curiosity of royalty itself, for we find that on St. John's eve, in 1510, king Henry VIII. came to the King's-head, in Cheap, in the livery of a yeoman of the guard, with a halbert on his shoulder, and there, in that disguise, beheld the watch till it had passed, and was so gratified with the show, that "on St. Peter's night next following, he and the queen came royally riding to the sayd place, and there, with their nobles, beheld the watch of the city, and returned in the morning."*[3] In 1519, Christern, king of Denmark, and his queen, being then in England, were conducted to the King's-head, in Cheap, there to see the watch.

On taking leave of the old London watch, on St. John's eve, a remark or two may be made respecting their lights.

The Cresset.

Concerning the cressets or lights of the watch, this may be observed by way of explanation.

The cresset light was formed of a wreathed rope smeared with pitch, and placed in a cage of iron, like a trivet suspended on pivots, in a kind of fork; or it was a light from combustibles, in a hollow pan. It was rendered portable by being placed on a pole, and so carried from place to place. Mr. Douce, in his "Illustrations of Shakspeare," gives the following four representations from old prints and drawings of



Lamps in the Old Streets,


Marching Watch of London.

Mr. Douce imagines the word cresset to have been derived from the French word croiset, a cruet or earthen pot.

When the cresset light was stationary it served as a beacon, or answered the purpose of a fixed lamp, and in this way our ancestors illuminated or lighted up their streets. There is a volume of sermons, by Samuel Ward, printed 1617-24, with a wood-cut frontispiece, representing two of these fixed cressets or street-lamps, with verses between them, in relation to his name and character, as a faithful watchman. In the first lines old Ward is addressed thus:—

"Watch WARD, and keepe thy Garments tight,
For I come thiefe-like at Midnight.

Whereto WARD answers the injunction, to watch, in the lines following:—

"All-seeing, never-slumbering LORD;
Be thou my Watch, Ile be thy WARD.

Ward's "lamp, or beacon," is transferred from his frontispiece to the next column, in order to show wherein our ancient standing lamps differed from the present.

An Old Beacon, or Standing Lamp.

An Old Beacon,


Standing Lamp.

It will be seen from this engraving that the person, whose business it was to "watch" and trim the lamp, did not ascend for that purpose by a ladder, as the gas-lighters do our gas-lamps, or as the lamp-lighter did the oil-lamps which they superseded, but by climbing the pole, and and foot, by means of the projections on each side.

St. John's Eve Watch at Nottingham.

The practice of setting the watch, at Nottingham, on St. John's eve, was maintained until the reign of Charles I., the the [sic] manner whereof is thus described:—

"In Nottingham, by an ancient custom, they keep yearly a general watch every Midsummer eve at night, to which every inhabitant of any ability sets forth a man, as well voluntaries as those who are charged with arms, with such munition as they have; some pikes, some muskets, calivers, or other guns, some partisans, holberts, and such as have armour send their servants in their armour. The number of these are yearly almost two hundred, who, at sun-setting, meet on the Row, the most open part of the town, where the mayor's serjeant at mace gives them an oath, the tenor whereof followeth, in these words: 'They shall well and truly keep this town till to-morrow at the sun-rising; you shall come into no house without license, or cause reasonable. Of all manner of casualties, of fire, of crying of children, you shall due warning make to the parties, as the case shall require you. You shall due search make of all manner of affrays, bloud-sheds, outcrys, and of all other things that be suspected,' &c. Which done, they all march in orderly array through the principal parts of the town, and then they are sorted into several companies, and designed to several parts of the town, where they are to keep the watch until the sun dismiss them in the morning. In this business the fashion is for every watchman to wear a garland, made in the fashion of a crown imperial, bedeck'd with flowers of various kinds, some natural, some artificial, bought and kept for that purpose; as also ribbans, jewels, and, for the better granishing whereof, the townsmen use the day before to ransack the gardens of all the gentlemen within six or seven miles about Nottingham, besides what the town itself affords them, their greatest ambition being to outdo one another in the bravery of their garlands."*[4] So pleasant a sight must have been reluctantly parted with; and accordingly in another place we find that this Midsummer show was held at a much later period than at Nottingham, and with more pageantry in the procession.

St. John's Eve Watch at Chester.

The annual setting of the watch on St. John's eve, in the city of Chester, was an affair of great moment. By an ordinance of the mayor, aldermen, and common councilmen of that corporation, dated in the year 1564, and preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum, a pageant which is expressly said to be "according to ancient custom," is ordained to consist of four giants, one unicorn, one dromedary, one camel, one luce, one dragon, and six hobby-horses with other figures. By another MS. in the same library it is said, that Henry Hardware, Esq., the mayor, in 1599, caused the giants in the Midsummer show to be broken, "and not to goe the devil in his feathers;" and it appears that he caused a man in complete armour to go in their stead: but in the year 1601, John Ratclyffe, beer-brewer, being mayor, set out the giants and Midsummer show as of old it was wont to be kept. In the time of the commonwealth the show was discontinued, and the giants with the beasts were destroyed.

At the restoration of Charles II., the citizens of Chester replaced their pageant, and caused all things to be made new, because the old models were broken. According to the computation, the four great giants were to cost five pounds a-piece, at the least, and the four men to carry them were to have two shillings and six-pence each; the materials for constructing them were to be hoops of various sizes, deal boards, nails, pasteboard, scaleboard, paper of various sorts, buckram, size-cloth, and old sheets for their body-sleeves and shirts, which were to be coloured; also tinsel, tinfoil, gold and silver leaf, and colours of various kinds, with glue and paste in abundance. The provision of a pair of old sheets to cover the "father and mother giants," and three yards of buckram for the mother's and daughter's hoods, seems to prove that three of these monstrous pasteboard figures represented females. A desire to preserve them may be inferred from an entry in the bill of charges:—"For arsnick to put into the paste, to save the giants from being eaten by the rats, one shilling and four-pence." There was an item in the estimate—"For the new making the city mount, called the maior's mount, as auntiently it was, and for hireing of bays for the same, and a man to carry it, three pounds six shillings and eight-pence." Twenty-pence was paid to a joiner for cutting pasteboard into several images for the "merchant's mount," which being made, "as it aunciently was, with a ship to turn round," cost four pounds, including the hiring of the "bays," and five men to carry it. The charge for the ship, and new dressing it, was five shillings. Strutt, who sets forth these particulars, conjectures, that the ship was probably made with pasteboard, that material seeming, to him, to have been a principle article in the manufacturing of both these movable mountains. The ship was turned, he says, by means of a swivel, attached to an iron handle underneath the frame; the "bays" was to hang round the bottom of the frames to the ground, and so conceal the bearers. Then there was a new "elephant and castell, and a cupid," with his bows and arrows, "suitable to it;" the castle was covered with tin foil, and the cupid with skins, so as to appear to be naked, and the charge for these, with two men to carry them, was one pound sixteen shillings and eight-pence. The "four beastes called the unicorne, the antelop, the flower-de-luce (?) and the camell, cost one pound sixteen shillings and four-pence each, eight men were paid sixteen shillings to carry them. Four boys for carrying the four hobby-horses cost six shillings and eight-pence each. The charge for the new dragon, with six naked boys to beat at it, was one pound sixteen shillings. Six morris-dancers, with a pipe and tabret, had twenty shillings; and "hance-staves, garlands, and balls, for the attendants upon the mayor and sheriffs cost one pound nineteen shillings."*[5]

These preparations it will be remembered were for the setting forth of the Midsummer-watch at Chester, so late as the reign of Charles II. After relating these particulars, Mr. Strutt aptly observes, that exhibitions of this kind for the diversions of the populace, are well described in a few lines from a dramatic piece, entitled "A pleasant and stately Morall of the Three Lordes of London:"—

—— "Let nothing that's magnifical,
Or that may tend to London's graceful state,
Be unperformed, as showes and solemne feastes,
Watches in armour, triumphes, cresset lights,
Bonefires, belles, and peales of ordinaunce
And pleasure. See that plaies be published,
Mai-games and maskes, with mirthe and minstrelsie,
Pageants and school-feastes, beares and puppet-plaies.'

Somersetshire Custom.

In the parishes of Congresbury and Puxton, are two large pieces of common land, called East and West Dolemoors, (from the Saxon dal, which signifies a share or portion,) which are divided into single acres, each bearing a peculiar and different mark cut in the turf; such as a horn, four oxen and a mare, two oxen and a mare, a pole-axe, cross, dung-fork, oven, duck's-nest, hand-reel, and hare's-tail[.] On the Saturday before Old-Midsummer, several proprietors of estates in the parishes of Congresbury, Puxton, and Week St. Lawrence, or their tenants, assemble on the commons. A number of apples are previously prepared, marked in the same manner with the before-mentioned acres, which are distributed by a young lad to each of the commoners from a bag or hat. At the close of the distribution each person repairs to his allotment, as his apple directs him, and takes possession for the ensuing year. An adjournment then takes place to the house of the overseer of Dolemoors, (an officer annually elected from the tenants,) where four acres, reserved for the purpose of paying expenses, are let by inch of candle, and the remainder of the day is spent in that sociability and hearty mirth so congenial to the would of a Somersetshire yeoman.* [6]


Our Lady's Slipper. Cypripedium Calceolus.
Dedicated to St. Etheldreda.


Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:

1. Hibernian Magazine, July 1817. [return]

2. Belfast Chronicle. [return]

3. Stow. [return]

4. Deering's Nottingham. [return]

5. Strutt's Sports. [return]

6. Collinson's Somersetshire. [return]