vol II date / index
St. Luke the Evangelist, A. D. 63. St. Julian Sabus, 4th Cent. St. Justin. St. Monon, 7th Cent.
The name of this evangelist is in the church of England calendar and almanacs on this day, which was appointed his festival by the Romish church in the twelfth century. As a more convenient occasion will occur for a suitable notice of his history and character, it is deferred till then. It is presumed that he died about the year 70, in the eighty-fourth year of his age, having written his gospel about seven or eight years before.
At the pleasant village of Charlton, on the north side of Blackheath, about eight miles from London, a fair is held annually on St. Luke's day. It is called "Horn Fair," from the custom of carrying horns at it formerly, and the frequenters still wearing them. A foreigner travelling in England in the year 1598, mentions horns to have been conspicuously displayed in its neighbourhood at that early period. "Upon taking the air down the river (from London), on the left hand lies Ratcliffe, a considerable suburb. On the opposite shore is fixed a longpole with rams-horns upon it, the intention of which was vulgarly said to be a reflection upon wilful and contented cuckolds."† An old newspaper states, that it was formerly a custom for a procession to go from some of the inns in Bishopsgate-street, in which were, a king, a queen, a miller, a counsellor, &c., and a great number of others, with horns in their hats, to Charlton, where they went round the church three times. This was accompanied by so many indecencies on Blackheath, such as the whipping of females with furze, &c., that it gave rise to the proverb of "all is fair at Horn Fair."* A curious biographical memoir relates the custom of going to Horn Fair in womens' clothes. "I remember being there upon Horn-Fair day, I was dressed in my land-ladie's best gown and other women's attire, and to Horn Fair we went, and as we were coming back by water, all the cloathes were spoiled by dirty water, &c., that was flung on us in an inundation, for which I was obliged to present her with two guineas to make atonement for the damages sustained."† Mr. Brand, who cites these notices, and observes that Grose mentions this fair, adds, that "It consists of a riotous mob, who, after a printed summons dispersed through the adjacent towns, meet at Cuckold's point, near Deptford, and march from thence in procession through that town and Greenwich to Charlton, with horns of different kinds upon their heads; and at the fair there are sold rams' horns, and every sort of toy made of horn: even the ginger-bread figures have horns." The same recorder of customs mentions an absurd tradition of assigning the origin of this fair to a grant from king John, which, he very properly remarks, is "too ridiculous to merit the smallest attention."
"A sermon," says Mr. Brand, "is preached at Charlton church on the fair-day." This sermon is now discontinued on the festival-day: the practice was created by a bequest of twenty shillings a year to the minister of the parish for preaching it.
The horn-bearing at this fair may be conjectured to have originated from the symbol, accompanying the figure of St. Luke: when he is represented by sculpture or painting, he is usually in the act of writing, with an ox or cow by his side, whose horns are conspicuous. These seem to have been seized by the former inhabitants of Charlton on the day of the saint's festival, as a lively mode of sounding forth their rude pleasure for the holiday. Though most of the painted glass in the windows of the church was destroyed during the troubles in the time of Charles I., yet many fragments remain of St. Luke's ox with wings on his back, and goodly horns upon his head: indeed, with the exception of two or three armorial bearings, and a few cherubs' heads, these figures of St. Luke's horned symbol, which escaped destruction, and are carefully placed in the upper part of the windows, are the only painted glass remaining; save also, however, that in the east window, there are the head and shoulders of the saint himself, and the same parts of the figure of Aaron.
The procession of horns, customary at Charlton fair, has ceased; but horns still continue to be sold from the lowest to "the best booth in the fair." They are chiefly those of sheep, goats, and smaller animals and are usually gilt and decorated for their less innocent successors to these ornaments. The fair is still a kind of carnival or masquerade, On St. Luke's-day, 1825, though the weather was unfavourable to the customary humours, most of the visitors wore masks; several were disguised in women's clothes, and some assumed whimsical characters. The spacious and celebrated Crown and Anchor booth was the principal scene of their amusements. The fair is now held in a private field: formerly it was on the green opposite the church, and facing the mansion of sir Thomas Wilson. The late lady Wilson was a great admirer and patroness of the fair; the old lady was accustomed to come down with her attendants every morning during the fair, "and in long order go," from the steps of her ancient hall, to without the gates of her court-yard, when the bands of the different shows hailed her appearance, as a signal to strike up their melody of discords: Richardson, always pitched his great booth in front of the house. Latterly, however, the fair has diminished; Richardson was not there in 1825, nor were there any shows of consequence. "Horns! horns!" were the customary and chief cry, and the most conspicuous source of frolic: they were in the hat and bonnet of almost every person in the rout. A few years ago, it was usual for neighbouring gentry to proceed thither in their carriages during the morning to see the sports. The fair lasts three days.
One of the pleasantest walks from Greenwich is over Blackheath, along by the park-wall to Charlton; and from thence after passing through that village, across Woolwich common and Plumstead common, along green lanes, over the footpaths of the fields, to the very retired and rural village of East Wickham, which lies about half a mile on the north side of Welling, through which is the great London road to Dover. There are various pleasant views for the lover of cultivated nature, with occasional fine bursts of the broad flowing Thames. Students in botany and geology will not find it a stroll, barren of objects in their favourite sciences.
Floccose Agaric. Agaricus Floccosus.
Dedicated to St. Luke, Evangelist.
Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:
1. Hentzner. [return]
2. Brand. [return]
3. Life of Mr. William Fuller, 1703, 12mo. [return]