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COUNTRY WAKES: (')
FEASTS OF DEDICATION, REVELLINGS, RUSH-BEARINGS, AND, IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND, HOPPINGS.
As in the times of Paganism annual Festivals were celebrated in honour and memory of their Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes, when the people resorted together at their temples (2) and tombs; and as the Jews constantly kept their anniversary feast of Dedication in remembrance of Judas Maccabæus their deliverer, so it hath been an ancient custom among the Christians of this island to keep a feast every year upon a certain week or day in remembrance of the finishing of the building of their parish Church, and of the first solemn dedicating of it to the service of God, and committing it to the protection of some guardian Saint or Angel. (3)
At the Conversion of the Saxons, says Bourne, by Austin the monk, the Heathen Paganalia were continued among the converts, with some regulatious, by an order of Pope Gregory the Great, to Mellitus the Abbot, who accompanied Austin in his mission to this island. His words are to this effect: on the Day of Dedication, or the Birth Day of holy Martyrs, whose relics are there placed, let the people make to themselves booths of the boughs of trees, round about those very Churches which had been the temples of Idols, and in a religious way to observe a feast; that beasts may no longer be slaughtered by way of sacrifice to the Devil, but for their own eating and the glory of God; and that when they are satisfied, they may return thanks to him
who is the giver of all good things. (4) Such are the foundations of the Country Wake. (5)
This feast was at first regularly kept on that day in every week on which the Church was dedicated; but it being observed and complained of, that the number of holidays was excessively increased, to the detriment of civil government and secular affairs; and also that the great irregularities and licentiousness which had crept into these festivities by degrees, especially in the Churches, Chapels, and Churchyards, were found highly injurious to piety, virtue, and good manners; there were therefore both Statutes and Canons made to regulate and restrain them: and by an act of Convocation passed by Henry the Eighth in the year 1536, (6) their number was in some measure lessened. The Feast of the Dedication of every Church was ordered to be kept upon one and the same day everywhere; that is, on the first Sunday in October; and the Saint's Day to which the Church was dedicated entirely laid aside. This act is now disregarded; but probably it arose from thence that the Feast of Wakes was first put off till the Sunday following the proper day, that the people might not have too many avocations from their necessary and domestic business.
In King Charles the First's Book of Sports, Oct. 18, 1633, we read: "His Majesty finds that, under pretence of taking away abuses,
there hath been a general forbidding, not only of ordinary meetings, but of the Feasts of the Dedications of the Churches, commonly called Wakes. Now his Majesty's express will and pleasure is, that these Feats, with others, shall be observed; and that his Justices of the Peace, in their several divisions, shall look to it, both that all disorders there may be prevented or punished, and that all neighbourhood and freedom, with man-like and lawful exercises, be used." See Harris's Life of Charles I., p. 50.
In the southern parts of this nation, says Bourne, most country villages (7) are wont to observe some Sunday in a more particular manner than the rest, i. e. the Sunday after the Day of Dedication, or Day of the Saint to whom their Church was dedicated. Then the inhabitants deck themselves in their gaudiest clothes, and have open doors and splendid entertainments for the reception and treating of their relations and friends, who visit them on that occasion from each neighbouring town. The morning is spent for the most part at church, though not as that morning was wont to be spent, not in commemorating the Saint or Martyr, or in gratefully remembering the builder and endower. The remaining part of the day is spent in eating and drinking. Thus also they spend a day or two afterwards in all sorts of rural pastimes and exercises, such as dancing on the green, wrestling, cudgelling, &c.
Great numbers attending at these Wakes, by degrees less devotion and reverence were observed, till at length, from hawkers and pedlars coming thither to sell their petty wares, the merchants (8) came also, and set up stalls and booths in the churchyards: and not only those, says Spelman, who lived in the parish to which the church belonged resorted thither, but others also, from all the neighbouring towns and villages and the greater the reputation of the Saint, the greater were the numbers that flocked together on this occasion. The holding of these fairs on Sundays was justly found fault with by the clergy. The Abbot of Ely, in King John's reign, inveighed much against so flagrant a profanation of the sabbath; but this irreligious custom was not entirely abolished till the reign of King Henry the Sixth.
"Come, Anthea, let us two Go to feast, as others do.
Tarts and Custards, Creams and Cakes,
It appears that in ancient times the Parishioners brought Rushes at the Feast of Dedication, wherewith to strew the Church, and from that circumstance the Festivity itself has obtained the name of RUSH-BEARING, (12) which occurs for a Country Wake in a Glossary to the Lancashire dialect.
In Ireland, "on the Patron Day," in most parishes, as also on the sts of Easter and Whitsuntide, the more ordinary sort of people meet near the Alehouse in the afternoon, on some convenient spot of ground, and dance for the cake; here, to be sure, the Piper fails
not of diligent attendance. The cake to be danced for is provided at the charge of the Alewife, and is advanced on a board on the top of a pike, about ten feet high; this board is round, and from it riseth a kind of a Garland, beset and tied round with meadowflowers, if it be early in the summer; if later, the garland has the addition of Apples, set
NOTES TO COUNTRY WAKES.
(1) Spelman in his Glossary, v. Wak, derives the word Wake from the Saxon Wak, signifying drunkenness. His words are, "Sunt celebritates bacchanales sub fructuum temporibus, ab occidulis et borealibus Anglis pagatim habitæ. Bacchanales dixi ex nomine: nam Wak, Sax. est temulentia." With all deference to so great a name, I think Spelman is evidently mistaken, aud that he even contradicts himself, when he tells us that on the Sunday after the Enconia, or Feast of the Dedication of the Church, a great multitude both of grown and young persons were wont to meet about break of day, shouting Holy Wakes! Holy Wakes! "Die dominica post
Enconiam seu Festum Dedicationis Ecclesiæ cujusvis Villæ convenire solet in aurorâ magna hominum juvenumque multitudo, et canora voce Holy Wakes! Holy Wakes! exclamando designare," &c. Gloss. fol. Lond. 1664, p. 562.
Mr. Strutt gives us a quotation on this subject from Dugdale's Warwickshire, from an old MS. Legend of St. John the Baptist, which entirely overthrows the etymology of Wake given by Spelman :
round on pegs, fastened unto it. The whole number of dancers begin all at once in a large ring, a man and a woman, and dance round about the bush (so is this garland called) and the piper, as long as they are able to hold out. They that hold out longest at the exercise win the Cake and Apples, and then the Alewife's trade goes on.(13)
"And ye shal understond & know how the Evyns were furst found in old time. In the begynning of holy Chirche, it was so that the pepul cam to the Chirche with Candellys brennyng, and wold wake and coome with light toward to the Chirche in their devocious; and after they fell to lecherie and songs, daunces, harping, piping, and also to glotony and sinne, and so turned the holinesse to cursydnees wherfore holy Faders ordenned the pepul to leve that Waking and to fast the
Evyn. But it is called Vigilia, that is waking in English, and it is called Evyn, for at evyn they were wont to come to Chirche."
Bishop Hall, in his Triumphs of Rome, alludes as follows to these convivial entertainments: "What should I speak of our merry Wakes and May Games and Christmass Triumphs, which you have once seen here and may see still in those under the Roman dition: in all which put together, you may well say no Greek can be merrier than they." Triumph of Pleasure, p. 23.
I have a curious Sermon entitled "The Religious REVEL," preached at Atsuch, a Country Revel, dedicated to Mr. William Ekins of the parish of St. Thomas, near Exon, by H. Rosewell, 8vo. Lond. 1711. It is a Defence and Vindication of keeping the annual feast of the dedication, finishing, and consecration of our Churches (constantly kept and called in the country a Wake or REVEL), still supposing and asserting the very great impiety of revellings properly so called, i. e. lewd and disorderly Revellings, upon any account or occasion.
Thus explained in Tusser Redivivus, 8vo. Lond. 1744, p. 81: The Wake Day is the Day on which the Parish Church was dedicated, called so because the night before it they were used to watch till morning in the church, and feasted all the next day. Waking in the Church was left off because of some abuses, and we see here it was converted to waking at the oven. The other continued down to our author's days, and in a great many places continues still to be observed with all sorts of rural merriments; such as dancing, wrestling, cudgel-playing, &c."
(6) This injunction, says Borlase, in his Account of Cornwall, was never universally complied with, custom in this case prevailing against the law of the land.
The following entries occur in the Churchwardens' Accounts of St. Mary at Hill, in the City of London, A. D. 1495: "For bred and wyn and ale to Bowear (a singer) and his co. and to the Quere on Dedication Even and on the morrow, is. vjd."
1555. "Of the Sumcyon of our Lady's Day, which is our Church holyday, for drinkyng over-night at Mr. Hayward's at the
"For bryngyng down the images to Rome Land and other things to be burnt."
In these Accounts, "To singing men and children from the King's Chapel and elsewhere," on some of the grand festivals, particularly the Parish Feast (our Lady's Assumption), a reward in money and a feast is charged in several years.
When an order was made in 1627 and in 1631, at Exeter and in Somersetshire, for the suppression of the Wakes, both the ministers and the people desired their continuance, not only for preserving the memorial of the dedication of their, several Churches, but for civilizing their parishioners, composing differences by the mediation and meeting of friends, increasing of love and unity by these feasts of charity, and for the relief and comfort of the poor.
(7) Bourne's Antiq. of the Common People, chap. xxx. Carew tells us, in his Survey of Cornwall, p. 69, "The Saint's Feast is kept upon the Dedication Day, by every householder of the parish, within his own dores, each entertaining such forrayne acquaintance as will not fayle, when their like turne cometh about, to requite them with the like kindness." But Borlase informs us that, in his time, it being very inconvenient, especially in harvest time, to observe the Parish Feast on the Saint's Day, they were, by the Bishop's special authority, transferred to the following Sunday.
Stubs, in his "Anatomie of Abuses," 12mo. 1585, p. 95, gives us the manner of keeping of Wakesses and Feastes in England. "This is their order therein:-Every towne, parish, and village, some at one time of the yeare, some at another (but so that every one keeps his proper day assigned and appropriate to itselfe which they call their Wake day), useth to make great preparation and provision for goode cheare, to the which all their