Bonkers London Ceremonies


Beating the Bounds 2

January 6th

The Royal Epiphany

The Queen and the Yeomen of the Guard hand out three purses symbolising frankincense, gold and myrrh to the poor of the parish. The three wise men’s gifts symbolise birth, life and death. It’s also the day that Baddeley cake is handed out. The failed actor Robert Baddeley bequeathed money to buy a Twelfth Night cake for the cast at Drury Lane Theatre – it still happens.

February 3rd

The Blessing of the Throats.

St Blaise was on his way to his own execution when he save the life of a child choking on a fishbone. The blessing takes place at St Ethelreda’s Church in Ely Place. In this month we also have the Pancake Greaze and the Trial of the Pyx – no, me neither.

March (late)

The Oranges & Lemons Service.

St Clement Danes church distributes fruit to the parish children in celebration of the rhyme, presuming it can find any children left in this area. Oh, and there’s a druidical gathering on Tower Hill. People wonder where I get my ideas.

April – Good Friday 

The Hanging of the Bun.

A stack of Hot Cross Buns dangles over the bar at The Widow’s Son in Bromley by Bow. Every year at this time a sailor add another bun to this collection for widows, the idea being that Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday will never decay. Presumably the thinking lies in the power of the cross to keep faith alive. Also there’s the Butterworth Bequest, an ancient ceremony distributing buns and sixpences to 21 widows in Smithfields. There aren’t any widows left in Smithfields at all now, so money is given to children. This is also the month for the Harness Horse Parade and the Martyrs Pilgrimage from Newgate to Tyburn.

May 29th 

Oak Apple Day – This was a formal public holiday celebrated to commemorate the Restoration in May 1660. It has also been known as Shick Shack Day, Oak and Nettle Day or Arbor Tree Day. You can still buy tickets to attend. There’s also the Pepys Service, which has connections to St Olave’s thanks to Pepys’s advice to the king – to blow up buildings to create fire breaks in the path of the Great Fire, allowing St Olave’s to escape the conflagration, and the genuinely bonkers but more well-known Beating the Bounds around this time. Beating the bounds is an ancient custom that’s still observed. Under the name of the ‘Gangdays’ the custom of going a-ganging was kept before the Norman Conquest. It involves a band of old and young community members who walk the boundaries of the parish, led by the parish priest and church officials, to remember where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands. Part of it involves thrashing the river with sticks.

June 24th

The Presentation of the Knollys Rose takes place at All Hallows Church. You can go to the picking but not the presentation – (that’s enough bonkers ceremonies for now – ed)




6 comments on “Bonkers London Ceremonies”

  1. C Falconer says:

    Oh the Trial of the Pyx is great. Its held at Goldsmiths and you can get a free ticket to witness coins of the realm (and various ex-Colonies) being tested and approved as legitimate tender.

  2. Roger says:

    Some of them make Nigel Dennis’s Co-Wardens of the Badgeries look understated.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Your bonkers ceremony is our “local custom”. It’s only bonkers if you don’t do it yourself. They’re so much fun to take part in. I’ve been trying to think of local custom here but we just do what everyone else does.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Oh just remembered a good one & just coming up. New Westminster, settled by the Royal Engineers, celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday with a royal salute using anvils. One anvil on top of another with gunpowder in between. Fire it as you would a cannon and you get a wonderful bang, complete with leaping anvil. We kept the holiday because we needed a holiday in May and we’ve shifted it to the Monday preceding the 24th (except when the 24th is a Monday). The elementary schools do the maypole dance and a May Queen is elected by the elementary students.

  5. jan says:

    “beating the bounds” is carried on throughout the country it was very important to know the boundaries of ur home parish because that was the only place that would originally provide any welfare or any assistance if the locals fell on hard times. if u went outside your own parish they took no responsibility for your welfare and would show u the door. Here its found an uneasy combination with rogation day (Something to do with sowing the crops) beating the bounds was pretty literally true some small child a young lad would receive a few strokes of the slipper or cane at each of the obvious village / parish boundary markers at a bridge or spring or marker stone. Once you learnt the boundaries it was a step toward adulthood. Makes u realise how brave the people were who made their way out of their parishes to the big developing nothern cities in the industrial revolution or out of Kent, Surrey, Herts and Essex into London.

  6. jan says:

    Further to the above there was almost a different way the welfare state could have developed, Down here in Dorset and Somerset particularly in certain west Dorset villages theres a celebration called parade of the badges in Broadwindsor near where i live at the midsummer show festival all the organizations in the village parade their emblem or badge through the village at the start of the celebration day. In Wells museum they have a display of the old badges people payed a sort of local insurance or tithe to local organizations like a saturday club (an old northern thing i can remember my my mum and dad paying into) or sick club where you paid in to a club which would pay u out in case of injury or illness. These organizations together with the Parishes played a really important role in poor relief and welfare payment. If the development of the welfare state had taken a different turn they could well have become very important in assistance and welfare for the poor and sick. this all sounds a bit creepy now and something suspiciously like UKIP would approve of but its interesting. Another local custom in Stoke Abbott West Dorset is a sick parade which takes place before their midsummer fair and theres some very interesting photos of this parade from almost a century ago in their village hall

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