Bonkers London Ceremonies
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)