by Ross Parish
July is often short on traditional customs, however with its’ with long evenings and better weather, closeness to the harvest, July has the potential to be a good time for events and those which were established were feasts and fairs, or more correctly geographically speaking Wakes.
The most famed was the Charter Fair of Mansfield, which was around the 14th. It was more famed for its associated traditional dish, the Gooseberry Pork Pie. The fair itself was founded by Richard II in 1227 and stated that Mansfield could hold a market forever. The Mayor’s cutting of the Gooseberry pork pie was one of the ceremonies of the custom and this was watched by large crowds. The pie often contained 60 pounds of berries and these were distributed to the crowd and indeed smaller pies were made to be sold or taken home. A photo exists with Mayor Alderman Maltby about to cut a giant pie in 1927 to mark the fair’s 550th anniversary and a similar pie was made and sent to Mansfield Massachusetts. When the custom died out I have not discovered by in 2010, the local radio station Mansfield 103 spearheaded a revival and sold the pies in the market. However, this appears to have been a one off.
Despite the risk of rain, Wellow had a St. Swithin’s Fair on the 15th granted in 1330 as did Woodborough, but on the first Sunday after the 2nd July. Duck and green peas were served on this day according to a correspondent of Nottinghamshire within living memory.
As Wakes appeared to have died out and fairs become simply fun fairs, Carnivals appear to have evolved. Some of these in the county have a fair age such as Radcliffe on Trent carnival and although ‘foreign’ in concept they have absorbed many traditional aspects such as a Queen, procession and fair..albeit now just for fun! A more formal affair was the Elkesley Robin Hood Feast for the members of The Loyal Portland Lodge which was founded in July 1859. This was revived in 2011 and is now associated with a re-enacted Oddfelllow’s walk and a small fete.
A less formal walk, so to speak, existed for nearly 30 years at Kimberley. The Pram Race which was a charity event done in fancy dress was a popular charity event, as seen elsewhere, was it appears effectively stopped due to claims over drunkenness!
Perhaps the most interesting and unusual Nottinghamshire custom associated with July probably arose as a consequence of a Wakes week Fair, although this fair has long since gone, it continues. This custom is the Selston Tower Sermon, a little known event, although better known I think since I started to post about it perhaps and draw the Calendar customs website to it.
Although tower services are relatively common, those which consist of choirs singing on the roof, often at Ascension Day, sermons are rare. Indeed, this may be the only example from a roof top, as St. John’s Sermon, Cambridge is from a pulpit upon the wall. Although it should be stressed that the choir indeed did sing from the roof, but perhaps it was thought too dangerous.
The custom is over 100 years old, dating from 1907 when the Reverend Charles Harrison started it. What prompted him to start the sermon is unknown, but it is thought that he did so to attract local travellers, who camped on Selston Green and would visit the grave of Boswell, the King of the Gypsies, often with their new born babies, in a local ritual of blessing. They may have been in considerable numbers if it was Wakes week. Another theory is that he may have done it to commemorate its restoration in 1904/5.
I was informed by Mr Tew, the present church warden, that one year an estimated congregation of 1000 attended, although they must have spilled over the churchyard wall and into the street! You’ll be glad to hear that despite the precarious nature of the event, no accident has ever been recorded…except for one incumbent who almost never made it, this was when thirty years ago, the Rev Vic Simmons, was about to read his final tower sermon set his foot alight with weed killer (accidentally). He was determined to do it, stating:
“It was the highlight of the church year. I didn’t want to miss it.”
So a chair was carried up and no doubt he made a slow and rather tender climb to the top.
There is a tradition of inviting a guest preacher, for the 100th anniversary in 2007 saw the presence of the Rt Rev Anthony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood. Mr Tew doubted that the tower service was enacted every year since 1907, but I had the fortune to speak to a 90 year old parishioner who remembered being taken ‘babe in arms’ to the service and regularly attended from her infant years. A proper tradition for the warm summer’s day..when we get it!