Scuttlebrook Wake

Foreman: In my local town (Chipping Campden in North East Gloucestershire) this festivity takes the form of the annual Scuttlebrook Wake, which is a fair held on the first Saturday after Whitsun. The fair is held in a part of the main street which was originally formed by paving over the original "Scuttle" brook. A May Queen is chosen to preside over the festivities, declare the fair open and generally look good at the proceedings. The Chipping Campden Morris dancers have the job of pulling the ceremonial cart on which are seated the queen and her attendants. The Morris men also dance in the town square and there are displays of Maypole dancing by the children of St. James' primary school (Church of England).

Robin: What, has all this been going on ever since John O'Gaunt then ?

Foreman: Not quite. At least not every year it hasn't. The customs have not been celebrated year on year in a continuous tradition, but in each generation someone has got up and researched and put together and organised the activities associated with the season. They've based their celebrations on personal recollection or on what old folks have said and they've also revived obsolete customs which they've found described in old books and pamphlets. An example of this is the revival of Dover's Games which were last held around 1840 before their current revival in 1964. Nobody was alive long enough to link those two dates and the custom was revived by reference to written records. Dover's Games, also known as "The Cotswold Olympics", was started by Robert Dover in 1672 or thereabouts. There are games and activities on the flat top of a local escarpment which looks out over the Vale of Evesham. They have some of the really old Cotswolds sports such as shin kicking, back sword and running for a smock.

Robin: You what ?

Foreman: In shin kicking two blokes hold a rag between their teeth and kick each other's shins with hob nailed boots until one can stand it no longer and gives in. Backsword is hitting each other with sticks until one draws blood and running for a smock is having a race to win a petticoat. The former 2 are done by the blokes and the latter is done by the women. The Games are concluded by a torchlight procession back to the town and then there is an outdoor dance to pop music held in the town square.

Robin: So this goes way back then (apart from the pop music, I suppose)

Foreman: Yes. Its not now generally realised that Dover's Games are actually quite close to really ancient custom. That is because it has a historical root as the games were founded by Robert Dover in the 17C. But Dover himself was using a model for the Games which stretches back a bit further. All things considered and if we include Dover's Games too, the Whitsuntide celebrations at Chipping Campden actually comprise most of the main features of the seasonal festivity which goes way back to the 14th Century. These features are:

FEATURE ONE A prelude of games featuring some form of combat or athletic competition. Preferably including a blood sport. Sometimes a big battle over a lot of territory between two costumed armies. It's mainly in Spain and Mexico where they really go to town on this feature and it often takes the form of "Moros y Cristianos" or Moors v Christians. In Spain they usually make use of the local castle or town walls for this or if none exists they build a structure out of wood and canvas. Dover's Games always featured a "cardboard castle" as there are no edifices on top of Dover's Hill.

FEATURE TWO Appearance of St. George (or other cavalier well known in the locality) either a) as part of the combat above or b) in a mummer's play or b) as a mounted figure presiding over the games or leading a procession. (St. George should look conscious of the fact that he's pretty important and that he should be heroic but both he and everyone else knows he's a right prat in real life.) The cavalier figure at Chipping Campden is Endymion Porter who was a servant of Charles II and who appeared in the King's cast offs to open the original Games. Kings and noblemen often rewarded their servants with second hand clothes in the old days because Oxfam hadn't been invented yet.

FEATURE THREE Choosing of the May Queen and her presiding over a procession displaying her triumph. (She should be conscious of the fact that there's no way a really good looking girl is going to dress up like Miss Havisham in "Great Expectations" and that the really good looking girls in the locality are all looking like the front page of "17".)

FEATURE FOUR Morris or sword dancing or Maypole dancing in honour of the Queen of the May. (No derogatory comments here as they're all too obvious.)

FEATURE FIVE Associated figures of the May Queen, Robin Hood or Green Man, Friar to marry the couple and Hobby Horse and Fool. The Fool of course has the distinct advantage over all the other figures in that he's SUPPOSED to be a right prat. There is a very nice representation of these characters in the Betley window which is not in Betley any more but is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Chipping Campden has a really big town square which is an ideal location for the celebrations. You'll notice that the Chipping Campden Morris really take off when they are performing in the square where they have plenty of space to operate in. BIG SETS!!! GREAT!!! MOVEMENT ACROSS THE GROUND!!! That's the way to do it !!! Before the Morris performs there is a display of Maypole Dancing. In my day they used to have to drag out the school piano for the music to accompany the Maypole dancing. Mrs Horne (wife of Mr. Horne the seedsman and the local peripatetic music teacher) would thump away on it and the kids would weave the ribbons from the maypole into coloured patterns. "Spiders Web" was one formation they did but I've forgotten the names of the others.

Next: Digression 1 - A Couple of Scrapes