1st – Lammastide
Lammas means ‘loaf mass’. It was the day when harvesting officially got underway. Loaves made with the first of the year’s ripened corn were taken to the church for a blessing.
This was one of the four great pagan festivals of Britain, the others being on 1st November, 1st February and 1st May.
After Lammas, corn ripens as much by night as by day because of the heavy night dews.
Hay meadows were re-opened for common grazing, marked by country fairs (especially sheep fairs) and other festivities.
1st August is also the Feast of St Peter in Chains, one of the feast days dedicated to St Peter. He shares his main feast day with St Paul on 29th June, but the feast on 1st August is called Peter Ad Vincula, or ‘Peter in Chains’, and commemorates the incident in the Acts of the Apostles when an angel visited him in prison ‘and his chains fell off from his hands’.
1st – St Ethelwold’s Day 905-984. A Glastonbury monk who became Bishop of Winchester.
2nd – William II of England, William Rufus, died whilst out hunting in the New Forest with friends. He was fatally shot. Blame was pinned on a deflected arrow, but he was more probably killed by order of his brother and successor, Henry I. His body was taken to Winchester in a cart and buried in the cathedral there.
The Rufus Stone in the New Forest marks the supposed site of William’s death. The original oak tree that the arrow glanced off was destroyed by souvenir hunters and vandals.
Rufus is said to have given Newcastle-upon-Tyne its name, with his proverbial utterance, “If we cannot win the old castle we must build a new castle!”
5th – Old St James’s Day
This day is also St Oswald’s Day.
St Oswald (604-642) was King of Northumbria. Sixty seven churches are dedicated to him, many near a well or spring. He was slain by the heathen Penda at Oswestry,(‘St Oswald’s Tree’).
The dust and earth at the place where he was killed gained a reputation for bringing about great cures.
His remains were taken to Bardney Abbey in Lincolnshire, but the monks did not wish to have the corpse of an enemy king in their Abbey, so his remains were dumped in a field, but bright lights shone up from the site and the monks realised they had erred, and brought in the remains, vowing never to close their doors again.
Since then it has been proverbial in Lincolnshire to say of a person who habitually leaves doors open, “You must have been born in Bardney”.
This is the start of the oyster season:
August the fifth – come haste away
To Billingsgate, the thousands run,
Tis Oyster Day! Tis Oyster Day!
Whoever eats an oyster today will never want for money all the year.
Egton Bridge Old Gooseberry Show near Whitby, North Yorkshire, is held on the first Tuesday of August. It is the oldest Gooseberry Show in the country, one of only nine still surviving.
Red, yellow, white, and the usual green colour gooseberries compete, the prize going to the heaviest fruit – two ounces is usually a winning weight, about the size of a golf ball.
Henry Tudor, later Henry VII 1457-1509, landed at Milford Haven in Wales, in 1485.
8th – St Lides Day, an eleventh century hermit who lived on the Isles of Scilly.
On this day in 1588 Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) reviewed her troops on the shores of the Thames at Tilbury, prior to the final naval engagement with the Spanish Armada, and gave her famous speech: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England, too.”
10th – St Laurence’s Day
St Laurence was broiled in a gridiron in the 3rd century. His famous last words were –
“This side is toasted, so turn me, tyrant, eat and see whether raw or roasted I make the better meat.”
He is the patron saint of cooks, bakers and confectioners.
If it rains on St Laurence it is rather late
– But still in time.
Very hot weather now presages a hard winter.
11th – St Claire’s Day, 1194-1253
In the middle ages she was revered for her contemplative life. She is the patron saint of television.
11th – Old Lammas Eve
Old Lammas was when some of the biggest sheep fairs were held.
The last of the unhealthy ‘Dog Days’ which began on July 3rd.
This is the glorious twelfth, the first day of the grouse shooting season.
13th – St Hippolytus’ Day (3rd century)
St Ippollitts in Hertfordshire is named after him.
13th – Feast of St Cassian, a severe Christian schoolmaster disliked by his pagan pupils, who stabbed him to death with iron pen-nibs. He is the patron saint of schoolteachers.
15th – The Feast of the Assumption – or death and bodily entrance into heaven of the Virgin Mary (according to the New Testament).
If the sun shines today it is a good token, especially for wind.
16th August – St Roch’s Day (14th century)
A selfless fourteenth century plague doctor, he is invoked against all infectious diseases.
18th – St Helen’s Day
Born around AD250 at Prepanum in Asia Minor, the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome.
Some historians claim she was a British princess and daughter of Old King Cole of Colchester, of merry old soul fame. She is associated with many ancient wells. Her emblem is a cross.
St Helen’s well at Rushton Spencer, Congleton is said to dry up in times of calamity. It happened in the Civil War and again, when Charles I lost his head. It also happened during a corn famine in 1670, when Edward VII died in 1910, and again during the First World War.
She is invoked against fire, tempest and lightning.
20th – St Philibert’s Day
Seventh century St Philibert gave his name to the Filbert nut, said to ripen around the saint’s feast day.
On this day in 1702 Admiral John Benbow was in pursuit of French ships in the West Indies. The battle was not going well and despite being mortally wounded he fought on. ‘Fight-to-his-own-death’ Benbow was seen to typify British pluck and became a folk hero.
And all on his stumps he begs,
‘Fight on my English lads,
‘Tis our lot.’
A monument to him stands in St Mary’s church in Shrewsbury, and there are still a good number of pubs up and down the country named after him.
On this day in 1485 King Richard III, the last truly English king of England, and the last to be killed in battle, was slain and cruelly murdered at the Battle of Bosworth and Henry Tudor, cowering behind his henchmen (one of whom had just been slain by the valliant Richard) became Henry VII. The battle marked the end of the Wars of the Roses, 30 years of civil war in England between the rival houses of York and Lancaster, both descended from King Edward III and both claiming the Crown.
Henry became the first Tudor monarch of England.
24th – St Bartholomew’s Day
St Bartlemy’s mantle wipes dry
All the tears St Swithin can cry.
If Bartolomew’s Day be fair and clear,
Then a prosperous autumn comes that year.
‘At St Bartholomew’s there comes cold dew’.
St Bartholomew was one of Christ’s apostles who is said to have been flayed alive and then beheaded. His emblem is a butcher’s knife, and he is the patron saint of tanners, leather workers, and bee keepers.
He is also associated with the famous hospital in Smithfield, London, generally known as Bart’s. In its heyday, Bartholomew’s fair was one of the four great fairs of England. In 1133 Smithfields first St Bartholomew’s fair took place in the grounds of the priory. It ran until 1855. It was famous for its puppet plays and religious mystery plays. In addition there were music and dance shows, acrobats, tightrope walkers, gingerbread sellers, a menagerie of animals, ballad singers, bearded ladies, fat men, giants, dwarfs, mermaids, fortune tellers and card sharps, pick pockets, prostitutes and vagabonds (Wow! Sounds like a great event – I think we should reinstate it!)
St Bartholomew was very popular in medieval England and 165 ancient churches were dedicated to him, including Croyland Abbey in Lincolnshire, where there was a custom of giving little knives to the congregation in his memory.
On this day printers had a holiday called the Wayzgoose. The 24th marked the point when they officially recognised the shortening days and began working by candlelight. As compensation their employers gave them a small payment which was used to finance a goose feast or, by the 19th century, a seaside outing.
28th – St Augustine of Hippo (died AD430)
On this day darn any clothes in preparation for winter.
31st – St Aidan’s Day
He died on this day in AD641. He was the first Bishop of Lindisfarne, and was noted for his miracles, apparently.