August Days of the Month

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”.

Oyster Day

This is the start of the oyster season:

Greengrocers rise at dawn of sun,
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.

6th

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.

7th

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.

12th

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.

21st

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.

Brave Benbow lost his legs
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.

22nd

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.

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August Rhymes and Miscellanea

There’s something about August that is so English. Here are a few miscellanea that I think encapsulate the month.

The Irish-Gaelic and Scottish-Gaelic names for the month, Lunasa and Lunasdal, refer to the festival Lughnasadh (in honour of the pagan god Lugh) on 1st August, which became synonymous with Lammas.

The Anglo-Saxons called it Weodmonath (‘month of weeds’). In Welsh it is Awst.

It is the sixth month of the Roman calendar, named after the Roman Emperor, Augustus.

August is the month of harvest.

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August comes, and though the harvest-fields are nearly ripe and ready for the sickle, cheering the heart of man with the prospect of plenty that surrounds him, yet there are signs on every hand that summer is on the wane, and that the time is fast approaching when she will take her departure . . . But, far as summer has advanced, several of her beautiful flowers and curious plants may still be found in perfection in the water-courses, and beside the streams – pleasanter places to ramble along then the dusty and all but flowerless waysides in August.

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August Sayings

Dry August and warm
Doth harvest no harm.

A rainy August
Makes a hard bread crust.

Married in August heat and drowse,
Lover and friend as your chosen spouse.

If a fly lands on your nose, swat it till it goes;
If the fly then lands again, it will bring back heavy rain.

Dew at night
Next day will be bright.

The moon and the weather
Change together.

Evening red and morning grey,
Two good signs for one fine day.
Evening grey and morning red,
Send the shepherd wet to bed.

When a cow tries to scratch its ear,
It means a shower is very near.
When it dumps its side with its tail,
Look out for thunder, lightning and hail.

Rain from the east
Will last three days at least.

If the moon shows a silver shield
Be not afraid to reap your field.
But if she rises haloed round
Soon we’ll tread on deluged ground.

Let the wealthy and the great
Roll in splendour and in state,
I envy them not, I declare it.
I eat my own lamb, and my chicken and ham,
I shave my own fleece and I wear it.
I have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruit, I have flowers,
The lark is my morning alarmer;
So jolly boys now, ne’er good speed to the plough,
Long life and success to the farmer.

Make sure of thy reapers, get harvest in hand,
The corn that is ripe doth but shed as it stand.
Grant harvest Lord more, by a penny or two
To call on his fellows the better to do.
Give gloves to thy reapers, a largess to cry
And ever to loiterers have a good eye.

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Harvest Time
————

Crying the Neck

When the last sheaf is cut, the harvest spirit lurking in the corn dies, its throat symbolically slit by the scythe.

The mowers call ‘We have it!’, the response is, ‘What have ee? A neck?’ ‘A neck’, comes the reply. The sheaf is then made into a corn dolly and usually carried to the farmhouse where it stayed over the fireplace until ploughing time.

We ha’ neck! We ha’ neck!
Well a-ploughed! Well a-sowed!
We’ve a-reaped and we’ve a-mowed!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll a-cut, we’ll a-bound!
We’ll a-zot upon the ground!
We ha’ neck! We ha’ neck!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Corn Dolly

The original purpose of the corn dolly was to preserve the spirit of the corn through the winter. Come January, the dolly would be ploughed back into the soil. Until then she presided over the kitchen. Occasionally she was hung in the church.

The last cartload of corn harvested from the field was called the Horkey or Hockey load, and both cart and horse were dressed with ribbons and garlands. The cart and procession wound its way to the farm, where it was greeted with food and drink.

The Harvest Home

When the harvest is over to our master we will steer
And wet a good supper with a drink of strong beer.

The usual fare was a roast, along with hare or rabbit pie (often made from the animals caught during the harvesting), plum pudding and endless supplies of beer and cider, followed by a round of toasts to masters and mistresses, and songs, dancing and revelry.

Well ploughed
Well sowed
Well harrowed
Well mowed
And all safely carted to the barn with nary a load throwed!

It was common for the church to demand a tithe of one tenth of the crop and it was equally common for the harvesters to try and cheat the tithe. One harvester chant runs:

We’ve cheated the Parson, we’ll cheat him again,
Why should the Vicar have one in ten?
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There’s nothing like this poem to picture August perfectly:

The South Country

WHEN I am living in the Midlands
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.

The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea;
And it’s there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Walking along with me.

The men that live in North England
I saw them for a day:
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells,
Their skies are fast and grey;
From their castle-walls a man may see
The mountains far away.

The men that live in West England
They see the Severn strong,
A-rolling on rough water brown
Light aspen leaves along.
They have the secret of the Rocks,
And the oldest kind of song.

But the men that live in the South Country
Are the kindest and most wise,
They get their laughter from the loud surf,
And the faith in their happy eyes
Comes surely from our Sister the Spring
When over the sea she flies;
The violets suddenly bloom at her feet,
She blesses us with surprise.

I never get between the pines
But I smell the Sussex air;
Nor I never come on a belt of sand
But my home is there.
And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.

A lost thing could I never find,
Nor a broken thing mend:
And I fear I shall be all alone
When I get towards the end.
Who will there be to comfort me
Or who will be my friend?

I will gather and carefully make my friends
Of the men of the Sussex Weald;
They watch the stars from silent folds,
They stiffly plough the field.
By them and the God of the South Country
My poor soul shall be healed.

If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.

I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

 

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