1st – St Giles’ Day
Born in Athens in the 8th century, he was maimed by the French King Wamba, and suffered after that for most of his life. The King had been trying to shoot Giles’ pet hind, but the saint had thrown himself in the way. The arrow penetrated deep into Giles’ knee, crippling him for life. Cripples and beggars adopted Giles as their patron saint, and the slums around European town walls became known as St Giles parish.
St Giles’ Day was a popular date for feasts and fairs. The hind and the arrow are his distinctive emblems. On the font in Norwich Cathedral he is shown with the hind leaping up behind him.
Popular in the middle ages when more than 150 churches in England and Wales were dedicated to him, he is remembered in many place names such as St Giles, Oxford, St Giles Hill, Winchester, St Giles House, Dorset, and St Giles in the Wood, Devon.
It was customary that St Giles Church would be on the outskirts of a town, on one of the great thoroughfares leading into it, in order that cripples might the more conveniently come to and cluster around it. We have a memorial of this association of facts in the interesting old church of St Giles, Applegate, in the eastern part of the City of London.
Today marked the beginning of the gorse and bracken cutting season, the former for oven-fuel, the latter for bedding.
Today in 1666 the Great Fire of London began in Pudding Lane.
About two thirds of the city was burned down, including St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Exchange and about 100 parish churches. The conflagration commenced in the house of a baker, in Pudding Lane, near the Tower and, being favoured by a high wind, continued for three nights and days, until it ended at a spot called Pye Corner in Giltspur Street.
3rd St Gregory the Great’s Day
c 540-604. Elected Pope in 590, he preached, wrote books and music, giving his name to the tones known as ‘Gregorian’. His emblem is a dove.
Lacemakers were allowed to light candles on this day to work by, and could do so until Shrove Tuesday.
Oliver Cromwell died on this day in 1658. His death was preceded by the worst storm of the seventeenth century.
“Tossed in a furious hurricane
Did Oliver give up his reign.”
On the Monday after the first Sunday after 4th September the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is held in Staffordshire. The horns are collected from the church by the six dancers. Each set is attached to a carved wooden deer head to which a handle has been fitted. They spend the day touring the district accompanied by ‘Maid Marion’, a fool, a hobby horse, a bowman, an accordionist and someone playing the triangle. They can often travel over a distance of ten miles, dancing and stopping along the way. It is thought to be very old. The horns date back to the eleventh century. Whatever the origins, the dance has been performed without a break up to the present day and draws great crowds of people to watch.
In the first weekend in September the Eccles Wake in Lancashire was held, at which the famous Eccles cakes were sold.
Fairs held today included
Barnet, London, which took place from the 4th to the 6th;
Eccles Wake, and
It was said,
The first rain after Crewkerne Fair,
Is the first rain of winter.
A heavy crop of berries, and especially hips and haws and rowanberries, presages a hard winter.
‘Many haws, many snows.’
On this day in 1838 Grace Darling, whose father had the Longstone Lighthouse, on one of Northumberland’s Farne Islands, rowed out in rough seas to save the crew of the ‘Forfarshire’ and rescued nine drowning men.
‘Shout, ye waves! Send forth a song of triumph
. . . Ye screaming sea-mews in the concert join!’
The Battle of Flodden, near Branxton, in Northumberland, took place today in 1513 between James IV of Scotland and the English forces, led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.
King Henry VIII was engaged in the invasion of France at the time. It resulted in the defeat and death of James IV, the slaughter of nearly thirty of his nobles and chiefs, and the loss of about 10,000 men. James had been a popular and very respected King.
The flowers of the forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The pride of our land, lie cold in the clay.
Still from the sire the son shall hear
Of the stern strife and carnage drear,
Of Flodden’s fatal field,
Where shivered was fair Scotland’s spear
And broken was her shield!
Sir Walter Scott – Marmion (1808)
Finally, on this day William I of England, known as William the Conqueror, died in 1087.
Widdecombe Fair is held on the second Tuesday of the month. The fair is perhaps most famous because of the song associated with it –
Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare,
All along, down along, out along, lee,
For I want for to go to Widdecombe Fair
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
General James Wolfe died on this day in 1759, in a battle between the English and the French, at the plains of Abraham in Quebec.
His last words, as he lay dying, were, ‘How goes the battle?’ When given the news that ‘Quebec is all our own, none can contend it,’ he expired with the words, ‘I die contented.’
He became the subject of several songs and ballads after his death.
14th – Rood Day and Holy Cross Day
Fairs that were held today died out with the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It is an important day for odd goings on in the weather world.
If dry be the buck’s horn on Holyrood morn,
’tis worth a kist of gold;
But if wet it be seen ere Holyrood E’en,
bad harvest is foretold.
If the hart and the hind meet dry and part dry on Rood Day fair,
For sax weeks, of rain there’ll be nae mair.
In 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was introduced, this day followed 2nd September and there were riots by people demanding their eleven days back.
There is traditionally an 86 per cent chance of good weather today. It is said that September 15th will be fine six years out of seven.
16th – St Edith of Wilton’s Day
St Edith lived in the 10th century and was the sister of Edward the Martyr. St Edith’s well in Kensing in Kent is said to be good for curing eye complaints. Two more wells are named after her in Stoke Edith, Hereford, and at Church Eaton, Staffordshire. She lived at Wilton Priory, Wiltshire, and turned down the throne after her brother died.
On this day in 1620 The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth bound for North America carrying the Pilgrim Fathers.
Woodbury Hill Fair used to commence today, a massive sheep fair held on the site of an Iron Age fort near Bere Regis, Dorset.
19th – St Theodore of Tarsus 620-690, Archbishop of Canterbury
The weather on the 20th, 21st and 22nd supposedly indicates the weather outlook for the next three months respectively.
On the Saturday nearest the 20th September the Ashby Statute Fair is held. This was once an important hiring fair, but has now long been a pleasure fair.
On this day in 1327 Edward II was murdered at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire.
In Kent and other hop growing counties September was the month when casual workers from London and elsewhere would arrive for the hop-picking season.
‘Haste, haste then and strip, as it bends from the pole
The fruit that gives vigour and strength to the soul.
Our hearts and our spirits to cheer
It warms and enlivens the true British beer.’
The Harvest Moon is the first full moon after the 21st September. It is the moon at its most potent. It symbolises the fertile earth and an abundant harvest.
The man in the moon is said to be Cain or Endymion. But the traditional British explanation is that it was a woodcutter put there because he went stick collecting on a Sunday. The bundle of twigs, a lantern and a dog are features that can still appear to be seen.
The man in the moon came down too soon
And asked his way to Norwich.
He went to the south and burnt his mouth
By eating cold plum porridge.
21st – St Matthew
He lived in the 1st century. His usual symbol is an angel, moneybag or sword. St Matthew’s Day falls close to the autumnal equinox, which marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. It is time to close the beehives for the year (‘St Matthee shut up the bee’) and to prepare for the darker nights ahead (‘St Matthew get candlesticks new’). It is also one of the two days known as Devil’s Nutting Day, when it is unwise to go off to the woods to gather hazelnuts.
St Matthew’s Day bright and clear
Brings good wine in next year.
Devil’s Nutting Day
Holy Cross Day is one of two days, also known as Devil’s Nutting Day, the other being St Matthew’s Day (21st September). It is said that those who went nutting on this day would meet the Devil. The Devil was said to also go nutting on a Sunday.
The Devil, as some people say,
A Nutting goes Holy-Rood day.
Let women then their children keep
At home that day, better asleep
They were, or cattle for to tend
Than nutting go, and meet the fiend;
But if they’ll not be ruled by this,
Blame me not if they do amiss.
Poor Robin’s Almanac (1693)
28th – Michaelmas Eve
Michael was patron saint of the sea. In Lincolnshire Michaelmas Eve bonfires were lit today, and seed was scattered on the land for the birds to forage. This brought good luck to the farm.
29th – Michaelmas
Over 600 churches are dedicated to St Michael. Michael does not fit the usual saint’s profiles. For a start he is not a mortal, but an Angel – the prince of all angels, in fact. It was Michael who evicted Lucifer and threw him from heaven.
Michael is the angel who receives risen souls and weighs them in the balance – the basis of his patronage of grocers.
Many pagan sites were reconsecrated to St Michael after the coming of Christianity.
Michaelmas is one of the four days on which quarterly rents are paid.
And when the tenants come to pay their quarters’ rent
They bring some fowl at midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose,
And somewhat else at New Years’ tide, for fear their lease fly loose.
George Gascoigne (1575)
Michaelmas was the end of harvest, often the end of the farming year itself. And that meant dozens of fairs, trading in people and livestock.
‘Now Michaelmas is coming, boys what pleasure we shall find,
We’ll make the gold and silver fly like chaff before the wind.’
Michaelmas’s name still continues in the names of some colleges’ autumn terms.
A clear sunny show on the Michaelmas weather front means a fine but cold winter ahead. Alternatively the saying is, ‘A dark Michaelmas, a light Christmas.’
At Michaelmas or a little before,
Half the apples thrown away with the core.
At Christmastime or a little bit after,
If it’s as sour as a crab
It’s thank you, master.
So many days old the moon is on
Michaelmas Day so many floods after.
Michaelmas chickens and parsons’ daughters
Never come to good.
After the corn was cut, it was common practice to let geese into the fields of stubble ‘to go a-stubbling’. They would peck up the grains lying scattered on the ground, fattening themselves up.
Goose was the traditional item on the menu during the feasting at Michaelmas.
‘If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day
You will never want money all the year round.’
There were several goose fairs. The great Nottingham Goose Fair began on 2nd October and lasted three weeks, during which many geese, especially those reared in the fens of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, were marketed. To travel such long distances the feet of the geese were covered in tar mixed with sand to protect them from the rough road.
The Battle of Stamford Bridge took place on this day in Yorkshire in 1066 between the Saxon King Harold II of England and King Harald III of Norway, who had designs on the English throne. Harald was supported by Harold’s brother, Tostig. Both died on the battlefield.
The exhausted Harold marched south to meet William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, where he was mortally wounded by an arrow in the eye.
30th – St Jeromes Day.331-419
He was born into a wealthy Italian family and became a doctor. It is said he was travelling in Africa when he came across a lion with a thorn in his foot. At great risk he removed the thorn, freeing the lion from pain. Years later he was captured by the Romans and made to face a freshly captured lion in the Coliseum.
It seems it was the same lion, because instead of ripping him apart it merely lay down next to Jerome. For years after Jerome and the lion toured Italy displaying the same routine to the crowds.
He is the patron saint of students.
On this day in 1399 Henry Bolingbroke rode to his Coronation in driving rain. It was said that he ‘arrived dry, as God had preserved him from the elements’. He became the first of the Lancastrian kings.
On the last Wednesday in September, Bridgwater Fair is held.