Survivals

Within the archives of Garforth Historical Society, are to be found a series of photostats of conversations had with some of Garforths elderly inhabitants, conducted by members of the Society. The recordings were wisely made, for most of these elderly folk are now gone from amongst us, and with them their memories. The task was not easily accomplished, for, though the contributors were ready enough to talk about old times, the sight of a tape-recorder was enough to silence many.

One ready contributor was Vic Stead, a man not easily forgotten by those who knew him. He might have been sighted, during the 1960's, on almost any road around Garforth, stepping it out, a slender figure, in a tightly-belted blue, raincoat, weathered by repeated outings in rain or shine. It was his boast that he was free to walk, as he pleased, anywhere around Garforth. He was a countryman, such a person as William Wordsworth would have interested himself in, and he knew Garforth as few of us can, for he had walked all over it. He belonged to a generation of pedestrians.

Amongst Vic Stead's recollections of vanished times and places in Garforth, such as 'The Bride's Retreat,' he described a custom, current when he was young, but now lapsed or modified. It consisted of throwing heated coins from the wedding carriage of the newly united couple. How it was done, who now knows; but the coins had to be hot enough to sting the hands of the children collecting them. I have photographs from a more recent ceremony, showing children picking up coins in what is clearly a parallel event. The point of it, they clearly will feel, is the married couple's generosity in providing them with pocket money in fact, the real point, traditionally, was to get the children's hands burning, for fire was one of the four elements of fertility: Earth; Air; Fire and Water.

'Ducking for Apples' is a similar event. The point of it appears to be to get a bite of the apple. The real point is to get wet, so that one's affairs in the coming year will prosper. Vic Stead's marriage took place in the early years of the Twentieth century, so that it can be claimed that these fertility beliefs had survived until then, if only as Halloween games .The transmission of these games from one generation to another is readily acceptable, given the long winter nights and the lack of a television service. More puzzling is 'Old Brassy Dixon' Brassy Dixon was a real live Garfordian who lived at Manor Farm. But in Garforth schools, prior to the Second World War, there was a skipping rhyme which bore his name. It ran, as follows:

Old Brassy Dixon had a grey mare

Its legs were thin, and its back was bare.

They took it down to Barrowby Wood

To see t'would do fold 'oss any good

'oss were blind and couldn't see,

It banged its head ag'in a tree

So they blamed Brassy Dixon for not going straight.

Now, the naming of a well-known local person appears to fix this rhyme in time, and the naming of Barrowby Wood appears to fix its locality, but the event describes a procedure which seems pointless to the modern observer; but the ancient Celts of Elmet would have understood. (The Goddess Epona would have ensured that) How did it get into a twentieth century skipping rhyme? There surely is no continuity here! Horsy people are conservative folk and preserve many old usages, but one as old as this?

Earlier this year, whilst on holiday, my family and I visited Hungerford. We had been in that vicinity before, but had never actually visited the town, Stonehenge and the like taking priority. Well, a charming old town we found it, with warren -like arcades of shops into which one might vanish and be seen no more. Emerging from one of these labyrinths, we searched desperately for a public toilet. There was none to be seen, so we availed ourselves of the amenities offered by the 'Tutti-Pole Tea-Shoppe' To judge from the name of the establishment, the Tea-Shoppe held a franchise to sell the latest ice-cream from Italy. Ice-cream was certainly for sale there, but home-bred, and offering varieties, appealing more to a taste for homely flavours than anything exotic. The 'Tutti poles' it turned out were the staffs of office of the Tutti Men, officials of the ancient borough. The term 'Tutti,' derives from the word 'nosegay' and the tutti poles are decorated with blue ribbons, a wreathe of spring flowers, and an orange at the tip of each pole. Every year, at Hochtide, the second Sunday after Easter, a jury of Commoners is elected to preside over the Hochtide court, names being drawn out of a hat. Office holders are responsible for the ancient Borough. It is a time for sports and festivities, and the collection of Parish rents. As in 'Ducking for apples', the pleasure- pain principles are tightly intertwined.

At 8 a.m. on Tutti Day, the Town Crier blows an ancient bugle-horn to summon the commoners to court. At 9 a.m. the Constable appears with two Tithing men (Tutti-men) and an Orangeman. The Tutti- men collect a penny from each householder and in return for a kiss from each lady of the house, they give her an orange! Children follow the three officials, scrambling for coins and oranges.

These Tutti- Men trace the whole of the Borough, following the boundary even down the middle of the River Kennet. In formal dress, Tutti-Poles and garlands in hand, they get thoroughly wet. See photo below...

River Kennet

What a rich pattern of ancient survivals we have here, not merely the trappings of ancient borough, but links with fertility beliefs that reach back beyond these shores to our anthropological roots. The tutti poles; for example, are symbols of authority not weapons of offence. They proclaim the bearer's right to perform his office; they are at one with sceptres, batons, wands, and churchwardens' staffs. As such they go back to the very beginnings of human society; but these rods are invested with the bitter-sweet lure of Nature itself,' you can't have the gain, if you don't have the pain.'