June 20, 2012
Midsummer isn’t much celebrated in Britain these days. There are a few revived festivals around – in Cornwall, especially – but most people’s ‘celebration’ is restricted to a TV news clip of folks at Stonehenge having a knees-up, courtesy of English Heritage.
Summer Solstice, Stonehenge copyright A Dunn
Most of Britain’s midsummer festivities – including Cumbria’s – were dying out by the end of the 17th century1, although there is evidence that they lingered in the north of the county into the mid 19th century2.
read more »
May 18, 2011
Not that long ago – until only 150 years or so – if your cattle came down with murrain or foot and mouth, there was a solution. The ‘need fire’.
Each household extinguished their hearth fire, then a new, communal fire was lit using friction, either with flints or by rubbing sticks together. Damp wood was added to the fire to create a lot of smoke, then the village’s cattle and swine1 were driven through the smoke in order of age. The householders then lit a brand in the communal fire, and re-lit their domestic hearth.
The cattle-curing aspect may be the last surviving memory of something much more significant. Today, we might wonder if the smoke or the heat had some affect on the micro-organisms that were causing the illness, and hence if there was some logical, albeit hit-and-miss, basis for believing this might work. And perhaps this is true, but, of course, knowledge of bacteria is recent, and this tradition is not. Two hundred – and two thousand - years ago, people feared the cause was otherworldly.
read more »
January 19, 2011
For a few years in the middle of the eighteenth century, this fellside on the eastern edge of Blencathra was the the site of spectacular scenes.
The first sighting was on Midsummer’s Eve in 1735. A servant of Mr Lancaster watched a procession of ‘soldiers’, some on foot, some mounted, progress across the fell. He reported his sighting, but was widely abused. Two years later, Mr Lancaster himself, with other members of his family, witnessed the sight; on this occasion, they noted that the procession was five men deep, with mounted ‘officers’ riding around to keep them in order. No one believed Mr Lancaster’s report, either.
read more »