Monday, 21 November 2011

Book of the Week (21st November 2011)

The 1875 ‘Mock Festival’ and the Tale of a Drunk Man’s Tail

In addition to its fine medieval manuscript and printed book collection, the Cathedral Library holds around 20,000 archive documents relating to the Dean and Chapter.  These documents range from early monastic registers to the latest Chapter minutes.  Among the more interesting and unique archives are the ‘scrap books’ which contain newspaper cuttings, poems and other ephemera connected to momentous events in the Cathedral’s history.  Today’s ‘Book of the Week’, compiled by the Lay Clerk, James G. Smith, in 1906, is one such example.

Now part of our music library, Smith’s book (A.1.10) records the controversy which arose prior to the 1875 Three Choirs Festival, an annual event organised by the Cathedrals of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester.  Following the extensive restoration of Worcester Cathedral during the 1860s and 70s, Dean Yorke and a number of his Chapter considered that it was no longer appropriate to stage secular music festivals in the nave.  This decision caused widespread consternation, both within the Cathedral itself and in the town and surrounding area more generally; the Festival was one of the highlights of the civic calendar.  Smith’s scrap book charts the escalation of the argument, including clippings from both the national and local press, and a satirical poem published in Punch magazine.  It also includes personal responses to the event, such as the wonderfully acerbic epitaph ‘In Memory of the Worcester Musical Festival, Died September 1875’.  Such was the ill-feeling in Worcester that effigies of Dean Yorke and Canon Barry, another vocal opponent of the Three Choirs Festival, were burned on Pitchcroft.  Although a Festival was staged in 1875, its programme was limited to sacred works, which critics were quick to dub the ‘Mock Festival’ or the ‘Sham Festival’.  Smith’s book even contains a copy of a satirical poster advertising the event (see image below).  The ‘Mock Festival’ remains one of the most colourful episodes in the history of the Three Choirs event, and this little scrap book is a fascinating document of contemporary accounts and attitudes.

‘Never before Suspected’:  Alongside the cuttings relating to the Mock Festival and the activities of Dean Yorke and Canon Barry, James Smith also included a couple of yarns which neatly reflect the Victorian taste for the absurd.  One of them relates the story of a drunken man knocked over by a 60lb dog with a milk-pan attached to its tail.  On impact the dog lost both the pan and a portion of its tail.  The inebriated man, sore from landing on his backside, noticed the piece of tail lying in the road and assumed that it had once belonged to him.  Bemoaning his failure to fully capitalise on his tail before he lost it, the man set off in search of his next drink!  One must certainly learn to expect the unexpected in a Cathedral Library archive...

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