Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Alternative Easter Celebrations in Nineteenth-Century Worcestershire

What will you be doing to celebrate Easter this year?  Chances are you won’t be grating up a year-old hot cross bun to create your own medicine, or indulging in a spot of ‘heaving’ in Kidderminster.  But 150 years ago you may have been doing just that.  John Noake’s 1856 work, Notes and Queries on Worcestershire, describes a variety of curious customs observed in the county, including those reserved for Easter Week.

Good Friday, according to Noake, was ‘the occasion of great superstition’.  It was widely believed that things planted on that day would grow more abundantly than if they had been sown at any other time.  However, bad luck could also befall you if you had washing out, or failed to empty your washtub before Good Friday.

Baking hot cross buns at Easter is a custom which continues to this day.  However, in Noake’s time, they were thought ‘never to grow mouldy, and if kept for twelve months and then grated into some liquor, will prove a great soother of stomach ache’.  Noake reported that ‘the superstitious frequently preserved Good Friday buns from year to year, from the belief in their efficacy in the cure of diseases.’

Another Easter custom in Worcestershire was ‘Heaving’ or ‘Lifting’.  In the 1850s Noake commented that this practice had not long been discontinued in the Birdport area of the city.  ‘Heaving’ occurred on Easter Monday, and was a reference to the resurrection of Christ.  On that day, ‘the women would surround any man who happened to be passing by, and by their joint efforts lift him up in the air, and on the next day the men did the same to the women’.  Men could only escape by paying for drinks.  In Kidderminster, the women ‘would deck themselves gaily for the occasion’, ‘dress a chair with ribbons, and place a rope across the street to prevent the escape of any unfortunate man who chanced to pass that way’.  The man was lifted up in the chair, turned three times around then kissed by each of the women.  He also had to contribute to the evening’s festivities of ‘tea and dancing’.  At Hartlebury it was considered good luck if a male servant ‘heaved’ a female servant, because it meant she would not break any crockery during the following year.

So here's wishing you a very lucky Easter from Worcester Cathedral Library!

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