Beerfordbury History Notes

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Hock tide - an explanation or two

The other day I found myself reading some tales of old Hertfordshire and one particular story created a spark of interest. It was about Hocktide in Hexham and I will relate their strange custom shortly, but following up my newly sparked interest I sat browsing the Internet and came up with some interesting? facts about Hocktide (which up to this point I must admit I had thought was a name made up by a certain author of mummers plays beloved of Stortfolk).

Firstly there seems to be some discrepancy in the actual date of this celebration for according to the magical pagan journal "New Moon Rising of Medford, Oregon, U.S.A" (although how they know anything about Olde English customs is beyond me) and according to the "Witches’ Web of Days" the Hocktide festival falls on 9th April in England and celebrates the triumph of Saxon She-Warriors over Danish invaders in the days of Ethelred about 1002. (Maybe we ought to revive that one ladies).

The Morris tradition, however, follows the convention that Hocktide falls on the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter and indeed these days were kept for a long time as a festival with various traditional customs. The Thames Valley Morris still celebrate Hocktide in Kingston, Devon following this ancient custom and they dance out on this occasion with a special appearance by the Cake Bearer who appears as a distributor of luck and fertility.

In Hexton Hoctide signified a period of scorn and contempt which fell upon the Danes after the death of Hardicanute (son of King Canute who, as a matter of interest, has wrongly earned his place in history as a madman trying to turn back the tide when in fact he was trying to prove the point that the tide cannot be stopped, however I digress).

In Hungerford, Berks they celebrate Hocktide in memory of John of Gaunt, the 14th century prince and crusader on the second Tuesday after Easter but I can find no reference as to why they should do this (any ideas on a postcard please to

There is a school of thought that the surname Hockaday, which was first recorded in Ashwater, Devon in 1563 originated from Hock Day or High Day and that some people took the name if they were born during the festival of "Hocktide" which was the season of the hock days

Hock Day (Hokeday, hockedai, hokeday, Hock Tuesday) was a religious high day and a traditional day for paying rents, settling debts, satisfying other financial obligations and collection of funds for community purposes. It was celebrated with sports and games..

One local game recorded in the early 17th century although even then it was considered "quaint" appears to have been played something along these lines

A man and a woman were elected as the Hockers whose function it was to provide the ale and order the feast. They also carried a birch broom each:

The healthy adults of the village would traipse to the top of the highest local hill where a long ash pole would have been driven into the ground. The women would swarm up and around the pole and haul and heave at it until they managed to pull it down. As soon as it was on the ground the women would try to push it to the bottom of the hill while the men would try to push it to the top. A great joke was that just as the women were making a huge effort and winning the men would all let go together causing the women to tumble down the hill in a heap. Even so the women would not give up and eventually after lots of tussling and struggling and several such tumbles they made it to the foot of the hill and level ground. The women would immediately lay about the men and with the help of the Hockers and their brooms they would thrust the weaker of the men into the ditches and the brooks smearing them with mud. This would carry on for two or three hours until they succeeded in bringing the pole and their muddy companions to the cross in front of the Town House where they would set the pole up again.

There the rest of the village would be waiting and the feast would begin in great good humour all birches, brooks and besmearings being immediately forgotten. After the feast money was collected, part of which was given to the poor and the rest to the churchwardens to repair the church and its bells.

Well folks what say you should we revive this one, there are a few people I wouldn’t mind besmirching and besmearing or laying about with my broom.


Carys Roberts 1999

Which elicited this charming response from John H Scott of California, who has been awarded Member of the Order of Cecil (temp) as a result;

>From: JHS >To:

>Subject: Fwd: BBTWTA
>Date: Tue, 09 May 2000 11:37:25 -0700

So, in order to escape from actually working, I decided to learn a bit more about Hocktide, and came upon the delightful Beerfordbury Bugle! THAT kept me from honest labor for a LONG time, thank you. Thought you might be interested in this little bit of info from "Forgotten English" by Jeffrey Kacirk:

From the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, a strange custom took place on Tuesday, a fortnight after Easter. On this day, also called "Hock Tuesday," women went into the streets and crossroads, accosting men and binding them until they purchased their release by a small contribution of money, which was said to be used for "parochial purposes." Naturally, a "hocking-ale" was brewed for this occasion, which commemorated the death of Anglo-Saxon King Hardicanut in 1042.
After the 1500s, money could no longer be demanded legally, but this event was considered "one of great importance" according to one 1854 account. 
Ale and bondage....a wonderful combination which should, I believe, be revived!
I also noted some alternative wassails in the Bugle, and if you are soliciting same, please consider a humble contribution.

(To be sung to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy) or listen to the BBTWTA rehearsing it

Wassail, wassail! Come we singing,
Beerfordbury's happy band,
Seeking for our missing village
In each pub across the land.
Alms, we beg thee, for the needy;
For ourselves we seek but beer!
Landlord, fill each glass a-brimming,
While we sing of Christmas cheer.

Wassail, wassail! Landlord, stint not;
Fill each firkin with the best.
Patrons, fill our purses also;
By the poor you will be blest.
Then our wandering shall continue,
Cecil leading on before,
'Til in Beerfordbury Village
Sing we wassail evermore.

A joyous hocktide and happy mumming.
John H. Scott
Los Angeles