Customs in the Penistone Area

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Good Friday Flour Ceremony
This Good Friday tradition has continued for more than three centuries in Penistone. Bags of flour are handed out by Penistone Mayor to the 'Poor of the Parish of Penistone' in Penistone Church's 'Sensory Gardens', following a family service in Penistone Parish Church.

In 1559 William Turton (landowner of Denby) bequeathed a legacy of 'One Quarter of Rie to the Poor of the Parish of Penistone' every Good Friday, from the church porch, presumably by the Reverend. This is written on a large panel which can still be viewed in Penistone Church. Until the Town Hall was built in 1914, flour was given out from the church porch, after which it was distributed on the Town Hall steps by the Council Clerk. After Local Government Reorganisation of 1974, it became a mayoral duty, as Penistone now had a Town rather than a Parish Council and could have a mayor. In more recent times, the lower graveyard was renovated to become a 'Sensory Garden' and this became the place for the ceremony.

The picture below shows Penistone's Mayor of 2011, Cllr Carol Bradbury handing out the flour with the Bishop of Wakefield, Rt Rev Stephen Platten, watching on. An open service took place half an hour later in the Market Barn on a bright, sunny day. This was possibly the first time that the then new Market Barn had been used for a public event which wasn't a market.

Flour bequestBarn serviceWR directory scan (1)

The West Riding Directory of 1837 had some details (click the third thumbnail above and read the penultimate paragraph): 'Three Yearly Doles belong to the poor of the parish, viz., one quarter of rye, left by Wm. Turton, in 1559, out of a farm in Hoxley Gate, in Denby; 26s. 8d. left by Edward Booth, out of lands at Dean Head, near Hunshelf; and 20s. left by Wm. Rich, in 1673, out of lands at Hornthwaite.'

It continues:
'The poor of Penistone township have the rents of three cottages, purchased with £25 left by Fras. Burdett, Wm. Sotwell, and Joanna Swift. They have also two yearly rent charges , viz., 20s. left by Sir Thurston Bycliff and Alderman Micklethwaite, out of a farm at Silkstone; and 3s. left by John Wordsworth, out of Water Hall estate'.

Mr Turton's rye was changed to flour in 1905 (Penistone Almanac 1907) and given out in the porchway of Penistone Church. After the Town Hall was built in 1914, the large bags of flour were given away on the Town Hall steps, by the Council Clerk. After 1973/4, Penistone Urban District Council became a Town Council under 'Local Government Reorganisation' and acquired a Mayor. Following improvements to the lower end of the graveyard around 2008, to make it a 'Sensory Garden' the Flour Ceremony moved there and became a mayoral duty, with the reverend providing spiritual support.

Maundy Thursday 'Ale and Cake Day'
But we can see that the poor of Penistone are now missing out on another freebie: 'Ale and Cake Day'. Again from the West Riding Directory of 1837:

'The trustees of Shrewsbury Hospital, in Sheffield, are proprietors of the Great Tithes of Penistone, subject to the following yearly payments, viz., 6s 8d. for the reparation of the church windows; 6s. 8d. for the poor; and 3s. 4d. for bread and ale for the poor, on the Thursday before Easter.' The Charity Report of 1927 agreed but said that the sum of 6s 8d was not asked for nor received in the later years. It goes on: 'Bread and Ale continue to be distributed on the Thursday before Easter (Maundy Thurday) in the chancel of the church of Penistone, by one of the tenants of the trustees of the hospital'.

Some time between the 1837 Directory and the early years of the next century, the bread had become cake. A photo which has popped up on Facebook showing a group of people outside the walls of Penistone churchyard, next to the south entrance, where a banking rises above the road. There is a mixed group of 29 children standing on the road (no pavement at that time). A line of men four stands behind them on the banking, carrying jugs of ale and a basket. A futher line of seven children leans against the church wall above them. Everyone has a hat or bonnet on of some sort.

The caption read: 'Ale and Cake Day Maundy Thursday Discontinued 190(x)' The 'x' might be 5, 8 0r 9, as the last digit was cut off in the picture.

'Spaw Sunday'
Penistone Mug from Hallmark Card ShopThis event dates back centuries on the first Sunday of May. Gunthwaite Spa lies about 2 Miles North of Penistone (OS: SE 2431 0614). Its waters are supposed to have miraculous healing powers, if taken in the morning. The history of this annual event is lost in the mists of time but it certainly dates back several centuries.

There are old reports of it being a meeting of 'gentry and peasantry' in the middle ages but you can be sure that the hard-working poor also joined in the festivities, which would have included music and beer. At one time it had become so boisterous and drunken that it was actually banned. In the early 17th century, bathing in the cold 'chalybeate' spring waters was thought to bring good health but this custom goes back much earlier than that.

Originally, the water came from a spring emerging by a little stream and rough undergrowth bordering the road. A later improvement at Gunthwaite was an iron pipe sticking out of the wall with a metal cup hanging on a chain. The visitor would stand in the pool of spa water to enjoy it and this arrangement also suggested the possibility of bathing. They would have shrugged off the cold water in those harder times.

A newspaper report in the 1980s said that a grandmother with arthritis and a spinal disease had made a great improvement after visiting the Spa over a two-week period. Within three years she was 'Fit as a fiddle'. One old report was that the waters could cure baldness.

The pipe eventually corroded and the cup became battered and worn. Around the 1990s, the spa was renovated again. This time, it was set apart from the road and tidied up with a neat stone surround. Barnsley MB Council's health inspectors declared it 'fit to drink'. Actually the water is very clear and pure and easily drinkable. Its taste is often described as having a hint of 'rotten eggs', with a mildly sulphurous smell.

From an unspecified old book:
'From time immemorial the first Sunday of May was called Spa Sunday, when people came from far and near to drink the water at Gunthwaite Spa. Stalls were set up to feed the people, and it must have been a gay and lively sight to see them singing and dancing by the water's edge. Little is known of its origin, but people in the district had wonderful faith in the spring water, and looked upon it as a "cure all." Other days the spring was just "water" but the first Sunday in May it assumed miraculous properties. Pilgrims brought bottles or cups, and "supped" the water, supposed to come from a nearby silver mine. An old work records that the Spa was good for "scurvy," inflammations, liver complaints and other disorders.'

SpaSpa Sunday
Spa SundaySpaThurlstone Brass Band

As a communal event it is often well attended. Usually, Thurlstone Brass Band comes along to make it more of an occasion and typically with someone making tea and selling buns. In 2011 perhaps fifty people turned up, tasted the waters and sat around listening to the band. It is the perfect excuse for a pleasant walk from Penistone.

Collop Monday
An old custom for Shrove Monday had been widespread but died out in the 19th century. According to the Penistone historian John Ness Dransfield, people ate eggs and collops on Shrove Monday in our area. Collops were slices of bacon. Of course, the old pancake tradition of Shrove Tuesday still continues as always but nobody remembers the collops and eggs tradition these days.

Whitsuntide Walk
Whit Sunday or Whitsuntide is the name used in the UK for the Christian festival of Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter. Preparations for the Whitsuntide Walk would go on for months ready for a big procession. It was an important event on our local calendar and a great occasion for the children to wear their Sunday best or new clothes. It would be attended by schools, churches and chapels and more besides. Schools would take the lead in rotation each year and it was considered a great honour. Thurlstone Brass Band would play, people would sing and every church and chapel had a banner. The procession went all the way from Penistone to Millhouse Green, when I was small. After the event, children might go back for organised teas and games.

Whitsuntide was popular with churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike, with the same or a greater level of support as today's Penistone Mayor's Parade. It continued until the government changed the public holiday a few decades ago. It was as though the Government had abolished Whitsuntide and the parades fizzled out.

Whitsun Parade in Thurlstone Whitsun

Here are a couple of 1933 pictures of the crowd in Thurlstone waiting for the Whitsuntide Parade to come by. There are more on the old pictures page.

Penistone Feast Weekend
It is most likely that Penistone Feast would have come from the 'Feast of St John the Baptist', from the Saint whom Penistone Parish Church is dedicated to. In later times, 'Penistone Feast' came ro mean Marshall's funfair, and later still, Tuby's Funfair which replaced Marshall's. It is still sometimes called 'Penistone Feast Weekend' but Tuby's now comes to Penistone twice a year, Spring and Autumn.

The original feast or fair would have been quite different. Chris Heath's book 'Denby and District IV' (p124) gives some insight into feasts and fairs as popular entertainments in the 19th century. The early attractions would have been such as fortune tellers, Punch & Judy, waxworks, freak shows, jugglers, fire-eaters, illusionists and peep shows. Chris describes refreshments as typically being hot peas, gingerbread and nuts but we could assume more than a few beers too.

Feasts were very popular occasions as a diversion from working in harder times and when many people worked six days a week. Mechanised funfairs were not common in those days and would have been simpler affairs than today, perhaps with a simple carousel, roll-a-penny, shooting gallery and perhaps some boxing. You can imagine the strappling great farm labourers volunteering to take on the fair's boxer, or join in the tug-o'-war.

St John's Festival and Penistone Sing
Penistone Church holds a St John's Festival each year, to commemorate the Saint to which the church is dedicated. It has stalls and the visitors can go up the tower to see the bells, clock and bell-ringers. From 1885/6 until the late 1960s or early 1970s, Penistone Church also organised Penistone Sing on the first Sunday after the Feast (or 'Nativity') of St John, 24th June. St John is unusual in the church calendar in that it is his birth which is commemorated, rather than his death. In some countries, the Festival of St John is celebrated on St. John's Eve, 23rd June. See the 1880s timeline for more background to its formation.

From a shaky recollection, the Sing lasted about an hour and was mostly hymns being sung in the open air near the Showground. Most Facebook entries on the subject favoured the old Vicarage lawn in fine weather and Penistone Church if wet, with Arnold White as secretary, taking donations. Another entry suggested land near the Showground, as I thought.

The Sing went into decline and disappeared through: lack of support, a run of bad weather and, perhaps, weak advertising. Rumours of its return resurfaced from time to time but without fruition. A later attempt came about with a one-off Penistone 'Annual Folk Festival' as a sort of Sing replacement but with more appeal. That might have continued but for Barnsley Council's haphazard booking system for the Market Barn which allowed a clash between an Artisan Fayre and the Folk Festival the following year. See the Folk Festival Page.

The Boundary Walk
The 'Beating the Bounds' was an old English custom which even goes back to pre-conquest days. A parade of old and young villagers would walk the boundaries of the parish led by the parish priest and church officials. It would traditionally have been at ‘Rogationtide’. Rogation Sunday is the fifth Sunday after Easter. Village boys (including the choirboys) would have been beaten at each boundary stone or bumped into each stone, so that they would never forget the boundaries and where the boundary stones were. Prayers would be said for protection and blessings on the land. The tradition is well explained here.

From Wikipedia: 'The ceremony had an important practical purpose. Checking the boundaries was a way of preventing encroachment by neighbours; sometimes boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and a folk memory of the true extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of borders by embedding knowledge in oral traditions.'  The boundaries would also define which people had a right to be buried at their local church.

In olden times, boundaries were very important and disputes erupted between adjacent communities which could lead to fighting or even murder. A boundary dispute between Holmfirth and Thurlstone had such an end in the days when anywhere between Holmfirth and Thurlstone was nearly all moorland. The justice system at that time had depended on the status of the complainants and nobody was charged with murder (see History Timeline 1524).

In modern times, the children are less likely to be beaten (!) and the procession is no longer led by the parish priest, which is a shame really, but the boundary walks continue separately around Oxspring, Penistone and Thurgoland. Local Boundary Walks are usually held for charitable purposes but they help to keep an old tradition alive. Unfortunately they do not stick to the traditional date, although they won't be far off. Penistone's Charity Boundary Walk is organised by Penistone Round Table and it starts and finishes at Cubley Hall each year. See Visit Penistone for a map of the walk.

Remembrance Day
Poppy Appeal RBLThis procession and public assembly continues to be well supported and does not show signs of diminishing. The procession always includes plenty of uniforms and banners and includes Penistone Scouts & Cubs, British Legion dignitaries and town councillors. It also includes serving members of the armed forces when they are available. The procession starts from Back Lane by the Bowling Club (not the other Back Lane by the Market Barn). It proceeds along Park Avenue and along Market Street, on to Shrewsbury Road and assembles with the rest of the community at the War Memorial outside Penistone Church.

The names of the fallen are commemorated and a few words of Remembrance are uttered. Then the clock chimes eleven o'clock. Two minutes of contemplative silence follows to be concluded by a bugled 'Last Post'. The procession and public continues inside Penistone Church for the Remembrance Service. After the service, the procession re-convenes and heads down St Mary's Street towards the Royal British Legion, for restorative beers. In recent times, there is also a Remembrance Ceremony at Penistone Grammar School, on the Friday before Remembrance Sunday; attended by pupils, teachers, councillors and the Principal. PGS has a permanent memorial to its alumni fallen, near the car park entrance.

Penistone Community Bonfire
2011 fireThis commemorates the anniversary of the arrest of Guido 'Guy' Fawkes on 5th November 1605 for attempting to cause an explosion in a cellar beneath the House of Lords. This was called the 'Gunpowder Plot' and could have changed the course of our country's history, had it succeeded and killed the King and others.

"Remember, Remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I see no Reason why Gunpowder, Treason,
Should ever be Forgot..."

Of course, this is also a national event but Penistone always does a good job of Bonfire Night. It might also be called Guy Fawkes Night but never 'Fireworks Night' (RT please note), as that literally 'loses the Plot'. Please see the link to Bonfire page below, for much more about the history and our local efforts.

Penistone Show
Old Pen ShowNot so much a custom as a phenomenon. This has a long history (see Timeline 1854) and its location has moved around a bit. It was for a time held on what we now call Watermeadows Park (by the viaduct) and on fields near Church View Road. Its settled home is now 'The Showground', a recreational area donated to the people of Penistone many years ago. The Show has had a few near-misses of being nearly cancelled for a number of reasons. Some were the Foot & Mouth Disease, BSE in cattle and even a gun siege in the 1980s.

Parking is always a problem in Penistone and the Town Centre Car Park is time-limited. That is not enough either for Penistone town centre or Penistone Show but the show sensibly arranges for its own parking on the field. Employees of Tesco will turn away any Show visitors trying to use the sign-posted Penistone Town Centre car park (owned by Barnsley Council but run by Tesco). Penistone Show parking will be clearly sign-posted and marshalled an Penistone has easy access by railway. See Location.

Penistone Parade Weekend
This is a weekend of festivities and entertainment and is always a great magnet for visitors. The whole of Penistone will turn out to watch and play. There are effectively two separate events, a programme of music on Parade Saturday and the Penistone Mayor's Parade on Sunday, with a Gala for the afternoon on the Showground. The Parade is now fixed on the second Sunday of June and it goes back a long time in Penistone's history. It has variously passed through the council estate of Victoria St., Ward St, and Green Road or at one time down Shrewsbury Road. It used to go right through Spring Vale to return via Green Road.

Now in these mollycoddled times the route is far shorter and not may people are on foot. The route now is from Talbot Road (near the Police Station), up past the Royal British legion, along High Street and up Clarel Street. Around Bluebell and Park Avenue and back down the High St. It drops down to St Mary's Street roundabout and ends up near the Tesco for judging. In former times, Penistone Council was the organiser but these days it has been passed on to the Round Table, who do a wonderful job.

Penistone has always had parades of one sort or another, such as Whitsuntide (see above), VE day, the end of war, a passing visit by a King and Queen and various Royal milestones. There was even a Cycle Parade around 1913 but that is long forgotten now. Take a visit to Penistone Historic Archive on Market Day for some of our historic parades. It is in the Lower Hall of the Community Centre, Church Street, 10am to 1pm on Thursdays.

Parade Saturday is a relatively new happening, introduced in the 1990s, to make it more of a community weekend. It follows a similar format each year. It has a lively brass band and choral performance in the afternoon and a rock band in the evening. It all helps the sense of occasion for Parade Weekend and the music performances are in a Showground marquee with a bar and toilets. Cheapskates can listen for a while from a convenient bench seat on the Trans-Pennine Trail. Don't worry, it's a hard bench and they won't stay for long. See the Parade link below.

Penistone's Folk Festival
This made its debut in Penistone's new Market Barn, which is licenced for public performances, in June 2011. The Festival had a long list of performers and was a great success, partly helped by the good weather. Seating was a limited but it had a good supporting crowd, along with some passing trade from the supermarket. Highlights of the day were compiled into an excellent programme which was broadcast on Penistone FM (ah, the good old days). After another successful Festival in 2012 it was set (Barnsley Council permitting) to continue as an annual event. Unfortunately, the 2013 event was cancelled by the Markets people, who decided to give the Sunday booking to an Artisan Fayre instead and it did not happen again. Well not so far but, who knows?

The Market Barn structure was intended from the start to be more than just a marketplace but also a centre of public occasions and entertainment. It was effectively 'Christened' by an open air service on Good Friday 2011 (see above).

Artisan Fayre - Art at the Altar
Both of these events have proved to be popular. 'Artisan Fayres' are held in the Market Barn while 'Art at the Altar' events are in Penistone Church. There are two arts groups in the area with some common connections. These are Hens' Teeth and Pennine Artists (see the appropriate Links Page). An earlier attempt to set up an annual Penistone Arts Festival in association with PDCP did not continue after its 2008 debut. It was intended to cover a wide range of artistic mini-events, including interactive musical sculptures but there was some lack of co-ordination and it appeared to have 'more Chiefs than Indians'.

Yorkshire Day
This was never been a big event in Penistone and local shops do not always take any trouble to dress up their windows. However, 2006 was a different story when Penistone was chosen to host the event for the whole of Yorkshire. It certainly put us on the map, for a while.

The nobs came from all over Yorkshire in their publicly-financed finery and gold chains. Just about every mayor and council dignitary was in a procession and Penistone Church. Unfortunately the weather was not kind and, being on a working day, it was poorly supported on the streets. On the other hand, the church was completely packed out and some people had to watch from the vestibule, including yours truly. Then they all traipsed off to Penistone Grammar School (the old version) for a traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding meal, again financed by their own communities. In spite of the weather, it was a good day. See Penistone's 2006 Yorkshire Day.

MagiChristmas used to start a week or two before Christmas Day (not October as the TV adverts would have you believe). The trimmings went up on the 6th December, followed by the Christmas tree. Sometimes the children might make some trimmings at school with gummed paper rings in a chain. A place would be found for some holly leaves and the red berries, presumably for good luck. That is an old tradition. A sprig of mistletoe might also be pinned to the ceiling for uncles and dads to try their luck. It was unusual, until recent times, for anyone to put decorations outside the home, except for an occasional Christmas wreath on the door but, these days, it is not unusual for a few fairy lights to appear outside the houses. In some cases, they are something like Blackpool illuminations, but it is all good fun and helps to put people in the right spirit.

In the days before LEDs, the Christmas fairy lights would have to be checked for blown bulbs. There would always be one or two. It was part of the fun for children to dress up the tree with baubles and not forgetting a traditional fairy on top. Some of the baubles might have been old family heirlooms. The presents would have been wrapped up and hidden away from prying eyes. And an old dressing gown would go in the wash (nuff said).

Carol Singing
Right up to the end of the 20th century, and probably a bit beyond, groups of carol singers would call door-to-door in the week or two before Christmas. They would usually sing only one verse, if you were lucky, of a popular carol. Perhaps a rushed and garbled "We Three Kings". They want to get in as many houses as possible, as time meant money. The smaller children would have an adult with them to make sure they sang properly. A popular carol for young songsters might be, 'Away in a Manger.' The chant which followed was:

"Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God Bless You!"

Then it was - bang, bang, bang, bang on the door (to make it shake) and you would give them a few coins. The cheekier kids might think you did not notice them singing and would just bang on the door anyway. Then you would ask them to actually sing something and watch them colour up. You don't get many visits by carol singers these days, maybe just one or two, if you are lucky, and they might be community-organised. In recent years, Penistone Round Table has gone around the streets with their Santa on a sleigh (a special trailer behind the car), raising funds for charity. They raise a lot of money this way and put it to good causes.

Of course, there are plenty of organised carol services in our area in churches and other venues. Very rarely these days, you might find the Salvation Army Band on a random street corner. Thurlstone Brass Band also plays in the open around Thurlstone near Christmas-time.

Family Celebrating
Christmas TreeOf course Christmas has always been a time for family members to come together, culminating in the main event, Christmas Dinner, eaten in the afternoon of Christmas Day with beer or wine. These days, we might go out for a drink first. The dinner would typically be goose or turkey with stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. In 1588, Elizabeth I ordered her subjects to eat goose for Christmas dinner to celebrate England’s victory over the Spanish Armada and that tradition still works.

Before the age of 'Elf and Safety', the traditional Christmas Pudding might even have some coins baked in, wrapped in paper. Spring Vale School's Christmas Pudding always had sixpences in it when I was a lad - but they did warn us very strongly to watch out for them and not to swallow any. That could never happen now.

At home, the best cutlery would come out with napkins or doilies, which otherwise might never see the light of day. Then bottles of beer, spirits, babycham, Cherry-B, sherry, port or perhaps advocaat. You only ever saw this egg-based drink at Christmas (it was horrible). These days it might be Bailey's Irish Cream. There would be Christmas crackers to pull at the dinner and the limp jokes were usually so bad that they were almost good. More of a groan than a laugh. Sometimes children would make their own crackers, using cardboard tubes collected over time. They would have to shout "Bang" when they were pulled.

In Yorkshire, the living room was often called 'The House' and another room kept clean and tidy for special occasions would be 'The Room'. "Where's Jack?" - "He's in t' house". Christmas was a time for people to use The Room, partly because of the need for more space with all of the visitors.

The Christmas Stocking
Presumably, in the old days it would have been a real stocking (a long sock) but it later became something like a pillowcase hung on the end of the bed. In recent, affluent times it would not be big enough but in leaner times it would have been one nice present and perhaps one or two smaller items. But some things were mandatory. These were: an apple, an orange and a new penny, the symbolism of which seems to have been lost.

Dad would wait for the children to be asleep, then put on his red dressing gown like Santa Claus. Avoiding the inevitable creaking stair, he would creep into the bedrooms to put presents in the children's pillowcases. It was a nice surprise to wake up to the presents.

New Year
One old national tradition which was observed to some extent locally, was 'first footing' to let in the New Year. The first person to call at a house after NY midnight was supposed to be a person with dark hair and they would usually bring a piece of coal. No doubt they would have been given a drink for their trouble. I think this might have only happened with people who knew each other, like friends or close neighbours.

A solemn subject, I know, but people have customs when there is a death in the family. One custom is to close all of the curtains. I'll ad more as I find them.

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