Monday, 14 December 2009

Tin Can Band / Rough Musicking


The Northants Evening Telegraph, 11 December 2009, gave a decidedly minimalist account of the tradition:

Residents in Broughton will take to the streets banging saucepan lids and blowing whistles this weekend to keep up a 200-year-old tradition.

Villagers meet at Broughton Parish Church at midnight on the second Sunday of December to be part of the Tin Can Band, a group of people who march through the village making as much noise as possible.

The origins of the ancient tradition are unknown, but many think it began as a way of warding off evil spirits.

John Stamper, of Broughton, who has taken part many times, said: "There is no organiser, no secretary, it is simply a case that people know the date and will amble up to the church to take part."

The Tin Can Band will march along Church Street, Gate Lane, High Street, Wellingborough Road and Glebe Avenue and back to the church.

The following from the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000):

Tin Can Band.
Young people in Broughton, Northamptonshire, gather at midnight on the second Sunday in December for an hour’s worth of procession round the village making as much raucous noise as possible. To this end they bring tins with stones in, dustbin lids, old metal containers with sticks to bang them, and so on. They do not know why, or for how long the custom has existed, but the villagers have successfully fought off attempts to suppress it. There are one or two stories to explain the custom — it was done to frighten off Gypsies, or it was done to express disapproval of the birth of an illegitimate baby, and the latter is possible because of the similarity between the Tin Can Band and rough musicking. However, most writers point to the fact that this is the eve of the town’s feast day (Old St Andrew’s Day) and may simply be a way of starting the festivities attached to that celebration.

rough music.
Under a variety of local names and differing methods, rough music was the main customary way in which members of a community expressed displeasure at transgressions of societal norms, usually, but not exclusively, concerned with sexual and marital matters such as wife- or husband-beating, adultery, co-habitation, and so on. The term ‘rough music’ and other local names such as ‘ran-tanning’, reflect the almost universal element of noise—participants would bang on old kettles, saucepans, or shovels, blow on whistles, cow-horns, wave rattles, shout and bawl—anything to make a loud and discordant noise. Other names, such as ‘Riding the Stang’ and ‘Skimmington Riding’ encapsulate the other regular feature—the parading of effigies of the guilty parties, or sometimes neighbours impersonating them. The effigies would be mounted on a pole, a cart, or a donkey—often with the man placed backwards facing the tail. After processing the neighbourhood, these effigies would usually be burnt in front of the victims’ house.

Examples are recorded regularly from the 16th century onwards, including Henry Machyn’s Diary (22 Feb. 1562/3), Stow (1598/1994: 200), Samuel Pepys, Diary (10 June 1667), the engraving (above -- fellist) by William Hogarth entitled Hudibras Encounters the Skimmington (1726), and a well-known literary example is in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge (1884), chapters 36, 39. The proceedings were ‘regulated’ by locally understood rules and expectations. In earlier examples, it seems to be accepted that the next-door neighbour of the offending party should take the place of the effigy, and the occasion would provide the opportunity for much ribald humour. As with all such vigilante behaviour, these proceedings could be seen as great fun or highly frightening mob behaviour, depending on whether you were on the performing side or receiving end. It is clear that the authorities, such as the local police, whilst not condoning such behaviour, would often make sure to be ‘out of the way’ while it was going on and nobody would be willing to testify even if charges were brought. The victims would usually move away, or at least keep a low profile and appear to mend their ways, but in extreme cases the stress or shame could lead to suicide. Rough music is clearly related to continental customs, of which the French Charivari is probably the best known.
Explains the minimalism.

Google turns up no news or blog reports from this weekend. Perhaps someone involved might see this and give us a report?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

General comment-

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Just wonderful primary source selections and astute observations. Thank you for the posts, the blog is a joy to read.

fellist said...

Cheers -- I don't normally respond to anonymous comments but that's too generous to ignore.

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