Haddenham Feast


 Haddenham Feast



By Alan Rose

Our annual fair is known as Haddenham Feast and one of the definitions of the word ‘Feast’ is;

‘A village festival held annually, originally on the feast of the saint to whom the parish church is dedicated, but now usually on a particular Sunday of the year, and one or two days following. In some places called wakes or revels.’

That seems to define our Feast very well, although it has often been stated that the annual funfair in Haddenham originated from a charter granted in 1295 to hold a weekly market and an annual fair. That assumption does not appear to be correct. The right to hold a weekly market was withdrawn in 1302, at the request of John Dalderby, bishop of Lincoln, as it was considered injurious to his market at Thame, and the fair became defunct long before the word had its modern meaning. The permitted dates for that charter fair were for the 3 days of the eve, day, and morrow of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That was the 14th, 15th and 16th of August.

It is much more likely that Haddenham Feast was originally the feast of Saint Mary. The fact that it is still called a feast is our first clue. We were a Roman Catholic nation when the church was built in the 13th century and the celebration of Saint Mary had become popular in England. The feast of Saint Mary was the 8th of September.

Unfortunately this date posed a problem some five centuries later when the calendar was changed from the Julian to the Gregorian.

It was in 1751 that Lord Chesterfield introduced a Bill to bring England’s calendar into line with most of Europe. The continent had adopted the new calendar some two hundred years previously, for the reason that the Julian year was a few minutes too long and over the centuries the solar solstices and equinoxes had become earlier in the year. That confused farming traditions of when to sow the crops.

The Act of Parliament stipulated what was to occur with most dates. Some events were to happen according to the new calendar so for example Christmas Day was still the 25th December. But dates having contractual implications were moved 11 days later. One such important date was Lady Day, the 25th of March, which used to be New Year’s Day and the first rent day. The Act made 1st January the start of the year but we still recognise the old calendar with our tax year beginning on 6th April.

The Act also dealt with Feasts by stating that ‘all and every fixed Feast-days, Holy-days and Fast-days, which are now kept and observed by the Church of England’ were to be the same dates on the new calendar. And the Act dealt with Fairs by stating that ‘all Markets, Fairs and Marts, whether for the sale of Goods or Cattle, or for the Hiring of Servants’ were to be held 11 days later by the new calendar.

 It was a misfortune that Haddenham’s Feast-day was not covered by the Act, as the Church of England no longer observed the feast of the Nativity of St Mary. The Reformation had removed many of the Roman Catholic festivals from the calendar and the Nativity of Saint Mary was one of them. (It was restored later.) Remember also that Haddenham’s Feast-day was not a Fair.

Another difficulty for Haddenham was that it was chosen to adjust the calendar in September. So in 1752 the 2nd of September was followed by the 14th of September, missing out eleven days. Our feast day of 8th September did not exist that year.

The obvious thing to do would be to hold the Feast on the day it would have fallen if the calendar had not changed. That would be Tuesday the 8th of September by the old calendar, but Tuesday the 19th of September by the new calendar. That’s where the 19th September comes from.

It would have been sensible for the Feast to revert to 8th September the next year but it would not have been unusual to keep to the old calendar. A lifetime later there were still people who referred to Old Michaelmas Day (11th October) and Old Christmas Day (6th January). The 19th of September could have been regarded similarly as Old Haddenham Feast Day.

Haddenham was not alone in holding the 19th of September as St Mary’s feast day. To take two examples, Charlton-on-Otmoor is said to have a village feast on 19th September with a ceremony of ‘dressing the garland’. This is said to go back to times before the Reformation when they had a stature of St Mary that they used to garland and parade from the church to the priory.

The second example is Painswick in Gloucestershire where there is said to be a ceremony of ‘clypping the church’ of St Mary on the Sunday nearest the 19th September. Clypping is said to be a Saxon word that meant embracing. The ceremony includes linking hands around the church to embrace the church and the religion.

The practice of holding village feasts on a fixed date eventually gave way to holding them on a Sunday and Monday (and sometimes Tuesday). Many residents will remember that our fair used to stay for two days.

We are fortunate that our ancient tradition is still recognised, as most such village festivals faded away long before there were commercial funfairs to keep them alive. For example the last report I saw of Dinton Feast was for July 1844 when it was ‘thinly attended’.

The rule used by our show-folk is to hold the fair on the Monday after the Sunday after the 19th of September. That’s a rule handed down by word of mouth through the generations and, although we now see where it came from, it is not very clear reasoning. It would be sounder if the fair were to be on or after the 19th. But our fair is one of a chain and before coming to Haddenham there is Horspath fair where the rule is the Monday after the Sunday after the 12th September. That’s another story but their church is St Giles and his feast day is 1st September. Those eleven days again! Some of you may have noticed that April 6th is actually twelve days later than Lady Day. That’s because the government moved the start of the financial year from April 5th in the year 1800 when the new calendar clicked another day away from the old calendar. They didn’t repeat this nonsense the next time it happened but we are now 13 days ahead of the Julian date. And Old Christmas Day is still celebrated in some parts of the world, but now on 7th January. So is the 19th September now Old-Old Haddenham Feast Day?


From The Haddenham Chronicles No 1

Spring 2006







By Will Strange

Haddenham and Cuddington had a long connection with the Catholic Priory of Rochester, as lord of the manor from around 1089, shortly after the Priory’s foundation, until 1539, just before its dissolution in the following year. In a sense the connection continues, as the Priory’s successor, the Dean and Chapter of Rochester, still has the right to present Vicars to the living of Haddenham and Cuddington.

 For four hundred and fifty years the Priory and its monks were proprietors of most of the land in the villages and the villagers were their tenant. The Priory had a home farm (demesne) in both villages, which the monks could choose to work with direct labour or lease out to the villages. They had rights over the villagers themselves: right to make villagers work on the demesne, to take a death duty of the ‘best beast’ a villager had (heriot), to levy a fee when the villager married (merchet), and to prevent a villager leaving the village or marrying out of the village. These rights over the persons of the villagers made a medieval manor different from a modern estate.

 These villagers were perceived as falling into one of three groups: those with major shares of the village lands, those with only small shares, and the landless.

 The major shareholders were known was villeins (from the Latin villanus, man of the village). At the time of Domesday (1086) there were forty such villeins in Haddenham and Cudddington. In the early fourteenth century they drew up a Custumal, which specified the rents and other duties which they owed to the Priory. (Interestingly, they described themselves in the Customal as Neiatmen, a word derived from the Anglo-Saxon geneat, which means companion and originally referred to members of a king’s war-band, though by the time of the Norman Conquest it had come to mean a tenant of village lands.

 By the early sixteenth century these major shareholders in the village lands had become ‘copyholders’, or people who held their land on the legal basis of an entry in the manor court records. You had to look after your copy, and we can understand the annoyance of William Barnard who, about 1530, left the copy giving his right to a seven-acre field called Wyndentes in the care of the Vicar, Robert Wylkynson, only to find that the Vicar denied ever having had it!

The people holding smaller amounts were called bordars in Domesday (sixteen in total), and cottars in later texts. Both names refer to the cottage in which they lived (‘cot’ in English, ‘borde’ in Norman French).

 Below them were the poorest of the people, who had no land at all. Some worked for the lord of the manor. At the time of Domesday they were still slaves (servi, often translated as ‘serf’). Later they were nominally free but still tied to their work for the manor. Alongside them were landless poor who would find work when they could, perhaps for the wealthier villagers. In his will, written in 1560, Richard Ball the then Vicar left four shillings to be paid to twelve poor householders of Haddenham, and he defined poverty in terms which had held good at least since Domesday: ‘such as have no land’.

 Such were the villagers over whom the Priory exercised its rights as lord of the manor. Haddenham with Cuddington was a very significant manor for Rochester Priory (as a shorthand we call the manor ‘Haddenham’, while remembering it included the village of Cuddington, too). Within their portfolio of property it was a remote outlier, since most of their lands lay in western Kent, in the diocese of Rochester itself. But Haddenham was and remained uniquely valuable to the Priory: from the early twelfth century onwards the Priory consistently derived between a quarter and a third of its revenue from the single manor.

 The Priory initially met its needs by organising its manors in a rota system by which each manor supplied the monk’s needs for a fixed period. For roughly the first twenty years the Priory required Haddenham to supply its needs for two months each year. But as they got to know Haddenham better it became clear to the monks that they were undervaluing the manor. So the Priory increased its requirement, probably around 1110, to three months arranged in two block: the first month beginning on 16th February, and then two month beginning on 27th April.

 In order to manage this system the Priory sent a monk to act as warden of the manor. The warden worked in collaboration with the reeves, men appointed each year (one in Haddenham and one in Cuddington) to oversee agricultural operations in the village and to ensure that the Priory received its income.

 This management system was a common one for lords in the twelfth century: taking a hands-off approach, allowing communities within the manor to run their own affairs in return for a fixed income. But things were changing in the twelfth century, the population was growing and economic activity was increasing, especially after Henry II (1154-89) brought an end to the civil wars which plagued the country under Stephen (1135-54). Lords of manors started to look again at their options and to realise that they could make more from their assets by turning to direct management, working their demesnes for themselves, demanding labour services from their tenants, and generally acting as entrepreneurs.

 Rochester Priory caught up with the new mood around 1200, when Prior Ralph de Ros introduced major changes to Haddenham demesne ‘only four ploughs and those terribly decrepit’. The demesne, or home farm, had apparently been leased out and the previous monk-warden, Richard de Wouldham, had not needed to keep the six ploughs which Domesday had stated (1086) were needed to work the demesne’s arable lands. Prior Ralph had other ideas. He took the manor into his own hands and restocked the demesne: ‘he sent out eight good-quality ploughs and three hundred sheep, and sixty cattle – some of which were cows, some steers and some heifers – and seventy-two pigs.

 In place of the food renders which used to be sent, the Priory now looked for money – another indication of the meaning of the increasing sophistication of the economy. There were exceptions, though, for premium items which the Priory presumably could not buy locally. In the early fourteenth century the Custumal, the document which codified the Priory’s demands on the villagers, stated that teams of villagers from Haddenham might be sent to Gloucester to fetch fish (salmon?) for the Priory, bring it to Haddenham, then hand it over to other teams who would take it on to Rochester. The Priory also seems to have placed a premium of Haddenham’s dairy products: as late as 1299, seventy-six Haddenham cheeses were sent to Rochester.

 For about a hundred and fifty years from the time of Ralph de Ros the Priory maintained direct management of the manor of Haddenham. This meant trying to maximise the profitability of the manor, and that in turn meant keeping a much closer watch on what was going on. It must have had a big impact on the villagers, and for most a negative one. From about 1200 the villagers who held the major plots of land (villeins) could no longer rent parts of the demesne for their own profit. Instead they were organised in groups to work on the demesne for the benefit of the Priory – labour services were now required instead of being commuted for a money payment.

 The villagers had to plough and harrow the lord’s land, to thresh seed and take it to the field, to cut hay and reap grain. The only positive thing about this from the villager’s point of view was that the requirements were time-limited rather than piece work: they had to work for a certain number of days rather than complete a certain task, and that must have given an opportunity for foot-dragging. They were recompensed for some of their work: people mowing had a loaf each per day and four sheep to eat between them; if the Priory called them out for extra work at harvest (‘boon-works’), the work was limited to two days, and the workers had to have two meat dishes and soup and cheese. The meadow of Dollicot had special inducements, probably because it did not become part of the manor until around 1100, after basic customs had been fixed. For mowing Dollicot meadow the workers received ‘one wether and one cheese worth four pence and one salt bacon and one bundle of straw’.

 The villagers had a lot of carrying duties. Some of these were within the manor, especially from outlying parts of the fields. They had to cart hay from Grove End to the manorial barn in the village, and corn from Dollicot and ‘Under the Fyrdway’ (the old military road from Aylesbury to Thame).

 Some of their carrying duties could take them a long way from home. They might regularly be expected to go to Oxford, Wallingford or Wycombe on the Priory’s business, though they would get a penny for drinks for their journey. They could also be required to take cartloads of corn to Marlow three times a year, an interesting requirement which suggests that the Priory was finding ways of exploiting London’s growing market for its produce.

 The Priory began to keep written accounts to track all this activity, recording and accounting for every chicken and every sack of corn. The reeve now found himself working as the manager of the Priory’s day-to-day business, responsible for keeping the accounts and travelling to Rochester with the profits. He might be required to make this journey of about eighty miles up to three times a year. Unfortunately only one of the account rolls detailing the manor’s work has survived for Haddenham (for part of the summer of 1299), though five have survived for Cuddington.

 We find from the account rolls that monks were resident in Haddenham well into the fourteenth century. There was still a monk called the ‘warden’ in 1299, though his task was different from his twelfth-century predecessors. In 1299 John of March held the wardenship and he was accompanied by another monk, John of Greenstreet, who rose to become Prior in 1301 (though deposed for incompetence in 1314).

 Economic conditions changed again in the fourteenth century. Overpopulation exacerbated by bouts of poor harvests paved the way for the horrific Black Death which reached England in 1348 and may have claimed the lives of a third of the population. Further waves of plague after that point killed disproportionate numbers of young people and kept the population much lower than it had been before 1348

 Lords of manors had to think again about their business strategy. As the economic buoyancy of the thirteenth century gave way to economic difficulties in the fourteenth, large numbers of lords opted for safety: leasing out part or all of their manors for the security of a fixed rent. This was known as ‘farming’ the manor and its assets. The Cuddington account rolls of 1335/5 and 1380/1 show the Priory starting to move in that direction, with some of the stock and some of the land farmed out. In June 1381, the Priory decided to go the whole way, and leased out the entire manor of Haddenham to John Keith of Haddenham and Richard Salter of Aylesbury for a term of twelve years. The Priory repeated the experiment when the first lease expired in 1393.

 By 1414 the Priory had taken the manor back into direct management, with some of the demesne kept ‘in the lord’s hand’. The last Cuddington account roll, for 1448/9, seems to show that the manor was being ‘farmed’. It mentions John Fryday the farmer of Haddenham and William Chapman ‘lately the farmers Codynton’. No monks were resident on the manor by this stage but they employed John Romayn as ‘counte-tallier’, or audits of the account to keep an eye on their interests.

 The Priory continued to farm the manor into the sixteenth century. Or, more accurately, ‘manors’, since Haddenham and Cuddington were in the hands of separate farmers. Under this regime of leasing, the Priory’s grasp of the manors became less secure. In Cuddington John Hollyman took a thirty-year lease in 1527, which he handed on to his son Thomas on his death in 1531. In Haddenham the Priory seems to have left the arrangement of leasing in the hands of its bailiff. William Barnard was the Prior’s bailiff at the time of his death in 1532, and he leased the manor to Henry Huntley and Thomas Boller. But Huntley and Boller failed to pay William Barnard the money they owed and it fell to Richard, William’s heir, to pursue the matter in the courts.

 For much of this four-hundred-and-fifty year relationship, there was a great deal of coming and going between Rochester and Haddenham. Monks from the Priory, as we have noted, were commonly to be seen in the villages at least until the late fourteenth century. Villagers, especially the reeves, knew the road to Rochester very well as  they might have to go there several times a year. Some villagers made their way there permanently. Gilbert, the priest of Haddenham in Domesday, became a Rochester monk in the 1090s. Others made the same journey, including Reginald of Haddenham  (whose dates are unknown, but who became Sub-Prior), and Edmund of Haddenham who flourished around 1300 and is believed to have written The Annals of the Church of Rochester which records Rochester’s history to 1307.

 By the time that the last Prior handed the manor of Haddenham to Sir Edward North in 1539 the Priory had become something of an absentee landlord, taking its rents from its bailiff and not intervening a great deal in the life and work of the villages. But it still must have been a shock to the villagers of the time when they could no longer describe the Prior of Rochester, as the Certificate of Musters did in 1522, as their ‘cheiffe Lord, patron and parson’.