OLD SOMERSET CUSTOMS AND SAYINGS
On 15 August 1906 ‘JVS’ sent a postcard called KISSING IN SOMERSET, one of a series about old English customs, to a Miss Crossman, of Westbury, Wiltshire, and this is what it said:
‘It is an interesting study that of tracing the history of old customs of various places. Some of them are undoubtedly of great antiquity, such as the Flower Show at Taunton, the origin is put down by some to the time of King Arthur and the Druids. Somersetshire customs have very much struck the attention of strangers who find in difficult to account for such a difference in adjacent localities. A Cockney who has lately been “doing” Somerset made a note of the following peculiarities in regards kissing in the different parts of the County.
Clevedon girls keep quite still till they are well kissed, and then say “I think you ought to be ashamed.” Highbridge girls when kissed close their eyes in ecstasy, and do not open them again until the process ceases. Bristol ladies on being kissed suggest a walk to Keynsham, where they expect a little more of it. At Wellington, the ladies receive a salute with Christian meekness and follow the Scriptural rule, – when kissed on one cheek, they turn the other also. A Taunton girl, when kissed at once proposes a walk to Vivary Park. The Burnham girls act decidedly on the give and take principle, and object to being under any obligation. A Wiveliscombe girl on being kissed proposes a night visit to some neighbouring Druidical remains, some ancient inscriptions on which are considered to have talismanic power in influencing her dreams and future destiny. A Glastonbury girl insists on giving a return after four kisses. When a lady at Wells is kissed she blushes and says nothing. The ladies at Weston-super-Mare on being kissed smiles and simpers, puts on her hat and coat and proposes a visit to the Café, and have tea, junket and syllabubs in the romantic woods. A Bridgwater girl, while you are kissing her, falls in your arms and sighs aloud, “O! how nice – do it again.” Minehead girls say “Now if you go kissing me “Ma” will hear, but if I make the gate creak kiss me then, and she will not know the difference.’
And now a few old Somerset sayings together with their explanations from the Somerset Year Book of 1922
Bedlam WindBedlam (at South Brewham) had the reputation of being a bleak place. It was said that a bellows-maker of some eighty years ago, one John Chamberlain, was in the habit of going there to get the wind to put in his bellows, hence their good quality.
Cadbury FuneralWhen a deceased person is not greatly regretted by his relatives, or when the friends are likely to mark the occasion by festivities, Castle Cary people remark:. “Ah that’ll be a Cadbury Funeral – dry eyes and wet droats!”
Fleas Arrive on March 1stThis is a common belief in certain parts of the county. At Yeovil it is said that on that date they come marching down Hendford Hill, and at Crewkerne similarly down Cemetery Hill! Housewives should be very careful to sweep their front door steps early on this morning, as they may thus drive away the inquisitive beasts.
Little Cup MakersA nick-name for people of Wincanton. Sweetman has recorded what he believed to be a “very old legend.” The story goes that once on a time a traveller was going along a high road in this neighbourhood, when he heard a loud cry from a ditch: “Help, help, please pull me out.” The traveller stopped and enquired “Who are you?” when he received the reply “The liddle cup maker o’ Wincanton.” “Then stay where bist,” retorted the other “If thee’d bin a big-cup maker I’d a helped thee, but a liddle-cup maker, never!”
Langport Men are jocularly reputed to be web-footed. This is no doubt attributed to the low lying and marshy nature of the surrounding country, which during the winter months is often under water.
Market TownsRhymes similar to the following are no doubt found in several parts of the county:-
Hadspen, Honeywick, Pitcombe and Cole,
Higher Shep’n, Lower Shep’n, Stoke and Knowl,
Higher Zeals, Lower Zeals, Wolverton and Penn,
There bain’t twelve zich market-towns in England again.
Nick-NamesIn the same way that Somerset people are sometimes called “Cuckoo-penners,” the inhabitants of certain towns and villages have been given names, complimentary or otherwise, by their neighbours. Many of these have interesting stories behind them, but in many cases the reasons for the appellations have been entirely lost. Here is a short list:-
|Barton Rats||Curry Clowns||Ruishot Cheats|
|Beckington Bees||Frome Dumbledores||Stoke Bulldogs|
|Burrow Hounds||Keinton Mice||Stoke Pero Candlesticks|
|Charlton Bulldogs||Kingweston Candlesticks||Wincanton Little Cup Makers|
|Cary Chickens||Lyng Long-dogs||Wellington Roundheads|
|Chewton Bunnies||Langport Ducks|
|Crewkerne Moon-douters||Road Wopses|
And finally, my late father used to say ‘boychap’ to describe a boy who was not yet a man (a chap) but who was not still a boy – a youth to you and me.