St Mary Bourne Revisited


Parochial Customs


From time immemorial a rude demonstration was made in the parish, under the title of "wooset", or "Ooset hunting" whenever it became known that infidelity had occurred on the part of the husband or wife. The term Oost, a host or army. The practice consisted of an assembling together in the evening of any desirous to take part in the proceedings. Noises were made with ox-horns, or other discordant instruments, to call the people to the place of meeting. The result was a gathering of the most heterogeneous human constituents, bearing horns, old frying pans, marrow bones, tongs, or, indeed any rough article out of which noise could be elicited. It was rightly denominated "rough music”. In some instances one of the leaders carried a horse's skull at the top of a piece of wood, with a cross bar underneath the head, on which was hung a chemise with the arms extended. To the under jaw of the head a bar of wood was fixed, in order to enable the operator to open the mouth, and force the jaw back against the upper one, so as to cause a loud champing noise. A pair of horns was sometimes attached to the top of the skull. Turnip lanterns were carried in winter. The noisy processioning in front of the offender's residence continued for three nights, there was then a suspension for three nights, when the demonstration was repeated for another three nights. Another interval of three nights followed, when the meeting concluded with a third visitation of three nights, making altogether nine demonstrations. The people then dispersed, believing that their programme was quite legal, and that it could not be officially prevented.

(Wooset might be simply a shortening of Whore-set, from the Saxon Hore.) (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

Kathleen Innes writes that about the year 1890, the latest occasion of its performance was a woman's desertion of her husband for another man. Several of the village men got together all kinds of instruments for making a noise and went to the cottage where the guilty couple were living and "Performed" the racket made so convinced the pair of the disapproval of their neighbours that they left the place for the nearby town. The story had a tragic sequel, for the deserted husband hanged himself.

Another parochial custom was known as "Skimmington", which was practiced when wife or husband beating occurred, but it was resorted to only when family jars were unusually provocative. I have thought the word skimmington must be derived from the employment of a skimmer or ladle in the procession. A figure was formed, generally by padding an old smock-frock with straw, and topping it with a hat or bonnet, such as in rural districts is known as a "Galley-beggar", used for scaring birds. This figure was borne past the delinquent's house, and belaboured with a skimmer or ladle. I have more than once witnessed the placing of a heap of chaff, and a small wooden flail, at night, at the door of a person guilty of wife beating. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)


In St. Mary Bourne up to about the 1850s, and for possibly centuries before there was a custom to hold a festival on the first Monday after the 12th.of July. On what was known as Bourne Revel Monday. The Sunday preceding it was regarded as the first day of the feast, and as such there is no doubt was the case in the early days of the festival The event lasted for several day's its origins are lost in the mist of time but in early days the clergy conducted services and preached both before and during the festival. The setting for these festivities was in the "Summerhaugh", an area today where the village bridge crosses the Bourne river in front of the late 18th, century George Inn public house, on the opposite side of the river was the 17th,century Plough Inn now a private house, and Between the two public houses was referred to as the Summerhaugh, today the river is crossed by a bridge but in olden day's it was a ford with a simple wooden structure for people on foot, and a turnstile at one end to prevent anyone but pedestrians using it. Next to the bridge on the George Inn side is Summerhaugh cottage, 17th, cent. An attractive house with a dovecote in the garden, this house used to belong to Mr. Henry Poore one of the oldest farming families in the parish and mentioned in documents in the 1500's.

The Festivities also included "Sports" of wrestling matches and "Single stick. "A temporary wooden structure was constructed over the stream fenced with ropes to protect the combatants from being thrown or falling off. Those taking part in the "Sports" were called Gamesters and consisted of local men as well as gypsies, vagabonds, and men from neighbouring villages and even neighbouring counties Berkshire, Wiltshire, and Somerset. Among the St. Mary Bourne residents who engaged in these contests some members of the Bunce and Goodyear families are mentioned. One of the latter families, David Goodyear, whose name appears on the list, died in the lunatic asylum in Fareham, the injuries he received to the head at the revels having in his later day's caused disease to the brain. In reply to an inquiry, he said he believed his malady was due to "Clouts on the head he had received on the stage”. The chief wrestlers at the later revels were members of the Annett family of Hurstbourne Tarrant, but farmer Holdway of Stoke, better known as "Holdey", engaged in the wrestling matches, and would proudly exhibit the scars on his legs which he had received from kicks during his early encounters. "Single stick" or "Backsword-Playing" as it was sometimes referred to was a contest on the stage where two opposing contestants would have their left arm tied behind their waist and in there right hand wield a heavy stick the object of the contest was to hit your opponent over the head. A head was not considered broken unless the blood flowed at least an inch. An umpire vulgarly called "Umsher” directed the proceedings. When the play became irregular or languid he suspended it for a time by crying "Bout”, and after a short pause it was resumed on his calling "Play”. On an appeal, if successful, he called "Blood" if not, it was met with "No head “or "Play on”. In all stage matters his decision was final, although as one might imagine, in such society it was often violently cavilled at. A Thomas Hughes wrote a description of one of the contestants a Harry Seeley. He writes--"But nothing puts out old Harry Seeley, no upper cut can reach his face, for his head is thrown well back ,and his guard is like a rock, and though the old blue shirt is cut through and through, he makes no more of the welts of the heavy stick than if it were a cat's tail. Between the bouts his face is cheery and confident, and he tells his friends to "Hold their noise”, and let him alone to tackle the chap, as he hands round his basket for the abounding coppers, the "basket" was the guard to the hand on the hilt of the stick, these village gladiators fought in pairs, in turns, and the winner was he who succeeded in breaking most heads, or in breaking the head of him who had broken most others,----Thomas Hughes goes on to describe another bout he says, The three principal performers were,(1) a stupid raw youth, who represented Wiltshire, (2) a short thick set quite little man, who stood for Somerset, and (3) the Hampshire hero (the favourite of course) a thin wiry dark featured gypsy, with aquiline nose and the eye of a hawk, who skipped about as if he were made of gutta-percha. They fought bare headed, with the left arm fastened to the waist, so that they might not use it to ward off blows. To hit an opponent on the face was against rules, but to hit him on top of the head was the grand point, and the grandest of all to hit him so as to produce blood. Never shall I forget that gypsy's keen eye looking out for the effect of his blow, and how joyfully when he saw it he called out "Blood," and dropped his weapon. The Wiltshire man was very soon disposed of, but when it came to the final match, the sturdy cautious little man cracked the gypsy's head and Somerset won the day".

The prizes consisted chiefly of hats, of the value of half-a-guinea. Sometimes a "gold-laced hat" for "old gamesters" was offered, and small prizes were given to those who succeeded in breaking one head.

And for what prize, whether a mistress's heart, or a new hat, or a purse of money, but it ought to have been something singularly attractive, the queen of beauty should have been eminently beautiful, the cheese of prime quality, the hat very smart or the purse very heavy, to induce fellows to stand up and have their heads cracked in the way I saw done for the amusement of a gaping crowd. Of that crowd of gapers I confess with shame that I was one, but at that time of life it was looked upon as fun, and the more so because the combatants themselves seemed to consider it in much the same light.

The same men or rather those who happened to be in the district, attended the revel at Hurstbourne Tarrant on the following Monday.

The church of St. Mary Bourne is dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle, whose festival falls on the 29th.June, and it was the custom to hold the dedication festivals on Sundays following the dedication days, the first Sunday in July appears to properly represent the day known as "Bourne Revel Sunday". But the traditional day of the revel has always been understood to come on the first Monday following the "12th.of old July". The difference in date might be due to the alteration of the calendar in 1752; at all events the date of St. Peter’s day and the present date of the feast day do not meet the requirements of the case. It is probable that the date was altered in later times to suit the convenience of the supporters of the revel. In whatever way the dates might have fallen out of order, could we but glance back into the thirteenth century it's likely we should see the manorial villeins setting up the booths for the feast in honour of their patron saint, and dragging huge boughs into the church for the purpose of decoration, as regular as the anniversary came around. The old custom was observed in St. Mary Bourne up to the discontinuance of the revel, of the villagers arraying themselves in their holiday attire, and visiting from house to house for the purpose of rejoicing.

An official was paid a small sum to drive dogs out of the church; he often had the additional duty of keeping people awake during the sermons, the stick being more stirring probably than the doctrine. The church was commonly used for public business, marketing, and for the election of churchwardens, overseers, and other parish functionaries. Announcements of sales and meetings were made from the pulpit. Men drank (church ale) and smoked there, and feasts, assizes, and plays have been held in the church (Dr. Joseph Stevens)




Extract from the Salisbury and Winchester Journal

Monday August 9th. 1842

At Hurstbourne Revel on Monday last there was some excellent single stick playing, and the several gamesters displayed the cool courage and hardihood so peculiarly characteristic of Britons. The awarding of the prizes, however, gave great dissatisfaction to some of the parties and the sports therefore did not terminate with that friendship and good fellowship which are so desirable on such occasions--in consequence of the dissatisfaction here alluded to, two Hampshire players Charles Wheeler, of Longparish and John Lock of Gosport have challenged to play any two Somersetshire men, three bloods for any sum of money, in any part of the borders of Hampshire. (Kevin Holdway)


Salisbury and Winchester Journal

Monday August 5th. 1839

Hurstbourne Races: The weather being particularly favourable for outdoor amusements on Monday last, a very large attendance of persons was observed upon this occasion. The races were held in a very pleasant and convenient place called Hurstbourne common, and have been established in lieu of the vulgar amusements which were wont to suit the taste of our ancestors, such as wrestling, single stick playing etc.



Salisbury and Winchester Journal

July 1825

Sad Accident at single stick playing. On Monday a purse of 20 sovereigns was given by Mr. Melmoth, landlord of the George Inn Up-hustbourn, to be played for at single stick, when a number of gamesters of Hants, Wilts, and Somerset, assembled at Hurstbourne, together with a very large concourse of spectators. Several Somerset gamesters played together against the other counties, and won the prize, which was well contested. The play gave great satisfaction, but the pleasure of the day were much damped by an unfortunate accident; A fine young man named Charles Wheeler, of Longparish, was playing with one of the celebrated Somerset men named Wall, when the latter struck Wheeler’s left eye completely out of the socket. A general feeling of sorrow immediately pervaded the whole assemblage of people, many of whom went away directly, and this dangerous pastime was put an end to for the day. Wheeler is considered in a dangerous state of health owing to the accident.



Salisbury and Winchester Journal

July 29 1786

To be played for on Wednesday the 9th, Thursday the 10th, and Friday the 11th, being the three days of the races, a purse of Five Guineas each day; four guineas to the best gamester, and One Guinea to the second best; to be subject to such articles as shall be agreed upon before the play begins.

N.B. That man who breaks three heads to quit the stage; and the player, if any, to play it out, or settle the prize as they shall think proper.

Great encouragement will be given to the gamesters.

The gamesters to mount the stage each morning at nine o’clock, and play till half past one.



Morning Chronicle Of London

Sept 16 1806

Single Stick playing

In the village of Botley, near Southampton, there was played, on the 8th. Instant, the grandest Match at Single Stick that, perhaps, ever was witnessed in England, or, at least, by any person now living. The match was, as last year (this being the second year), instituted and supported by those Gentlemen and Farmers in that part of Hampshire, who, to use the words of their advertisement, were desirous “To encourage, to reward, and to honour bravery and hardihood, from whatever part of England they might come.” The prizes were two in number; the First Prize, twenty guineas and a gold-laced hat; the Second Prize, ten guineas and a silver laced hat. From the celebrity of last year’s match, a great number of spectators were expected, and preparations were made accordingly, by the erection of benches and standing places in every part of the village near the Stage, which being twenty five feet square, and seven feet high, stood in a spot where the players could be conveniently seen by everyone present. At an early hour in the morning the people began to arrive in all directions; and before nine o’clock, the hour appointed for beginning, there were at least four thousand persons assembled. The moment the clock struck, Leader, a player from Somersetshire, threw his hat upon the stage, that being the mode of challenging. The challenge was instantly accepted by Harris, a Hampshire man; and the playing at once began by a contest that lasted for about half an hour, between two of the strongest, most hardy, and most active men that appeared during the day. The playing for the first prize was concluded about three o’clock, and, as will be seen from the following list, the victor was Bunn, whose Christian name is James, and who comes from Widmore, near Wells, in Somersetshire. The first column of the list exhibits the players, in the order that they mounted the stage; the second column contains the names of those who broke two heads each; the third column contains the names of those who broke three heads each; and the fourth column, the name of the conqueror of the whole. The initials, S.H.and W. placed against each man’s name, shew the county to which the players respectively belong.

Leader S      
Haaris H Harris                        
Line W      
Palmer W.      
Bunn S Bunn    
Ellis W      
Ackerman W      
Morgan H Morgan    
Popham S      
Pope W      
Wall S Wall    
SummerSet W      
Morton H      
Langtry broke Morton’s head, but gave into Slade, who for want of time, Slade, H. could be allowed to wait for no other combatant.

Thus it will be seen that, in playing for the First Prize, the superiority lay between Hampshire and Somersetshire, and that, of these two, latter proved superior, Wall and Bunn being both of that county, and, indeed, both of the same parish. The Wiltshire men played well; they were all strong, active, and brave; but, upon this occasion, the day was against them; and if they were conquered, they might safely say that it required the very best men in England to conquer them. The defeat of Summerset, who won the first prize last year, after a terrible contest with singleton, appeared to be an object of great mortification with his countrymen; but his combat with Wall was one of the best that ever was witnessed, the antagonists being uncommonly well matched in every respect, and each of them appearing to feel that upon his exertions depended the honour of his county. When the Hampshire men and the Somersetshire men came to decide which should claim the superiority, an increased interest was excited.

Harris, who had to contend with Bunn, was greatly his superior in point of size and strength, and his equal in bravery; but, in activity his antagonist surpassed him. Between Morgan (who won second prize last year) and Wall, though the former was decidedly inferior in point of strength the contest was long and most desperate, and though Morgan was finally vanquished, the admirable activity and undaunted courage that he displayed, will make him the pride of Hampshire, and more especially of the village of Bramdean, of which he is a native. Between Bunn and Wall, men from the same county, and even the same parish, it would have been hard to insist upon a contest, had not the rules of the match required that one of the two heads should be broken; but under such circumstances, the battle might be considered as a drawn one, and the honour as equally divided between the combatants. The Second Prize was played for by some of the men who had been defeated in playing for the first prize, and by some fresh hands, one of whom came from Berkshire. The prize was one by Line, a Wiltshire man, who was an excellent player, but who had been defeated by Bunn, in the contest for the first prize. Each player, who came from any other county than Hampshire, received half a guinea to bear his expenses home. Several Gentlemen in company with Mr. Stephen Neate, who is a great patron of the art, came up from Devizes, in Wiltshire. The five Somerset Players, all of them apparently labourers, came alone; and, the moment the playing was over, went out of the village together, waiving their prize hat in the air, and shouting “Huzza for Somersetshire,” which was heartily echoed by the spectators.

The conduct of all the players, without a single exception, was exemplary in the highest degree; that of the umpires, Mr. William White, of Alresford, and Mr. Stephen Bushel, of Andover, was perfectly impartial and judicious; and the business of the day, from nine in the morning until near seven in the evening, was conducted without a single dispute. During the whole of this time the playing continued; and the spectators, who before twelve o’clock amounted to at least seven thousand, remained to the last, apparently undiminished in numbers. No fighting or squabbling took place in any part of the village during the day; nor was there, as far as the observation of the writer of this account extended, any drunkenness , until after the close of the match. The assemblage upon this occasion had in it no part of the character of that vile thing which we denominate a mob. The feats upon the stage were too powerfully attractive of admiration, too well calculated to inspire feelings of the higher order, to suffer the intrusion of the petty passions, too frequently connected with frivolity and buffoonery. For one day, at the close of the harvest, care and labour gave place to the exhibition at Botley, whence the spectators, retiring in every direction, carried to their families and their neighbourhoods the lessons of bravery and of fortitude which they had that day received. It is with great pleasure that the writer of this account has perceived that a match, similar to the one at Botley, is to be played in the city of Salisbury, upon the 24th. and 25th. Days of this month