On 18th October 2019 Dr Derek Beattie talked to Leintwardine History Society.
By 1850 the Industrial Revolution was well established and the rising Middle Classes exerted increasing influence on the town and its leisure activities. Employers needed their workforce to be sober and punctual on Monday mornings, so there were increasing attempts to regulate weekend activities enjoyed by the working classes, with a particular emphasis on reducing drunkenness and violence.
Shrove Tuesday. Shops were boarded up in anticipation of violence from crowds of two thousand or more, who gathered to take part in a tug-of-war. The Four Wards divided into two teams for a series of 3 contests, each team vying to get their end of a 36ft rope into the River Teme. There were no rules and mayhem ensued, with numerous injuries. Spectators fuelled by alcohol were caught up in widespread brawling. After many complaints about ‘uncivilised behaviour’ the contest was banned in 1853.
The Beating of the Bounds The custom established by the Church in Norman times involved walking the parish boundaries, stopping at intervals to pray and bless the milestones, beating the ground with a birch. This had expanded to include general celebration and a contest on Ludford bridge, where two groups of youngsters fought with considerable violence for possession of a decorated birch. ‘Barbaric’ said the authorities, and stopped the festivities in 1849.
Guy Fawkes Day was a public holiday, with a (coal) fire in Castle Square to burn effigies, later moved to Whitcliff, with a procession and much drinking. Attempts by the Council to stop the practice in 1879 led to effigies of the Rector and Councillors being burned: assistance was needed from Hereford Police to control the situation. The custom revived, but with foreign, national enemies as guys. It died out after the turn of the century, as the working classes themselves became more ‘respectable’. Then individual pubs took over and Bonfire Night celebrations.
May Day The welcoming of Spring invited much revelry and drunkenness, with dancing round a birch pole. The custom continued for many years in villages, but stopped in Ludlow in 1869 and then pubs took over the practice up to 1914. Councillors encouraged the idea that this should be a celebration by children, dancing with ribbons – altogether more respectable.
An important example of change was the May Fair. This started, in the town centre, as a Hiring Fair for servants, labourers and tradesmen, with each category dressed accordingly. When hired, they were given a shilling (indicating they were hired for the year), which was promptly spent on entertainment. The ‘fun and frolic’ side of the occasion increased as the hiring aspect diminished in importance.
Since servants had very little time off and ‘courting’ was discouraged by employers, the May Fair became an annual event of importance for finding a spouse. It co-incided with the six monthly pay day, and stalls, entertainers, cakes and sweets all invited customers.
Originally a 3 day event, the authorities employed various strategies to limit the festivities. First they banned the Fair on the Saturday – but it was simply set up in a field; then alcohol was allowed only from 1pm-4 pm – which led to increased consumption during those hours; then the churches and societies tried handing out temperance tracts – but were seen as provocative and ‘bringing religion into contempt’. Eventually the May Fair was moved to ‘a more working class area’. It still survives.
The Christmas Waites. Originally the Council paid for a band and singers to go round the town. This proved expensive and was stopped. Large numbers of unemployed filled the gap, as a means of making money and this practice revived in the 1930s Depression, only finishing with WWII.
Skating the Teme froze over most years and skating was one of the few activities where all classes enjoyed themselves together
The Travelling Circus evolved from a chance to see exotic animals to a huge spectacle on Smithfield (away from the pubs!). Re-enactment of eg the Sudan War, was said to involve a cast of 1500 and an audience of 3000. (Ticket pricing kept the strata of society suitably segregated) This continued to the 1960s
Music Hall. A theatre in Mill St had staged plays for the upper and middle classes and when these moved to the Assembly Rooms in the 1840s, the theatre turned to music hall entertainment, very popular with the working classes – and cheap . It closed in 1879 and Smithfield became the venue for travelling players. Cinematographs developed .
Public Houses The main enjoyment for the working classes was the daily visit to the pub. In 1850, there were 70 public houses in Ludlow. A 1901 survey revealed that rooms and stabling were required and some (eg the Bull) had a club room a dining room. Most were small, relying on singing (with an accordion) and dancing (solo) as the main entertainment. Brawls often broke out and the noise level was such that one man was reported to have been dead for 2 hours before anyone noticed…
A series of actions were taken nationally and locally to control the problems:
1904 Compensation Fund legislation. If the Council closed a pub (eg as ‘unsanitary’) the Government would pay compensation.
WW1.Defence of the Realm Act reduced opening hours, increased tax on strong beer.
1921 Licensing Act banned afternoon opening. In Ludlow – pubs were required to close at 9pm.
By 1939 the number of pubs had reduced by 60% and drunkenness offences by 80%
PROMOTING ‘HEALTHY’ ACTIVITIES
Church organisations included the Boys Brigade, Guides and Scouts, though many could not afford the uniforms
From 1844 Sunday Schools promoted basic literacy, and after education became compulsory in 1870, they introduced outings and lantern shows: an annual party in the Castle grounds was attended by over 1000 children. Christian respectability could also be enjoyable!
Team sports were much encouraged, with the emphasis on sportsmanship, but only football proved popular with the working classes. The middle classes ran the teams and players were paid.
Pub games were popular: skittles, bagatelle, ‘puff dart’, tippet. Attempts were made to stop games if gambling was involved and there were prosecutions for playing ‘skittles with a pint’.
1900 – 1950
Many activities were added, especially those that required a middle class committee to organise them!
Evening Clubs were set up where games were played but coffee replaced alcohol.
Cinemas and Dance Halls prospered from the 1920s and this was the first time that women could take part in working class activities.
The Temperance Movement set up many societies, encouraging people to ‘Sign the Pledge’.
Smoking Concerts provided entertainment – recitation , songs, solo violin etc.
Boating and swimming in the Teme flourished in Edwardian times
Parades and Galas were attended by as many as 2000 or 3000 people
Pigeon Racing proved very successful and was organised by the working classes themselves
Gardening became a major activity, horticultural shows offering produce competitions, with different tents for the working classes and the upper classes.
RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS
- Up to 1880s, most beer was brewed by small local companies and individuals. Then large brewing companies began to take over
- The Assembly Rooms were initially built (1840) to hold assemblies and balls for the gentry. Balls began at 9pm – and huge quantities of rich food were consumed.
Dr Beattie provided an entertaining and comprehensive survey. His book, to be published in 2020, will be available at LHS meetings.