The Pagan Year


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My one-hour documentary film The Pagan Year was undertaken as a complementary studies project during my 3-year BA Fine Art degree course at Kingston Polytechnic in the mid-late 1970s. Video was then in its infancy, so it was shot on hand-wound 16mm film cameras, with ‘wild’ sound recorded mostly on cassette tape or occasionally a Uher reel-to reel machine.

I travelled the length and breadth of England (unfortunately I couldn’t afford to go any further afield, so Scotland and Wales were out of the question), filming and photographing seasonal folk customs that were thought at that time to still preserve some hints of a pagan or pre-Christian origin, although the tide of scholarly opinion was already beginning to turn against that kind of interpretation.

My original intention had been to make a short film, lasting 10 or perhaps 15 minutes, to illustrate my final year thesis, but as I researched more deeply I realised that one custom might preserve a curious feature that only seemed to make sense when related to something that happened elsewhere. As will be seen from the days on which the customs occur and their geographic spread, I had to complete the filming over a couple of years in order to cover them all.

The places that I visited (marked in bold italics) and the subjects that feature in the film are:

      • Allendale, Northumberland: Tar Barrel Procession (Dec 31 – New Year’s Eve)
      • Haxey, Lincolnshire: Haxey Hood Game (Jan 6 – Old Christmas Day)
      • Scarborough, Yorkshire: Long Rope Day/Shrovetide Skipping (Shrove Tuesday)
      • Ashbourne, Derbyshire: Shrovetide Football (Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday)
      • Midgley, Yorkshire: Pace Egg Play (Good Friday)
      • Bacup & Britannia, Lancs: Coconut Dance (Easter Saturday)
      • Brighouse, Yorkshire: Pace Egg Play (Easter Saturday)
      • Paste Eggs
      • Hallaton, Leicestershire: Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking (Easter Monday)
      • Hot Cross Buns
      • Minehead, Somerset: Hobby Horse (May Eve – ‘Warning Night’, May 1, 2 & 3)
      • Padstow, Cornwall: Obby Oss  (May Eve & May Day)
      • Helston, Cornwall: Furry Dance (Floral Dance) & Hal-an-Tow (May 8)
      • Morris Dancing
      • Headington Quarry, Oxfordshire: Morris Dancing (Spring Bank Holiday)
      • Bampton, Oxfordshire: Morris Dancing (Spring Bank Holiday)
      • Maypoles
      • Castleton, Derbyshire: Garland Day (May 29)
      • Aston-on-Clun, Shropshire: Garland Tree (May 29)
      • Tissington & Wormhill, Peak District: Well-Dressing (Ascension Day & late summer)
      • Cornwall: Midsummer Bonfires (June 23, Midsummer Eve)
      • Whalton, Northumberland: Baal Fire (July 4 – Old Midsummer Eve)
      • Appleton, Cheshire: Bawming the Thorn (near old Midsummer Day)
      • Abbots Bromley, Staffs: Horn Dance (first Monday after first Sunday after Sept 4 – Wakes Monday)
      • Hinton St George, Somerset: Punkie Night (last Thursday in October)
      • Antrobus, Cheshire: Soulcakers’ Play (October 31 – Halloween – & Nov 1&2 – Soultide)
      • Hatherleigh, Devon: Carnival & Tar Barrels (Wednesday before Nov 5)
      • Ottery St Mary, Devon: Tar Barrel Rolling (Nov 5 – Guy Fawkes’ Night/Bonfire Night)
      • Shebbear, Devon: Turning the Devil’s Boulder (Nov 5 – Guy Fawkes’ Night/Bonfire Night)
      • Handsworth & Grenoside, Yorkshire: Sword Dancing (Dec 26 – Boxing Day)
      • Marshfield, Gloucestershire: Paper Boys’ Mumming Play (Dec 26 – Boxing Day)