The Hall of Waltheof/Chapter XVIII
IN the last two chapters we discussed the history of the Burgesses, or, as they were first called, the Free Tenants of Sheffield. It was they who formed the ruling caste. They held their land in "free" socage, and we may infer from the negative evidence afforded by the Furnival Charter and the books of the "Town Trustees" that at an early period they had attained a high state of social development, the evidence contained in these books being little more than echoes or scanty survivals from a long and unremembered past.
The very mention of a "free" class of men necessarily implies the existence of a class which was not free, and which, if not in actual serfdom, had not, at all events, the same social rights as the Burgesses. We have seen that the Burgesses held their land in free socage, and that the "sokemen" of the Doomsday Book are only found in the Danish parts of England. There is some reason therefore for believing that the Burgesses of Sheffield were originally a band or colony of Danish settlers.
We have seen that this ruling or higher caste has left traces of its early existence amongst us, and we have also seen that its system of local government survives to this very day in the bodies known as the "Town Trustees" and the Twelve Capital Burgesses.
Although, as I have said, the existence of a free class necessarily implies the existence of an unfree class, yet the traces or remains of such a class are not now to be found, except, indeed, in the copyholder or tenant in pure villenage, who, in the manor of Sheffield, holds his land "by the straw," and "at the will" of the lord, the freeman only being capable of holding real estate in fee simple. But there is evidence that in early times a body of men known as "Irish," or perhaps as "Scots," settled in Sheffield by the side of the Teutonic colonists, and occupied a quarter of their own. I have no evidence to show that these "Irish" were ever in a state of serfdom under the dominant inhabitants, but it is clear that they formed a separate class or caste.
At the bottom of Prior Gate, otherwise High street, stood a cross which in Gosling's plan is called Market Cross. On the same plan the street below is called Market Place, now Angel street, and it extends to the Irish Cross, which stood at the junction of Snig hill, Water lane, and Castle Green head, Bank street not having been made at the date of the plan. Both these crosses are figured in the plan, and the Irish Cross is mentioned in a deed of the year 1499. We may infer from this that, at a remote period, the inhabitants of Sheffield were divided into at least two distinct races, each having its own market. If, for the sake of argument, we call the Market Cross the English Cross, to distinguish it from the Irish Cross, we shall get an idea of what the distinction was. These two market crosses imply nothing less than the division of Sheffield into two distinct races. "If," says Mr. Gomme, "we only possessed early maps of all our towns it would be seen how the formation of the village was almost invariably based upon the aggregation of different clans." Further on he says "the mode of settlement in some of our great towns exhibits clear traces of tribal divisions. At Nottingham, until so recently as 1715, the market place was divided lengthwise by an ancient wall breast-high, supposed to have been erected to provide separate market-places for the irreconcilable Saxons and Normans. This wall was taken down about this date, and the market-place for the first time was paved. This division is most probably much older than the Norman era, as at Nottingham we have that remarkable instance of a difference between the two parts of the town in the modes of descent of property, one part following the rule of primogeniture, the other that of junior right, or borough English, and junior right is, at all events, older than political history." Mr. Gomme quotes the "Statistical Survey of Roscommon" thus: "In many of the ancient corporate towns and boroughs in Ireland, certain quarters are known under the appellation of Irish Town, and were occupied by the so-called 'mere Irish,' in contradistinction to the more favoured inhabitants of a different caste. In walled towns the quarters very commonly stood outside." In Sheffield the lower caste seems to have been settled under the castle walls, and to have extended thence in a northerly and westerly direction towards Shales Moor, or Shale Moor, and towards Scotland street.
In Fairbank's plan, 1771, Scotland street is described simply as "Scotland," and I have noticed in the indexes to the Duke of Norfolk's maps that the place is referred to simply as "Scotland." The street, then, appears to have taken its name from a portion of ground which was called Scotland. This field-name is found in many other places; for instance there are places called Scotland and Scots Bank at Wedmore in Somersetshire. I might even mention Scotland Yard in London, which is a very ancient name. I think it is likely that "Scotland" here means "Irish land," especially as Scotland street and the neighbourhood of West-bar are at this very day the quarters of the so-called "Irish." The Scots, as is well known, were an Irish sept, and the old Germans regarded a "Scot" as a roving trader from Ireland. It is possible that these roving traders established at an early period a settlement in Sheffield, forming a distinct class or caste. It is however possible that Scotland means "conveyed land," or land conveyed by a symbolical act. The old laws of Norway and Sweden mention a way of conveying land by throwing a handful of earth, or a straw, into the lap (O. N. skaut, Swed. sköt) of the purchaser, the witnesses holding up his lap. From this process there arose an Old Norse verb skeyta, Swedish sköta, to convey, and an Old Norse skeyting, Swedish skötning, Low Latin scotatio, a conveyance. Now we have seen that in the manor of Sheffield copyhold land is still held "by the straw," a straw being still twisted into the purchaser's conveyance, or copy of court roll, technically known as a surrender and admittance. It was not the land of the freemen, but the land of a lower class of men, holding at the will of the lord, which was conveyed in this way. The freeman usually acquired his estate by inheritance; it did not pass, at all events in early times, by conveyance. But the copyholder required "admission"to his land, whenever a change took place by death or otherwise, and this "admission" was performed by the symbolical act of throwing a handful of earth or a straw into his lap in the name of the whole estate. Hence land acquired in this way may have acquired a distinctive name; it may have been regarded as land conveyed by a symbolical act, as distinguished from land which in early times was not usually conveyed at all.
And then we have the Old English sceot, meaning payment, and also a furlong or division in a field. But "portion land," "furlong land," "payment land" would not make sense.
It seems to me therefore that the choice probably lies between "conveyed land" and "Irish land." Now Scotland meaning Irish land is a known word; as meaning "conveyed land" it does not appear to be known. It is most likely then that the word here means Irish land, more especially as we have distinct proof of an ancient Irish element in the population, and as the part once called "Scotland" is now occupied by "Irish."
Another proof of the different origin of the inhabitants of the "Irish" quarter is to be found in the fact that their dialect differs in some respects from the dialect of their neighbours. Thus they speak of a shilling as a deenar, a word which is plainly derived from the Latin denarius. This word, however, is found in Old English as dinar.
A curious custom kept up upon this very place once called "Scotland" seems to afford evidence that it was formerly inhabited by a race of men differing in nationality from the Burgesses or freemen, and possibly from other inhabitants of Sheffield. A feast formerly held in the neighbourhood of West-bar was called, as old inhabitants have told me, "Scotland feast," and not, as a late writer has described it, "Scotland Street feast." In 1827 a writer in Hone's Every-Day Book gave an account of a Sheffield feast which he called "Scotland feast." After a brief mention of other feasts in the town he says:
"Scotland feast, however, in point of interest, bears away the bell from all the other district revels of Sheffield. It is so called from Scotland-street, already mentioned; a long, hilly, and very populous one, situated in the northern part of the town. On the eve of the feast, which is yearly held on the 29th of May, the anniversary of the restoration of our second Charles, parties of the inhabitants repair into the neighbouring country; whence, chiefly however from Walkley-bank, celebrated as Sheffield schoolboys too well know for birch trees, they bring home, at dead of night, or morning's earliest dawn, from sixteen to twenty well-sized trees, besides a profusion of branches. The trees they instantly plant in two rows; one on each side of the street, just within the curbstone of the flagged pavement. With the branches, they decorate the doors and windows of the houses, the sign-boards of the drinking-shops, and so on. By five or six in the morning, Scotland-street, which is not very wide, has the appearance of a grove. And soon, from ropes stretched across it, three, four, or five superb garlands delight the eyes, and dance over the heads of the feast-folk. These garlands are composed of hoops, wreathed round with foliage and flowers, fluttering with variously coloured ribands, rustling with asidew, and gay with silver tankards, pints, watches, &c. Before the door of the principal alehouse, the largest tree is always planted. The sign of this house is, if my memory do not deceive me, the royal oak. Be this as it may, certain it is that, duly ensconced among the branches of the said tree, may always be seen the effigy, in small, of king Charles the Second: to commemorate indeed the happy concealment and remarkable escape of the merry monarch, at Boscobel, should seem to be the object of creating a sylvan scene at 'Scotland feast;' while that of holding the feast itself on the anniversary of his restoration is, there can be little doubt, to celebrate with honour the principal event in the life of him, after whose ancient and peculiar kingdom the street itself is named. To the particulars already given, it needs scarcely be added, that dancing, drinking, and other merry-making are, as a Scotsman would say, rife at the annual commemoration thus briefly described."
I am told that the feast lasted about a week. It was kept up not only in Scotland street, but in the streets adjoining. The trees planted in the streets were young birch trees, which were brought, without their roots, from Walkley and Upperthorpe, and planted on each side of the street. We may ask why the people in the Irish quarter of Sheffield, to the exclusion of the rest of the inhabitants, were so interested in the restoration of Charles II. that they kept up a feast for a week, and, as I have been told, drank up all the ale in the district? Were the other inhabitants of the town less loyal to the English Crown than these "Irish," or these inhabitants of the "Irish" quarter? It cannot have been so. It is true that "Scotland feast," in its later days at all events, was kept up on the 29th day of May, and during the week following. It is also true, I believe, that an innkeeper in the street used to plant an oak tree in front of his house, and hang up an effigy of Charles II. This "Scotland Feast" was really an ancient ceremony which had been observed in the district from a remote antiquity. In its last days the feast got mixed with the restoration of Charles II., and such mixings of old things and new are well known to students of custom and folklore. If this feast was first instituted in memory of the king's restoration why were birch poles and not oak poles eredled in the street? "In Germany," says Aubrey, "almost every where at Easter, and especially at Whitsunday, they set in their houses, parlors, and chambers young birch trees which they keep a fortnight or longer green in keeping the same in tubs with fresh water, and in some places the churches are also full." He also says that "at Westchester on St. Johns Baptist Eve [June 24th or Midsummer Day] they bring a multitude of young birch trees and plant before their dores to wither." In Brand's "Popular Antiquities" some old churchwardens' accounts are given showing payments for birch treqs for Midsummer Eve, and "agenst Midsummer." Gerard, in his "Herbal," says that the birch "serueth well to the decking up of houses, and banquetting roomes, for places of pleasure, and beautifying of streets in the crosse or gang weeke, and such like." In the "cross or gang week," a day or two before Holy Thursday, the cross was carried and the bounds of townships were beaten. It appears from these accounts that the birch was used at various summer festivals, or ancient ceremonies. The 29th of May comes nearest in point of time to the Whitsun Ale, but whether "Scotland Feast" represents the Whitsun Ale or not it is clear that it is far older than the restoration of Charles II., and is a survival of an old pagan festival.
At the village of St. German's in East Cornwall a mock mayor was chosen on the 29th of May—the same day, be it noted, as "Scotland Feast" in Sheffield—and the election was followed by drinking and rude festivities. This is one of the examples from which Mr. Gomme draws a parallel between the festivals of races which settled in Britain and those of India. "All the vagaries and nonsense practised at these festivals in India are so many symbolical expressions of the power of the non-Aryan tribes during the admitted period of license. There is no reason why in Britain they should not express, in survival, the same village festival with all its significant ethnic symbolism."
I think we may lay some stress on the Cornish parallel here advanced, the day of celebration being identical with that of "Scotland Feast." The inferior race, whether non-Aryan or not, clung to its old customs, such customs being tolerated by the Teutonic overlords. We have no record of the election of a "mock mayor" in Sheffield on the 29th of May, but the "Scotland feast" which began upon that day is evidence of a racial and social difference between the free men and the unfree, between the burgesses and the lower caste belonging in part at least to another nationality. The distinction of races is still maintained in the clannish habits of the people who bear the name of Irish. It must not be supposed that these people are all recent emigrants from Ireland. The mention of the Irish Cross in 1499 is alone enough to prove that they existed as a separate race in that year. The Irish of 1499, and of a much earlier time, are identical as a nationality with the people who inhabit the Irish quarter of Sheffield in 1893, though their numbers may have been increased by recent emigration from Ireland, and though the race may have been modified by the introduction of new blood.
- Ante, p. 122 n.
- Grimm's R. A., p. 290.
- Hunter's Hallamshire, p. 138. The Irish Cross was an erection of considerable size, and upon its summit was a weather cock. Amongst the accounts of the "Town Trustees" not yet printed I find, under the year 1715, the following
"Charges Reparing Irish Crosse Paid Hesketh work there ut per receipt 0 2 6 Luke Ratclifle ut per bill and receipt 0 6 1 Thomas Rhodes ut per receipt 0 10 0 Thomas Nowe ut per bill and receipt 0 6 0 R. Wilson ut per Do. 0 3 0 Mending the weather Cock 0 2 0"
- Village Community, p. 240.
- Ibid., p. 246.
- There is a field called Irish Close at Tickhill near Rotherham.
- Village Community, p. 252.
- Gosling does not mention Scotland street by name. The street existed in 1736, but he calls it Lambert Knoll, which was evidently the name of the hill. Fifty years ago, I am told, many of the houses in the street were thatched.
- Wackernagel's Altdeutsches Handworterbuch. p. 256.
- Vigfusson, s. v. skeyta; Grimm's R. A., pp. 116, 124; Ihre's Glossarium, s. v. sköta.
- See more on this subject; in the Supplement to my Sheffield Glossary, 1891, p. vii.
- "In my boyish days, one Ludlam kept it. Was it he to whom belonged the dog which gave occasion to the proverbial saying, 'As idle as Ludlam's dog, that lay down to bark'?" [No such public house as the " Royal Oak " occurs in a Sheffield Directory dated 1822 (Baines, Leeds), in Scotland street, but two other "Royal Oaks" are mentioned. Nor does it occur in a Directory of 1849. The Directory of 1787 has "Ludlam George, victualler, Scotland Street."—S. O. A.]"
- Hone's Every-Day Book, 1827, ii., 1261. The article is dated from Paisley, Sep: 21, 1826, and is signed "Gulielmus."
- Remaines of Gentilisme, p. 119.
- Ed. 1849, i., 307.
- Village Community, p. 110.