'If onny o’ you husbands your good wives do bang
Let em cum to uz and we’ll ride em the stang'
Yorkshire Riding Song (Trad)
I was rather hoping to save talking about 'Riding the Stang' for the summer, when feasts and festivals are somewhat thin on the ground, but an exceptionally late Easter this year means we have a bit of a hiatus. In fact Riding the Stang could actually happen at any time throughout the year, but let’s have it now.
So what exactly is ‘Riding the Stang’? Well stang is the old Norse word for ladder. Riding the stang was an activity carried out by the young men of a village when one of their neighbours did something of which they and the community, disapproved. The most common target was a man who beat his wife, but homosexual behaviour, adultery, henpecking and witchcraft were other activities often publicly condemned this way.
An effigy would be made of old clothes stuffed with straw and it would be given a signifying characteristic, so everyone could work out who it was. This was then tied to a ladder and carried round the village on the men’s shoulders. Pennies would be thrown or given to the riding lads. Finally the straw effigy was taken aloft to the house of the offending party and by shouting, blowing whistles and banging pots and pans a great din would be made so that everyone knew what was going on. The practice was repeated for up to three nights and then the effigy was burned in a prominent place. The pennies were spent in the ale house. It all sounds rather amusing, but actually I think it was probably deeply unpleasant.
Riding the Stang was common in the agricultural villages of East Yorkshire right up to 1900. The village of Hunmanby near Scarborough stopped the practice in 1860 upon the orders of the Lord of the Manor, Admiral Mitford. During the last riding episode that year, the bonfire got rather out of hand. The straw effigy was burned on Cross Hill adjacent to the market cross. Unfortunately the landlord of the White Swan Inn had left half a barrel of pitch unattended. Not surprisingly the riding boys added it to the fire. The resulting conflagration was so great that it burned down the village stocks and melted the lead on the market cross, causing the Saxon cross on top to collapse. So - no more 'ridings'.
The practice of ‘charivari’ was very similar to riding the stang and was often carried out on the occasion of uneven marriages – particularly between older women and young men. 'Rough Music' is the term more commonly used in the south of England for the same practice, there's an episode of it in 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'.
I think such rascally behaviour demands an appropriate Yorkshire treat. A Fat Rascal is basically a big decorated scone. If you're ever in one of Betty's Tea Rooms in Yorkshire have one for me.
150g plain flour and 150g self-raising flour sieved together
1 tsp baking powder
130g cold butter, cubed
90g caster sugar
Grated rind of an orange and a lemon
150g mixed dried fruit - I like to include some finely chopped peel in this
1 egg, lightly beaten and
1 egg yolk, 1 tbsp water, pinch of salt, glacé cherries or apricots and blanched almonds
Sieve both flours and the baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, citrus rind and dried fruit and mix well. Add the beaten egg and enough milk to bring the mixture together into a soft dough, I find this easier to do on a board than in a bowl. Form the mixture into 6 saucer-sized rounds, about 2cm deep.
Mix the egg yolk, water and salt together to make a glaze and brush this over the fat rascals. Decorate so as to make two eyes and prominent teeth. Transfer to a non-stick baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
The citrus zest and candied peel is what really makes these absolutely delicious, you don't need to butter them as you would a scone.
Undone by the past
he once sold his wife and child
Haiku on 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' by David M Bader.