(36) Country Ways
Upton may not be a very old village but we have come across a few traditional sayings and customs, most of them now discarded, that are of interest to us to-day.
Souling. In many parts of Cheshire it was a custom, for several centuries, for young folk to perform a traditional Soul-Caking Play on Souls' Eve (31st October) and for three or four days before and after this date. These plays were all handed down by word of mouth, and so we find varying versions of the same theme. The good souls fight the evil spirits, in the form of St. George fighting and slaying the Black Prince; and many local characters are introduced that the villagers may enjoy - the old woman weeping for her son, the quack doctor who cures him with his magic bottle of medicine, Beelzebub, the devil, who drinks the bottle dry. Dairy Dout, the simpleton, two drivers and the poor old horse's head. When the play is done, all beg for cake and wine to feed their souls until "this time next year."
Many of the older inhabitants of Upton Heath remember going "souling" on All Souls' Eve. We have been told that in the mid nineteenth century they performed one of these Souling Plays at the Wheatsheaf† Inn. Several of them remember dressing up in cloaks and going round with a horse's head on a stick. The songs they sang varied:-
Soul, a soul, a souling cake,
Please, good. Missus, a souling-cake.
Apple, a pear,a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul.
Three for Him that made us all.
Up in the kitchen and. down in the Hall.
My face is very dirty, my shoes are very thin,
I've got a little pocket to put a penny in.
If you haven't got a penny, a half-penny will do,
If you haven't got a half-penny. God bless you.
Souling night has come at last,
And we are souling here.
Please put a penny in the old man's hat,
haven't got a penny, a half-penny will do,
If you haven't got a half-penny, God bless you.
There is another version from a lady whose mother lived in this village† during the 1860s:-
Souling night has come at last,
And we are souling here,
And all that we are souling for
Is a cup of your good beer.
As it was often at farmhouses that they called, they would be served with good home-brewed beer. In the following Souling Song the singers had their faces "blacked" we are told:- (37)
(38) There are also, in this old book, some typically country recipes using coltsfoot to make wine and syrup, and we are told that "when dried, coltsfoot can be smoked in the same way as ordinary tobacco, and gives marked relief in cases of difficult breathing in asthma."
It was the custom among farmers in these parts to leave a
sheaf out in the field
"for the birds" when the harvest was all safely in.
We hear too of the old method of thrashing used on farms within living memory; the corn was thrashed with a flail, a long pole with a loose piece of wood one the end of it. This was used on Mr. Ithellís old farm.
†Although there are no special Upton saylngs, there are many Cheshire proverbs which are as well known and used in this part of the county as any other, as
"Better wed over the mixen than over the moor."
In two old Cheshire proverbs, there is reference made to family names well known in Upton:-
"Egertons and Leighs
As thick as fleas."
"As many Leighs as Fleas,
Massies as asses,
Crewes as crows
And Davenports as dogs' tails."
Many old words, peculiar to these parts, are still used by the older members of our village. "Dunnage" is used to mean the top or outside of a stack. "Adlant" is a word used by old local farmers to mean the amount of land allowed from the hedge in a field for turning the plough. A "spence" means a buttery or larder, and one of these can be seen in Upton Farm. The term "Rit" is commonly used in these parts to mean the smallest pig of a litter.
†It is always a matter of Interest to us to hear how our predecessors spent their leisure time, and it is only by word of mouth that we can learn such details.
Effigy-burning or Riding the Stang. This is another old-time custom that has died out with the years. If the villagers particularly wished to show disapproval of the morals of some person, or persons, effigies were made of them which were then carried round the village, to be burnt near the house of the wrong-doer. Generally the crowd of disapproving villagers dressed up, sang or shouted rhymes, and made a lot of noise.
Most villages are proud of their own particular recipes and cures. Upton Heath can even boast of having had a wart-charmer. One of our inhabitants tells how, as a girl of twelve, she was sent to the old man, hoping he could remove the warts from the back of her hand. He made several passes over her hand with his own, repeating some rhyme as he did so; and, shortly afterwards, the warts disappeared. One of our oldest inhabitants can also remember snails being used in the cure of warts, though we are not told how.
Here is an old cure recorded in Mr. R. Ithell's scrapbook: "For Weak Chests. Place two newly-laid unbroken eggs in a jar or small basin and cover with pure lemon juice; set aside, turning occasionally until nothing remains of the shells but foam. Then remove the skins from the eggs and beat up the whites, yolks and the foam together, with enough good honey to sweeten nicely. Add one pint of creamy new milk, gradually beating all well together. Strain through a muslin bag, and beat in half a pint of good Jamaica rum. It will form a delicious emulsion which should be bottled, and a wine-glassful taken each morning, fasting. It is like "Elixir of Life" to some poor sufferers, but care must be taken in its preparation."
The oldest pastime we hear of is Cockfighting, carried on at Upton Cross. We read that cockfighting often took place on Shrove Tuesday; and that during Race Week great (59) cocking-mains were fought in Chester and district at the beginning of the nineteenth century. A favourite breed was "the white pile" and "Cheshire piles."
Good Hunting, too, was enjoyed In the neighbourhood, for such announcements as this are frequently found in old numbers of the "Chester Courant":-
Tuesday, Jan 13th 1829.
Sir Thomas Stanley's Hounds will meet on Tuesday (this day) at Upton; at ten.
Old inhabitants can remember the men of the village playing "Skittles" . Quoits too was a favourite game among the villagers. It is interesting to note that, in fields where the men gathered to play these games, many old clay pipes have been dug up in recent years, a reminder that the clay pipe industry flourished in Chester in the last century.
Children's games remain substantially the same the country over, and throughout the centuries, but their names sometimes vary. One village game which we are told was played by girls and youths in the village was Duckstones - several small stones were placed on top of a larger egg-shaped stone. The player then walked some distance away, and knocked off the little stones by throwing another one. Another more unusual game was Peggy, played with a piece of pointed wood four or five inches long; it may still be played to-day under a different name.
Other pastimes are dealt with under the Recreation section. (40)