Friday, March 29, 2013

Ride, Cockney, Ride!

When I was researching Easter customs (oh, lovely, lovely research!), I ran across a mention of Cockney riders distinguishing themselves at a hunt in Epping Forest on Easter Monday.  I don’t know about you, but most often I associate the term Cockney with the working-class Londoners who live near the Thames on the East Side.  In the nineteenth century, many of them would not even have owned horses, much less been known as bruising riders.  And hunting, in my mind, was generally reserved to the aristocrats and gentry out in the country.  So, of course, I had to investigate further!

It turns out that for most of the nineteenth century, Epping Forest held 7,000 acres of unenclosed woodland, marshland, and fields as part of a Royal Forest.  It was the haunt of highwaymen and gypsies, a place to bury bodies.  If you wanted to hunt there, you had to have a grant of right by the ruler. 

But over the years, a set of circumstances had led to the belief that the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and all the citizens of London had the right to hunt a stag in Epping Forest on the Monday after Easter.  And hunt they did.  Until at least 1807, the Mayor and Alderman could be found chasing through the forest after a deer, with the City of London’s own pack of hounds.  But then other Easter civic duties crowded out their schedules, and the costs for keeping a pack of hounds was crowded out by more pressing fiscal responsibilities. 

Still, the citizens of London continued attending the hunt.  And various gentlemen made a sport of it.  For a few years, one fellow encouraged ladies to join the hunt, holding a ball at his nearby country house afterward.  Even when all the deer had left the forest, tame deer were brought in especially for the hunt, their antlers adorned with ribbons and garlands of flowers around their necks. 

Every type of horse and donkey, horseman and horsewoman, of every class, showed up, with dogs of all sorts.  Because of the cost of keeping a large enough pack of hounds, the dogs were cobbled together from several owners and often had trouble staying together as they coursed.  Vendors hawked pies and drinks.  Inns in the area did a brisk business too.  People climbed trees to watch as the deer was let loose and chased over hill and dale.  I was personally enheartened to hear that the deer was caught alive and lived to run again the next year, until I read further that everyone wanted some of its coat to commemorate the affair and in one case nearly plucked it bald! 

I think I’ll stick to colored eggs and Easter services to celebrate the day, thank you very much!  And to help you celebrate, I've written a very short story about how Samantha, Lady Everard, spent her Easter in 1805.  You can find it here.
Wishing you a very happy Easter, however you choose to celebrate!


Cara King said...

Fascinating, Regina! Though this idea of hunting a tame deer wearing ribbons and garlands seems pretty creepy to me, even if you didn't really intend to kill it. Ah, humans!

Regina Scott said...

I know, Cara. Supposedly the deer led them a merry chase, though. It was probably scared to death!

QNPoohBear said...

I agree with Cara. Killing tame deer wearing garlands and ribbons is all kinds of wrong.

I enjoyed the story. One of my favorite Easter memories is the Easter day my family spent having a picnic in Greenwich. We didn't do an egg roll. We usually do an egg hunt. (plastic eggs and candy)

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, QNPoohBear!

My brother and I hunted eggs when we were little, but usually in the house. Too many times Easter Sunday in the Seattle area (where I grew up) is just too wet to spend time outdoors. On the other hand, where I am today is glorious!