Badvent Calendar Day 21

Bring out those Solstice bulls!

Local story-teller Jon Mason recently drew my attention to a Sussex tradition, called ‘gooding’. This custom seems to me connected to one that’s enjoyed something of a revival of late. I’m referring of course to Wassailing, the custom of toasting and blessing the apple trees to ensure a good crop, which also involved a certain amount of touring the homes of the wealthy asking, or perhaps demanding, their occupants invite them in and surrender some of their food and booze for the consumption of their visitors.

Gooding too involves a redistribution of wealth in the form of charitable bounty, but it takes place on December 21st, Solstice, also known as St Thomas’s Day, unlike Wassailing, which is on ‘Old Twelvey’, Jan 6th. It also has a particular demographic as the chief beneficiaries, poor widows or ‘good wives’, hence ‘Gooding’. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, every St. Thomas’s Day at Mitchelgrove Farm, near Patching, West Sussex, a bull was slaughtered, and the meat distributed to the poor. On the face of it, this sharing of wealth on the part of the gentry was voluntary, but it stands to reason the implicit threat of more forcible expropriation on the part of the common folk lies behind the jolly image of yuletide conviviality such customs conjure up, especially when you consider the enclosure of common land was a recent memory and its effects still ongoing.

The scene in the Dead of Night episode ‘The Exorcism’ (1972), where Rachel (Anna Cropper) becomes a medium channelling the tragedy that took place in the cottage, reminds us not all landowners were generous in response to the poverty of their widowed neighbours, and even if they were, their sense of noblesse oblige may at least in part have been out of fear of reprisals. It seems oddly apt that much of my information about ‘Gooding’ came from a page on Worthing Christmas folklore on a local estate agents’ website.

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