Riding at the Quintain

Dr. Plot, whose 'Natural Curiosities of Oxfordshire' were published first in 1676, alluding to riding at the Quintain, a sport which survived in Deddington after it had died out elsewhere, writes :—

"They first set a post perpendicularly in the ground, and then place a slender piece of timber on the top of it, on a spindle, with a board nailed to one end, and a bag of sand hanging at the other : against this board they anciently rod with spears ; now, as I saw it at Deddington in this county, only with strong staves, which violently bring abot the bag of sand, if they make not good speed away, it strikes them in the neck or shoulders, and sometimes perhaps knocks them from their horses ; the great design of the sport being to try the agility both of horse and man, and to break the board......"—further observing "this is now only in request at marriages, and set up in the way for young men to ride at as they carry home the bride, he that breaks the board being counted the best man."

This tilting was centuries earlier an exercise for military prowess ; it doubtless took place in our market square, surviving as part of the rough play that old rustic wedding parties expected. Dr. Plot stated furthermore that 'he found the sport in no part of the country but where Roman ways did run, or where some Roman garrison had been placed.' * With regard to this last, Akeman Street, the Roman road from St. Albans to Bath, crossed our highway by Sturdy's Castle ; the famous Port-way also was in the vicinity of Aynho.

The evolution of the chase from necessary food hunting to a recreation needs no comment. It suffices here to state that the Heythrop meets several times during the season in the Market Place which presents an animated scene, especially of recent years when horse-boxes and cars assemble to save steeds and riders from the fatigue of the over-long journeys which a reduced number of packs causes. Meets are fewer, consequently they are more numerously attended. Foxes are strictly preserved and farmers wholeheartedly in favour of only 'sporting' methods being used against the enemy, whose short, sharp bark is occasionally heard at night in the village, followed by the discovery of ravaged poultry-yards. The hunt very fairly allows compensation for fowls thus killed.

Outdoor games do not seem to have been organized till lately. Our (recently deceased) centenarian, William Hirons, recalled "filling a sack with hay which we kicked all across the Market

Place." Now an adult Deddington football team plays in the Castle Grounds, also boys' Clubs belonging to the Church and Chapel have their football in a field lent by Mr. J. Bletsoe, horse-breeder and farmer.

When Mr. Wing was writing Deddington possessed a rifle corps with shooting range and butts, but he laments that the "once pleasant gatherings called Flower Shows have passed away." Fortunately these last were revived and this year's Show (1932) is nineteenth of the new series.

Seasonal games are of the usual kind. This year extra dryness brought tops in early, and in March bows and arrows (home-made) had a brief but enthusiastic reign ; but traffic has conquered the hoop. With warmer days pavements can be seen chalked for hopscotch, and skipping ropes also come out in the Market Square.

* Editor: The sport of riding at the quintain (aka tilting) is reported in some detail in The Modern Universal Traveller published in 1799 - along with some negative comments about Doddington (sic) being 'a very poor town' and 'not a single building thats merits particular notice..'! H.M.Colvin in A History of Deddington also refers to it while discussing the well & pump that replaced the Parish Pool and now replaced again by just a cast iron bolted cover.


Four years ago, on Boxing Day, the mummers were still going round the village. Those I saw were most of them from Clifton. They collected for local charities and sang, played concertinas and danced. Their songs had nothing more antique than the half-a-century old "My Grandfather's Clock," and their steps were mostly 'double shuffle,' but their get-up had traditional touches lingering. For example, there were old top-hats be-ribboned, and their flannel trousers adorned and tied with ribbons suggested the Morris. Also there was the time-honoured character with blackened face and one dressed up as a comic female.

Black-face linked these modern mummers with the memories of Mr. Hirons. This, he said, was Beelzebub ; pretty good evidence that in former days Deddington used to get the famous mumming legend of St. George and the Dragon played with its "here come I, Beelzebub." Our oldest inhabitant was here, however, so overwhelmed by the comical recollections of his boyhood that not a great deal could be gleaned between his chuckles. The mummers were, he said, all in rags and they brought a besom. Their address began :—

"A-room, a-room,
Here I come with my broom......"

They proceeded to introduce the members of the cast.

"Big head and little wit" and "here I come with my face a-fire," "I as ain't been yet," were all mentioned.*

Of the dancing that must have been popular in such a dancing county, no special memories seem to be cherished except that a few years back one Fiddler Smith died in St. Thomas' Street. And of another old man named Joseph Wood it is recorded, by many who still remember him, that he played the pipes and tabor.

A less happy sporting (?) memory of one Knibbs is that he fought a sheep dog for a wager and won.

Folk dancing, however, has been effectively revived and the local branch of the Women's Institute (founded in 1925) won in 1929 the Shield of the Oxfordshire Federation.

At our Women's Institute Socials two singing games are sometimes spontaneously played ; one of them, I believe, is in no printed collection. This is sung to the tune of 'A-hunting we will go !" The players arrange themselves as in 'Oranges and Lemons' and at the last line are caught prisoners in the same manner.   It runs :—

"Oh a-hunting we will go,
A-hunting we will go ;
We'll catch a little fox
And put him in a box,
And never, never let him go !"

The other is published and well known. It is danced with linked hands in a circle, turning first one way and then reversing as they sing :—

"Sally go round the sun, Sally go round the moon, Sally go round the chimney-pots On a sunny afternoon."

May Day this year was kept on Monday, the second of the month, and many children brought prettily arranged wild and garden flowers to the door. An improvement on the usual "To-day, to-day is the first of May ; please to remember the garland" was the song of a litle boy who came alone. The commencement has quite the olden touch.

"My gentlemen and ladies,
I wish you happy May,
I've come to show my garland
Because it is May Day."

* These terms and names of characters link our mumming tradition with the Buckinghamshire ; but an old inhabitant, Mr. John Gibbs, added particulars of 'Old Mother Wallopsee' with her black face. She has been included in the Version now played by the newly formed 'Deddington Morris Dancers and Mummers.'   (May 1933).

Editor: A photograph, taken on VE Day 1945, of a parade in Clifton shows that the tradition of Mumming had lasted probably up until 1939 and then briefly re-appeared at war's end. No records exist of the Mummers appearing in later years.


Where the historian Leland states so laconically 'there hath been a castle'—still remain the Castle Grounds. Here from about the middle of the nineteenth century till the first decade of the twentieth, situated on the right-hand side of the present bowling-green, stood the remarkable structure called the Pavilion. It was so large that it contained a spacious ballroom with musicians' gallery, cloakrooms and a refreshment room. The whole was covered by an immense roof of thatch.

Inside the ballroom walls were hung with glistening chintz in a floral design and at intervals gas jets were arranged round in star-like clusters. Dance music was provided by a band from Oxford, invariably including a harp.

The Society gatherings there were brilliant and exclusively 'County'. Deddington could have no share in those functions except such satisfaction as might be obtained from gazing upon the smart equipages which went towards the entrance gate full, returning empty to park in the market place. Sometimes the ball had been preceded by an Archery tournament, then it was the custom of ladies, whose homes were at a distance, to dress at the King's Arms or the Unicorn. Another chance for Deddingtonians to catch a glimpse of beauty, though in all probability voluminously cloaked.

The Castle Grounds Lodge, which is still inhabited as a dwelling, was in the hey-day of pavilion glory, the abode of George Jones, professional cricketer and groundsman, who was in charge of the Gentlemen's Cricket Club and the Archery, which were the outdoor attractions. From the Lodge to the pavilion site there is now only a rough track. Then it was a drive fit for the barouches, broughams and family coaches which drew up in succession at the doors, and passing on, sometimes assembled to the number of one hundred in the market place.

Mr. Robert Tucker, our postmaster for many years, relates that as a boy he remembers as many as four four-in-hand coaches there. Through the friendliness of a coachman well known to him, Mr. Tucker was, moreover, smuggled into that 'select' paradise— a most difficult adventure, for even after penetrating within the enclosure, again hurdles fenced off possible invasion—and he saw there such a scene as now-a-days would certainly not be matched. Gas constellations, shining flowery wall-hangings, and lovely ladies swaying and gyrating in billowy silks and tarlatans all frills and furbelows, graceful as bell-shaped flowers.

In the end the vogue for pavilion gaities waned, and finally, principally on account of the expense of keeping in repair its immense expanse of thatch, demolition was decided upon. A Banbury auctioneer put the effects to the hammer, but the profits did not cover expenses. A little of its concrete foundation still remains. Some years ago Mr. Robert Tucker attended a sale at the house of the late Mr. H. Cotton Risley. Among a lot of waste paper he found there the minute-book of the Pavilion Club, kept by Mr. Stratton of Croughton whose family had been among its chief supporters. It was a facetious chronicle with records of such fines as 'drinks all round' or 'penalty to be paid a bottle of port.'

An annual Flower Show, a bowling green and winter matches of the Deddington football Club is the extent of the recreation uses to which the Castle grounds are put. There is no cricket played there, nor any provision made for children's games—the children instead risking their lives (and other people's !) in the public thoroughfares. Cattle are occasionally turned into the Castle grounds, earning for the landlords a trifling sum.

Let us hope that when we have 'set our house in order' as regards drains and water supply—both being at present only 'good in parts'—the matter of a real village playground may be taken in hand.

So far Deddington has no cinema, relying on occasional dances, whist drives and concerts for entertainments. Formerly puppet shows were sometimes held at the (late) Exhibition Inn and companies of strolling players pitched their tents at the corner of 'Back Lane' by Deddington School. Their repertoire ranged from Shakespeare to 'Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Red Barn.' The Autumn of 1925 saw their last appearance. It was a 'washout' in both senses for they had ceased to draw and torrential rains drove them from under canvas into lodgings.

N.B.—The Flower Show Committee at a Meeting on the 25th November, 1932, decided that owing to lack of funds this must temporarily cease.