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by the crier, used to adjourn to the “Three Tuns” and drink the beer and spend the money amicably together.
It is also in the remembrance of some old people that men were whipped round the market-place tied to a cart's tail. This was for drunkenness, small thefts, or minor faults. They were not tied to the cart so as to walk, but there were holes in the cart for their hands to go through (something like stocks), and to these their hands and legs were tied ; so that they were in a kneeling position, their clothes stripped off down to the waist. A man in front drove, and the keeper of the House of Correction was in the cart with a cat-o'-ninetails, with which be whipped the culprits ; the punishment was severe or otherwise, according to the temper of the officer, but supposed to be a lash about every half minute; the crowd expressed their sympathy or severity by cries of “Don't hurt him, Dick !” or “Give it him, Dick !" etc.
The cart was drawn twice round the market-place, and afterwards to the gaol, where the doctor used to examine the victim.
At St. John's Church the gleaning-bell used to be rung, also the daily bell, at 5.45 A.M. and 8.45 P.M., but was discontinued about thirty or forty years since.
In the death-knells, twice three tolls were given for a man, five tolls for a woman on the tenor bell, and for a boy three tolls, and for a girl four tolls, given on the sixth bell. These tolls used to be succeeded by a number of strokes, one for each year of the deceased's age, but this is now discontinued, and only the regular tolling performed
A loaf of bread with quicksilver inside has even recently been put on the river when anyone has been drowned, with the idea of its floating until it is over the body, when it stops; and about forty years ago, a man told me, when his uncle committed suicide and the body could not be found, that a man with a drum was put in a boat which kept close to the loaf of bread, and was drumming all the time, and the idea was that the drumming would cause the body to float. He says, his uncle's body did not come to the surface.
A more pleasing custom is, just before Christmas day,
for the butchers, pork-butchers, game-dealers and provision shops to have a show night. On this occasion, the best meat to be obtained is dressed and decorated. The shops are gaily trimmed with evergreens, paper flowers, gas-jets, etc., and to one inside the shop the display of the meats and the provisions is a sight worth seeing, while the streets are thronged with people criticising the shows. Last Christmas there were prizes-silver cups—for the best display. Drapers and other shops are all, of course, dressed out too, but this is essentially the butchers' show.
The last custom which has passed away with the Ballot Act was the destruction of the hustings and pollingbooths at elections. This was a right claimed by the inhabitants successfully, and although it was tried to be stopped, the feeling was so strong that it was found to be useless to interfere. The hustings and polling-booth were erected in front of the Guildhall
, and as 4 o'clock approached the market-place got more and more crowded, and the nearer the time the more dense was the mass of people next the booth, the rougher element being particularly conspicuous. As the hands of the clock neared the hour, there was a silence which was oppressive. Those in the booth had been carefully getting out, until no one was left inside but the necessary clerks and officers and last voters. But at the sound of the first stroke of four, a sudden rasping, crashing, wrenching noise of tearing wood was heard ; each one left in the hustings was getting out anyhow, jumping or rushing as fast as possible ; books, papers, and other things were thrown to other responsible people in the building, for it was saure qui peut; within two minutes not a vestige of the hustings remained, but men, women, and boys might be seen carrying away pieces of deal or other wood in all directions, and the old Town Hall was soon left without a hideous wooden structure to hide its quaintness. No tools were allowed : only hands, and the wood from the structure. It was a sight intensely amusing, exciting, and much appreciated. The windows round the square were filled with spectators, eagerly looking on and encouraging those in whom they took an interest, to go in and win.
Very few fights took place, as the gainer of the wood was generally satistied with one piece; but, if greedy and wanting more, some would carefully hide the first piece and rush back for a second, during their absence some keen observer has taken the first piece from its hiding-place, and left the original owner to find himself without anything
On May-day a curious custom was observed : the ardent lover would place a piece of May in bloom in the window, or the hole of the window-shutter, of the house in which his lady lived; but if there had been a quarrel, a piece of blackthorn was used instead of the May blossom, so that the neighbours would know the state of affairs.
At St. Peter's, or Cherry, Fair, held in July, it was the privilege of any inhabitant to start a bough house. My informant remembers the last one at the corner of Cumbergate, now the Advertiser offices, being kept by a man named Hall, a razor-grinder, about 1835. When the fair was proclaimed, a bough or branch of a tree was put over the door, and the householder could sell beer and refreshments without a license from twelve noon to midnight every day the fair lasted.
About twenty years since, I remember two men in Broad Street, who cleared their shops and sold tea, coffee, and refreshments, and announced their intention of re-starting the old bough houses ; but the authorities stopped them.
The last night-watchman of the old school passed away about fifteen years since, and until he was totally incapable, he occupied his box in the Minster precincts, and went round regularly, calling out the hours and state of the weather: unless he was fast asleep, or some young men had played a trick upon him of fastening him in his box, or even pushing it over and sitting on it, so that the poor man could not get out.
There is one privilege which the magistrates of Peterborough pride themselves on possessing, but one which they do not use, viz., to condemn a murderer to death without sending him to be tried before a judge and jury at Assizes. It is stated that the privilege is retained and recognised, but if it should be used a special Act would be passed to alter the law. No one has been
hung in Peterborough since the beginning of the century, and the hanging was done in a very primitive manner. The condemned man was put in a cart and drawn under the gallows (a permanent erection on the common), the constable who drove the cart slipped the noose over the poor man's head, and was so disgusted with his job that he hoped the man would escape ; but he mounted the cart, caught hold of the reins, and said
gee-up !" to the horse, and drove all round the common, without looking behind to see if the man was hung or had escaped. The man was hung, and the gallows stood for some years
after ; when some of the inhabitants, hearing that the poor man's son (who had enlisted) was in a detachment of soldiers who would be passing it on their way into the town, went at night and cut it down, and placed it against the door of the gaol. This was the end of the Peterborough gallows, and brings to a close my list of old Peterborough customs.