The Town Peas, CambridgeshireOne of the odder village doles, charities set up by wealthy benefactors to give a little help to the poor, can be found in the South Cambridgeshire village of Sawston .
By will of John Huntingdon, proved in 1555, various charitable acts were set up. One of them, in honour of Huntingdon’s wife, was for the growing and picking each year of two acres of white peas, to be given to the poor of the place – a rather sensible idea however odd it may seem at first blush, as not only were peas of immediate value, but dried they would provide sustenance over a far longer period.
These days the village is a sizeable one, with over 7,000 inhabitants at the last survey. The picking of The Town Peas (so called in spite of the place being a village) still goes on, though bureaucrats would dearly love to spoil the fun, at a date in early July fixed by those entrusted with the charity’s running. Nowadays ‘the poor’ are not the only ones picking, as it has become a part of the settlement’s identity.
In the nineteenth century, and doubtless earlier, the picking often resulted in arguments and scuffles, and no wonder as getting a good share of the crop could means fewer days with empty bellies for the disadvantaged living in Sawston – as many as 500 would turn up at the appointed time to get their dues.
More British Folk Customs?