The Southwell Gate, NottinghamshireThe Nottingham tradition of the Southwell Gate, or Southwell Pence, can be traced back to 1109, though it had been in abeyance for several centuries when a local Morris side revived it in 1981. A folk festival has sprung up around (or near) the custom itself.
In 1109 the Archbishop of York wrote to all the parishes of Nottinghamshire seeking contributions towards the building of what would eventually be Southwell Minster. Requests from such a powerful figure were not to be ignored, so it became established that representatives from the parishes, headed by the Mayor of Nottingham, would bring their offerings in a grand procession every Whitsun. The procession and the Whitsun Fair going on then made this an event of significance locally, a high day and holiday.
The Southwell Pence label is self-explanatory; but the Southwell Gate needs a few words: gate is an old word for street, seen still in many old ways in towns and cities around the country, Southwell Gate thus referring to the road up to the Minster.
Nowadays the Morris dancers begin the procession at the Old Market Square, where the Lord Mayor produces his city’s pence. The route to Southwell Minster takes in the Old Lace Market, Sneinton, Thurgarton and Burton Joyce among other spots, many of which are pubs. For a sort of verisimilitude at the end of the walk an officer of the Minster is given purses of pre-decimal coins, and then cheques for the true value of the contributions.
More British Folk Customs?