Old Manís Day, HertfordshireOld Manís Day, commemorated in the quiet village of Braughing (pronounced Braffing) in Hertfordshire, is a custom that somewhat unusually celebrates something that - happily - didnít happen.
On October 2 1571 a sad procession was making its way to St Maryís church in the village. Among the mourners was the fiancťe of farmer Matthew Wall, who though still in his prime had been found dead. As the pall-bearers walked along tree-lined Fleece Lane one of them slipped on the leaves that had fallen in early autumn. The coffin slid from his grasp and fell with a jolt to the earth.
When the men took hold of their burden again they were to say the least shocked to hear banging from within the coffin. The fall had woken Matthew from his coma or narcoleptic fit, and he was thumping the lid quite literally for dear life.
Saved from being buried alive, Matthew went on to marry his sweetheart and to live another 24 years. In his will dated 1595 he made provisions to commemorate his remarkable escape.
Matthew left the income from a piece of land in the village to ensure every October 2 the church bells would toll in remembrance, and later that they would ring a wedding peal to recall his marriage. The sexton of the church is enjoined to place brambles on his gravestone to stop sheep from wandering over it. And rather more strangely given the circumstances, Farmer Wall made arrangements to ensure Fleece Lane be swept on October 2 Ė had the lane been clear of detritus on October 2 1571 he would have met a terrible end.
These days it is schoolchildren who sweep the lane on Old Manís Day, for which they are rewarded with sweets, and a song concerned with the miraculous escape is sung in St Maryís. It is to be hoped that youthful imaginations play on the happier aspect of the tale, otherwise...sleep well children.
More British Folk Customs?