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Chedzoy Candle Auction, Somerset

An enduring custom if an infrequent one, Chedzoy's candle auction is one of several that remain in Britain to decide on the letting of grazing land. St Mary's Church in the village has owned a piece of land at Dunwear near Bridgwater since at least 1529, though it may go back to 1490 or even earlier. The church itself is 12th century, and has another mark of distinction, or rather several, from soldiers in the Duke of Monmouth's army using it to sharpen their swords before the battle of Sedgemoor that took place nearby.
What is unusual about the Chedzoy auction is that it is only held once every 21 years, deciding the tenancy of the land known as Church Acre for that period before another auction is necessary. An auction is in fact due in 2009.
The format of the auction is fairly standard: an inch of candle is burned, and the auction will last until the flame is extinguished; whoever has made the highest bid by the time the candle goes out wins the rights of tenancy. These days the candle is protected within a glass surround, maybe to prevent draughts putting out the flame, or less worthily to prevent any interference in the process - the outcome after all is important to the church, as the rent from the land is valuable income for St Mary's, used in preserving this ancient place of worship.

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