Leighton Buzzard's Wilkes Walk, BedfordshireSome folk customs develop eccentricities, some have them designed in. The Wilkes Walk that takes place in Leighton Buzzard every Rogationtide (which being linked to Easter can fall any time between the last days of April and the first couple of June) is of the latter category.
In North Street in Leighton Buzzard stand almshouses gifted to the town by wealthy landowner Edward Wilkes, whose son Matthew added to the family tradition of generosity by leaving money in his 1693 will to be spread among the residents of the almshouses, the vicar, and the members of the church choir. The residents and vicar were given 10s each, no mean sum in the 17th century. To receive his payment the vicar has to preach a service in memory of Edward Wilkes. All very pleasant and ordinary thus far. But Matthew Wilkes wanted the family name remembered, so he wrote into the script for the day's events that while a section of Edward's will is read aloud, one of the choirboys should be dangled upside down, in order to fix the words in the minds of onlookers. Rather inequitably the chorister held upside down is paid five shillings, and his or these days her fellows given two shillings each.
The procession from All Saints to North Street, and then on to the Market Cross, is a bit incongruous today, halting traffic on the ringroad much to the fury of those who are ignorant of the reason. Sadly one aspect of the event has been changed, the ale given to the choirboys until 1896 replaced with lemonade, though they still get buns to go with it. The Wilkes Charity was once of economic significance for the poor living in the almshouses, but nowadays the procession is kept up for the tradition of the thing. It is not clear how the chorister to be dangled is chosen, but one would have thought that nearer the day the behaviour of the choir must reach a peak of perfection, even if the use of a cushion beneath the victim in modern times means, along with the withdrawal of the ale offering, less danger of a thick head in the morning.
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to Leighton Buzzard's Wilkes Walk
From John Wilks on 19th November 2012
I am most impressed by the longevity of old Edward's heritage, and must try to make it over to Leighton Buzzaed to watch the procession next Rogationtide.