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December 2017: A West Country Christmas – Dorset in December

Thomas Hardy’s celebration of Christmas in Dorset in his early novel Under the Greenwood Tree is perhaps second only to A Christmas Carol (a version ...More
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Footbridge Rent of one Red Rose, London

In medieval times the planning authorities had more style than their modern equivalents. In 1381 Lady Constance Knollys purchased a property opposite the house she and her husband Sir Robert already owned on the west side of Seething Lane. Not unreasonably she decided a footbridge spanning the lane would be a good idea, and she had one built 14 feet above it.
Unfortunately Constance didn't trouble the Lord Mayor's office with asking their permission, which they not surprisingly objected to. But as Sir Robert was overseas on military duty, rather than force the destruction of the bridge, or impose a swingeing fine, another option was chosen by the authorities, one with wit, whimsy and romance. Annually, on Midsummer's Eve, a single red rose was to be paid by the Knollys family as fine and rent.
This custom of paying a single red rose continued for many years, then fell into abeyance in the 17th century, until 1924. Now, though the bridge is long gone, a rose is picked from Seething Lane gardens on June 15 every year, then borne by churchwardens from the oldest church in the City of London, All-Hallows-by-the-Tower , to Mansion House, carried on the church altar cushion. The Company of Watermen and Lightermen now organise the ceremony , though the Knollys family is still involved.
Intriguingly, a century and a half after the footbridge incident the Knollys family was rewarded by the crown with a manor near Henley-on-Thames called Rotherfield Greys, again being charged an annual rent of one red rose on Midsummer's Day.

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