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Burning Bartle


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An apparently unique calendar custom which takes place on the evening of the Saturday nearest to St Bartholomew's Day (24 August) in West Witton (North Yorkshire). A larger-than-life effigy (known as Bartle) is constructed of combustible material and is paraded down the village street followed by a crowd of local people. At certain houses, Bartle is halted, while his bearers declaim the following lines:At Pen Hill Crags, he tore his ragsAt Hunter's Thorn, he blew his hornAt Capplebank Stee, he brak his kneeAt Grassgill Beck, he brak his neckAt Waddam's End, he couldn't fendAt Grassgill End, he made his end,

and the assembled people cheer heartily. At the far end of the village, Bartle is first stabbed and then burnt, while the crowd sings. Nothing is known about the custom's origins, although one local legend seeks to explain it: Bartle represents a local pig thief who was chased, captured, and killed by an irate populace. The chant, with its local place-names, is cited as evidence of the chase. It is most likely, however, that the name Bartle simply reflects the day (St Bartholomew's Day), which is the logical day for local festivities as it is the feast day of the parish church. That said, however, we are no nearer understanding the origin or purpose of the custom, as its provable history only dates from the late 19th century.

Smith, 1989: 119–22;N&Q 200 (1955), 127–8;Kightly, 1986: 59–60.


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