Mischief Night

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In the traditional calendar of the 19th and 20th centuries, Mischief Night was the evening on which children across the northern counties thought they had the right to cause havoc with tricks and other misbehaviour. Their antics included tying people's door knobs together, removing their gates, dustbin lids, or anything else left lying about, ringing doorbells and running away, or, in some accounts, throwing bricks through bus windows, putting fireworks through letterboxes, and smashing bus shelters. There is clearly a fine line, not always recognized by modern children, between naughty tricks and real vandalism. The accepted date of Mischief Night varies. In the 1950s the Opies reported 4 November as the key night across the counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and north Lincolnshire, but, according to Wright and Lones, reporting mainly 19th century accounts in more or less the same geographical area, it was 30 April. On the available evidence, the April date seems to have been the earlier one, but this is not yet proven. Both dates are on the eve of important children's festivals—November the fifth and May Day—and in the former case much of the pilfering was specifically aimed at gathering material for the next night's bonfire. In Yorkshire, Halloween too was sometimes Mischief Night, and this is the regular time in parts of Scotland and Ireland. Most of the known references date from the 1850s onwards, and they are all from the counties listed above, except for the earliest, from the Scilly Isles in 1822, which is completely outside the area (quoted in Wright and Lones, 1938: ii. 196–7). Nevertheless, children in other areas played similar tricks at different times, such as Shrovetide, under different names (see Hole, 1976: 210–11). Although not as widespread as formerly, Mischief Night has continued into the 1990s.

Wright and Lones, 1938: ii. 196–8;1940: iii. 109;Opie and Opie, 1959:255,276–80;Hole, 1976: 210–11.

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