Painswick Feast and Church Clipping

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This Gloucestershire town is noted for several traditions, which cluster around the old Feast day. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and on the first Sunday after her Nativity on 19 September (Old Style), the parishioners, and many visitors, gather at the church for the Clipping ceremony. This involves a procession of local children, led by church banner, clergy, band, and choir, around the churchyard. For the ‘clipping’, the children join hands and encircle the church, and while a special hymn is sung they walk forwards and backwards three times. Everyone then processes to the stone steps of the tower where the vicar delivers a sermon. The children wear their best clothes and flowers—the boys as buttonholes, the girls in their hair or carrying baskets—and they receive a bun and a token payment.

One element of the Painswick custom which has fallen by the wayside, and for which no one can offer a satisfactory account, was the behaviour of the children after the clipping was over. They used to run, pell-mell, along the road to the vicarage, shouting ‘High-gates’. It is conceivable that the bun and/or payment is a remnant of a scrambling custom, previously carried out at the vicarage, but this is guesswork. The word ‘clipping’ means ‘embracing’, but at Painswick it has been confused with the physical clipping of the 99 yew trees in the churchyard. It used to be believed that only 99 yews would grow in the churchyard, and that all attempts at planting more would be unsuccessful.

The other tradition for which Painswick is known is the baking of Puppy-Dog Pies. Writers differ quite sharply in describing these delicacies and it is as hard to get an authoritative description as it is to pin down the custom's origin. Most agree that the pies had small china dogs inside, but they are referred to variously as plum pies, apple pies, meat pies, or even cakes topped with almond paste. Explanations of the pies also vary. The one most often quoted by journalists links the custom with the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which, it is said, involved the sacrifice of dogs. As usual this can be dismissed completely. The local legends are far more interesting—one is that the local landlord, despairing as to how to feed all the people flocking to Painswick Feast actually resorted to cooking puppy-dogs. People from neighbouring villages use the dog-filled pies as a way of deriding Painswick people as barbarians, but the Painswickians turn this round. They maintain that they once invited the young men from neighbouring villages to a feast, and afterwards informed them they had been eating dog-pies especially cooked for them.

Shuel, 1985: 84–5;Sykes, 1977: 124;Hole, 1975: 94–5;Stone, 1906: 19–21;Briggs, 1974: 35–6.

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