Shaftesbury Byzant

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An annual manorial custom by which the inhabitants of Shaftesbury, Dorset, perpetuated their right to draw water from wells in the neighbouring hamlet of Enmore Green. To preserve this right, the people had to go to Enmore Green on Holy Cross Day (first Sunday after 3 May), perform some sort of a dance, and hand over a penny loaf, a gallon of ale, a calf's head, and a pair of gloves, to the Lord of the Manor's bailiff. These details are given in an account of 1527, but other sources confirm that the custom was already in place as early as 1364. The day of the event was changed to the Monday before Ascension in 1662, to move it off the Sabbath, and the celebrations soon developed into a week-long fair. The ‘Byzant’ is a three or four foot trophy, made of wood and splendidly decorated with silver and gold medals, necklaces, buckles, and rings, which was formerly carried on a pole at the head of the procession, and is now preserved in the Shaftesbury Museum. The custom lapsed in 1829, ostensibly to save Shaftesbury Corporation some money, but there have been a number of revivals.

George Frampton, Folklore 101:2 (1990), 152–61.

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