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St Crispin's Day


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(25 October).

Crispin and Crispian, martyred in ad 285, were said to be brothers of noble birth who learnt the humble trade of shoemaking rather than be a burden on the persecuted Christian community; they were therefore patron saints of cobblers and of the Shoemakers' Guild. One legend claimed they lived for a while at Faversham (Kent), but the popularity of their cult in England may also reflect patriotic pride in the victory at Agincourt, fought on their feast day, 25 October.

The Shoemakers' Guild celebrated this day in style. In early Stuart times they were responsible for staging plays, presumably about the life of these saints, one of which was for the Queen at Wells (Somerset) in 1613 (Ian Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain (1984), 280). Their power and confidence, and their love of pageantry and dramatic impersonation, was still obvious in Suffolk in 1777, when a parade of Shoemakers and their ‘Prince’ rode through the town, with trumpets, fifes, and drums:The Prince was mounted on a fine grey horse and most magnificently habited. He was attended by his nobles, superbly dressed in green and white, and his guards in blue and white, which made a very good appearance. His noble and warlike Br. Crispianus appeared in a coat of mail, attended by his troops, in two divisions, one in red and white, the other in purple and white. They all rode in half boots, made of morocco, in different colours adapted to the uniforms; their jackets and caps were extremely neat in elegant taste, made all of leather. … The prince, attended by his guard, with his torch bearers and a grand band of musick playing before him, went to the play, and was received with every mark of respect. (Quoted in Glyde, 1866/1976: 280–1)

The Prince was mounted on a fine grey horse and most magnificently habited. He was attended by his nobles, superbly dressed in green and white, and his guards in blue and white, which made a very good appearance. His noble and warlike Br. Crispianus appeared in a coat of mail, attended by his troops, in two divisions, one in red and white, the other in purple and white. They all rode in half boots, made of morocco, in different colours adapted to the uniforms; their jackets and caps were extremely neat in elegant taste, made all of leather. … The prince, attended by his guard, with his torch bearers and a grand band of musick playing before him, went to the play, and was received with every mark of respect. (Quoted in Glyde, 1866/1976: 280–1)

St Crispin's day seems to have been particularly well celebrated in Sussex, with bonfires, fireworks, tar barrels, and behaviour more usually associated with November the Fifth, at least in the 19th century, by which time heavy drinking and some rowdyism had replaced solemn pageantry. Boys copied the customs of Guy Fawkes Night by asking for money ‘in the name of St Crispin’. At Horsham (Sussex) a further custom had developed by the 1830s: every year an effigy was made of someone ‘who had misconducted himself or herself, or had become particularly notorious during the year’. This was hung up outside a pub near the offender's home and left there till 5 November, when it would be taken down and burnt. It was called ‘the Crispin’, by analogy with ‘the Guy’, and for weeks people would be wondering ‘Who is to be the Crispin?’ (Henry Burstow, Reminiscences of Horsham (1911), 76–7).

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