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St David's Day


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(1 March).

As the patron saint of Wales, St David is obviously more honoured there than in England. According to Times Telescope for 1823 (p. 56): ‘Early on the first of March, girls of Steben Hethe, now called Stepney, used to go to Goodman's Fields in search of a blade of grass of a reddish tint’. Whoever found one would be sure to secure the husband of her dreams within a month. All over England it was believed necessary to keep your windows closed on 1 March to keep the fleas out: ‘If from fleas you would be free, On 1st of March, let your windows closed be’ (Sussex) or ‘The Devil shakes a bag of fleas at everybody's door on 1st of March’ (Shropshire).

St David's Day was, however, the time for the English to make anti-Welsh gestures, although it is not clear why, unless it was in retaliation against the wearing of leeks which was taken to recall a famous Welsh victory over the ‘Saxons’. The protest often took the form of processions carrying and burning effigies of stereotypical Welshmen, such as that recorded by Samuel Pepys in his Diary for 1 March 1667:in the street in Mark-lane do observe (it being St David's day) the picture of a man dressed like a Welchman, hanging by the neck on one of the poles that stand out at the top of one of the merchants' houses, in full proportion and very handsomely done—which is one of the oddest sights I have seen in a good while, for it was so like a man that one would have thought it was endeed a man.

in the street in Mark-lane do observe (it being St David's day) the picture of a man dressed like a Welchman, hanging by the neck on one of the poles that stand out at the top of one of the merchants' houses, in full proportion and very handsomely done—which is one of the oddest sights I have seen in a good while, for it was so like a man that one would have thought it was endeed a man.

Welshmen were often portrayed as riding goats, and a correspondent to William Hone's Year Book (1832: 796) described the sale of edible ‘taffies’ on St David's Day, which were made of white ‘parlement’ in the shape of ‘a Welshman riding on a goat’ provided by the gingerbread sellers, but these had recently disappeared.

Wright and Lones, 1938: ii. 158–9;Brand, 1849: i. 105–7.


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