Biddenden Dole

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A charitable dole which takes place every Easter at Biddenden, Kent. The legend is that the charity was founded by the sisters, Eliza and Mary Chulkhurst, who were Siamese twins. They were born in 1100, and, at the age of 34, when one died the other refused to be separated from her sister and she died six hours later. They left 20 acres of land to the parish to pay for an annual dole to the poor of bread, cheese, and beer. The story is apparently borne out by the Biddenden Cakes which are distributed each year at the dole. These cakes, which are more like hard biscuits, and reputedly quite inedible, are stamped with an illustration of two women standing close together, with their names and ‘Biddenden’, and some letters which can be taken to mean 34 years old and 1100. It is quite likely, of course, that the story was invented to explain the cakes rather than the other way round. Edward Hasted (History and Antiquities of the County of Kent, 1790) writes that the stamped cakes were only introduced in the mid-18th century. The dole continues to this day every Easter Monday—bread and cheese (and tea replacing the beer) to the needy, and the cakes to all and sundry.

Shuel, 1985: 126;Hole, 1975: 142–4;Stone, 1906: 28–9.

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