Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 2/Eccles Guising


The gyst-ale or guising was celebrated in Eccles and the neighbouring townships with much rustic splendour, at the termination of the marling season, when the villagers, with a king at their head, walked in procession with garlands, to which silver-plate was attached, which was contributed by the principal gentry in the neighbourhood. The object of ambition was to excel in the splendour of their procession, which was conducted with the personages and the circumstances described in the account of gyst-ales. We have, however, a still more curious record of the guisings of Eccles and of the adjacent township of Barton-upon-Irwell in a quaint and exceedingly rare octavo pamphlet of nineteen pages, printed in 1778, and of which Mr William Ford, the Manchester book-seller and antiquary, never saw but one copy. Its title-page runs thus:—"The History of Eccles and Barton's Contentious Guising War. i. An account of the heathens and ancient Christians observing the first of May having some resemblance to guising. 2. Some fictitious debates bordering within the matter of truth; with an account of these guisings, from the first rise to the present time, between Eccles and Barton, with several entertaining remarks. By F. H**r**g**n."
[? Harrington.]

Barton and Eccles they will not agree,
For envy and pride is the reason, you'll see.
France and Spain with England are the same,
And a great many more compose the ill-natured train.
You, neighbours, over each other do crow,
And now and then turn out to make a great show,
Like England and America do make a great noise:
Be wise, for it only diverts our girls and boys.

Price threepence." In his preface, the writer, who speaks of having visited other countries, and being now at a low ebb, says, "Having lived in the parish of Eccles for the last eight months (1777), I have had some opportunity of making some remarks of the customs, manners, and behaviour of the inhabitants of the said parish, not only to strangers, but to each other, which behaviour I shall treat upon, together with some remarks upon the folly of guising. In some doggrel lines he reproves the local folly of guising, stigmatises a recent song as "base scurrility" and "lies," and adds—

"If Eccles has faults, Barton has the same;
Wisdom it will be not each other to blame."

The origin of Eccles guisings he understands to be, that "Mr Chorlton, of Monks Hall, had some men getting marl, and it being a custom for the general part of the neighbours to give some little to these men to drink, which enables them to go through that hard labour with cheerfulness, was a sort of foundation for the above custom. Some few young people of Catch Inn [a locality near the village, but within the township of Barton; there is still a Catch Inn or Catching Lane] made a small garland, by some called a posey, and on Friday, June 13th, 1777, carried the garland to the marl pit, and made the marlers a present of it, with 3s. 6d. The marlers in the evening bringing the garland into Eccles, it excited the curiosity of the young people to know by what means they got it, and being informed they had it from some young people of Catch Inn, it was then thought by the young people of Eccles an insult upon them for Catch Inn people to bring a garland to Mr Chorlton's marl-pit, as they belonged to the township of Barton, and Monks Hall and the pit belonged to the township [village] of Eccles." The pamphlet continues the story in an inflated style, as describing a war between two great nations but it may suffice to say that the marl-pit was alternately taken possession of by parties of guisers from Eccles and from Barton, and that the rivalry was displayed chiefly in the amount of subscriptions these places could respectively collect, and in the splendour of the display of flowers, ribbons, and especially of silver-plate, in the processions of each party. These "guisings" were continued throughout the summer and autumn of 1777, and the following brief account of the respective sums collected in succession from the two places will suffice to show the extent of the extravagance and folly of this "guising war":—

1777. Barton. 1777. Eccles.
June 13, . . £0 3 6 June 16, . . £0 4 6
" 30, . . 5 0 6 July 14, . . 13 0 0
Aug. 4, . . 37 0 0 Sept. 1, . . 347 11 6
Sept. 24, . . 644 17 0 Oct. 20, . . 1881 5 6
Barton, . . £687 1 0 Eccles, . . £2242 1 6

So that the two places contributed from motives of rivalry to pageants of idle display and folly, not to say disorder, nearly three thousand pounds! These sums, however, do not seem to have been spent, but only exhibited, or, as the writer says, "laid down on the drumhead," by way of vain display! They were probably lent for the hour, and returned to the pockets of the owners, except so much as may have been extended in horse-hire and other expenses, and in ale, &c., for the feast with which these pageants seem to have terminated. From the pamphlet, it appears that on the 14th July, the Eccles guisers (exceeding a hundred men and women), with spikes, swords, &c.; some dressed as Robin Hood and Little John, others as Adam and Eve "in a single-horse chair, with an orange-tree fixed before them and oranges growing thereon," proceeded to Barton and various parts of the parish of Eccles, with drums beating, colours flying, trumpets sounding, music playing, and about sixteen couples of morris-dancers. The Barton subscription of £37 would seem to have included a communion-plate for the church. Their pageant of August 4 is not described in detail. The Eccles pageant of September 1 was the month of Eccles wakes, and their procession of more than a hundred and fifty men and women marched to Pendleton Pole, with a king and queen at their head. The £347, 11s. 6d. was "tendered" in vain pomp, by way of doubling the enemy's amount of cash. Barton next mustered about two hundred and twenty men and women, with about twenty-one guns, cannons, and muskets, which they began firing at five o'clock in the morning of the 24th of September, after which, with a bull at their head with bells about his neck, they marched to Eccles. The pamphlet describes the order of the procession, which consisted of many guisers on horseback. The queen had thirty-four maids of honour, and there were twenty couple of morris-dancers, several bands of music, many colours, and a "grand garland drawn by four good horses and proper attendance." In the evening, the treasurer exhibited his cash, £649, 17s. The last of these rival guisings was that of Eccles, on the 20th October, when their procession numbered two hundred and sixteen horsemen, and nearly a hundred footmen. They assembled at Pendleton. The queen had fifty-six maids of honour, every one handsomely dressed, and with a watch by her side. After marching as far as Salford, they returned to Eccles, and the cash displayed was £1881, 5s. 6d. Whether there was any further pageant after the issue of this pamphlet does not appear. The writer names a Mr L—— as "one of the most principal supporters of the guising on the side of Barton." He concludes by declaring his conviction that Barton was the first offender and assailant, by invading Eccles with guisers; and that the victory remained with Eccles, which had only sought to defend its own territory.