Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 3/Barley Brake and Blindman's Buff


This game was formerly played in May. Randle Holme, the Chester antiquary, and heraldic deputy of Sir William Dugdale, mentions barley-brake as among the sports which prevailed in Lancashire, and which he thus records in doggerel from Rowland—

"To play at chess, or pue and inkhorn,
To dance the morrice, play at barley-brake,
At all exploits a man can think and speak," &c.

Many of the games mentioned in his rude verses are now forgotten; but there is some reason to think that barley-brake still lingers in Lancashire and other counties under its more modern name of prison bars. It may be further observed that "Blindman's Buff" was formerly called "blende-bok," and has been supposed to be the same with the jul or yule-bok, the goat or stag of the Pagan Yule-tide. Rudbeck supposes this game to be a relic of the rites of Bacchus, who is pointed out by the name of Bocke; and he considers the hoodwinking, &c., of this game as a memorial of the bacchanalian orgies. From the Gothic celebration of these rites is perhaps to be deduced the Lancashire boggart, the name of an undefined sprite which has connected its name to Boggart Hole, in Pendle Forest (?), the scene of pseudo-witchcraft. The boggart is the terror of children; and when a horse takes fright at some object unobserved by its master, the vulgar opinion is that it has "seen th' boggart." Originally, the strange disguises worn by the principal mummer and representative of the Bock of Yule, have given rise to the superstition respecting a terrible sprite, the Bocker, which becomes in the provincialism of Lancashire the boggat. Mummers and maskers were finally suppressed by a statute of Henry VIII., which awarded against them an imprisonment of three months, and a fine at the discretion of the justices; so that in England the game of blindman's buff, and probably the modern entertainment of the masquerade, are the only relics of the Bock of Yule.