« PreviousContinue »
days of electing magistrates. It begins at nine o'clock in the morning, and with little or no intermission continues to toll till three o'clock, when they begin to elect the mayor, &c. Its beginning so early was doubtless intended to call together the several companies to their respective meeting-houses, in order to choose the former and latter electors, &c. A popular notion prevails, that it is for the old mayor's dying, as they call his going out of office—the tolling as it were of his passing-bell.
Ruffhead, in his preface to the Statutes at Large, speaking of the Folc-mote Comitatus, or Shire-mote, and the Folc-mote Civitatis vel Burgi, or Burg-mote, says: “Besides these annual meetings, if any sudden contingency happened, it was the duty of the aldermen of cities and boroughs to ring the bell called in English Mot-bell, in order to bring together the people to the burg-mote,” &c. See Blount's Law Dictionary, v. Motbell.
The bells at Newcastle-upon-Tyne are muffled on the 30th of January every year. For this practice of muffling I find no precedent of antiquity. Their sound is by this means peculiarly plaintive. The inhabitants of that town were par
' In Campanologia, or the Art of Ringing, 1753, p. 200, we have: “A funeral or dead peal. It being customary not only in this city of London, upon the death of any person that is a member of any of the honourable societies of ringers therein, but likewise in most counties and towns in England (not only upon the death of a ringer, but likewise of any young man or woman), at the funeral of every such person to ring a peal; which peal ought to be different from those for mirth and recreation (as the musick at the funeral of any master of musick, or the ceremony at the funeral of any person belonging to military discipline), and may be performed two different ways: the one is by ringing the bells round at a set pull, thereby keeping them up so as to delay their striking, that there may be the distance of three notes at least (according to the true compass of ringing upon other occasions) between bell and bell; and having gone round one whole pull every bell (except the tenor), to set and stand, whilst the tenor rings one pull in the same compass as before ; and this is to be done whilst the person deceased is bringing to the ground ; and after he is interred, to ring a short peal of round ringing, or changes in true time and compass, and so conclude. The other way is called buffeting the bells, that is, by tying pieces of leather, old hat, or any other thing that is pretty thick, round the ball of the clapper of each bell, and then by ringing them as before is shown, they make a most doleful and mournful sound : concluding with a short peal after the funeral is over (the clappers being clear as at other times): which way of buffeting is most practised in this city of London."
ticularly loyal during the parliamentary wars in the grand rebellion, which may account for the use of this custom, which probably began at the Restoration.
Misson, in his Travels in England, translated by Ozell, p. 306, says: “Ringing of bells is one of their great delights, especially in the country. They have a particular way of doing this; but their chimes cannot be reckoned so much as of the same kind with those of Holland and the Low Countries."
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, x. 512, parish of Inverkeithing, co. Fife, we read : “ In this parish is the castle of Rosyth, almost opposite to Hopeton House. It is built upon rock, and surrounded by the sea at full tide. Upon the south side, near the door, is this inscription, pretty entire and legible :
“In dev time drav yis cord ye bel to clink,
Qvhais mery voce varnis to meat and drink.” Dates about the building, 1561 and 1639. Yet “it cannot now be ascertained by whom it was built, or at what time.”
The little carnival on Pancake Tuesday at Newcastle-onTyne commences by the same signal. A bell, usually called the Thief and Reever Bell, proclaims the two annual fairs of that town. A peculiar kind of alarm is given by a bell on accidents of fire. A bell is rung at six every morning, except Sundays and holidays, with a view, it should seem, of calling up the artisans to their daily employment.
THE CURFEW BELL.
The following occurs in Peshall's History of the City of Oxford, p. 177 : “The custom of ringing the bell at Carfax every night at eight o'clock (called Curfew Bell, or Cover-fire Bell), was by order of King Alfred, the restorer of our University, who ordained that all the inhabitants of Oxford should, at the ringing of that bell, cover up their fires and go to bed, which custom is observed to this day, and the bell as con
I [We are indebted for some of our additions to this article to a very valuable paper on the subject by Mr. Syer Cuming.)
stantly rings at eight, as Great Tom tolls at nine. It is also a custom added to the former, after the ringing and tolling this bell, to let the inhabitants know the day of the month by so many tolls.” [There are few points in the ancient jurisprudence of England which are enveloped in more obscurity, or which have given rise to more conflicting opinions as to their origin and intention, than the couvre-feu law. Although there is no evidence to show that it originated with the Norman Conqueror, yet it appears certain that in 1068 he ordained that all people should put out their fires and lights at the eight o'clock bell, and go to bed. But that it was not intended as a badge of infamy is evident from the fact that the law was of equal obligation upon the foreign nobles of the court as upon the native-born Saxon serfs. And yet we find the name of curfew law employed as a by-word denoting the most odious tyranny, and historians, poets, and lawyers speaking of it as the acme of despotism levelled alone at the vanquished English. However well-intentioned the couvre-feu law may have been, it appears to have met with much opposition, as in 1103 we find Henry I. repealing the enactment of his father. Blackstone says that though it is mentioned a century afterwards, it is rather spoken of as a time of night than as a still subsisting custom. Thus Chaucer :
“ The dede slepe, for every besinesse,
Fell on this carpenter, right as I gesse,
Aboute curfew time, or litel more.”] The curfew is commonly believed to have been of Norman origin. A law was made by William the Conqueror that all people should put out their fires and lights at the eight o'clock bell, and go to bed. See Seymour's edit. of Stow's Survey of London, book i. cap. 15. The practice of this custom, we are told, to its full extent, was observed during that and the following reign only. Thomson has inimitably described its tyranny :
' Henry, in his History of Britain, 4to. iii. 567, tells us, “ The custom of covering up their fires about sunset in suinmer, and about eight at night in winter, at the ringing of a bell called the couvre-feu or curfew bell, is supposed by some to have been introduced by William I., and imposed upon the English as a badge of servitude. But this opinion doth not seem to be well founded; for there is sufficient evidence that the same custom prevailed in France, Spain, Italy, Scotland, and probably in all the countries of Europe, in this period, and was intended as a precaution against fires, which were then very frequent and very fatal, when so many houses were built of wood."
“The shiv'ring wretches, at the curfew sound,
Dejected sunk into their sordid beds,
Mus'd sad, or dreamt of better.” In the second mayoralty of Sir Henry Colet, Knt. (father of Dean Colet), A.D. 1495, and under his direction, the solemn charge was given to the Quest of Wardmote in every ward, as it stands printed in the Custumary of London. “ Also yf ther be anye paryshe clerke that ryngeth curfewe after the curfewe be ronge at Bowe Chyrche, or Saint Brydes Chyrche, or Saint Gyles without Cripelgat, all suche to be presented.” (Knight's Life of Dean Colet, p. 6.) In the Articles for the Sexton of Faversham, agreed upon and settled in 22 Hen. VIII. (preserved in Jacob's History, p. 172), we read: “Imprimis, the sexton, or his sufficient deputy, shall lye in the church steeple ; and at eight o'clock every night shall ring the curfewe by the space of a quarter of an hour, with such bell as of old time hath been accustomed. In Lysons's Environs, i, 232, is the following extract from the Church wardens' and Chamberlains' Accounts of Kingston-upon-Thames : “ 1651. For ringing the curfew bell for one year, £1 10 0." I find, however, in the old play of the Merry Devil of Edmonton, 4to. 1631, that the curfew was sometimes rung at nine o'clock; thus the Sexton says: “Well, 'tis nine a clocke, 'tis time to ring curfew."
[Shakespeare seems to have laboured under some strange mistake respecting the hour of couvre-feu. In Measure for Measure, iv. 2, occurs the following:
“ Duke. The best and wholesom'st spirits of the night Invellop you, good Provost! Who call'd here of late?
Provost. None, since the curfew rung.' In this instance no particular time is specified, but in Romeo and Juliet, iv. 4, he makes Lord Capulet say:
« Come, stir, stir, stir, the second cock hath crow'd,
The curphew bell hath rung, 'tis three o'clock."
“Yon, whose pastime
And in King Lear, iii. 4, Edgar exclaims : “ This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet : he begins at curfew, and walks to the first cock.”]
In Bridges's History of Northamptonshire, i. 110, speaking of Byfield church, the author tells us : “A bell is rung here at four in the morning, and at eight in the evening, for which the clerk hath 20s. yearly paid him by the rector.” A bell was formerly rung at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, also, at four in the morning
In Hutchins's Dorset, ii. 267, the author, speaking of Mapouder church, mentions land given “to find a man to ring the morning and curfeu bell throughout the year.” Also (ibid. p. 422), under Ibberton, is mentioned one acre given for ringing the eight o'clock bell, and £4 for ringing the morning bell. Macaulay, in his History of Claybrook, 1791, p. 128, says: “ The custom of ringing curfew, which is still kept up at Claybrook, has probably obtained without intermission since the days of the Norman Conqueror.” [It is probable in the middle ages some superstitious regard was paid to the ringing of the couvre-feu, for we find that land was occasionally left to pay for the ringing of the couvre-feu bell. This feeling appears not to have been altogether extinct, even so late as the close of the sixteenth century, for in Bishop Hall's Fourth Satire occurs the following:
“Who ever gives a paire of velvet shooes
To th' Holy Rood, or liberally allowes
Or in his lasting tombe of plated brasse." We find the couvre-feu mentioned as a common and approved regulation. It was used in most of the monasteries and towns of the north of Europe, the intent being merely to prevent the accidents of fires. All the common houses consisted at this time of timber. Moscow, therefore, being built with this material, generally suffers once in twenty years. That this happened equally in London Fitzstephen proves : “Solæ pestes Lundoniæ sunt stultorum immodica potatio, et frequens incendium.” The Saxon Chronicle also makes frequent mention of towns being burned, which might be expected for the same reason, the Saxon term for building being yetimbrian.