Midsummer’s Eve | Rosemary Sutcliff’s Official Birthday | Obscured 2016 by EU Referendum!

Rosemary Sutcliff's mother Nessie Lawton

Rosemary Sutcliff always remarked on Midsummer’s Eve (June 23rd) in her diary. She called it her official birthday; so she had two birthdays a year, like Paddington Bear and the Queen. It was also the birth day of her mother. Here in the UK we largely missed Midsummer’s Eve this year, with the EU Referendum looming, and the turmoil in the wake of the resul

1988 June 23rd Thursday … There’s another blackbird’s nest in the front garden, in place of the one the ginger cat took.

1989 June 23rd Friday … Started to watch last day of Ascot, but of course it disappeared – industrial action …

1991 June 23rd Sunday. Midsummer’s Eve—Cold as winter, and pouring with rain all day.

1992 June 23rd Tuesday. Midsummer’s Eve. My Official Birthday. Mummy’s birthday … Went and stood out in the garden for a few minutes before bed. Was lovely, smelling of grass & night scented flowers.

June 23rd 1992 Diary entry Rosemary Sutcliff

… The may all coming out along the lanes … (Rosemary Sutcliff’s Diary, 10/5/88)

Hawthorn or may tree blossomMay 10th Tuesday. Went along for the ride when Ray took Mrs Prosser home. The may all coming out along the lanes. Joan collecting my earrings and a white shirt for dying grey in Chichester today. Should be back in half-an-hour or so.
© Anthony Lawton 2012

The may refers to the  ‘may tree’, or hawthorn. The blossom appears on the tree at the beginning of May in the south of England. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, “until the calendar was changed in 1752, hawthorn would be in flower for May Day, which used to be 11 days later than it is now”.

At  the May Day celebrations people and houses used to be decked with may blossoms or boughs (‘bringing home the may’) which were traditional decorations, associated with the woodland spirit known as the Green Man.

I think of her writing this always in bed at night – I sometimes sat there when she did, as I recall. However, maybe my memory plays tricks, for this entry is apparently written during the day (‘Joan will be back’, from shopping, ‘in half-an-hour or so).

… heard the first cuckoo of the year … (Diary, 23/4/88)

April 23rd Saturday. The most lovely day. Joan and I wearing our red roses for St George went for a run and the first picnic tea of the year under Amberley Castle, heard the first cuckoo of the year. Walked around the garden after we got back.

© Anthony Lawton 2012

Sutcliffs originally from West Yorkshire | But NB Rosemary Sutcliff the eminent author has no ‘E’

Sutcliff families lived mainly in the North in the 1890s in England and Wales. (Courtesy Ancestry). With an ‘e’, Sutcliff is a place-based name from any of the three places in West Yorkshire called Sutcliffe. The name is  from the Old English suð ( = ‘south’) + clif ( = ‘riverbank’, ‘slope’, and ‘cliff’).

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Some collective nouns from the Middle Ages

Source: BBC History Extra

A tabernacle of bakers

Strict laws about the distribution of bread stated that no baker was allowed to sell their bread from beside their own oven. They had to sell their produce from a stall at one of the king’s approved markets. These small, portable ‘pop-up’ shops were known in Middle English as ‘tabernacula’—‘little shops made of boards’.

A stalk of foresters

Foresters in medieval society were respectable and well paid. Their  duties included protecting the forest’s stock of game birds, deer and other animals from poachers. From time to time they also stalked criminals, who took to the forests to evade capture.

A melody of harpers

The medieval period – the age of troubadours and minstrels – was an era defined by its emphasis on knightly tradition. The harp was used to accompany songs about brave deeds and courtly love. Travelling harpists moved from town to town performing instrumental accompaniment at banquets and recitals of madrigal singing.

A sentence of judges

In 1166, Henry II sought to shift power away from individual landowners and bring it more directly under his own control. He crated the courts of assizes, where a national bench of judges travelled around the country for quarterly court sessions. These judges based their decisions on a new set of national laws that were common to all people—hence the term ‘common law’.

A faith of merchants

Merchants formed guilds of fellow traders, which eventually bought charters directly from the king, allowing towns to become independent of the lord of the manor. ‘Faith’ was a reference to the trustworthiness of a person, and in this use was meant ironically, for merchants were rarely trusted. Offences were officially punishable by a stint in the pillory, but because the guilds were self-regulated most perpetrators got off with only a fine.

An abominable sight of monks

Monks were not popular in the 15th century; resentment of the trampling of pagan traditions had been exacerbated by a perception that monks were well fed and comfortable while the general population starved. ‘Abominable’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “causing moral revulsion”, hence this usage.

A superfluity of nuns

There were some 140 nunneries in England between 1270 and 1536. Many  were severely overcrowded. This noun appeared in print in The Book of St Albans .

A stud of horses

Horses were at the centre of life in the Middle Ages. Medieval horses were classified by the role they played in society. During the Middle Ages, monasteries ran breeding centres called stud farms – ‘stud’ has its roots in the German word ‘stute’, meaning mare.

A cry of hounds

Hunting dogs were important members of the medieval household. Every noble family kept kennels for their dogs, and these were looked after by a team of dedicated servants.‘A cry of hounds’ is thought to derive from the hunting cry that instructs the hounds in their pursuit.

A richesse of martens

The European pine marten was a top prize for hunters in the Middle Ages, because of its valuable pelt. Tudor ‘statutes of apparel’ – strict laws governing the amount of money the people could spend on clothing – dictated the colours, cuts and materials that could be worn by each level of society, and stated which furs could be worn by which tier of the aristocracy. Only those of or above the rank of duke, marquise and earl were allowed to wear sable fur, while ermine, the white winter coat of the stoat, which could only be obtained for a few months of the year, was reserved for royalty.