Planting the Penny Hedge

This is from Curious Country Customs by Jeremy Hobson, from Whitby North Yorkshire, a celebration from the Eve of Ascension day, 40 days after Easter:

“For several hundred years a small chapel belonging to Whitby Abbey stood tucked away in the woods close to the River Esk. Described in 1762 as being a ‘poor mean structure covered in thatch situated in a damp place’, it was the source of one of Whitby’s oldest customs…

On 16 October 1159 3 local men out hunting wild boar in the woods drove one particular animal to take refuge in the chapel, which happened to be the home of a hermit monk. In keeping with his religious upbringing and also being a kindly soul, the monk hid the boar in his cell and refused to let the hunters in to kill the animal. Naturally a little miffed that they looked likely to go without a meat course at their next banquet, the hunters decided to force their way in and beat the monk severely with their hunting staves. He was so badly injured that he later died from his injuries, but not before telling the tale to the Abbot of Whitby and begging that the men not be prosecuted – on condition that they should pay for their sins.  The penance was that on sunrise on the eve of Ascension Day every year these men and the r successors should collect a number of short staves from Eskdaleside. They then, without the aid of servants, had to carry them to Whitby and at precisely 9am were to plant the staves in the mud n the harbour and weave a small hedge strong enough to withstand 3 tides. If he hedge collapsed before 3 tides had come and gone that  all the lands belonging to these 3 men or their successors would be forfeited to the Abbot of whitby.

Thinks were not all bad, however, as there was a clause that stated that if ever the tide prevented the planting of the Penny Hedge then the penance should cease. History has since proven that the descendants of the Hutton family (the original hunters) performed the ceremony for over 800 years until, in 1981, the site was covered by 8 ft of sea water and the family members were released from their obligation.

Despite this, the ceremony continues by the harbour opposite The Middle Earth tavern on the morning of Ascension Day. At the end of the ceremony, a 500-year-old horn is blown and the Bailiff of the Manor shouts the rebuke ‘Out on ye! Out on ye!’ – the words uttered by the hermit monk as the boar hunters entered the chapel.


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