There are a lot of vague descriptions of rough music, plus the degraded form described by Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge, but here is an example of it, with explanation, another gem from ‘Old Oak’.
It was still a village custom when I was a boy to mark any flagrant breach of the moral law by 3 nights of “rough music!” The practice was known as “lowbelling,” and it had, for certain characters, a far more deterrent effect the fines, imprisonment, or the like. Men and boys with meal rays, pans, and horns parted through the village. Straw effigies of he guilty parties were carried at the he’d of the procession, and a tremendous uproar prevailed. Left to themselves, the demonstrators injured nothing, and, when the effigies had been burnt, returned quietly to their homes. Magisterial interference, on the otherhand, alway meant a row, only too likely to develop into a first lass riot in a place like silos.
Unfortunately, on one of the last occasions “lowbelling” was practiced in the village, a riot that nearly led to murder was the result of such misguided interference. One of the parties involved intake scandal was high up in the social scale. He knew very well what was coming to him, but, instead of clearing off for a few days, he sought the protection of the Law. The new police force had but lately been formed, and here was an opportunity of displaying its usefulness to all the country. a song contingent … was marched into the village, and authority gave forth its voice in no uncertain sound. The sternest measures would be taken to suppress disorder of any and every kind, and Silson, according to ideas held in official quarters, ought to have meekly accepted the situation. It did nothing of the kind. Woodmen still trafficked in waggon-staves; the church bell still hung where it did when the squarson magistrate came to arrest the offending nutters; and the people were he children or grandchildren of the men and women who drove him out and his hoarse of invaders headlong out of the town.
It was a case of history repeating itself, with a few minor changes brought about by time in the method of conducting operations. The police charged. Constables’ and woodmen’s staves clashed in fierce fight. The top-hats of “Sir Robert’s Men” were bashed down over their faces or nocked off their heads, to become footballs for the boys and, had not its chief adopted the same tactics as the old squarson years before the force would have been annihilated. As it was, one “peeler” who had been knocked out and was lying on a grass bank by the roadside, was nearly finished off by 3 little boys. They thought he was lawful game, as eh wore the new uniform, and began belabouring him for all they were worth wit the staves they carrie dafter the fashion of the men. He, poor fellow, exhausted by his wounds, was unable to put up any resistance, and, but for eh interference of passers-by, they would have murdered him then and there.