In the year 1755 John Murrill, described as a single man, was married at St. Mary's, Feltwell, to Sarah Hooper, widow, by licence at the charge of the Overseer, the witnesses to the marriage being the Overseer and the Constable. In 1756 William Clarke, single man of Clenchwarton, was married at St. Nicholas', Feltwell, to Mary Brunton, single woman, by licence at the charge of the Overseer; the witnesses being the Churchwarden and the Overseer. These two marriages, and others like them at Feltwell, are instances of the famous, or rather infamous, Knobstick Weddings, so called from the wands or staves which were, and still should be, carried by Churchwardens as their badge of office.
Parish Officers of past days such as Churchwardens, Overseers, Way wardens, Constables, had wide powers, and in cases of illegitimacy, where a child or expected child might become chargeable to the parish, considerable pressure was brought to bear, and the reputed father, should there be signs of reluctance on his part, would be conducted to the Church for marriage by one of the Parish Officers or by the Parish Constable. Even in my own time I can remember a man being brought from the fields, though not by the Parish Constable, and married in his working clothes; it was a marriage of necessity and when asked "Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife" replied I suppose so" and was sternly rebuked.
In times when every parish was responsible for the maintenance of its own poor, parish officers would go to great lengths to keep expenses down. In the parish annals of Petersfield, in Hampshire, there is an entry made in the year 1741 which says: "Prosecution agreed against Buriton Parish for bringing in a dung cart a sick vagrant woman and setting her down by the roadside where she shortly after dyed and so became a charge to the Parish." The offence, it will be noticed, was not the inhumanity, but the charge and expense.
In cases of female paupers, parish officers would resort even to bribery so as to relieve the parish by marrying off their female paupers, especially paupers with families. They would pay for the marriage licence, for a gold ring, for the Church fees, for a marriage feast and would promise a marriage portion and pay it on completion of the marriage. These expenses would be charged to the parish which, of course, was illegal, but parish accounts in those days were carelessly kept and as carelessly audited.
Occasionally parish officers were outwitted. After John Murrill had been married at Feltwell St. Mary's to Sarah Hooper, at the expense of the parish, it transpired that he was already married and had a wife living. So this Knobstick Wedding at Feltwell, attended by Overseer and Constable to make sure of it taking place, was mere waste of public money on the part of the parish officers, added to which a child was born in due course to Sarah Hooper, by John Murrill, which also became chargeable to the parish.
In days gone by it was a custom of sorts, at Feltwell, to burn in effigy those whose characters were none of the best. These effigies or mawkins as they were called, were paraded with rough music round the parish and burnt at the house of the person, or persons, concerned. Sometimes they were carried suspended on poles, sometimes they were paraded in a hand or pony cart. Burning people in effigy was done in notorious cases only and though to a certain extent justifiable, it could not be described as edifying; nor could those who took part be described as the elite of the parish. The, last person burnt in effigy at Feltwell died over 46 years ago.
Another custom which has disappeared entirely at Feltwell is that of Mumping. Groups of women who were in poor circumstances would go the round of the parish on St. Thomas' Day, December 21st, and call at the principal inhabitants and ask for gifts of money or provisions with which to keep Christmas. In some parts it was known as "Going a Thomasing"; in other parts as Going a Gooding." It was usual for Mumpers, on receiving a gift, to present a sprig of holly or mistletoe. Baily's Dictionary of 1721 describes a Mumper as a Genteel Beggar.
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