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A SKIMMINGTON RIDE AT AVETON GIFFORD

 

The custom known as a Skimmington Ride seems to have been an integral part of country life since, and maybe before, the Middle Ages. It was a custom involving the infliction by a mob of anything from public humiliation to severe public punishment to men and women who did not keep to the way of life deemed correct by those they lived amongst.

 

It was used, for instance, as a punishment for a husband and wife where the woman nagged and physically abused the man - in other words, "wore the trousers". It was used when a wife was believed to have committed adultery; it was used, as in the Aveton Gifford case, when a couple lived together but were not believed to be married to one another.

 

In Medieval times, the offenders were dragged from their homes and forced to ride back to back through the village on a donkey. As time went by, the live couple were replaced by very life-like effigies which would be taken to some prominent spot in the village and burnt. There are records of huge crowds taking part in such events, many of whom would have been considered to  be the village gentry; the crowd shouted and screamed abuse, directing it at the couple in question and there were even occasions when the Military had to be called out and the Riot Act read before the crowd broke up and went home to bed.

 

A Skimmington Ride* took place at Aveton Gifford in 1737 and is recorded in a Process Book of the Devon Quarter Sessions dated Epiphany 1738 when some 40 villagers appeared at Exeter Castle having been charged with "riotously, riotously and unlawfully assembling themselves with at least 100 other people in order to disturb and break the king's peace and being so riotously assembled before the doors of the dwelling house of Charles Jones, Gent, did make an assault upon Mary his wife and in a sporting manner did demand where the " black bull" was, meaning the said Charles Jones, and in such riotous manner did run up and down the Church Town of Aveton Gifford with black and disguised faces carrying a pair of Rams Horns tipt (sic) like gold and adorned with ribbons and flowers with a mock child made of rags, and having an Ass whereon the said John Macey and John Pinwell rid, dressed in a ludicrous manner, back to back, with beating drums and winding of hunting horns and throwing of lighted squibs, and reading a Scandalous and Libellous paper, making loud huzzahs, hallows and outcries and so continuing for the space of 5 hours."

 

The defendants must have been charged by at least one local magistrate who took a great deal of time and trouble collecting their names and issuing the writs which brought them before the court. The proceedings were entered in a Process Book but the entry appears to be unfinished and it looks as though there was never a formal judgement - perhaps the court remembered the remaining 100+ people (presumably of lesser rank) who were not present to answer the charge and considered that those who were present might think carefully before putting themselves in such jeopardy again.

 

Those who pleaded Not Guilty are marked "Tr" in the list below. This was a formal oath of denial or "Traverse".

*Another such ride was depicted in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.

 

Tr. John Searle of Aveton Gifford, shopkeeper
Tr. Alice Searle, his wife
Tr. Thomas Phillips of the same, apothecary
Tr. Elenor Phillips, his wife
Tr. John Harris of the same, victualler
Tr. Elizabeth Harris, his wife
Tr. Joseph Leigh junior, of the same, miller
Tr. John Macey, of the same, miller
  John Pinwell, of the same, labourer
  Thomas Linstone, of the same, blacksmith
Tr. John Davis, of the same, labourer
Tr. Thomas Harrod, of the same, sergeweaver
Tr. James Ward, of the same, maltster
Tr. Mary Ward, his wife
Tr. Thomas Hellyer, of the same, weaver
Tr. Hannah Hellyer, his wife
  Joseph Leigh, of the same, carpenter
  Honor Leigh, his wife
  Thomas Leigh, of the same, miller
Tr. John Elliott, of the same, butcher
Tr. Grace Elliott, of the same, spinster
Tr. john Harris, of the same, maltster
Tr. Elizabeth Harris, his daughter
Tr. Dorothy Harris, his daughter
Tr. Andrew Cooch, of the same, shoemaker
Tr. Mary Cooch, his wife
  James Cooe, of the same, Gent.
Tr. George Harris, of the same, Gent.
Tr. Dorothy Fox, of the same, spinster
Tr. Robert Macey, of the same, hellyer
  Joseph Pulliblank, of the same, carpenter
  Benjamin Hellyer, of the same, labourer
  Benjamin Leigh, of the same yeoman
  Susannah Frost, of the same, spinster
  Sarah Cove, wife of Evans Cove Esq. of the same
  Elizabeth Avent, spinster
Tr. Samuel Leigh, of the same, yeoman
Tr. Elizabeth Leigh, of the same, spinster
Tr. Jane Clement, of the same, spinster
Tr. Benjamin Edwards, of the same, butcher

 

 
 
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