Tuesday, September 4, 2018

September in British History

by Karen V. Wasylowski

Did you know that absolutely nothing happened in Britain from 3 September to 13 September, 1752? It is a fact. Nothing.

The reason is pretty simple. The calendar used during this period was the Julian Calendar, based on a solar year, 365.25 days. Problem was, it ran a little over time and eventually the calendar fell out of line with the seasons.

The solution: Britain decided to dump the Julian Calendar and adopt the more favorable Gregorian Calendar, and September 3 instantly became September 14. Eleven days were gone, eliminated, abolished. People protested in the streets believing their lives would be shortened. They chanted: “Give us our eleven days back!”

September 24 was traditionally the start of the Harvest time in Medieval England and a lovely ceremony, a race to harvest, called “Calling the Mare.” As the very last of the crops would be brought in the farmers would hurriedly fashion a straw horse then go to a neighboring farm that was still rushing to finish and throw the straw mare over his hedge. They would taunt “Mare, Mare” and that farmer would gather his final crop and do the same to any other farmer still trying to harvest. The last man to finish had to keep the straw mare all year and have it on display to show he was the slowest of them all.

And when the tenauntes come
To paie their quarter's rent,
They bring some fowle at Midsummer
A dish of fish in Lent
At Christmas, a capon,
At Michaelmas, a goose,
And somewhat else at New Yere's tide
For feare the lease flie loose.
--George Gascoine, English poet, 1577

“Michaelmas” is the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of the sea and boats, horses and horsemen. “Michaelmas Day” is the final day of the Harvest Season, and it was also the first day of the winter night curfew and the church bells would ring once for each night of the year until that point. The bells are still rung to this day in a city called Chertsy from Michaelmas Day, 29 September, to Lady Day, 25 March.

There are traditionally four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th Spetember) and Christmas (25th December)). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.

Michaelmas Superstitions
– The devil stomps or spits on bramble bushes so don’t pick Blackberries after Michaelmas.

– Victorians believed trees planted on this day would grow really well

– In Northern England and Ireland if you eat goose this day you will have good luck for the rest of the year.

– In Ireland if you found the ring hidden in the Michaelmas pie you would soon marry.

In a town called Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire a colorful tradition takes place. Six men carrying long sticks with horns attached to the top march down the street. Two sets of three men each, their horns are painted blue on one team and white on the other and they charge each other as if to fight, then they retreat, people dance, Maid Marion is there also, along with a boy with a bow and arrow, a triangle player, a musician and a Fool.

Holy Rood Day – (rood is another name for cross) Children were traditionally freed from school to gather nuts.


September 2 – 6, 1666 – The Great Fire of London
September 7, 1533 - Queen Elizabeth I born
September 9, 1087 - William the Conqueror dies
September 28 - St. Wenceslas Day
September 29, 1758 - Nelson is born

An Editor's Choice from the Archives, originally published September 30, 2011.


  1. That was very interesting. Thank you! I remember the first time I read Pride and Prejudice and it mentioned that Bingley would be taking Netherfield at Michaelmas and, as an American, that told me almost nothing. I could have used this posting then (-;

  2. So true! Reading an historical novel can leave a reader feeling lost in time and space. This kind of post is very helpful- thank you, Karen! It is interesting, too.

  3. Interesting, useful and funny to be read!! Thanks for such a lovely read full of information not usually known.

  4. Most enjoyable. I knew about the calendar change, but you put it in context so well. Thank you!

    Lauren Gilbert

  5. Interesting!!!! I'm not sure how I would feel about just losing 11 days...I'd love that payday was sooner! LOL.

  6. Thanks so much to Karen V. Wasylowski for sharing these fun facts about September in British History. I learned so many things about British customs all in one fun and easy to read package.


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