So this weekend I’ve been cultural like you wouldn’t believe and followed this group of quirky performers of an ancient Cheshire folk play around the city. It wasn’t just a pub crawl, no Sir! It was culture!
The old English custom of “souling” or “soul caking” is thought to date back to the tenth century or even pagan times. Cheshire has enjoyed the tradition since around the 1400’s, and I have enjoyed it now for exactly one year and I intend to enjoy it next year also. This is totally going to be my new Christmas tradition.
So what’s it all about then? Traditionally on or around Halloween, the soul cakers would go from house to house singing either a begging song or a plea for prayers for the dead. Pubs were also on the agenda. The plays usually consisted of a fight between St George and his adversaries with names like Slasher and Hector, which would result in one of the characters being killed and brought back to life by a comical quack doctor. The Hooden Horse often accompanied the soul cakers with its head made from the skull of a horse, its eyes from bottoms of glass bottles and a hinged lower jaw that could snap or bite.
But what is a “soul cake”, then? Well, a soul cake is a small round cake which is traditionally made for All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to commemorate the dead in the Christian tradition. The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, are given out to soulers who go from door to door during the days of Allhallowtide singing and saying prayers “for the souls of the givers and their friends”.
The Jones Ale Soul Cakers, Chester’s own “miscreants and vagabonds who occasionally gravitate in a lemming-like fashion to act and entertain anyone who cares to watch”, have been performing their hilarious play for the past 15 years or so. What I really love about this group though, is that this tradition is being passed down the family, now at least in its third generation if memory serves me right. I was a few beers in so apologies if I got it wrong, but it does warm my cockles to think that this tradition has been passed down the family ranks for such a long time.
Anyway, the guys go from pub to pub performing the play and collecting money for charity, and on Saturday my girlfriend and I followed them around. I cannot believe that neither of us had never heard of this tradition before but now that we have, it’s firmly set on our Christmas agenda for years to come. It’s history but it’s fun, it’s inclusive and you can follow it while drinking beer. And that, ladies and gents, is history of the best kind.
Have you got a Christmas tradition like this in your home town? Tell me all about it. ❤❤