My favourite fact for October 28th is an event mentioned by Robert Chambers in his Book of Days. It involves a form of punishment meted out by a community on one of its members. Although it can happen at any time, Chambers tell us that he definitely heard of it happening on this day, though he doesn’t tell us where or to whom. But it’s pretty good, so let’s go with it.
Known as ‘Riding the Stang’ in the north of England and ‘Rough Music’ in the South, in this instance it was a punishment for a husband who mistreated his wife. It was intended to draw attention to the person, humiliate them and generally make them take a long, hard look at themselves.
Everyone would gather together all their pans, kettles, tin lids, shovels, buckets, pokers, cow horns, really anything they could find that would make an awful noise when rattled and banged. Then they would go to the persons house in the early hours of the morning and give them a bit of a concert. They would also shout and jeer and implore the miscreant to show himself. Often the proceedings would be led by someone who took the part of a herald who would read the charges in the form of a short poem, with the crowd joining in where appropriate. Here is an example:
Ran, tan, tan; ran, tan, tan,
To the sound of this pan
This is to give notice that (insert name)
Has beaten his good woman!
For what, and for why?
‘Cause she ate when she was hungry,
And drank when she was dry.
Ran, tan, ran, tan, tan;
Hurrah hurrah! for this good woman!
He beat her, he beat her, he beat her indeed,
For spending a penny when she had need.
He beat her black, he beat her blue;
When Old Nick gets him, he’ll give him his due;
Ran, tan, tan; ran, tan, tan;
We’ll send him there in this old frying-pan;
Hurrah hurrah! for his good woman.
Unsurprisingly, it’s also known as ‘rantantaning’. This treatment could go on for several days. Sometimes they would build an effigy of the person and tie it, facing backwards, to a mule and parade it around the town. Sometimes the offender himself would be hoisted onto a pole and carried about. It’s really the same thing as being rode out of town on a rail. Chambers assures us that, in the case he describes, the community managed to achieve what the local constabulary and magistrates had failed to do. They reformed a brutal husband. Of course, whether this is a good thing or not rather depends on what your fellow villagers decide is a bad thing.
Robert Chambers helpfully provides us with a list of other punishments that have used public humiliation as the key to reform, such as the stocks and pillory which had all been banned by 1862. There was one we hadn’t heard of though. It is the ‘Drunkard’s Cloak’. Drunkenness had been made an offence in 1551, and was particularly frowned upon during the Commonwealth. The culprit was forced to parade around the town wearing a barrel. It was also known as a Newcastle Cloak. It looks pretty uncomfortable and quite heavy. It would definitely stop you drinking though, as there’s no way you could get a glass up to your mouth when you’ve got a barrel on.