Soul Caking in Antrobus.

wantingcaution !! this is an initial draft ... these notes are on my server for safe keeping !!





Ancient Rituals -

Halloween for the kidsIn Antrobus, Great Budworth and almost everywhere October 31st and November 1st & 2nd marked the end of the growing season and the start of the autumn cull ... and layoffs ... the start of the dark workless winter. It was time for thanksgiving for a good harvest and also a time for placating the dead just in case they could help ease the horrors of cold, disease & shortages. These were ancient rituals - Catholic, Protestant, Pagan, East & West, common to many cultures.

 Harvest Festival, Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day were celebrated in a multitude of different ways in different places at different times, pandering to the ancient overwhelming human emotion of deep respect for dead ancestors. Not only the beginning of winter, howling winds and long dark nights but also the time when ancestral spirits roamed ... in Antrobus it was Marbury Hall that was most famous for its ghosts, but remember, the white lady was there to help, a restless spirit with mortal work unfinished ... scary but meaningful fun ... a time to remember ancestors and tell stories about them ... at Halloween the veils were thin and ancestors on the other side were close, they were invited to join the celebrations ... an opportunity for participative community entertainment and maybe helping to raise spirits ... and hopes ...

Antrobus SoulcakersSoul Caking Plays -

Antrobus soul caking plays had a social function of cementing village communities against outsiders and the disruptive spirits of the dead, the theme was always unity against the common enemy and a challenge, a battle, a death, and a magical revival. The original soulcakers would dress up and go from house to house, singing begging songs or pleas for prayers for the dead. King George (St George) killed the Black Prince (The Earl of Chester) who was then resurrected by the Quack Doctor. 'Dairy Doubt', 'Beelzebub', 'blood flowing like Noah's flood' & 'stand back you Moroccan dog' ... wot fun! ... but the Cheshire seasonal folk plays ('mumming' plays) were different, they ended by introducing the hobby horse and his driver; 'Owd Oss', 'Wild Horse', 'Old Hob' and Marbury's own 'Marbury Dun' ... a legendary mare which, according to folklore, ran from London to Marbury between the hours of sunrise and sunset, and whose grave can still be seen in the in East Park grounds of Marbury Hall -

'Here lies Marbury Dunne
The finest horse that ever run
Clothed in a linen sheet
With silver hoofs upon her feet'.

What better time than Halloween for an apparition of Marbury Dunne to inspire the current generation of colts and fillies? ... this 'horse' tradition introduced a music hall 'turn' quite independent of the play ... everyone loved it! 

 A W Boyd suggested -

'Each village near Northwich had its band of soulcakers, who were welcomed into farm kitchens and inns on All Souls day. It was left to the Comberbach Soulcakers to keep the tradition alive and in recent years an rival Antrobus band has again been formed and give a spirited performance every year. The play is of great antiquity. with obvious traces of ritual origin, in which the restoration to life of a dead man and the appearance of a man in women's clothes are salient points. It was customary until the 1920s for the different gangs to come to blows and try to rob one another of their horses' heads; an amusing tale is told of the capture of one outside an inn at Whitley while the performance was actually going on inside, and of the surprise of the players when it was not there to come in at the end of the show.'

In 2018 Kevin Goulding, 'Dick’ of the Comberbach gang, confirmed that The Comberbach Soulcakers were still going strong and enjoyed a hugely different rival tradition to the Antrobus gang ... today consultation with the other local group in Antrobus ensures that they don’t perform at the same venue on the same night. Hence also ensuring that no blows are exchanged. Indeed everything is quite civil and tradition prevails!

Community theatre, role playing, scaring the kids were all part of the show but the goodie and the baddie were blurred and irrelevant, removing the masks exposed friends and a booze up followed with the kids and the poor getting a cake.

A welcome distraction from the pressures in rural Cheshire from the remote powers that be, the infernal competition and the new fangled technology  ... all of which disrupted the old idyllic farming & crafts and called for unimaginable investment in hard work ... rural life seemed to be under continual threat ... just like things everywhere ... life's a sod then you die ... so let's lighten up ...

Soul Caking SongSoul Caking Song -

Soul cake, a soul cake please good misses a soul cake.
An apple or a pear, a plum or a cherry
any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for him who made us all.
Down in your cellar what can you find
I hope you'll be kind, I hope you'll be kind.
The lanes are very dirty and my shoes are very thin,
I've got a little pocket I can put a penny in
if you haven't got a penny, a halfpenny will do,
if you haven't got a halfpenny, God bless you!

Soul CakesSoul Cakes -

Ingredients -
Two sticks butter
3 and 3/4 cups sifted flour
1 cup fine white sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or mace
1 teaspoon each, cinnamon, ginger, allspice
2 eggs
2 teaspoons malt vinegar

Method -  Oven: 350 degrees, bake for 20-25 minutes.
Happy HalloweenCut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender; blend in the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon & spice and mix to a stiff dough with the beaten eggs and vinegar. Knead thoroughly and roll out, cut into rounds and set on greased baking sheets. Prick the cakes with a fork and bake; sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar while still warm.

PS A soul cake was always left for the spirits who left their graves on the night of Halloween ...

'A House with Spirit; a dedication to Marbury Hall' by Jackie & Christine Hamlett, 1996.

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