the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

England history: forgotten taboring traditions

The Stang Ride
plaster panel in the Great Hall, Montacute House, Somerset


to 17th century England

The original owner of the house, a 17th century magistrate, had this plasterwork panel illustrating the 'Stang Ride' placed in his Great Hall where he entertained important visitors. The many illustrations and mentions of the 'Ride' throughout historical times indicates a tradition well-known by the intended readership.

vb vb

The husband is paraded around the village astride a pole as punishment. He was drinking whilst minding the baby, so his wife hit him over the head with a shoe and the neighbours take the law into their own hands by publicly humiliating him. He has behaved like a fool and is symbolically playing the pipe and tabor.

Andrew Marvell included a description in a poem in 1667 as the local people:

"knew by shame, Better than law, domestic crimes to tame"
v bvb

[National Trust property contact & visitor info ref 159695 ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie]

A French manuscript created between 1275 and 1325, illustrated in England, shows another pipe and tabor player
being carried on a pole held between two men, although there is no clue as to why this happened.

In the Luttrel Psalter(1325-35) in a similar scene the man is holding jester's/fool's bladder on a stick.

In France, 1300-1310, a manuscript is illustrated in the margin by a monkey sitting on a pole:


A children's procession in a 14th century Flemish manuscript, (described as the 'winner of a cock fight'),
indicates that these rides were well-known enough to be mimicked as a children's game.

Almost 600 years later photographs were taken at the Corby Pole Fair (1902) showing a man carried down the street on a pole in a similar fashion.

The Stang Ride was a common custom for any man or woman who had committed a minor offence such as scolding, beating, or otherwise abusing the other sex. The man,(or "the neighbour next nearest the church" or even a paid volunteer), or man and woman together, were carried astride an ash pole, or stang, through their village or town. Insults, mocking laughter and derision, and missiles were thrown during the noisy procession. Rough music on horns, pots and pans, and drums added to the noise.

1814 Walker1814 The Stang Ride from "The Costume of Yorkshire" by George Walker

Sometimes the miscreant was carried backwards, which was a mark of shame, and which later became symbolic of evil. Sometimes a horse was used instead of the pole [5].

misericord in Wells Cathedral (carved 1330-40) 17th century1602 Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire woodcut
18141814 satire on Napoleon
backwards rideunknown

More images of riding backwards here.

1725 riding backwards1725 Skimmington Ride 18791879 Stockholm [detail]
Peder Sunnanväder's and Mäster Knut's Ignominious Entry into Stockholm1526

The Stang Ride is also known as Riding Skimmington. It was well known throughout England [1] and Scotland [2] although may have originated or been particularly associated with only certain regions such as the West Country [3] or the north of England. Both secular and ecclesiastical authorities suppressed the custom in England during the 18th century and it died out in Victorian times. [4]

In Northamptonshire the Corby/Corbei Pole fair is organised every 20 years. The King (Henry III) granted the right to hold two annual fairs and markets in 1226. Although the Pole Fair was only first documented in 1862 one theory suggests that when the Danes settled in the area they brought their customs and punishments with them. The Old English 'staeng' is said to come from the Old Norse 'stong', a pole,

"which this man was forced to sit atop or astride while carried upon the shoulders of a boisterous cavalcade of jeering neighbours, or represented in effigy and paraded through his village".

Definition of Stangster from "Forgotten English", by Jeffrey Kacirk, 1999

In 1902 tolls were exacted from passers-by and anyone not paying was carried through the fair on poles and then placed in the stocks.

1902Music was part of the festivities. Is the man on the right playing a three-hole pipe, a kazoo or smoking a cigarette?

In 1960 Anthony Gross produced an etching called Charivari: tumult

The Stang Ride theme was used as the basis for satires in, for example, 1607, 1726 . A 1772 satirical print shows the man riding backwards and carrying a jester/fool's stick.

21st century21st century beer sign


[1] Skimmington Rides were well-known in London.
Samuel Pepys mentions this custom in his diary entry of 10th June 1667

"in the afternoon took boat and down to Greenwich, where I find the stairs full of people, there being a great riding there to-day for a man, the constable of the town, whose wife beat him"
[2] 2 examples from Scotland
[3] West Country examples:
* In 1607 two chuirchwardens were taken to court in Somerset who apparently willingly 'rode the stang' during a particularly raucus Church Ale celebration. 
* Skimmington Ride took place at Aveton Gifford in 1737 and is recorded in a Process Book of the Devon Quarter Sessions dated Epiphany 1738.
* Thomas Hardy, in his novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' 1884, indicates that two women watch from a balcony when the Skimmington ride passes.
[4] Similar customs survive into the 20th century in the USA and Australia, presumably taken there by colonists

[5] Riding Backwards: Theme of Humiliation and Symbol of Evil, Journal Viator, Brepols Publishers ISSN 0083-5897, vol 4/1973 pp 153-176

top of page