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. v bvbNational Trust property contact & visitor info ref 159695 ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie]

taborer on poleA 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 has a marginal image of a monkey sitting on a pole: 1300-1310

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.

"1562, Shrove Monday, at Charing Cross, was a man carried of four men, and before him a bagpipe playing,
a shawm, and a drum beating, and twenty links burning about him. The cause was, his next neighbour's wife
beat her husband; it being so ordered that the next should ride about the place to expose her."

"Riding Skimmington" and "Riding the Stang". By C. R. B. BARRETT, Esq., 1895

1565 London, report on a stang ride:

“one mane rode on two staves borne on iiij (4) mens showldars at S. Katheryns for that his next neybor
sofferyd his wyffe to beat hym. There went with hym ny iijc. (300) men with handgunes and pikes well
armyd in cowrslytts.”

one man rode on two staves borne on four men’s shoulders at St. Katherines for that his next neighbour
suffered his wife to beat him. There went with him nigh 300 men with handguns and pikes, well
armed in corslets

‘Historical Memoranda of John Stowe: General, 1564-7’

1580 play 'Sivqila or Too Good to be True' by Thomas Lupton:
"Aliquis, In some places, with us, if a woman beat her husband, the man that dwelleth next unto hir shall ride
on a cowlstaffe, and there is al the punishment she is like to have.
Tears, I heard since 'twas seen whole o' th' other side the downs, upon a cole-staff, between two huntsmen."
Arden of Feversham,"I and my company have taken the constable from his watch, and carried him about the
field on a colt-staff."

"Riding Skimmington" and "Riding the Stang". By C. R. B. BARRETT, Esq., 1895

1601 22nd May, Carlton cum Willingham, Cambridgeshire, Court record:

“That Robert Barker & Ieffrye Marshe did bringe Iohn Lawrence vpon a  cowlestaffe into the Charchyard,
& set him Downe at the Chauncells end, Mathew Iermey, Peter Iobson, Iohn Seth, & Reekwood a fidler 
were in the companye of them that caryed him, this was done vpon Easter Munday in the morninge an
hower before morninge prayer”

* cowlestaffe  - a staff or pole used by two people to carry a vessel
* 6 men and a musician – were they morris men? And the fidler a pipe and tabor player?

Diocesan Court Proceedings CUL: EDR B/2/1

1602 15th October, Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, Court record:

“Lord & Capteyn of the disordered Cumpany riding & triumphing vpon a greate cowlestaffe borne
vpon mens shoulders.  On which day he appeared and alleged (and all others agreed to the allegation
through him) that there is a custom in their towne that if a woman beate her husband, the next neighbour
towardes the Church must ride vpon a cowlestaffe, and they offered themselves promptly and personally
to prove that master Paynes wief vicar of waterbeach did beate her husband …
Lord pronounced them all disobedient and reserved their punishment in the near future.”

Diocesan Court Proceedings CUL: EDR B/2/18

17th century1602 Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire

1604 Wetherden, Suffolk: a riding against Nicholas Rosyer and his wife, after she beat him when he came home
drunk one night. It was decided that the next-door neighbour “towards the church should according to an old
country ceremony … ryde about the towne upon a cowlestaff wherby not onely the woman wh[i]ch had
offended might be shamed for her misdemeanor towardes her husband but other women also by her shame
might be admonished [not] to offend in like sort”.

'Popular Responses to Crime and Deviant Behaviour in Early Modern England'

In 1607 two churchwardens were taken to court in Somerset who apparently willingly 'rode the stang'
during a particularly raucus Church Ale celebration:
"Articles against Thomas Marsh and Roger Traske wardens at Yevel" recorded "Some of the disorders
at our Church ale at Yeavell this year 1607. It was an usual thing upon the saboth day to have minstrelsie
and dauncinge and carrying men upon a cavell stafe, the wardinges themselves Thomas Marshes and Roger
Traske wear willingly so caried to the church."  
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.
16351635 street scene, 'The Roxburghe Ballads'
1635 stang rideclose-up of stang ride

1637 Appleton super Wiske, Yorkshire North Riding, trial record:

“The duty of the master against Robertum Buttrie and Johannem Brunten for carrying William Hobson
 into the Church of Apleton upon a bar or stange…

 “The duty of the master against Willelmum Steward a piper for playing upon his pipes before them”

"All the parties before mentioned did fetch William Hodshone from his owne house & did carrye him
upon a stang to the Church and about the Church & the Mab danced before him & soon carried him
into the Church & about the fountain & set him in his stall with the piper playing before him all that time.
& it was done the Sunday before named in the tyme of divine servise And Robert Taler a Churchwarden
did not onely goe himselfe but lent a stang to carry the said hodshon on, & being asked why he did soe
he answered in great derision that he would doe the like againe…”

Visitation Court Book of Archbishop Richard Neile, Borthwick Institute: V.1636/CB, part 2

The Stang Ride, or Skimmington Rides, were well-known in London.
Samuel Pepys 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"

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

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

At the Durham Assizes, 1793, seven men were tried for violently assaulting one Nicholas Lowes of Bishop Wearmouth,
and carrying him on a stang; the sentence being two years' imprisonment in Durham Gaol, and to find sureties for three years. 

"Riding Skimmington" and "Riding the Stang". By C. R. B. BARRETT, Esq., 1895

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.

'Riding Backwards: Theme of Humiliation and Symbol of Evil', Journal Viator, vol 4/1973 pp 153-176

1662 “An Oration against a Foolish Custom:
Worthy Citizens,
HEre is an Unjust and Unhandsome Custom in this City, and therefore ought to be Abolished, which is,
that whensoever a Wife Beats her Husband, the next Neighbour Rides through the City Disgracefully,
not only Sitting upon a Horse with his Face towards the Tail, or Sitting astride upon a Staff…”

‘ORATIONS OF DIVERS SORTS, Accommodated to DIVERS PLACES. Written by the thrice Noble, Illustrious and excellent
Princess, the Lady Marchioness OF NEWCASTLE.’  page 221

1382 London: the riding of a quack physician:

"He was paraded through the city on a horse, facing backwards, with two urinals hung around his neck”

recorded by Thomas Walsingham in  ‘Historia anglicana’ ed. Henry Thomas Riley, 2 volumes, Roll Series 28 (London, 1864),
volume 2, p. 63.  quoted in ‘Popular Responses to Crime and Deviant Behaviour in Early Modern England

misericord in Wells Cathedral (carved 1330-40) 1330-13401330-40 manuscript, Norwich
1320early 14th century ape riding backwards, England  
1460's1460's France, a fool, in the margin of 'Histoire Ancienne
jusqu'á César' by Jean Fouquet
14701470 musical fool, Bruges, Belgium
16071607 print, Ausburg, Germany 18141814 satire on Napoleon
1725 riding backwards1725 Skimmington Ride

backwards rideunknown probably 19th century, Europe

18791879 Stockholm [detail]
'Peder Sunnanväder's and Mäster Knut's Ignominious Entry into Stockholm 1526'

The Stang Ride is also known as Riding Skimmington. It was well known throughout England 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.

1559 London: a man was punished with a riding for cheating on the number of billets of firewood that he had sold
he was forced to ride draped in firewood.

‘Popular Responses to Crime and Deviant Behaviour in Early Modern England’

1703 satirical poem:
"A punishment invented first to awe
Masculine wives transgressing Nature's law,
Where, when the brawny female disobeys,
And beats her husband 'til for peace he prays,
No concern'd jury damage for him finds,
Nor partial justice her behaviour binds,
But the just street does the next house invade,
Mounting the neighbour couple on lean jade.
The distaff knocks, the grains from kettle fly..."

'Poems on affairs of state, from the reign of K. James the First,
to this present year 1703. Written by the greatest wits of the age, vol. I '

Two 18th century prints and a poem set to music here

1830's Doncaster, South Yorkshire

“The procession emerged from the Volunteer yard. Men, women, and children were there with all kinds of articles,
cows’ horns, frying pans, warming pans, and tea kettles drummed on with a large key; iron pot lids used as cymbals;
fire shovels and tongs rattled together; tin and wooden pails drummed on with iron pokers or marrow bones; in fact,
every implement with which a loud, discordant sound could be produced.”

The History and Archaeology of the Doncaster region

1854 Description of a number of places where the Stang Ride was carried out such as Stockton, Norton, Thirsk:1854'The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Darlington, in the Bishoprick' by William Hylton Dyer Longstaffe, page 339

Hunmanby Stang

“Common throughout the agricultural villages of East Yorkshire, this practice was carried out up to 1900.
Hunmanby ceased to indulge the Riding of the Stang after 1860 – upon the orders of the Lord of the Manor”


1877 Boldron, a village near Bowes, County Durham: the case of riding the stang went to court. The Darlington
 & Stockton Times’ headline writer described it as a “matrimonial scandal near Barnard Castle"

Thomas Hardy, in his novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' 1884, indicates that two women watch from a balcony
when the Skimmington ride passes.
"the conversation about the skimmington was continued in the sitting-room, and reached his ears.

"What do they mean by a 'skimmity-ride'?" he asked.

"O, sir!" said the landlady, swinging her long earrings with deprecating modesty; "'tis a' old foolish thing they do in these parts
when a man's wife is—well, not too particularly his own. But as a respectable householder I don't encourage it."

Other mentions:

Cradley, Herefordshire, 26 Feb. 1586/87
Lindridge, Worcestershire, 6 Mar. 1572/73 (date of hearing)
Upper Mitton, Worcestershire, 20 Oct. 1613

‘Robert Ill's 'Rough Music':Charivari and Diplomacy in a Medieval Scottish Court’
The Scottish Historical Review, Volume LXXIV, 2: No. 198: October 1995, 144-158 by JOHN J. McGAVIN

“curat of Mitton, and by violence putt him vppon a cowlestaffe and caried him vp and downe the towne
and caused fidlers beinge then in …” ,
“by violence put him upon a cowlstaff and carried him up and down the town and caused fidlers
then being in company to play by them, and one rang upon a frying pan, another blew a horn and
the rest followed making a great disorderly noise”

Mentions in Somerset:

1616 skimmington ride against John Hall of Temple, Cameley, blacksmith and his wife Mary
1708 Stoke St Michael, alleged skimmington ride
1790 'Skimeton' or Skimmington held at Bradford

Quarter Sessions Records

19th century recollections of stang rides in:
Clayworth, Retford, Nottinghamshire
Preston under Scar, North Yorkshire
Bubwith, Selby, North Yorkshire
Sturton by Stowe, West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire
Tunstall, Lancashire?

'The James Madison Carpenter collection'

1889 one of the last instances of Riding the Stang took place in Hedon, Holderness, East Riding of Yorkshire

1898 Wensleydale

“A very old custom, but which has now been pretty nigh stamped out by the county policeman, is that of ‘Riding the Stang.’
It is not dead yet, though; I witnessed the stang being ridden as recently as 1891 in Guisborough, and in many of the villages
in Wensleydale it is to this day resorted to when considered needful. The stang is held in wholesome dread by a certain
class of evil-doers. Wife-beaters and immoral characters chiefly had and have the benefit of the stang. ... The stang was
ridden at Thoralby, Wensleydale, as recently as October, 1896.”

‘Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire   With a Glossary of over 4,000 Words and Idioms Now in Use’
  by Richard Blakeborough

1901 Coverdale, near Leyburn. Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire, newspaper report:
“The ancient custom of ‘riding the stang’ has been revived in the North Riding of Yorkshire. In the three townships
of Carlton, West Scrafton and Caldbergh, in Coverdale, three unfaithful husbands have just undergone the salutary
punishment of being forcibly seated on a stang (or pole) hoisted on men’s shoulders, and so carried in procession
through the villages of the accompaniment of hooting and jeering.”
Lincolnshire Echo January 21, 1901

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


19021902 Music was part of the festivities - Corby village band.
Is the drummer on the right playing a three-hole pipe, a kazoo or smoking a cigarette?

19221922 Corby Pole Fair 20222022 Corby Pole Fair

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 distaff (symbol for female)..

21st century21st century beer sign

Similar customs took place in France:

1718 France

“For several years, in the town of Saint-Mihiel, a practice has been introduced of having people walk and drive
through the streets, the Mardy-gras of each year by the Boys or Bourgeois of the City, an ox on which they seat
one or more bourgeois of the same city, charged, as they claim, with having allowed his neighbour to be beaten
by his wife, and as punishment for this negligence; as testimony to which signs are placed on his shoulders in front
and behind designating this punishment and the fact which gave rise to it.
21 March 1718 French court testament:
“Anne Colin… said and deposed (...) that, on last Mardi Gras, she saw an ox pass in front of her house ridden
by François Vermandé, who had his back to the head of this same ox, who held its tail to serve as a bridle,
supported by different inhabitants of this place that she did not known, with pitchforks under their arms, followed
by a large number of people and children, several of whom carried oak bark which served as torches, and Marie
Picard, daughter of the shepherd of this place, who accompanied them with a horn in which she blows to warn
the public of this scene:

And as for Ash Wednesday, the deponent also saw another ox passing by belonging to François Simonin, plowman
of this place; who led him mounted by Collignon, who also had his back turned to the head, holding the tail of this ox
to serve as a bridle, accompanied by a large number of people and children;"

1775 northeast France

“In 1775, the Sovereign Court was forced to place a ban on the donkey ride in Saint-Dié.  Nevertheless, this custom
had become too deeply established to perish under the decisions of justice;  it even survived the Revolution, which
erased so many traditions of another era, and people of a certain age could still, in the 19th century, remember
having attended, some forty years ago, spectacles of this kind which, more than once, degenerated into bloody brawls.”

1900 An old custom in Montluçon, central France:

 “the beaten husband who is paraded through the whole town,
mounted backwards on a donkey, wearing a cotton cap, armed
with a distaff, and carrying on his back a sign on which are written
these words: “Beaten by his wife and content”.

Illustration for Le Petit Journal, 1 April 1900

Similar customs survive into the 20th century in the USA and Australia,
presumably taken there by colonists
18841884 illustration from ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, the King
and the Duke tarred and feathered and ridden on a rail. 

Riding the rail was a punishment most prevalent in the United States
in the 18th and 19th centuries in which an offender was made to
straddle a fence rail held on the shoulders of two or more bearers.
The subject was then paraded around town or taken to the city
limits and dumped by the roadside. (wikipedia)
Another use for the stang: late 15th centurylate 15th century acrobat on misericord, All Saints' church, Gresford, Wrexham, Wales

Notes: other 'riding backwards' images here

[2] examples from Scotland
[3] West Country examples:
* Skimmington Ride took place at Aveton Gifford in 1737 and is recorded in
a Process Book of the Devon Quarter Sessions dated Epiphany 1738.

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