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Seasonal House-Visiting in South Yorkshire

Greig, Ruairidh (1989) Seasonal House-Visiting in South Yorkshire. MPhil thesis, University of Sheffield.

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This study aims to examine in depth a specific genre of cultural tradition within a defined geographical area. It differs from most previous investigations in this country which have focussed on particular customs in isolation from their social context. The selected tradition is seasonal house-visiting which may be defined as a visit at a particular time of year with some form of performance for which a reward is expected. The chosen region lies to the north and east of Sheffield, within the former counties of South and West Yorkshire. The extensive data that was gathered in the fieldwork upon which the study is based includes numerous examples of house-visits previously unrecorded in the area, as well as considerable information about their organisation, preparation and performance. The attitudes of the audience and the participants towards these activities were also explored. Data collection methods included field interviews, questionnaire distribution and appeals through local newspapers. The visits are classified as simple or complex, according to the amount of organisation required and the degree of interaction between the participants. The characteristic features of nine simple and four complex house-visits are examined, and the factors influencing their existence and function within the community are discussed. The characteristic features include geographic distribution, age and sex of performers, use of costume and disguise, variations in the texts and tunes of rhymes and songs performed during the visits, type and size of reward received, assembling and organisation of the group, as well as a variety of other features found only in particular customs. Factors which have influenced the development, dissemination and decline of house-visiting include migration, settlement patterns, topographical features, socio-economic changes, national historical events and the growth of the mass media. An important feature of the study is the discussion of the functions which house-visiting fulfilled in the community, a subject hitherto neglected by most British folklorists. There is little evidence from the fieldwork to support the theory, popular among these earlier scholars, that these customs originate from pre-Christian rites and ceremonies. Even the bringing of luck is not a major feature. Rather, it is suggested here that house-visiting is in fact a form of popular entertainment performed both for intrinsic pleasure derived from musical and dramatic activity and the extrinsic motivation from financial reward. The audience whose support is essential to the success of the house-visit enjoys not only the performance itself but also the annual reaffirmation of status implicit in the distribution of rewards, a dyadic contract between the visitor and the visited. It is contended that the most complex performances, particularly those normally performed by adults, are dependent upon the patronage of important and wealthy local families and that the withdrawal of this support has been an important factor in the decline of this form of visit. More than seventy texts and tunes performed in these and in the simple visits collected during the fieldwork are presented here for the first time. Amongst them are a number of interesting examples, including a previously undiscovered play used by several “Old Horse” house-visiting teams from the Hoyland area. In summary, this study attempts to refute the survivalist’s interpretation of such customs as seasonal house-visiting. It does so not by yet further discussion of hypothetical origins in the ever-popular “mists of antiquity” but by elucidating their nature and purpose through a detailed examination not simply of one particular custom, but of a whole genre of cultural tradition performed within living memory in a defined geographical area and based upon recent extensive personal fieldwork.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil)
Keywords: folklore, seasonal house-visiting,calendar custom, mummer, dyadic contract, traditional,South Yorkshire, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, old horse, old tup, wassailing
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Mr Ruairidh Greig
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2010 12:10
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:43
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/580

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