Recently I read a short story by Charles Dickens, The Chimes, published in 1844, the year following A Christmas Carol. Dickens describes The Chimes as “A Goblin story of some bells that rang an Old Year out and a New One in”. The hero of the story is known as “Trotty” as he trotted everywhere, but being over 60, not very fast. Trotty was a “Ticket Porter” who carried letters for 6d or 1 shilling from his pitch at the old church doorway, on a windy corner. His daughter, Meg, brought him his midday meal, he guessed “Polonies, liver or chitterlings” but it was tripe with some beer to slake his thirst. She brought her fiancée, Richard as they wished to be married on New Year’s Day. Trotty heard the bells chime his name, a regular fancy of his.
From a nearby door came a stout man, Alderman Cute, a Justice, a complacent man, who often said “I know how to deal with this common sort—I say put them down”. The bells chimed “Put ’em Down”. Cute had a letter for Trotty to deliver to Sir Joseph Bowley, MP, who liked to be known as “the poor man’s friend”. Trotty had to enter the great man’s parlour while his secretary read the letter aloud. It asked about a tramp, found asleep in a shed, should he put him down? Lady Bowley said “put him down” and so Bowley replied to Cute accordingly. Trotty trotted away, but almost knocked over a tramp and child also on their way to Cute. After introductions Trotty advised the man to keep well away from Cute.
The chimes said to Trotty “Drag him to Us” and Trotty dreamed of climbing up in the bell tower, when the Goblin and spirits jumped from the bells. They said “Meg is dead”. Then he awoke. It was only a dream and everyone was happy, with Meg’s wedding on New Year’s Day. The bells chimed “May the New Year be a happy one for you”.
This story does not appeal to me as much as A Christmas Carol but it does symbolise the end of the year.
I may have told you before that as a child I climbed the steps of the church tower to the bell loft on New Year’s Eve, holding a torch so that my father could fix muffles on the bell clappers. The bells would be rung muffled until midnight, when we retraced our steps to remove the muffles, so that the bells could ring out loudly for the New Year. We saw no Goblins! I expect many churches here followed this practice, ringing out over the vale for centuries, interrupted only by wars (and perhaps Oliver Cromwell).
Before New Year we have the Solstice and Christmas. Both of these festivals are associated with food. Recent research about Stonehenge announced a couple of months ago described finds from 10,000 years ago of many bones of Aurochs, about three times the size of our present cows. Some Christmas dinner!
The same archaeologists found evidence, by ground penetrating radar of a large population living nearby, which is not surprising as building Stonehenge required many people.
They also reported that the Cursus, which predated Stonehenge, had pits at each end from which the midsummer sunrise and sunset could be viewed. The intersection of the lines of sight was at the centre of the monument to be built. Then the circular ditch and ring were dug to surround this centre point and the stone positions marked out. This would be when the Great Trilithon marked the position of the midwinter solstice, opposite midsummer sunrise. The date was later taken over approximately for Christmas, to combine the two celebrations.
Some years after the completion of Stonehenge a wooden fence was built dividing east from west, with some posts 7 metres tall. Possibly there was more fighting between neighbouring tribes, but by 1,500 BC all building had stopped and the area gradually became farmland.
Music of many sorts is also a feature of the festivals. A few years ago members of the local Family History Society were told about a resident of the vale who died in 1971. He was Charlie Wills, originally from Somerset but had moved to Dorset about the beginning of the 20th century, working in agriculture. Charlie played the mouth organ and sang traditional folk songs including some bawdy pub songs. He became well known singing in local inns, especially during World War II. In the 1950s he was heard by Ralph Wightman who introduced him to the BBC, who recorded him singing. Soon after Charlie was invited to join in a Folk Music Concert televised from Alexandra Palace. An LP album was recorded by Robin Teague and shortly after Westward Television filmed him at home when he was 93, according to Sylvia Creed in Dorset’s Western Vale. Apparently he was always addicted to local cider, scrumpy. No doubt he would have had his tankard refilled many times in his local on festive occasions. A real local character.
A Happy Christmas and New Year to all, without Goblin Chimes! Bridport History Society meets on Tuesday 9th December to hear of a newly found Roman Villa at Druce Farm, Puddletown, from Lillian Ladle at 2.30 pm in Bridport United Church Main Hall. All welcome, visitors £2.50, with festive refreshments.
Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society. Tel : 01308 456876.