A straw horse drawing
The Straw Horses
~ darkly delicious original folk music ~
A drawing of a straw horse

'Calendar' - the stories

Our debut album Calendar was released in 2014. It contains twelve songs based on British historical events and customs.  The CD comes with these drawings and background stories.  We've put them here for you too.

 

'The Winter Of 1684' by Claire Aberlé

1. The Winter Of 1684

In the winter of 1683-4, the coldest ever recorded in England, the Thames was frozen to a depth of almost a foot. 

 
The river became a vast, icy street along which horses and coaches were raced, stallholders plied their trades, and Londoners caroused to distract themselves from the murderous cold and the suffocating smoke that enveloped their city.

 

'The Devil's Footsteps' by Claire Aberlé

2. The Devil's Footsteps

On the morning of the 9th of February 1855, early risers in the south of Devon were confronted by a chilling sight in the half-light of the wintry dawn: a line of hoof-shaped prints in the deep snow, traversing houses and walls, crossing rivers, and even seeming to pass through drainpipes and narrow cracks. 

 

The prints suggested a two-legged creature with hooves, leading many to fearfully speculate that the Devil himself had paid a nocturnal visit to their county.

 

'Maybella' by Claire Aberlé

3. Here's To Maybella

In the late 13th century, the kindly Maybella was married to a miserly landowner called Roger De Tichborne.  On her deathbed, she asked him to remember her by providing for the poor people of the parish each year.  Roger handed her a burning log from the fire and declared that he would donate to the poor the yield from whatever land she could crawl around before the wind blew out the flame she was carrying.

 

Maybella managed to cover 23 acres - an area still known as 'The Crawls'.

 

Over 700 years later, flour is still given to the residents of Tichborne by the parish priest every 25th March.

 

'April Fool' by Claire Aberlé

4. April Fool

We're all familiar with the custom of playing tricks on one another on the first day of April, and enjoying the smug satisfaction of successfully pulling off this legitimised deception.

 

But remember: it's only allowed until midday. After that, only a fool would try.

 

'The Royal Oak' by Claire Aberlé

5. Shick Shack

Following his defeat at Worcester in 1651, Charles II had to flee England in disguise. During this long and dangerous escape, he spent a day hiding in an oak tree while Parliamentarian soldiers searched the surrounding woods.

 

On the 29th of May 1660, Charles returned from exile and rode into London, where he was welcomed by a great, jubilant crowd. The monarchy was restored, and those who were glad to have their king back took to wearing a sprig of oak on the anniversary of Charles's return to commemorate the tree in which he had hidden from his pursuers.

 

May 29th remained a public holiday, known as Oak Apple Day, until 1859. People seen not sporting oak leaves might find themselves whipped with nettles to the cry of 'shick shack' - a milder version of a rather vulgar old epithet.

 

'Mallard' by Claire Aberlé

6. The Heart Of The Year

Midsummer celebrations have taken place for thousands of years.  The summer solstice occurs (in the Northern Hemisphere) on the 20th or 21st of June, and many ancient stone circles still attract gatherings of people who have come together to witness sunrise on the longest day of the year.

 

'The Heart Of The Year' by Claire Aberlé

7. Running Down The Line (Mallard's Story)

On the 3rd of July, 1938, the class A4 steam locomotive Mallard left Barkston Junction on a world speed record attempt.  

 

After being slowed by unexpected works near Grantham, driver Joseph Duddington and fireman Thomas Bray made the most of the opportunity presented to them by the slight downward gradient of Stoke Bank, and pushed Mallard to a momentary maximum speed of 126mph - a record that has never been matched by another steam locomotive.

 

This celebrated engine was retired in 1963 and now resides in the National Railway Museum.

 

'Lammas Love' by Claire Aberlé

8. Farewell, My Lammas Love

Lammas Day, the 1st of August, was traditionally the start of the harvest, when the first wheat was cut and made into loaves that would be given to the church to thank God for the crops.

 

During the period of reaping, celebrating and thanksgiving that followed, a young couple might be permitted to spend 11 days in a trial romantic union.

 

This sometimes led to marriage, but if that wasn't allowed, they might have to wait until the next Lammas fair before they could be together again.

 

'The Horse Of Straw' by Claire Aberlé

9. Calling The Mare

In former times, neighbouring farmers enjoyed a friendly rivalry over who had the fastest reapers.

 

Farmworkers who had finished bringing in their harvest would fashion a horse from the last sheaf and throw it over the wall of a neighbouring farm, shouting 'Mare, mare!'

 

This let their rival know that they'd finished, and that he'd better hurry up if he didn't want wild horses to come and eat his crops.

 

When that farmer finished, he would throw the straw horse over another neighbour's wall.  Eventually, the slowest farmer would be left with it, and he was obliged to display it until the next harvest, which doubtless made him a figure of good-spirited ridicule for most of a year.

 

'The Mop Fair' by Claire Aberlé

10. To The Mop Fair

Michaelmas Day is the 10th of October, and hiring fairs were often held on or around this date.

 

Labourers and servants would dress in their best clothes and go to the town centre, where the local landowners would also congregate.  Workers would hopefully negotiate employment for the next twelve months.  They each carried an item to betoken their job, such as a scythe, a milking stool, or a mop, and this is why these events were also known as mop fairs.

 

When workers were hired, they would be given a coin to secure the deal, whereupon they could put down the sign of their trade and decorate themselves with ribbons to signify their success. 

 

 

'The Barrel Rollers' by Claire Aberlé

11. The Barrel Rollers Of Ottery St. Mary

Every 5th of November, the town of Ottery St Mary in Devon hosts a unique and breathtaking spectacle: townspeople charging through the crowded streets with burning barrels on their shoulders.

 

The barrels are lined with tar and filled with straw and paper before being set alight. Historically, they were rolled through the town, but the custom evolved to a new level of drama when it was decided that they should be lifted aloft and carried at head height instead.

 

Visitors flock to this event, lining the streets and adding to the danger and excitement.  Spectators attend at their own risk, and the Barrel Rollers are committed to maintaining their centuries-old tradition.  You'd better get out of the way!

 

'A Feast Of Fools' by Claire Aberlé

12. The Lord Of Misrule

With its origins in the Roman festival of Saturnalia, the tradition of inverting the normal order of things thrived in mediaeval and Tudor Britain.

 

For a number of days in December, a person of low rank would be appointed ruler of the midwinter festivities, and would orchestrate all manner of bizarre and irreverent goings-on. 

 

Those who normally held power were obliged to follow the commands of the Lord of Misrule.

 

These stunning drawings are all available to purchase as 8" prints from Claire Aberlé's online store here: www.etsy.com/au/shop/Whitespirits

Buy Calendar on CD or as a download

The Straw Horses' debut album 'Calendar' is available from Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby, Google Play, and other retailers.

Front cover of 'Calendar' by The Straw Horses

We recommend the physical CD option as it comes with a beautiful 27 page booklet containing all the original drawings, lyrics, and backgrounds to the songs.


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