Town pays homage to its oldest tradition

Lol Hogson, the bailiff of the Manor of Fyling (left) builds last year's Penny Hedge, assisted by Tim Osborne
Lol Hogson, the bailiff of the Manor of Fyling (left) builds last year's Penny Hedge, assisted by Tim Osborne

Centuries old, and very likely Whitby’s oldest tradition, the annual planting of the Penny Hedge will take place tomorrow (Wednesday).

Crowds are expected to gather along Church Street to witness the ceremony which will see a small fence erected out of hazel sticks on the banks of the River Esk at 9am on Ascension Eve.

Once the hedge is built, a horn will be sounded three times and the bailiff of the Manor of Fyling, Lol Hodgson, will shout “out on ye” three times.

The story behind the custom surrounds three noblemen who were hunting a wild boar, when it was reputed to have sought refuge with a hermit in Eskdaleside.

The three men attacked the hermit and killed him and the building of a hedge cut with a penny knife was undertaken as a punishment.

Speaking at last year’s ceremony, Mr Hodgson told the Whitby Gazette: “This tradition has survived because the people of the town have wanted it to continue.

“It is very important for Whitby to maintain it.”

The tradition is thought to have begun over 800 years ago in the wake of the ill-fated hunting trip.

After the hunted boar apparently managed to escape its pursuers by hiding in a chapel, the noblemen were denied access to the building by a hermit.

In a fit of rage they rode him down with spears, mortally wounding him.

On his death bed, the hermit informed those responsible for his wounding that both they and their ancestors were to build a hedge capable of withstanding three tides as penance, or face the forfeiture of their lands.

A book published in 1857 by Richardson and Son of Flowergate claims that the noblemen in question were the Lord of Ugglebarnby, William de Bruce, the Lord of Sneaton, Ralph de Percie and a gentleman of Fylingdales named Allatson.

In recorded history there has only been one year when the hedge could not be built. In 1981 the tide was in at the 9am start time and planting proved impossible.

The original instrument used during the ceremony, thought to be made of cow or ram’s horn, is still used today and is stored in the strong room of Pinkney Grunwell Solicitors in Golden Lion Bank.

As is tradition, Wednesday’s proceedings will get underway at 9am.