A festive farewell from Surrey’s least accurate but most amusing historians - Untold Surrey
- Credit: Illustration by Phil Berkin
Amateur ‘historian’ Morris Otley brings us outlandish tales from our county’s past with a healthy disregard for historical accuracy. This month, seasonal traditions...
Christmas is coming. I feel uneasy. In the shops, those trinkets that will soon have their recipients questioning the sanity of their givers are disappearing quicker than snow from the tiles of an inadequately insulated roof space. And carol singers, once banned from churches on account of their confounded jocularity, will doubtless be out pushing their luck again. Meanwhile, on television, our current crop of mummers will be hamming it up extra thick in their various seasonal specials. But to cap it all, poor old Ebenezer Scrooge will yet again be vilified on stages up and down the land. Bah! Humbug!
Surrey residents with a passion for history (and not enough on their Christmas to-do list) might wish to consider getting ready to pester, or be pestered, in the name of an ancient local tradition called gooding. If you’re interested in participating and decide that your net worth places you on the pesteree side of the game, then be sure to stock up on copious quantities of grain. If, on the other hand, you’re a bit strapped and feel you qualify as a pesterer, you might want to check that you know what you’ll actually do with a sack of rye or gallon of wheat once you’ve been given it. Frankly, I’m not the least bit surprised this particular Yuletide tradition has fallen by the wayside.
Of course, Christmas, as well as being a time of giving and receiving, is a time to look back and contemplate. Twelve months have now passed since Wimblefuss and I began our quest to uncover that Surrey hitherto untold. Regrettably, reaching consensus on matters of fable is a challenging endeavour and a dispute over the correct pronunciation of the Old English word for pernickety old pillock saw my colleague stomp off in a bit of huff. However, I’m delighted to report that I’ve just received a Christmas card from him. Although I’m not sure that an elf giving what historians call ‘a longbowman’s salute’ truly embodies the spirit of the season.
Some of you may have wondered why we picked on Surrey. Well, to be perfectly honest, I’d have much preferred to have penned untold stories from a sun-kissed Mediterranean island. Unfortunately, my investigations there seemed to unsettle the locals and, anyway, a fortnight wasn’t really long enough. Surrey, by contrast, has the great advantage of being both historical and, for most weeks of the year, conveniently local. Factors that, according to module one of the course I once considered taking, are deemed useful in any serious study of local history.
Food for thought
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So what have we learnt? Well, from a personal standpoint, the more I delved into the history of Surrey, the more I discovered how little I knew. Surrey, it’s clear, is as rich in history as it is in shrubbery. It has pots of the stuff. Thankfully most of it chronicled by scribes immeasurably more diligent than myself or even Wimblefuss. However, I hope that our ramblings have served to kindle an interest in Surrey’s history that will prompt you, if you’ve not already done so, to dawdle awhile in the local history section of your nearest public library, or to pay a visit to one of Surrey’s charming museums. Truth really is stranger than fiction and if a dip into the true history of your home county doesn’t provide food for thought, well, I’ll be forced to eat one of Mrs Otley’s home-made mince pies. And if you think I’m a dodgy historian, you should try one of said mince pies!
Waes hael, dear reader. Waes hael!
For another taste of questionable history, visit Morris Otley’s website @ morrisotley.co.uk