Boxing Day, Saint Stephen’s Day (patron saint of bricklayers). When the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even. Possibly the day when Christmas boxes, or gifts, were handed out to servants, or alms boxes opened and the contents distributed.
“The admonitions to “Remember the Poor” were familiar to all who entered the church; for near to the door stood a pillared alms-box of stout oak, made secure with iron bands and padlocks. Post Reformation alms-boxes may still be found at Beeston, Eakring, Edwalton, Car Colston, Fledboro’, Hickling, Hockerton, Kelham, Kirton, Rampton, Sutton-cum-Lound, South Muskham. They are all very similar in design, and bear the initials of the churchwardens, date, and a bold request to “Remember ye. Poore,” while the pre-Reformation alms-boxes, which alas! have all disappeared, were often ornate in design, and bore a variety of texts chiefly taken from Tobit’s instruction to his son Tobias with respect to almsgiving. (Tobit. Chap. IV. v. 7—11.) (Acknowledgement to Nottinghamshire History)
Funny, the church in Giggleswick, Craven also has an alms box dated 1684. The mathematician and astronomer Bishop Seth Ward was born in Buntingford, where he erected almshouses in 1684. Well, well, a row of almshouses were built in 1684 in Berkhampsted. They were founded by John Sayer, chief cook to Charles II. They were originally for poor widows. There are three alms houses dated 1684 with John Brabin’s name in Chipping, Lancashire. Seems to have been a good year for the poor… but wait! “… the Great Frost of 1683–84 is still the worst frost recorded in England. During the bleak winter of 1684 the River Thames froze for two months solid, leading to London’s legendary Frost Fair being established. Gambling, ice-skating and bear-baiting, all took place on the river which according to contemporary reports was covered in 11inch thick ice. The ground across parts of the UK was also frozen solid meaning no ploughing or planting of crops could take place. 1684 remains the coldest winter in the English instrumental record.” I wonder how many died of starvation and cold.
And from Evelyn’s diary:
24th Jan: The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames before London was still planted with boothes in formal streetes, all sorts of trades and shops furnish’d and full of commodities, even to a printing presse, where ye people and ladyes tooke a fancy to have their names printed, and the day and yeare set down, when printed on the Thames: this humour tooke so universally, that ’twas estimated the printer gain’d £5. a day, for printing a line onely, at six-pence a name, beside what he got by ballads, &c.
Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other staires to and fro, as in the streetes, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cookes, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed a bacchanalian triumph or carnival on the water, whilst it was a severe judgement on the land, the trees not onely splitting as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing in divers[e] places, and the very seas so lock’d up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in.
The fowles, fish, and birds, and all our exotiq plants and greenes universally perishing. Many parkes of deer were destroied, and all sorts of fuell so deare that there were greate contributions to preserve the poore alive.
Nor was this severe weather much less intense in most parts of Europe, even as far as Spaine and the most southern tracts.
London, by reason of the excessive coldnesse of the aire hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fulginous steame of the sea-coale, that hardly could one see crosse the streets, and this filling the lungs with its grosse particles, exceedingly obstructed the breast, so as one could hardly breathe.
[ Was this the first London Smog? ]
Here was no water to be had from the pipes and engines, nor could the brewers and divers[e] other tradesmen worke, and every moment was full of disastrous accidents.
I hail from masons (Saint Barbara), farmers (St. Benedict of Nursia) and weavers (St. Anastasius the Fuller), with the odd inn keeper (St. Amand) cum bailiff (St. Matthew) thrown in. From Yorkshire and Lancashire, from Wrose, Windhill, Bradford and Padiham, Read, Simonstone. My father was a stomemason, his father a weaver, his father a house painter, his father a joiner, his father a farmer. I wonder how my forebears weathered that awful Winter.