An ancient tradition of ‘catterning and clemmening’ is to be celebrated as the people of Hastings, Sussex, gather for a weekend of celebrations based on old customs to do with St Catherine’s Day and St Clement’s Day. And it all coincides with the town’s first annual Herring Festival whose opening ceremony is on the Saturday 24th November.
Back in the Middle Ages ‘catterning’ meant that children and young men went knocking on people’s doors and ask for apples and beer to celebrate St Catherine’s day on the 23rd November.
Only they had to do it all again for St Clement’s day on the 25th November, when more beer and apples were clearly needed, and this led to ‘going a-catterning and clemmening’. As they marched they sang charming ditties to encourage the householders to be generous:
“Cattern’ and Clemen’ be here, here, here,
Give us your apples and give us your beer;
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.
Clemen’ was a good man,
Cattern’ was his mother:
Give us your best,
And not your worst,
And God will give your soul good rest.” Source
An early form of trick or treating indeed! It was a widespread tradition, with records of ‘clemmening’ found in the parish records of South Staffs, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Rutland as well as Sussex. But Henry VIII spoilt all the fun, so he stopped it and instead handed out money to selected groups of his own choosing.
With a famous sea shanty tradition that continues to the present day, the seaside town with Europe’s largest beach-launched fishing fleet is reviving at least the singing part, and is bound to be in good voice. The local singers open the fair on Saturday 24th November as they raise the herring flags and march through the streets.
You might be tempted to make St Catherine’s Wigs or Cattern cakes, like the local bakers in the area. As night falls on volunteers will be wheeling barrows of buns around the picturesque old town to fortify the crowds and raise money for charity. After dark, there will be Catherine wheels and dancing will follow.
The following morning the town’s fisherman pause in their busiest season to bless the nets, for thanks to the good fishing practice of the town, the herring or ‘silver darling’ is experiencing a revival. And for the next two days they devote themselves to sharing their knowledge and methods with the people of the town, many of whom have lost touch with their native catch. We wish them all the best.