Hocktide is a very old term used to denote the Monday and Tuesday in the week following the second Tuesday after Easter. The origin of the term and the occasion which gave the festival birth are keenly controverted by antiquarians, and the season itself is now all but forgotten: indeed, if it were not for the fact that Hocktide still survives at Hungerford and other places, it would, like many other customs of the past, find no notice in these pages; our standpoint being that survivals of superstitions and customs are alone of popular interest.
First as to the word itself. Bryant says Hock--the German Hoch, and means "a high day." But what made it a high day? Spelman believed the word came from hocken--to bind. He says:--"Hoc day, Hoke day, Hoc-Tuesday, a festival celebrated annually by the English in remembrance of their having ignominiously driven out the Danes, in like manner as the Romans had their Fugalia, from having expelled their kings. He inclines to Lambarde's opinion, that it means 'deriding Tuesday,' as Hocken in German means to attack, to seize, to bind, as the women do the men on this day, whence it is called 'Binding Tuesday.' The origin he deduces from the slaughter of the Danes by Ethelred, which is first mentioned in the Laws of Edward the Confessor, c. 35. He says the day itself is uncertain, and varies, at the discretion of the common people, in different places."
But as the massacre of the Danes took place on Nov. 13--the feast of St. Brice, hocktide could hardly be celebrated in the earlier part of the year. And yet there is a persistent tradition that the Danish massacre was the true origin of hocktide. For instance, Wise in his Further Observations upon the White Horse (Oxford, 1742) has collected some interesting evidence. He tells us that the Danes' inhuman behaviour drew upon them at length the general resentment of the English in King Ethelred's reign; so that in one day (St. Brice's Day A.D. 1001) they were entirely cut off in a general massacre. And, though this did not remain long unrevenged, yet a festival was appointed in memory of it, called Hoc Tuesday, which was kept up in Sir Henry Spelman's time, and perhaps may be so in some parts of England. (D. Henr. Spelman, Glossarium, in voce Hoc-day.) I find this, among other sports, exhibited at Kenilworth Castle by the Earl of Leicester, for the entertainment of Queen Elizabeth, A.D. 1575. "And that there might be nothing wanting that these parts could afford, hither came the Coventre men, and acted the ancient play, long since used in that city, called HOCKS-TUESDAY, setting forth the destruction of the Danes in King Ethelred's time, with which the Queen was so pleas'd, that she gave them a brace of bucks, and five marks in money, to bear the charges of a feast." (Sir Will. Dugdale's Antiq. of Warwickshire, fol. Lond 1656, p. 166.)
This is evidence of considerable weight, and, although there are other theories of the origin of hocktide, they can produce nothing so substantial. As to the manner of celebrating the event it may be said, in the words of Ellis, that "the expreission Hock, or Hoke-tyde, comprises both days. Tuesday was most certainly the principal day, the dies Martis ligatoria. Hoke Monday was for the men, and Hock Tuesday for the women. On both days the men and women, alternately, with great merriment intercepted the public roads with ropes, and pulled passengers to them, from whom they exacted money, to be laid out in pious uses. So that Hoketyde season, if you will allow the pleonasm, began on the Monday immediately following the second Sunday after Easter, in the same manner as several feasts of the dedications of churches, and other holidays, commenced on the day or the vigil before, and was a sort of preparation for, or introduction to, the principal feast."
Some of the entries in the Lambeth Book recording hocktyde collections, are very quaint.
"1556-1557. Item of Godman Rundell's wife, Godman Jackson's wife, and Godwife Tegg, for Hoxce money by them received to the use of the Church, xijs." (Archaeol. vol. vii. p. 252.)
"1518-1519. Item of William Elyot and John Chamberlayne, for Hoke money gydered in the pareys, iijs. ixd.
"Item of the gaderyng of the Churchwardens wyffes on Hoke Mondaye, viijs. iijd."
The modern celebration at Hungerford is begun by a watercress supper at the 'John o' Gaunt'--(he being the patron of the place,) where his wonderful horn, the town's most treasured possession, is kept. The supper consists of black broth, Welsh rarebit, macaroni, and salad, with bowls of punch. Next morning the town crier blows the horn, and the Hocktide court assembles. The jury is sworn, the names of freemen called, and officials elected. The tything or tutti men receive from the constable a pole on the top of which is a tutti or posy. They then go round the town collecting pennies from the men and kisses from the women. Of course there is a lot of "fun," and women make themselves scarce. The crier, poor fellow, is only allowed to collect pennies: kisses are forbidden fruit. When this part of the celebration is over, the Constable (who is chief ruler of the town) gives a luncheon and then holds the Sandon Fee Court for regulating cattle feeding on the Marsh. After another dinner, court leet is held. "Then comes the Constable's banquet, at which his worship sits beneath the famous John o' Gaunt's horn, suspended from the two tutti poles, and the principal feature of which is a toast, 'To the memory of John o' Gaunt.' This is drunk in solemn silence as the clock strikes the midnight hour." And Hocktide is over.