Annually, the Sheriff’s Riding is performed in the dark streets of York on 21st December. The ceremony is based on Yule pageantry as described in detail by Francis Drake in Eboracum, 1736.
The ƒheriffs by the cuƒtom of this citty do ride to ƒeveral parts in the ƒame every yeare, betwixt Michaelmas and midwinter, that is Yoole, and there to make proclamation in the form following.
O yes, &c. we command in our liege lord’s behalf the king of England whom God ƒave and keep, that the peace of the king be well kept and maintained within this city, and the ƒuburbs thereof by night and by day with all manner of men, both gentle and ƒimple, in pain that falls thereon.
Alƒo we command that no man walk armed within the city by night or by day, except the officers aƒƒigned for keeping the peace, on pain of forfeiting his armour and his body in priƒon.
Alƒo we command that the bakers of the city bake good bread, and of good boulter, and ƒell after the aƒƒize, &c. and that no baker nor no huckƒter put to ƒale any manner of bread, unleƒs that it be ƒealed with a ƒeal deliverd from the ƒheriffs.
Alƒo we command that the brewers of the city brew good ale, and wholeƒome for mans body, and ƒell after the aƒƒize, and by meaƒure enƒealed.
Alƒo that no manner of man paƒs out of the citty by night or by day to encounter any manner of victual coming to the city to ƒell, neither by water nor by land, to lett to come to the market, upon paine ordained therefore.
Alƒo that corn brought to the market be purƒuand, i. e. as good beneath in the ƒack as above, upon forfeiture of the ƒame corn and his body to priƒon.
Alƒo that corn that’s once brought into the market to ƒell, be not led out of the market for to keep from market-day to market-day, without licence of the ƒheriff or his deputys, upon pain that falls thereupon.
Alƒo we command that no manner of man walk in the city nor in the ƒuburbs by night without light before him, i. e. from Haƒche to Michaelmas after ten of the clock, and from Michaelmas to Paƒche after nine of the clock.
Alƒo we command that no oƒtler harbour any ƒtrange man no longer than a night and a day, unleƒs he do the ƒheriffs to witt, and if he do the contrary he ƒhall anƒwer for his deeds.Alƒo we command that no foreign victualer bring any victuals to the city for to ƒell, whether that it be fleƒh, or poultry, that he bring it to the market-ƒtead limited therefore in the city, and not ƒell it or it come there, upon pain that falls thereupon.
Alƒo we command that the lanes and ƒtreets of the citty be cleanƒed of all manner of nuiƒance, i. e. of ƒtocks, of ƒtones, of middings, and of all manner of filth, on paine that falls thereupon.
Alƒo we command that no manner of men make no inƒurrection, congregation, or aƒƒembly within the city or ƒuburbs in diƒturbance of the peace; nor letting of the execution of the common-law, upon paine of puniƒhment, and all that he may forfeit to the king.
Alƒo that no common woman walk in the ƒtreet without a ray=hood on her head and a wand in her hand.
This proclamation I have given at length as it was antiently uƒed in the city, what is uƒed now is much abridged. The ceremony of riding, one of the greateƒt ƒhews the city of York, does exhibit, is performed on this manner, the riding day of the ƒheriffs is uƒually on Wedneƒday, eight days after Martinmas; but they are not ƒtrictly tied to that day, any day betwixt Martinmas and Yoole, that is Chriƒtmas, may ƒerve for the ceremony. It is then they appear on horƒeback, apparelled in their black gowns and velvet tippits, their horƒes in ƒutable furniture, each ƒheriff having a white wand in his hand, a badge of his office, and a ƒervant to lead his horƒe, who alƒo carries a gilded truncheon. Their ƒerjeants at mace, attorneys and other officers of their courts, on horƒeback in their gowns riding before them. Theƒe are preceeded by the city’s waites, or muƒicians, in their ƒcarlet liveries and ƒilver badges playing all the way through the ƒtreets. One of theƒe waites wearing on his head a red pinked or tattered ragged cap, a badge of ƒo great antiquity, the rife or original of it cannot be found out. Then follows a great concourƒe of country gentlemen, citizens, &c. on horƒeback, who are invited to do this honour to and afterwards dine with them, and though they dine ƒeparately I have ƒeen near four hundred people at one entertinment. In this equipage and manner, with the ƒheriffs waiters diƒtinguiƒhed by cockades in their hats, who are uƒually their friends now, but formerly were their ƒervants in livery cloaks; they firƒt ride up Micklegate into the yard of the priory of the Trinity, where one of the ƒerjeants at mace makes proclamation as has been given. Then they ride through the principal ƒtreets of the city, making the ƒame proclamation at the corners of the ƒtreets on the weƒt ƒide of Ouƒebridge. After that at the corner of Castlegate and Ouƒegate; then at the corner of Coneyƒtreet and Stonegate over againƒt the Common-hall; then again at the ƒouth gate of the Minƒter. After that they ride unto St. Marygate tower without Bootham-bar, making the ƒame proclamation there. Then returning they ride through the ƒtreets of Petergate, Colliergate, Foƒƒgate, over Foƒfbridge into Walmgate, where the proclamation is again made ; and laƒtly they return into the market-place in the Pavement; where the ƒame ceremony being repeated, the ƒheriffs depart to their own houƒes, and after to their houƒe of entertainment ; which is uƒually at one of the publick halls in the city.
The ƒheriffs of the city of York have anciently uƒed on St. Thomas’s day the apoƒtle before Yoole, at toll of the bell to come to Allhallows kirk in the Pavement, and there to hear a maƒs of St. Thomas at the high quiere, and to offer at the maƒs ; and when maƒs was done to make proclamation at the pillory of Yoole=girthol, in the form that follows by their ƒerjeant, &c.
We command that the peace of our lord the king be well keeped and mayntayned by night and by day, &c. prout ƒolebat in proclamatione praedict’ vicecomitum in eorum equitatione.
Alƒo that all manner of whores, thieves, dice=players, and all other unthrifty folk be wellcome to the towne, whether they come late or early, at the reverence of the high feaƒte of Yoole, till the twelve dayes be paƒƒed.
The proclamation made in form aforeƒaid, the fower ƒerjeants ƒhaIl go and ride, whither they will, and one of them ƒhall have a horne of braƒs of the tollbroothe, and the other three ƒergeants ƒhall have each of them a horne, and ƒo go forth to the fower barrs of the citty, and blow the youle=girthe ; and the ƒheriffs for that day uƒe to goe together, and they and their wives, and their officers, at the reverence of the high feaƒt of Yoole, at their proper coƒts, &c.
from: EBORACUM by Francis Drake, 1736
What we’ve been doing in York every 21st December since the early 1980s is a hybrid of two ceremonies: the Sheriffs’ Riding (there two sheriffs until the 20th relatively recently) and Yulegirthol. Historically (as far as we know), the waits only appeared at the Sheriff’s Riding and what we perform is a sort of Yoolgirthol with Sheriff and waits, Tony with his horn representing the four sergeants.
THE SHERIFFS’ RIDING usually took place on a Wednesday, roughly eight days after Martinmas (11th November + 8 days = 19th November).
The waits led the procession.
Theƒe are preceeded by the city’s waites, or muƒicians, in their ƒcarlet liveries and ƒilver badges playing all the way through the ƒtreets. One of theƒe waites wearing on his head a red pinked or tattered ragged cap, a badge of ƒo great antiquity, the rife or original of it cannot be found out.
We can go one better than Drake, for in the City Cahmberlains’ Rolls (Y:C6:10, 1539) we read:
Item paid to Iohn wayte wyff for an old Reyd hoode Iaggyd for one of the Eldest wayttes to weyre xvj d
John wayte will have been John Harper, chief wait, who died in 1539 and it seems likely that his wife was handing over the hood he wore to display his seniority. The question remains, does “Reyd” mean red or rayed, as in striped? If Drake’s “red pinked or tattered ragged cap” is the descendent of Harper’s hood it would seem that red is correct.
Beginning near Micklegate bar, the long proclamation quoted above was promulgated at:
Holy Trinity Priory (now Priory Street)
and they rode down Micklegate for repeat the proclamation at
the corners of the streets on the west side of Ousebridge (possibly including
Jacob’s Well, what is now George Hudson Street, North Street, Skeldergate)
over Ouse Bridge to
the corner of Castlegate and Ousegate (Spurriergate)
along Coney Street to
the corner of Coney Street and Stonegate (St Helen’s Square)
Along Stonegate to
the south door of the Minster
through Bootham bar to
St. Marygate tower
Then they returned through Bootham Bar to ride down Petergate, Colliergate and
Walmgate and then returned to
Pavement for a final proclamation in the market place (Market Cross at the outside
the east end of All Saints).
YULEGIRTHOL occurred later in the year, precisely on St Thomas’s Day (21st December). The Sheriffs would go to mass at All Saints Pavement and, after mass, preside over proclamation of the Yulegirthol at the pillory (was this by the Market Cross, outside the east end of the church?) which was performed by one of the four sergeants after a blast on a brazen horn which was at other times at the toll booth. Thereafter, the four sergeants would go each to one of the four bars (Micklegate bar, Bootham bar, Monk bar and Walmgate bar), each with a horn, to make further proclamations of the Yulegirthol.
Historically, there is no record of the waits’ presence at this ceremony and the Yulegirthol was a brief proclamation, the same that we use today on the “Sheriffs’ Riding” which takes place on 21st December.
Today it is common knowledge (and our practice) that after the Sheriffs’ Riding the participants celebrated with “venison pasty and pints of sherry”. I can find no evidence of this, so can it be that it is a tradition of so great antiquity, the rife or original of it cannot be found out? Perhaps this document will provoke the emergence of historical support for this merry custom.
James Merryweather, 2004