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 heriffs by the cutom of this citty do ride to everal parts in the ame 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 ave and keep, that the peace of the king be well kept and maintained within this city, and the uburbs thereof by night and by day with all manner of men, both gentle and imple, in pain that falls thereon.
Alo we command that no man walk armed within the city by night or by day, except the officers aigned for keeping the peace, on pain of forfeiting his armour and his body in prion.
Alo we command that the bakers of the city bake good bread, and of good boulter, and ell after the aize, &c. and that no baker nor no huckter put to ale any manner of bread, unles that it be ealed with a eal deliverd from the heriffs.
>Alo we command that the brewers of the city brew good ale, and wholeome for mans body, and ell after the aize, and by meaure enealed.
Alo that no manner of man pas out of the citty by night or by day to encounter any manner of victual coming to the city to ell, neither by water nor by land, to lett to come to the market, upon paine ordained therefore.
Alo that corn brought to the market be puruand, i. e. as good beneath in the ack as above, upon forfeiture of the ame corn and his body to prion.
Alo that corn that’s once brought into the market to ell, be not led out of the market for to keep from market-day to market-day, without licence of the heriff or his deputys, upon pain that falls thereupon.
Alo we command that no manner of man walk in the city nor in the uburbs by night without light before him, i. e. from Hache to Michaelmas after ten of the clock, and from Michaelmas to Pache after nine of the clock.
Alo we command that no otler harbour any trange man no longer than a night and a day, unles he do the heriffs to witt, and if he do the contrary he hall anwer for his deeds.Alo we command that no foreign victualer bring any victuals to the city for to ell, whether that it be fleh, or poultry, that he bring it to the market-tead limited therefore in the city, and not ell it or it come there, upon pain that falls thereupon.
Alo we command that the lanes and treets of the citty be cleaned of all manner of nuiance, i. e. of tocks, of tones, of middings, and of all manner of filth, on paine that falls thereupon.
Alo we command that no manner of men make no inurrection, congregation, or aembly within the city or uburbs in diturbance of the peace; nor letting of the execution of the common-law, upon paine of punihment, and all that he may forfeit to the king.
Alo that no common woman walk in the treet without a ray=hood on her head and a wand in her hand.
This proclamation I have given at length as it was antiently ued in the city, what is ued now is much abridged. The ceremony of riding, one of the greatet hews the city of York, does exhibit, is performed on this manner, the riding day of the heriffs is uually on Wedneday, eight days after Martinmas; but they are not trictly tied to that day, any day betwixt Martinmas and Yoole, that is Chritmas, may erve for the ceremony. It is then they appear on horeback, apparelled in their black gowns and velvet tippits, their hores in utable furniture, each heriff having a white wand in his hand, a badge of his office, and a ervant to lead his hore, who alo carries a gilded truncheon. Their erjeants at mace, attorneys and other officers of their courts, on horeback in their gowns riding before them. Thee are preceeded by the city’s waites, or muicians, in their carlet liveries and ilver badges playing all the way through the treets. One of thee waites wearing on his head a red pinked or tattered ragged cap, a badge of o great antiquity, the rife or original of it cannot be found out. Then follows a great concoure of country gentlemen, citizens, &c. on horeback, who are invited to do this honour to and afterwards dine with them, and though they dine eparately I have een near four hundred people at one entertinment. In this equipage and manner, with the heriffs waiters ditinguihed by cockades in their hats, who are uually their friends now, but formerly were their ervants in livery cloaks; they firt ride up Micklegate into the yard of the priory of the Trinity, where one of the erjeants at mace makes proclamation as has been given. Then they ride through the principal treets of the city, making the ame proclamation at the corners of the treets on the wet ide of Ouebridge. After that at the corner of Castlegate and Ouegate; then at the corner of Coneytreet and Stonegate over againt the Common-hall; then again at the outh gate of the Minter. After that they ride unto St. Marygate tower without Bootham-bar, making the ame proclamation there. Then returning they ride through the treets of Petergate, Colliergate, Fogate, over Fofbridge into Walmgate, where the proclamation is again made ; and latly they return into the market-place in the Pavement; where the ame ceremony being repeated, the heriffs depart to their own houes, and after to their houe of entertainment ; which is uually at one of the publick halls in the city.
The heriffs of the city of York have anciently ued on St. Thomas’s day the apotle before Yoole, at toll of the bell to come to Allhallows kirk in the Pavement, and there to hear a mas of St. Thomas at the high quiere, and to offer at the mas ; and when mas was done to make proclamation at the pillory of Yoole=girthol, in the form that follows by their erjeant, &c.
We command that the peace of our lord the king be well keeped and mayntayned by night and by day, &c. prout olebat in proclamatione praedict’ vicecomitum in eorum equitatione.
Alo 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 feate of Yoole, till the twelve dayes be paed.
The proclamation made in form aforeaid, the fower erjeants haIl go and ride, whither they will, and one of them hall have a horne of bras of the tollbroothe, and the other three ergeants hall have each of them a horne, and o go forth to the fower barrs of the citty, and blow the youle=girthe ; and the heriffs for that day ue to goe together, and they and their wives, and their officers, at the reverence of the high feat of Yoole, at their proper cots, &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.
Thee are preceeded by the city’s waites, or muicians, in their carlet liveries and ilver badges playing all the way through the treets. One of thee waites wearing on his head a red pinked or tattered ragged cap, a badge of o 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