The 29th September is the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, often shortened to Michaelmas. In the liturgical year of the Church it celebrates the Archangel. It is a popular dedication to parish churches, including Salwarpe, Stoke Prior, Cropthorne, Great Comberton, Tenbury and in Worcester the church which stood next to the Cathedral.
|St Michael's, Salwarpe, in 1964. From the Worcestershire Photographic Survey|
|St Michael's in Bedwardine, College St, Worcester in 1930 when it was the Diocesan Registry|
With the day falling near the autumn equinox it also gave its name to this important moment in the agricultural year. By Michaelmas most of the harvest had been gathered in and farmers would start thinking about the coming farming year. Rents would often be due, as they would run from and to Michaelmas each year to coincide with this cycle. Within the archives we have several collections from Worcestershire Estates, such as Croome, which have ledgers and rent books using this day as their start points. With the harvest over farm labourers could also be looking for new work, their employment often starting and ending at special Michaelmas hiring fairs.
|Accounts for 1784 by the Agent to the Earl of Coventry, listing rents in arrears payable at Michaelmas. Digitised by our Digitisation department.|
Being near the equinox also meant that Michaelmas was the name chosen for the meeting of the Quarter Sessions, the meeting of JPs to try crimes and oversee county administration, held at this time of year. The files for each year in the archives are split into Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas.
Roy Palmer, in his Folklore of Worcestershire, available in our Local Studies Library, describes a local tradition linked to Michaelmas. In Kidderminster the Monday after Michaelmas had Lawless Hour between 12pm and 1pm, in between the old constable stepping down and the new one taking office. This led to an hour when people couldn't be arrested, so groups would fight by throwing cabbage stalks and other fruit and vegetables at each other. The authorities mostly turned a blind eye, but by the mid 19th century this practice ended as it was considerate inappropriate.
Confusingly before the old calendar changed Michaelmas was celebrated on 11 October. After this day it was said that blackberries shouldn't be picked as it was unlucky and/or they belonged to the devil after this date. There may be a hint of truth as the colder weather means that they susceptible to mold.