Rock a bye baby...The Blidworth Cradle rocking

Photo:The Thomas Leake Memorial

The Thomas Leake Memorial

RBParish

Photo:The 2013 family and rocking baby

The 2013 family and rocking baby

RBParish

Photo:The rocking

The rocking

RBParish

Photo:Little Jack in his cradle

Little Jack in his cradle

RBParish

Photo:The first rocking board

The first rocking board

RBParish

Photo:The 2010 memorial

The 2010 memorial

RBParish

A February custom

By R B Parish

“Twas in a cradle, decked and graced, With flowers and antique ornament Mothers and their infant children placed. And up the hill to church they went, From Fishpool cots they duly came, From Blidworth and Fountain Dale; And the good folk did just the same who lived in Blidworth in the vale. Many such good rocking's there have been, In the old church the good loved well, Which sanctifies the expanding scene within the sound of Blidworth bell”

The 2nd of February was an important date in the calendar, being was seen it as a day which heralded the beginning of the end of the winter period when days begin noticeably to length. Across the county, and certainly on the Trentside of Nottingham, it was the official end of Christmas decorations: when candles must be thrown away and decorations should be burnt. A common countywide belief also upheld in Nottinghamshire warned:

“If Candlemas Day be fine and clear, We shall have winter all the year.”

An ancient custom

Weather warnings aside, Nottinghamshire, has a unique Candlemas custom, unique in Britain and perhaps the world. This is one associated with the presentation of the baby Christ at the altar, which in pre-Reformation England, mass at this time would have included the rocking of a cradle in the service as a visual aid for the largely illiterate congregation. It is possible that the baby rocking replaced the idea of doves being sacrificed as in The Gospel of Luke it records that when Joseph and Mary went to the temple for Mary's ritual purification and to perform the redemption of the first born, by giving a poor sacrifice of two doves. Little appears to be recorded about this tradition countrywide but it is thought to have died out at the Reformation.

Blidworth’s Church of the Purification is the only church in England of that dedication and undertakes this unique tradition on the Sunday nearest to the date.  However, there are some confusion with the tradition and that what appears to be a church ceremony had a wider community aspect. The term ‘rocking’ appears to have taken to a wider context especially as it is reported that much celebrations occurred after the service with the baby processed around the town. According to one of its earliest accounts in Notes and Queries of 1926, the ceremony dates from 1200.

A death at the Rockings?

The earliest reference appears to be a rather unfortunate one.   It is recorded in Blidworth burial register:

“Thomas Leake esquire, 11 February AD. 1599, killed at Blidworth Rocking”

Before concerns set in, of some violent cradle rocking, this was not a boy thrown by too much enthusiastic rocking. For the rest of the entry reads:

“two days before aged sixty years after a brawl”

Inside the church is a plaque which reads:

“Heere rests T. Leake whose vertues were so knowne in all these parts, that this engraved stone needs naught relate bjut his untimely end which was in single fight whilst youth did lend his ayde to valor, hee wth ease orepast many slight dangers greater then this last but willfulle fate in these things governs all hee towld out threescore years before his fall  most of wich tyme hee wasted in this wood much of his weath & last of all his blood 1608 Febr 4”

Demise of the tradition

It appears that the tradition ceased around this date although there is a record of ‘Rocking Sunday’ as it was called, still being celebrated in public houses. For many years this was a feast day which coincided with this ceremony. People from Derbyshire and Yorkshire attended and it was often a time for family reunions as in many wakes. The tradition was still maintained in 1840, but would have appeared to fallen into abeyance and the Daily Express of the 26th Feb of 1915 recorded police arrests for drunkenness.

The revival

We do not hear about the Rockings until it was revived in 1842 after a lapse of 150 years. It apparently soon lapsed and, its final revival was in 1921, when Revd John Lowndes discovered a record by the Revd Whitworth “there was a beautiful custom in Blidworth church called the Rocking ceremony” written in 1896. He thus thought it was a good idea to revive it and asking around found an Eliza Pointon of Fairlight Cottages who had an ancient cradle which she donated. In 2013 I was lucky to speak to her great grand-daughter, whose grandson sadly due to the poor weather missed being placed in the cradle in 2012! This cradle I was told is first dressed in leaves on the Thursday before and then on the Sunday morning early dressed with flowers which have been standing in water to retain their freshness.

Accounts of the tradition

The earliest report I could find is Notes and Queries 1926 states that the inclement weather had prevented the carrying of the cradle from the church suggesting that this part of the custom was established when the ceremony was resurrected. In this first report:

“The revd John Lowndes officiated and this rocking was the fifth that he has conducted, he having revived the custom, which had been started in 1200 and discontinued a century ago”

It does go on to state that the Bishop of Grantham was present and that the child was named Samuel. The church ceremony was finally revived in 1921. A report in 1936        

“In the picturesque village church at Blidworth, the usual annual crowd assembled at Candlemass to witness the medieval customs of ‘rocking the baby’ as an act symbolical of the presentation of the Child Christ, in the Temple. The last baptised baby boy in the parish is taken by its parents to the church at Evensong and during the service, the baby is presented by the priest at the altar and dedicated to the service of God. The Vicar Rev. W.T.C. Swingler, placed the baby in a century old cradle, decorated with snowdrops, narcissi and foliage, within the altar rails, and rocked the cradle to and fro several times.”   

A report on the 12th February 1938 recorded

"The baby was John Ramond Bennett, the only child of Mr and Mrs John Bennett, of White Lion..both natives of Blidworth.....Taking the baby to the altar which was decorated with snowdrops and white tulips, the vicar said ‘John Redmond I present you at this altar. Turning to the congregation he pronounced may he grow never to be ashamed to confess the cross of Christ... manly to fight under his banner to fight sin, the world and the devil and to continue as a faithful soldier and servant to his life’s end”                                  

The vicar then rocked the baby in a cradle also decorated with snowdrops, immediately in front of the altar. In the Bulwell Dispatch from 1963 a report read

"Dating back to the middle ages, the annual rocking ceremony took place at St. Mary’s Church Blidworth on Sunday night in the presence of a large congregation. The custom is for the last baptised baby in the parish to be rocked before the altar in an old wooden cradle symbolising the presentation of the boy Jesus at the Temple. Four week old David John Mason, whose parents have been the newsagent’s shop in Mansfield Road, Blidworth was selected for this year’s rocking ceremony. He slept peacefully throughout the service. The baby’s parents, Mr and Mrs. Stuart Mason, knelt beside the flower decked cradle with the provost of Southwell (the very Rev H. C. L. Heywood) during the ceremony. The service was conducted by the rev J. W. Busby (vicar of Blidworth) and the address was given by the provost who spoke of the importance of family life. Snowdrops and violets have decorated the cradle for the last seven years, but this year it was impossible to obtain these flowers, even at Covent Garden, owing to the severe winter. Instead white carnations and blue hyacinths were used.”                                                                                           

A report of 1967 Guardian Journal notes

"There was a packed congregation – extra chairs were placed in the aisles-at Blidworth parish church yesterday for the annual Rocking Ceremony, a custom dating back to the Middle Ages. The latest Baptised boy in the parish, four week old Michael Anthony Griffith was blessed before the altar by the vicar, the Rev J. W. Busby, and then placed in a century old cradle and gently rocked. The Archdeacon of Newark the Ven Brian Woodham also took part. The baby the first child of Mr. and Mrs. James Griffith of 53 Preston road Rainworth was well behaved until the closing stages of the service when he burst out crying. A tape recording was made of the intercessions for the vicar who, after 11 years in Blidworth is leaving for a Lincolnshire benefice in March”    

The presence of the Bishop appears to be an on and off occurrence, as in 1980, when The Bishop of Southwell, Denis Wakeling, performed the rocking in 1980 and the child Edward William Tristram received a commemorative bible to mark the occasion inscribed by the Bishop.                                                         

With a declining congregations and shifting faith dynamics in the area, in has perhaps become difficult to find suitable babies especially in the Parish. Indeed I was informed that in 2007 the church had considerable difficulty finding a suitable boy, although girls were available, a boy was finally found in Mansfield. In 2013, the boy rocked called Jack, was the grandson of 1930s rocking Walter Henry Maxfield, indicating how much this tradition had become one with the Parish.

List of rockings:

It may be of interest to record all the rockings since the revival and below is my transcription from the board:

1922 Charles Clifford Simpson, 1923 Jack Hardstaff, 1924 John William Tofts and John Burgess Birch, 1925 John Joseph Watson, 1926 John Brown, 1927 Lionel Ball, 1928 John Eric Stokes, 1929 Charles Alan Baxter, 1930 Walter Henry Maxfield, 1931 Howard Asbury, 1932 John Brian Baxter, 1933 Charles Merryweather, 1934 George Harry Harpham, 1935 Keith William Bradford, 1936 Raymond Leonard Harris, 1937 Colin Healey, 1938 Raymond Bennett, 1939 Peter James Horsley, 1940 Terence William Bates, 1941 Tony Percival Ulyett, 1942 Allan Edward Bishop, 1943 Noel Terry Lock, 1944 John William Richards, 1945 Robert Silcock, 1946 Christopher John Dakin, 1947 Jeffrey Wynch, 1948 Michael Alan Bates, 1949 John Beardall, 1950 Christopher Minchin, 1951 Robert Harry Marsh, 1952 Christopher Sutcliffe Hadden, 1953 Roy Alexander Edge, 1954 Michael Dale, 1955 Jeffrey Crowder, 1956 Andrew Russel Locker, 1957 Robin William Wilson, 1958 Martin Bingley, 1959 Timothy James Keay, 1960 David Roy Thompson, 1961 David Brian Green, 1962 Ian Bruce Carlton, 1963  David John Mason, 1964 David Simon Shipman, 1965 Simon David Reeves, 1966 Stephen Mark Honeyman, 1967 Michael Anthony Griffiths, 1968 Garry Vaughan, 1969 Steven Mould, 1970 David Paul Filipeck, 1971 Martyn John Soar, 1972 Darren Jones, 1973 Garry Thornley, 1974 Neil Meason, 1975 Paul Richard Wilson, 1976 Ian James Morrison, 1955 Jeffrey Crowder., 1956 Andrew Russel Locker, 1957 Robin William Wilson, 1958 Martin Bingley, 1959 Timothy James Keay, 1960 David Roy Thompson, 1961 David Brian Green, 1962 Ian Bruce Carlton, 1963  David John Mason, 1964 David Simon Shipman, 1965 Simon David Reeves, 1966 Stephen Mark Honeyman, 1967 Michael Anthony Griffiths, 1968 Garry Vaughan, 1969 Steven Mould, 1970 David Paul Filipeck, 1971 Martyn John Soar, 1972 Darren Jones, 1973 Garry Thornley, 1974 Neil Meason, 1975 Paul Richard Wilson, 1976 Ian James Morrison, 1977 Kevin John Roberts, 1978 Dean Hayman, 1979 Geoffrey Alan Machin, 1980 Edward William Tristram, 1981 Jason Nigel Rowe, 1982 David Graham Fotheringham, 1983 Barry John Whittaker, 1984 Philip Simon Merry, 1985 Adam Curt Smith, 1086 James Berry Evans, 1987 Nicki Lee Clamp, 1988 Kyle Williams, 1989 Jason Lee Sheppard,1990 James Dopson, 1991 Jake Butt, 1992 Joshua Lee Dumble, 1993 Ross Gunn, 1994 Lee Auld, 1995 Bradley Wiffen, 1996 William Stone, 1997 Luke Robinson, 1998 Jake Lewis Carlisle, 1999 Jack Peter Fillingham, 2000 Callum Cameron McNees, 2001 Aaron George Sheppard, 2002 Corey Scott Pointon, 2003 Harry James Christopher Unwin, 2004 Thomas Ryan Smith, 2005 Jaiden Ryan Webb, 2006 James Brian Carter, 2007 Dominic William Lee Porter, 2008 Thomas John Dorsey, 2009 Leon Anthony Crowson, 2010 Max Deller, 2011 William Bernard Chapman, 2012 Frankie Murray

A permanent memorial

In 2010, saw in March, an “illuminated steel rocking cradle sculpture” being unveiled. Local Nottinghamshire County Councillor, Geoff Merry, said:                         

“The Rocking Ceremony is hundreds of years old and is featured in the National Trust book.  The sculpture is a wonderful way to celebrate this old tradition and complements all the history we have about Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest. I also have a special connection to the Rocking Ceremony because my son was the 1983 ‘rockings’ baby.”

The black metal cradle set upon a raised brick platform with a detailed black can be found in the centre of the village. It is a fitting tribute to the county’s most unique custom.

Extracted in part and extended from forthcoming book Nottinghamshire calendar: traditional ceremonies and customs of the county

References:

Sourced from various copies of The Guardian Journal – notes and queries, Bulwell Dispatch and Mansfield Chad augmented by personal communication with the congregation in 2013

 

Click HERE for link to an account of the 1946 cradle rocking

This page was added by R B Parish on 05/02/2013.
Comments about this page

Very interesting article. Although the Rocking comemorates Christ's presentation at the Temple, it seems strange that girls are still excluded. Since the Church of England now allows female priests, surely the Blidworth baby of either sex born closest to Candlemas should be eligible?

By Ralph Lloyd-Jones
On 07/02/2013

my father is the 1924 baby to be rocked, John William Tofts

By sonia laydeb was tofts
On 23/07/2013

It's great to hear from someone whose family was involved in this custom. Do you have any photos of your father or further information about the ceremony that we could include on the website?

By Website Administrator
On 23/07/2013

I was 1961

By David Brian Gren
On 23/12/2013

The author Jeremy Hobson in his book "Curious Country Customs" (David & Charles, 2007) covers this custom and says that, with origins going back over at least 400 years, this custom "would appear to be unique to the Church of St.Mary in the village of Blidworth"

By Edna W
On 06/01/2014

im on the bord im adam curt smith 1985 

By adam
On 14/07/2014

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