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clipping the church

A Dictionary of English Folklore

Jacqueline Simpson,

Steve Roud

clipping the church. 

A widespread but relatively under-researched custom. ‘Clipping’, in this context, means ‘To embrace, fondle, encircle with the arms’ (EDD) and this custom involves people holding hands and encircling their local church. The best-known example is at Painswick in Gloucestershire, where it is now a church-organized custom, carried out by children, but earlier versions were less tightly organized. In most places it was a Shrovetide or Easter Monday custom. The known geographical distribution is inconclusive: most common in Somerset and Wiltshire, but also reported from Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Birmingham, Shropshire, Derbyshire, and West Yorkshire. No reference has been found earlier than the early 19th century, although a correspondent in Hone's Every-Day Book (i. 431) published in 1825, writes ‘When I was a child, as sure as Easter Monday came, I was taken to see the children clip the churches’, which would probably carry the record back into the 18th century. Other features should be noted. Partridge (1912) brings attention to a number of instances where church clipping is associated with Thread the Needle. Another noteworthy feature is that in some reports the clipping was accompanied by much joyful shouting and cheering, and/or the blowing of tin trumpets. Some accounts specifically state that the clippers had their backs to the church while clipping it. It is clear that there is much further work to be done to map and document this custom.


J. B. Partridge, Folk-Lore 23 (1912) 196–203;Find this resource:

    Word-Lore 1 (1926), 257;Find this resource:

      2 (1927), 30, 55, 131, 166–7, 218;Find this resource:

        Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 20–1, 121;Find this resource:

          1938: iii. 65, 70;Find this resource:

            N&Q 5s:5 (1876), 226, 316;Find this resource:

              5s:6 (1876), 308, 436, 520–1;Find this resource:

                5s:7 (1877), 38;Find this resource:

                  5s:9 (1878), 367;Find this resource:

                    7s:1 (1886), 329, 420, 486.Find this resource:

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