By John Glover
With Whitsun fast approaching I’d like to share something with you all that I read in a dusty old parish magazine recently. It would appear that in Little Downham they had a singular way of celebrating the day. This quote is from an old gentleman in the village who remembers the tradition with startling clarity:
“There’s an ‘ol Fenland custom I’ll tell yew about: Bull Shaving ! It were very popular in the Parish of Little Downham in the late nineteenth century. Legend hes it that the pastime began after the traditional Plough Monday festival had turned into nothin’ more than an excuse for drunken local ol’ bors to demand money from villagers. “Bull Shaving” were normally held at Whitsun and involved picking the hairiest ol’ bull in the village and six of the strongest ‘ol bors to do the job. The bull were dressed in ribbons and finery and led through the village by the Rector; the ‘ol bors running ahead, door to door, collecting money for the poor of the parish.
Once the party had reached the green opposite The Plough, the bull would be tethered to four stakes with leather straps so as not to cause too much discomfort to the animal. The half dozen ol bors would then gently divest the bull of it’s outer coat, using cut throat razors; a skill they were taught by the barber in Main Street. Once the bull were clean shaven, it were covered up in the colourful “Bull Monday” waistcoat which were knitted by the ladies from the W.I. Unfortunately, “Bull Shaving” became unpopular when modern ways took hold and it were thought to be demeaning to the animals. However, people in the village yewst to point out that it were never done in winter, ‘cos that woulder bin cruel”