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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

The Costessey Gyle

Cossey Gyle - Costessey Guild

With the coming of the 20th Century an old custom ended which used to be known as the "Cossey Gyle". This country frolic was held on Easter Mondays in order to ‘elect‘ a mayor who was sworn into office on the Whit Tuesday seven weeks later, with as much mock ceremony as the village could muster.

Such customs were commonplace in the countryside and were outlets for expression of freedom. People then had little other organised recreation, compared with today‘s technological/computerised age, to take them away for a change of scenery.

The Guilds were an excuse for merry-making and were developed centuries ago when trades were organised to protect their common interests. The purpose of a trade guild was however forgotten in the ‘guilds‘ which were held at the end of the 19th century in Costessey and elsewhere.

Processions assembled at the Falcon Inn (also associated with the famous artist Munnings, who stayed there, and in the Bush Inn, whilst painting over Ringland Hills) and paraded around the village carrying banners and flags to inaugurate the new ‘Mayor‘.

The leaders were followed by 5 ponies ridden by children in white costumes and bright coloured trimmings. The leading pair carried flags, another was dressed as a shepherd, and one as a shepherdess. The fifth pony rider was the ‘orator‘ followed by the new Mayor in a gold-laced cocked hat and the ex-mayor, both in scarlet robes. In attendance was the Recorder in a wig and a long black robe, mace-bearers wearing hats as worn by the Beadle, sword-bearer in a plumed helmet and members of the ‘Corporation‘ complete with sashes.

A ‘Snap‘ dragon, also took part; a band provided music and stewards with gold-headed staves acted as marshals. Now and again the procession stopped outside someone‘s house and children swapped places.

The leading one recited the following stanza to welcome the new Mayor:-

"We on our ponies decked with trappings gay,

Are come to celebrate the Grand Guild day,

Our simple verses to your willing ear,

Will give pleasure and banish care. 

Our friends are we, who seek your approbation,

Shepherds and Shepherdess, Orator, Mayor and Corporation.

We all do hope to please, and hope to meet,

But smiling faces in dear Old Cossey Street.

To you kind friends, may our best wishes be 

For health, happiness and prosperity".

The Mayor would then come forward, receive the Oath of Allegiance from the Recorder and make a speech followed by applause. A band played music while one called ‘Dick Fool‘ careered around skittishly on a hobby-horse amongst the crowds. The ‘Snapdragon‘ brought up the rear, snapping his fanged jaws to the delight, and horror, of the small children. The procession finished up at Costessey Hall where dinner was laid on in a barn.

(From photographs Snap was modelled on the one in the Castle Museum. In fact some claim that the Museum Snap is in fact Cossey‘s Snap Dragon)

In those days there were 5 pubs in the village and the drink produced much merriment. The festivities were brought to a close with a dance in the evening.

In addition to these annual festivities and perambulations, May-poles were erected on a raised mound, around which children danced. Sports events were also held, and an account written about 200 years ago mentions the following events:- wrestling matches, foot-races, Jingling matches, jumping in sacks, wheelbarrow races blindfolded, spinning matches, grinning ditto through a horse collar, jumping matches. In addition there were ‘maskers‘ or Morris Dancers and what were known as a ‘smock race‘. Smock races were commonly performed by "the young country wenches and are called this because the prize is a Holland smock or shift, usually decorated in ribbons". (Strutt‘s ‘Sports and Pastimes 1742-1802).

Tim East,

July 2008