Bob Fell reports on Saturday’s ceremony - 70 years after his first visit
By Robert Fell
The heavy traffic thundered up Knightlow Hill at Ryton on Dunsmore as I stood in the field adjacent to the road in the dark before dawn on that miserable wet 11th November 2017 morning, the eve of St Martinmas, awaiting the start of the ‘Wroth Silver’ ceremony. What a difference from my first visit 70 years ago when I had to ride a borrowed ladies cycle to attend for the first time to cast my money into that stone, now an ‘Ancient Monument.’ This year I was able to travel in the comfort of a car, as I had travelled from South West France where I live to be there. On that first visit the main road had been a single carriageway, now a well used dual carriageway. The weather, typically English, cold and wet as a group of over 100 people gathered under their umbrellas to pay their dues to The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry as they had, since first recorded in the year 1170. Though it is believed that the ceremony itself is now well over 1000 years old.
A group of stalwarts numbering over 100, including the Lady Mayor of Rugby. Cllr Belinda Garcia attended this ancient ritual that has been held annually before dawn. This year, was a very special event as David Eadon, the current organiser was attending his incredible 80th consecutive time – some record. He was suitably rewarded with several presents including a personal letter from his Grace, The Duke himself. and presented to him by Rachel Gladstone Brown, the Duke’s current agent whilst at the breakfast at the Queens Head. Public House at Bretford following the ceremony.
As dawn broke in the east, the rain continued from leadened skies as this ancient event took place. The agent with those attending, stood on the tumulus or mound surrounding the ancient stone that had been there for centuries. She read out the names of the villages from where the taxes where due. As each name was called, money was thrown into the scooped out stone with the cry of ‘Wroth Silver’. It was gratifying to note at the end, that all of the taxes were paid in full. Failure to do so years ago, would have meant a very heavy monetary fine or the forfeiture of a white bull with red ears and a red nose. – not many of those about these days. Now of course, thankfully, this is no longer enforced as the ancient breed died out in the 17th century.
I cast my coins into the stone for my chosen village, but this year trying to ease the centuries old conflict between the English and Europe also to help the ‘Entente Cordiale’ for the Brexit situation I also added some Euros, alms, not men armed, much to the delight and amusement of the attending staff from the Duke’s Estate.
As the crowd dispersed, those journeying to the Queens Head were rewarded with a welcoming and warming drink of Rum and Milk followed by a substantial full English breakfast, slightly different to the usual coffee and croissants where I live. This was followed by those presentations to David Eadon and his wife. Speeches, poems and other comments were made . Also the essential toast to ‘The Queen’ and to his ‘Grace The Duke’. A man who, like those attending, does everything in his power to ensure the survival of this wonderful part of English Heritage. As I drank my Rum and Milk, my mind drifted back those 70 years again as I remembered when a boy only being allowed a sip of this traditional drink, likewise the smoking of the Churchwarden’s pipes I had also tried. Nowadays with smoking banned in such places, the churchwarden’s pipes though still part of the tradition are always required, as the true followers go outside to smoke them thus concluding this remarkable event, which this year was followed by a group photograph to preserve the meeting for posterity.
It was yet another memorable occasion, the 848th recorded, that had taken place in order to keep this part of the English Heritage alive, especially as it is believed to be the oldest surviving event that still takes place. Long may it continue.
I have since then, returned to my sleepy little hamlet in Southern France with so many happy and wonderful memories of such a special occasion. One that I hope, will continue for many years to come.
(Robert H. Fell.)