Four shopping days left and all’s quiet on Great Ayton’s High Green. Everyone’s waiting on the Government’s dilly-dallying.
And it’s also St. Thomas’s Day when it’s traditional for Yorkshire lads to go around farms and houses ‘a-Thomassing‘ or ‘St. Thomassing‘; asking for ‘Thomas’s gifts‘ usually a piece of ginger bread, a slice of pepper cake, a modicum of cheese, or a few half-pence1Tradition of St Thomas Day in England. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.ramptonandwoodbeck-pc.gov.uk/uploads/tradition-of-st-thomas-day.pdf [Accessed 21 Dec. 2021]..
The poorer women might go to the mills asking for a gift of wheat so they could make a Christmas cake, while their husbands, well they would consider St. Thomas’s Day a good day for planting St Thomas’s onions (shallots) or broad beans.
Lovesick Yorkshire lasses were not left out. They could try to establish the identity of their future husbands by sticking nine pins in a large peeled red onion; one in the centre and the others around it. The young lady pressed the centre pin whilst reciting the poem:
Good St Thomas, do me right,
Send my true love to me tonight;
In his clothes and his array,
Which he weareth every day,
That I might see him in the face
And in my arms may him embrace.
The onion would then be placed under her pillow and she would dream of her true love.
Canon Atkinson recounts the story of two boys, cousins from Castleton, who went ‘St. Thomassing‘ up Danby Dale on a dull and raw day2Atkinson, Rev. J. C. “Forty years in a moorland parish; reminiscences and researches in Danby in Cleveland”. Page 379. 1891.. When they reached the last farmhouse in the dale, Stormy Hall, it was late and getting dark and foggy. They never reached their homes that night.
The next day a search was organised but it was one of the lads himself that attracted the attention of a driver of a waggon and horses on his way up to the coal pits at Rosedale Head. He directed the driver to the other lad who was suffering more from the cold and damp.
It turned out the lads had become disoriented in the dense fog and decided to hunker down in a scrape made by the sheep. Covering themselves with stalks of ling, they ate the gifts of cake and settled down to make the best of what would become an uncomfortable night.
A Francis Frith photo of the High Green, around 1960, from almost the same viewpoint.
- 1Tradition of St Thomas Day in England. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.ramptonandwoodbeck-pc.gov.uk/uploads/tradition-of-st-thomas-day.pdf [Accessed 21 Dec. 2021].
- 2Atkinson, Rev. J. C. “Forty years in a moorland parish; reminiscences and researches in Danby in Cleveland”. Page 379. 1891.