Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tichborne Dole- Redux

This story will become an annual tradition.

Tichborne Dole-1671

As the New Yorker says, there will always be an England. This is one of the thousands of reasons why. The Tichborne dole, predating the Plague by 200 years, dates from 1150 during the reign of England's King Henry II (1133-89).

Held every Lady's Day, March 25th, regardless of the day of the week, some two tons of high-grade self-raising flour is dispensed to families in Tichborne, Cheriton and Lane End. Villagers bring carrier bags, pillow cases and any other suitable receptacle. Their booty - a family of six merits the maximum of 28lbs - is particularly welcome to the elderly and needy.

Before the flour is apportioned it is blessed and the huge flour box is sprinkled with incense and holy water. Then a blessing is made on the soul of Lady Mabel Tichborne, who started it all.

Lady Mabel, a woman noted for her charity and piety, was married to Roger de Tichborne (the Tichborne's and their descendants have owned Tichborne Manor since 909). As much as Mabel was pious, her husband Roger was her opposite. Even the imminent death of his wife failed to arouse his compassion.

Mabel's last request that the value of a small portion of the Tichborne estates be given annually to the poor of the parish in the form of a dole, was poorly received by Roger. No supporter of charity, Roger answered his dying wife's plea by saying that he would agree to give every year, the value of as much land as she could encircle while holding a burning torch to light her way. March being windy, she being lame and near death, Roger felt he was playing a strong hand.

Mabel's curse

Legend has it that the wind abated, as Mabel crawled around 23 acres of land, while carrying the burning ember, after which she charged her husband and his heirs to forever give the produce value of that land to the poor. To this day there is a a field at Tichborne known as "The Crawls."

Mabel added a rider to her demand. She said that should the dole ever be stopped then seven sons would be born to the house, followed immediately by a generation of seven daughters, after which the name would die out and the ancient house fall into ruin.

The custom of giving the dole, in the form of bread, continued unbroken until 1794, when having had forgotten the curse, Sir Henry Tichborne, father of seven sons, stopped the dole.

In 1802, George, his sixth son, died at the age of 13; and the same year the old house partly fell and was partly pulled down. Four years later, John, the fifth son died unmarried in the East Indies. Another four years saw Benjamin, the second son, die in China. He, too, had been a bachelor. A few years later, seventh son Roger died. He was married without children. However, Henry, the eldest son, managed to father seven children - all girls.

Edward, the third son, changed his name to Doughty in 1826. He produced the male heir so badly needed. But in 1835 his son, the six-year-old Henry suddenly died. Edward Doughty immediately revived the Dole.

James, the fourth son, had married in 1827 and produced two sons, one born before and the other after the restoration of the Dole. The eldest, Roger Charles Tichborne, was lost at sea in 1845.

Alfred Joseph, the youngest of James's sons, born after the revival, was the only one to survive Mabel's deathbed curse. The family line continued until July 1968 when the last Baronet, Sir Anthony Doughty-Tichborne died without a male descendant. The family estate has since passed through the female line, and the crumbling manor house is now available for rent. Death duties and divorce are taking their toll. Yet the dole will be held tomorrow.

True story.


Martha said...

Don't you just love English traditions!

Karen said...

Thank you for sharing this...such a fascinating story and makes one wonder about those deathbed curses!