Randwick 1832 Experiment: Part Two

Early May 1784: ‘a gentleman was riding through Randwick and noticed “a crowd of people assembled around a horsepond”, where he saw ‘a man seated upon a chair.’ He thought this was a ‘ducking … for some transgression of local custom or morality.’ But this was Randwick Wap, ‘held every year on the second Monday after Easter in “Hocktide” – ‘a Whitsun festival, sometimes coinciding with May Day, a form of carnival’ with a “mock-mayoral election.”

Randwick Experiment Part Two

Notes taken from David Rollison’s

The Local origins of Modern Society Gloucestershire 1500-1800


Estimated Population of Gloucestershire 1550-1801

1550 approx. 75,000

1600 approx. 95,000

1712 approx. 128,000

1779 approx. 161,000

1801 Census 210, 267


                   Population of some Stroudwater Parishes 1551-1831

                                   1551        1603      1779      1801    1831

Eastington.                391           401        769        908     1,770

Stonehouse               468            474        759      1,412    2,469

Kings Stanley           234            728      1,257     1,434    2,438

Leonard Stanley.      439            417        512         590       942

Woodchester            200            217        792         870       885

Minchinhampton      835          1,002    4,000     3,419    5,114

Rodborough             401            259       1,481     1,658    2,141

Horsley.                   312            668       2,000      2.971   3,690

Painswick.               601           1,033    3,300.     3,150    4,099

Bisley.                     668           1,503    4,905.     4,227.   5,896

Randwick.              167             372      650.          856    1,031

Pitchcombe               43.            134        90            216       187

Stroud.                    969            1,508     4,000      5,422.   8,607


1756 Stroudwater Riots


‘Industrial rioting did not break out in Stroudwater until 1756 … The population data are remarkably consistent with what we know of the markets for Stroudwater cloth. When the markets collapsed, local populations were double what they had been fifty years earlier; and we may surmise that it was a younger population as a consequence of such rapid growth. James Wolfe’s comments in a letter from Stroudwater in 1756, that he expected to leave with many recruits from the unemployed young of the district, complements this impression of an extraordinary spurt of growth, followed by depression, followed by riots, followed by a renewal of overseas war.’


Randwick 1832 Revisited: Introduction



There are two chapters in this book about Randwick with interesting implications for the 1832 Randwick experiment as we shall see later…. But for the moment, a brief introduction:


Eric Wolf in Europe and the People without History wrote thus of Stroudwater: ‘one of the first areas in which English weavers lost their autonomy and became hired factory hands’ with ‘the onset of the industrial revolution in the valley of the Stroud’, while as regards Randwick, in particular, Rollison also pointed out how enclosure came relatively late to the village: ‘it retained arable strips and commons up to the early 19th century.’ So, we already note two reasons (one, industrial, and one, agricultural) for the notable levels of poverty in Randwick – and the consequent appearance of the Randwick experiment (as outlined in Utopia Britannica). There is a third reason to add here: the population peaked in Randwick in 1831 …

The World Turned Upside Down?

It’s interesting to see how Rollison, at times, as it were, appears to personify Randwick: ‘Randwick was a living symbol of the depths of unrespectability. It challenged pretension and it challenged prejudice. It looked at the respectable folk and found them wanting and it had an ingrained scepticism as to the legitimacy of cherished social conventions. It nurtured tricks and stratagems for bringing the mighty and would-be mighty down to earth … It included (and gave birth to) the radical side of contemporary popular culture voiced most commonly as a humorous scepticism towards all pretensions based on prescribed hierarchy, genealogy and tradition or wealth … It belongs to a universal type, authentic (as against appropriated and contrived) carnivalesque humour.’


The passage above can be readily placed alongside the Wikipedia entry describing Randwick Wap:

The Wap is an annual series of events during spring which culminates in a traditional procession and festival dating back to the Middle Ages. Various theories exist on how it began, although most villagers believe it was a celebration that followed the completion of building Randwick’s parish church.

The Wap was traditionally held on Low Sunday and Monday, the first Sunday and Monday after Easter. On the Sunday, the bells of the village church would be rung, a special service was held and a collection taken. On the Mon evening, a ‘Mayor’ was elected and he would be carried by chair to an ancient pool where he was immersed. Hordes would gather from far and wide including fiddle-playing and fortune-telling gipsies.[3] By the late 19th century, however, the Wap was becoming better known for its drunken revelry rather than as an ancient spectacle and it was evident that something had to be done.[4] In 1892, the church officials refused to ring the bells or hold a special collection to mark ‘Wap Sunday’ and although a mayor was elected, the Wap in its then form had run its course.[5]

The Randwick Wap was eventually revived in 1971 by the vicar Rev Niall Morrison (son of William Morrison, 1st Viscount Dunrossil) and now the festivities take place in the month of May.[6]


  1. ^“Parish population 2011”. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  2. ^“Randwick,Whiteshill and Randwick ward 2011”. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  3. ^“A Respected Randwickian Writes”. Stroud News & Gloucestershire Advertiser. 11 April 1890. p. 4.
  4. ^“Wap”. Stroud News & Gloucestershire Advertiser. 2 May 1868. p. 2.
  5. ^“Randwick”. Stroud News & Gloucestershire Advertiser. 29 April 1892. p. 6.
  6. ^“It’s Roll Out the Cheeses”. Western Daily Press. 5 May 1975. p. 1.


Back to Rollison: he says that he ‘shall … show that Randwick was generally regarded as the poorest village in Gloucestershire, and that this perception was accurate’. He also looks at sexual behaviour in the village via ‘The case of the indiscreet landlord’ with the ‘depositions associated with a bawdy-court case in 1713 to explore and evoke the quality of social relations in this notoriously poverty-stricken clothworking village’; it is the only archival ‘clue’ he finds ‘to the kind of social irregularity associated with Randwick’s poverty’ but says this clue can be ‘confirmed as representative by similar cases in other Stroudwater parishes.’

The author then tells us about “The Lord Mayors of Randwick” – ‘a curious, calendrical festival or “revel”’ held ‘in the second week after Easter … a carnivalesque occasion …  usually seen as “reversal” of class and gender relations.’ Rollison suggests, ‘in the light of the material in the case of the indiscreet landlord, that what went on was probably more in the line of a celebration of the sorts of things that went on at Randwick all the time. It “turned the world upside down” in the sense that the celebration was insistent and public, claimed as a rightful custom against the desire of the magistrates, who tried to suppress it. But in truth it advertised only what was normal.

The next section ‘analyses “The Lord Mayor of Randwick’s Story”, which, according to a detailed account of the revels published in 1784, was used every year to usher in a week of “misrule”. Rollison comments: ‘I show that this song unmistakably embodied an historico-mythical explanation of Randwick’s poverty and expressed an ideal of egalitarian communitas – the reason for misrule and this provides us with insight into the collective political consciousness of a community … a moment … that lay on the border between older, preliterate … labour conditions and the directions taken by these traditions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.’

What evidence, you are thinking, does the author provide to justify his assertion about Randwick’s notable poverty? Well, here we go:

‘Randwick was the poorest village in the region. In 1671-2 exceptions from the Hearth Tax averaged 40 per cent in the Stroudwater valleys. At Randwick, with a population of about 450, the figure was nearer 70 per cent. In 1677 the parish was said to be unable to maintain its poor and a rate was ordered to be levied on other parishes in the Hundred to which it was attached. In 1712, Sir Robert Atkyns wrote that Randwick was “the highest charged to the Poor Rate of any parish” in Gloucestershire and ‘He also noted that more people were buried there each year than were baptised.’

By the end of the 18th century 110 families out of 206 in Randwick were dependent on weekly parish relief (the Stroudwater average was 40%; Randwick’s was 55%). ‘The Minister for Randwick reported that “The Working Classes in his parish [were] generally depressed for scarcity of employment, low wages, and payment in truck”’ … in consequence, he regretted the existence of “some insubordinate feelings fostered with association at the beershops, and by reading of inflammatory publications.”’


Rollison comments: ‘The archives don’t generally provide much information on the social consequences of Randwick’s exemplary poverty, but glimpses are provided by a scandal which erupted in 1713.’ Mary Bennett and Lizzie Robbins of that parish visited Edward Field, ‘a magistrate near Stroud’, to inform him of a shocking event they had witnessed “on the day after Candlemas.”

They told Field that the chamber of their house “adjoyneth to a house belonging to Stephen Mills” and that Robbins saw Mills “beckon with his hand to Martha Thomas who went with him into his house.” Robbins was able to see through “the mudd wall” because of “a slitt or chink” but “turned from the said chink” for obvious reasons. Bennett took over and heard Mills command Thomas to “Lye down”. “I will not.” “Thou shalt.” More detail followed and ‘On this evidence Field considered that there was a case to answer …’ Rollison goes on to say that there was nothing unusual in this case with its ‘sexual irregularity, slander and gossipy defamation’ – this was the stuff of bawdy-courts – but what made this case unusual and exceptional was not just that it divided the village (‘high versus low’: the three women were all tenants of Mills), but also ‘ that the court officials clearly found it impossible to find a single unambiguously respectable witness … The poorest village in Gloucestershire was also its most “immoral” village.’ The author adds, ‘Randwick people almost certainly knew of their reputation with outsiders, and every year at Hocktide they celebrated their infamy.’


Early May 1784: ‘a gentleman was riding through Randwick and noticed “a crowd of people assembled around a horsepond”, where he saw ‘a man seated upon a chair.’ He thought this was a ‘ducking … for some transgression of local custom or morality.’ But this was Randwick Wap, ‘held every year on the second Monday after Easter in “Hocktide” – ‘a Whitsun festival, sometimes coinciding with May Day, a form of carnival’ with a “mock-mayoral election.”

‘The gentleman described proceedings thus in the Gentleman’s Magazine: “One of the parish is, it seems … elected mock-mayor. He is carried with great state, colours flying, drums beating, men, women and children shouting, to a particular horse-pond, in which his worship is placed, seated in an armchair; a song is then given out line-by-line by the clerk and sung with great gravity by the surrounding crowd … the instant it is finished, the mayor breaks the peace by throwing water in the faces of his attendants. Upon which, much confusion ensues; his worship’s person is, however, considered as sacred, and he is generally the only man who escapes being thoroughly souced.”

“The rest of the day, and often the week is devoted to riot and drunkenness.”

When did this ceremony of turning ‘the world upside down’ commence? The earliest textual reference is 1703; but Samuel Rudder made these observations in his magisterial A New History of Gloucestershire in 1779: “At this place an annual revel is kept on the Monday after Low Sunday, probably the wake of the church, attended with much irregularity and intemperance, with many ridiculous circumstances in the choice of a Mayor, who is yearly elected on that day, from amongst the meanest of the people. They plead the prescriptive right of antient custom for the licence of the day, and the authority of the magistrate is not able to suppress it.

The whole parish is not estimated at more than 500l. per ann. but is very populous, chiefly inhabited by poor people employ’d in the woollen manufacture …”

Rollison points out that the 1703 reference ‘assumed’ that the ‘calendrical festival’ had medieval origins. He says that although this is ‘conjectural’, the assumption ‘is supported by’ festivals elsewhere defined by Easter’s date, and subsequent May Day, Hock Monday and Hock Tuesday revelries. Rollison goes on to say that ‘The context at Randwick, an industrial village in one of the districts where we have documentary evidence of early trade union activity, also established a plausible link between medieval carnivalesque festivals and a date that was to become the great annual festival of the Labour Movement.’

But now we move from class to gender: Hock Monday asserted patriarchy but Hock Tuesday saw gender relations turned upside down, and Rollison adds that this “survived to be the more enduring of the customs. According to the locality, it was customary for the wives – as a group – to bind or weave into the air those husbands who could be caught, and to release them only on payment of a ransom … Criticism of marital mistreatment or impropriety were formally and noisily expressed.”

So, it seems that Randwick was a transgressive sort of place … and as Rollison concluded, ‘Carnival was always in part “political”, and as such contained an implicit threat to the status quo. To take this further we shall now consider the Lord Mayor of Randwick’s Song, or “psalm”.’



When Archelus began to spin,

And ‘Pollo wrought upon a loom,

Our Trade to flourish did begin,

Tho’ conscience went to selling broom.

When princes’ sons kept sheep in field,

And queens made cakes with oaten flour,

And men to lucre did not yield,

Which brought good cheer to ev’ry bower.

But when the giants, huge and high,

Did fight with spears like weavers’ beams,

And men in iron beds did lie,

Which brought the poor to hard extremes.

When cedar trees were grown so rife,

And pretty birds did sing on high,

Then weavers liv’d more void of strife,

Than princes of great dignity.

Then David with his sling and stone,

Not fearing great Goliath’s strength,

He pierc’d his brains, and broke his bones,

Tho’ he was nine feet and a span in length.


Let love and friendship still agree

To hold the bonds of amity.


The gentleman wrote it down, btw.



Now, gentle reader, for all I know, you may think Rollison has over egged the Randwick Wap pudding. But here’s a description of his book:


‘Through a series of sharply focused studies spanning three centuries, David Rollison explores the rise of capitalist manufacturing in the English countryside and the revolution in consciousness that accompanied it. Combining the empiricism of English historiography with the rationalism of Annales, and drawing on ideas from a wide range of disciplines, he argues that the explosive implications of the rise of rural industry created new social formations and altered the communal, cultural and social contexts of peoples’ lives. Using localized case studies of families and individuals the book starts with significant detail and moves out to build up a subtle and innovative view of English cultural identities in the early modern period.’


Here is a link to the book for anyone who wishes to research further: