Many of the North East’s traditional customs and celebrations derived from Catholicism, and so came to an end with the Protestant Reformation. However, North Easterners seem to have persisted in enjoying some festivities long after time was officially called. Some things never change, perhaps!
As late as the 1630s Protestants such as the Reverend Peter Smart were grumbling that the people of Durham were still participating in some of the earlier, pre-Reformation traditions. He mentions “an old, rotten ridiculous robe used by the boys and wenches of Durham above 40 yeares in theyr sports and May-games.”
Far from being a mouldy costume, this was actually a clerical vestment that belonged to Durham Cathedral, which had been used as a traditional part of worship since the fifteenth century. Its embroidered images and decoration were anathema to Protestant tastes such as those of Peter Smart. This robe will be on display as part of Durham Cathedral’s Open Treasure exhibition. It reminds us of how centuries of North East customs and plays were brought to an end by the time of the English Civil War.