Though no tradition exists of the erection of a pole or tree on the Wrekin on 'Wrekin May Sunday,' yet in Shropshire [it] is chosen as the scene of a May festival. 'Wrekin Wakes,' as the assemblage is commonly called, take place on the first Sunday in May, and in the beginning of the century were the most numerously attended of any of our hill-wakes, held as they were in the midst of the most populous part of Shropshire.From C.S. Burne's 'Shropshire Folk-Lore' v2 (1885).
'The top of the old hill,' writes a correspondent of Byegones, 'was covered with a multitude of pleasure-seekers, with ale-booth, ginger-bread-standings, gaming-tables, swing-boats, merry-go-rounds, three-stickes-a-penny, and all the etceteras of an old English fair.' But the characteristic feature of the Wrekin Wakes, was the yearly battle between the colliers and the countrymen for the possession of the hill. An old villager, who had taken part in these frays, assured our authority that his side had always been victorious, because, if worsted early in the day, they sent messengers to the surrounding villages for reinforcements, and renewed the battle with increased numbers. Sometimes, when parties were evenly balanced, the Wellington men would turn the scale by allying themselves with one side or the other, after the manner of the Irish Members of the House of Commons' but even they, so said the old countryman, generally preferred to help the country party. The fighting was really fierce: serious and even fatal injuries were sometimes received, and the disorderly scenes at last reached such a pitch, that when the Cludde family of Orleton bought up the manorial rights, etc. over the first portion of the hill, they determined to put down the wake by force. Accordingly they employed a party of constables, gamekeepers and so forth, to clear the hill of visitors on one particular Wake Sunday, and since then the wake has been done away with; but great numbers of holiday-makers ascend the Wrekin on 'Wrekin May Sunday' even now, and a good many on the following Sunday also.
At what date the Wake was summarily put down, I cannot say. A correspondent of Hone (Every-Day Book, ii. 599), writing at Wellington, in February, 1826, speaks of it as then held 'on the Sunday after May-day, and three successive Sundays, to drink a health to "all friends round the Wrekin"; and adds, that 'its celebration has of late been very properly discouraged by the magistracy, and is going deservedly to decay'; but says nothing of the forcible clearances made by the proprietors of the hill.
Posted by Rhiannon
12th May 2011ce
Edited 13th May 2011ce