In the days before any village had a policeman, or before school education became compulsory, local communities were very prepared to ‘take the law into their own hands,’ whenever the need arose.
A man might have been beating his wife, or parents cruelly ill-using their children, or a couple may have strayed away from the moral code of their village, in which case they might receive some ‘rough music.’ A time would be chosen, usually at night, when a group of local people (generally lads and men) would assemble, sometimes with blackened faces or some other disguise and proceed in procession to the victim’s house. As they went, they would blow on crude musical instruments and bang together pots and pans, tin trays and anything else that would make a loud discordant noise – this was ‘rough music.’
The point of this nocturnal row was to ‘encourage’ the culprit to change his or her ways. Usually, one visit was more than enough to have the desired effect, but not always. If the wrong-doer carried on with their bad behaviour, the rough-musickers would return, but this time they would have an effigy of the person which they would proceed to burn outside their house. If the mob were really angry, they would throw stones at the windows of the house and chant out dire threats.
Very, very occasionally, a third visit would be needed and this was always the last. This time the mob would seize the miscreant, throw him onto a cart, and wheel him to the parish boundary, often dumping him in a ditch or in bushes by the road. Such a person would never be allowed back in the village, as their very life could be in danger if they did return.
In the coming weeks I will write more about rough music, including outbreaks in towns, which were often linked to local political and religious disputes.
The following link is an extract of an interview I recorded with Nobby Kinnard of Clapham in 1997, where he describes the last rough music demonstration in his village