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.
The publication in 1954 of an article in the West Sussex Gazette about rough music, led to a flurry of correspondence from older readers who recalled the practice.
Lillian Brown, then living in Cuckfield remembered the days of her youth, when she lived in Bury. In that village the rough-musickers referred to themselves as the “Kangaroo Band” (any connection there with “kangaroo court” I wonder?), and Mrs Brown well recalled the verses they used to holler out on such occasions:
There is a man lives in this place
He beat his wife – a sad disgrace!
He beat her black, he beat her blue;
He made her poor bones rattle, too.
Now if this man don’t mend his manners
We’ll have to send him to the tanner’s;
And if the Tanner don’t tan him well
We’ll nail him on a nail him hell
And if that nail should chance to crack
He’ll fall upon the Devils back;
And should the Devil chance to run
We’ll shoot him with his fiery gun.
At the end of the last stanza a gun would be fired, presumably in the air rather than at the miscreant or his property. J.S. Chandler recalled his boyhood in a Hampshire village, where rough music was a fairly common occurrence. He remembered that the victims were usually middle-aged, childless couples, and rarely younger couples with children. Also men rather than women were the general targets; seldom did a wife receive the same punishment for similar conduct. Chandler recounted one rough music demonstration that rather backfired on the demonstrators:
“My father told me of a rough musicking against a butcher in the village, who was supposed to have ill-treated his love wife. When the demonstration was at its height, the butcher filled his blunderbuss with blood and fired it at the crowd. The blood was well spread and the crowd quickly dispersed, thinking that some of their number had been shot.”
Chris Hare recently did a talk to the Catalyst Club about Rough Music: