Healing Well: OS Grid Reference – SE 2071 2677
Archaeology & History
Not far from the old maypole, the Moor Lane Well was the innocuous-sounding site where legend told that a phantom horse was once seen running up and down the lane—said by old locals to be a “very ancient highway”. It was also a place where we find an intriguing tale of local disrepute, that brought humiliation to the culprit from the entire village.
There used to be a custom called ‘Riding the Stang’ which persisted in Yorkshire until the end of the 19th century. Thought to be of Scandinavian origin, it involved the culprit being hoisted onto a platform, held up by poles, then carried around the village where the person lived in a most ignominious procession. It was invariably described as being a public punishment and humiliation for faults made by one’s wife. Anyway, in the early 1840s, said H.A. Cadman (1930),
“there were two families who lived at Brecks Farm. I will not of course divulge their true names, so will describe one of them as the Jones family and the other as the Smith family. Jones’ wife accused Smith’s wife of having polluted the drinking water and the Smith family left the farm and removed to the top of Moor Lane. The Jones family wishing to make the most of the affair resolved that Mrs Smith’s effigy should ride the stang. A long pole was obtained and the effigy was affixed to the centre. Two men then took hold, one at each end, and walked up Moor Lane, folowed by a huge concourse of people. The procession stopped opposite Mrs Smith’s house and repeated the nominee. My informant, a dear old lady, would not tell me the whole of the verse, but it commenced thus:
“It’s neither your fault nor my fault that I ride this stang.”
“After all the verses had been repeated, the stang was taken round Gomersal, when ultimately the effigy was burned with the usual solemnities.
“The other instance of riding the stang occurred also in thge early ‘forties and I believe this was the last occasion of the stang being ridden. On this occasion a man…was in the habit of beating his wife harder than his neighbours thoughts proper with the result that he had to be punished. Now Jim was a most religious man, but the same rites had to be observed as in the other instance,
“It was for Jim Vasey that religious man
He paid her, he paid her indeed and
If Jim doesn’t alter his manners
We will take his skin “…….” to the tanners.
And if the tanner doesn’t tan it well,
We’ll send it to…”
“One must regret that the old custom of riding the stang has died out, as it must have had its good points.”
Local people could, of course, simply bring it back again! The Moor Lane Well was one of the main water supplies for the old villagers in bygone times, but seems to have disappeared under the modern houses. There is, however, a small narrow band of trees where the old waters once ran, amidst which it might still be found—if luck is on our side…
- Cadman, H. Ashwell, Gomersal, Past and Present, Hunters Armley: Leeds 1930.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian