Souling and Soul-Cake#

One of the benefits claimd for the ministrations of the sin-eater as that it would “free [the defunct] from walking after they were dead” (which is presumably to say, the spirit of the departed would not then remain as some sort of ghost destined to walk the earth), one place we might look to for evidence of the sin-eater not having performed a role might be amongst those souls that were found to “walking” after death.

All Hallows Eve (or as we more commonly know it, Halloween, October 31st), the night before All Hallows Day, (November 1st, also known as All Saints Day, and which, in the Christian Church, is itself the day before the Feast of All Souls, November 2nd), is one of those nights on which the souls of the dead are often to be found walking.

So are there any traditions related to All Hallows Eve that might appear to be reflections or echoes of the sin-eater tradition, or perhpas even parody the ritual of the sin-eater?

One tradition that is perhaps worth considering is that of souling, and the eating of soul cake. This tradition does not generally appear to be discussed within the context of the sin-eater tradition. Whether or not there is a lineage that relates the tradition to the sin-eater tradition for the scientific folkorist, at least, there are certain similarities that are perhaps worth noting, not just in the lore of the tradition, but also the locations in which it seems to have been popular.

So before we move on to the first sin-eater controversy, let’s consider, for a moment, this seeming widespread Halloween tradition.


This chapter jumps out of time and reviews the traditions around souling and soul cake throughout the 19th century.

Coel Coeth and Soul Cakes, According to Brand, Hone et al., Via Pennant#

In Brand’s Observations On Popular Antiquities, edited by Henry Ellis, of 1813, pp.308-310, the following entry is included as an editorial footnote to the entry for October 31st:

AllHallow Even

In North Wales (Mr. Pennant’s MS. informs me) there is a custom upon All Saints Eve of making a great fire called CoelCoeth, when every family about an hour in the night makes a great bonfire in the most conspicuous place near the house, and when the fire is almost extinguished, every one throws a white stone into the ashes, having first marked it, then having said their prayers turning round the fire, they go to bed. In the morning, as soon as they are up, they come to search out the stones, and if any one of them is found wanting they have a notion that the person who threw it in will die before he sees another All Saints Eve.

They have a custom also of distributing Soul Cakes on All Souls Day, at the receiving of which poor people pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat.

This second custom seems rather oddly constructed: what have “souls” got to do with blessing crops of wheat?

The note also includes the following remark suggesting that the traditions described in the manuscript date to the 17th century and maybe even earlier:

There is a general observation added : “N. B. 1735. Most of the harmless old customs in this MS. are now disused.”

If 1735 is a year, and it is correctly transcribed, it is an unusual one. If the manuscript was supposedly authored by Pennant, he would have only been nine years of age at the time.

A little further on, we hear of another All Saints (All Hallows) tradition involving baked goods for Christian souls as well as the giving of “Soul Mass cakes” as doles to the poor, not least in Herefordshire:

In the Festyvall, fol. 1511, fol. 149 b. is the following passage : ” We rede in olde tyme good people wolde on All haloween daye bake brade and dele it for all crysten soules.”

I find the following, which is much to my purpose, in “Festa Anglo-Romana,” p. 109. All Souls Day, Nov. 2d. ” The custom of Soul Mass Cakes, which are a kind of Oat Cakes, that some of the richer sorts of persons in Lancashire and Herefordshire (among the Papists there) use still to give the poor on this day : and they, in retribution of their charity, hold themselves obliged to say this old couplet :

— ‘ God have your Saul,
Beens and all.”

Hone’s Every-day book and Table book, that veritable everlasting calendar of popular amusements, sports, pastimes, ceremonies, manners, customs, and events, incident to each of the three hundred and sixty-five days, in past and present times; forming a complete history of the year, months, and seasons, and a perpetual key to the almanac … for daily use and diversion and.[w]ith four hundred and thirty-six engravings, no less, published in 1830, also mentions Pennant, at p. 1413 and the soul cakes:


Pennant records, that in North Wales ” there is a custom upon All Saints Eve of making a great fire called Coel Coeth, when every family about an hour in the night makes a great bonfire in the most conspicuous place near the house ; and when the fire is almost extinguished, every one throws a white stone into the ashes, having first marked it ; then, having said their prayers, turning round the fire, they go to bed. In the morning, as soon as they are up, they come to search out the stones ; and if any one of them is found wanting, they have a notion that the person who threw it in will die before he sees another All Saints Eve.” They also distribute soul cakes on All Souls-day, at the receiving of which poor people pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat.

The manuscript mentioned appears to be one that was eventually to appear in print in 1885, in the pages of Archaeologia Cambrensis, Vol 2 Iss 6, p152 under the heading Extracts from a MS. of ancient date, giving some customs and usages in North Wales:

The custom upon All Saints’ Eve of making a great fire, called Coelcerth, when every family, about an hour in the night, make a great bonfire in the most conspicuous place near the house ; and when the fire is about quite extinguished, every one throweth a white stone into the ashes, having first marked it, and having said their prayers round the fire. In the morning as soon as they are up, they come to search out the stones ; and if either of them is found wanting, they have a notion that the person who threw it in will die before he sees another All Saints’ Eve. [Llanbrynmair.]

Custom of distributing seed cakes upon All Saints Day, at the receiving of which the poor pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat. [Llanasaph.]

Note that in the MS. the distribution is of seed cakes on All Saints Day (November 1st) rather than a distribution of soul cakes on All Souls Day (November 2nd). This suggests that Hone was referencing Brand rather than an original MS of Pennant’s.

The same quote from the Pennant manuscript is referenced in a query to Bye-Gones of October 20th, 1872, p98.


Originally a part of the Oswestry Advertizer, then appearing in its own collected editions, it was edited by a local newspaper proprietor, a certain Mr Askew Roberts, and provided a local version of Notes & Queries.

Oswestry itself is small Shropshire town just on the English side of the Welsh border, 20 miles or so North West of Shrewsbury.

We shall meet it again later…

The note also included an observation regarding the distribution of seed cakes on November 1st, All Souls’ Day:


Pennant records that in North Wales “there is a custom upon All Saints’ Eve of making a great fire called Coel Coeth, when every family about an hour in the night makes a great bonfire in the most conspicuous place near the house; and when the fire is almost extinguished, everyone throws a white stone into the ashes, having first marked it; then, having said their prayers, turning round the fire, they go to bed. In the morning, as soon as they are up, they come to search out the stones ; and if any one of them is found wanting, they have a notion that the person who threw it in will die before he sees another All Saints’ Eve.” They also distribute ‘ soul cakes’ on All Souls’-day, at the receiving of which poor people pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat.

This references soul cake and All Souls Day so presumably relies on Brand or Hone, rather than the original MS. for Pennant’s observations.

The Bye-Gones query continues with what is actually a direct quote from Hone that immediately follow his paragraph on the All Saints’ Eve customs:

Mr Owen’s account of the bards, in Sir R. Hoare’s Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales, says, “The autumnal fire is still kindled in North Wales on the eve of the first of November, and is attended by many ceremonies ; such as running through the fire and smoke, each casting a stone into the fire, and all running off at the conclusion to escape from the black short-tailed sow; then supping upon parsnips, nuts, and apples; catching at an apple suspended by a string with the mouth alone, and the same by an apple in a tub of water ; each throwing a nut into the fire, and those that burn bright betoken prosperity to the owners through the following year, but those that burn black and crackle denote misfortune. On the following morning the stones are searched for in the fire, and if any be missing they betide ill to those that threw them in.” All the foregoing, and much more, appears in Hone’s Every-day Book,

Ah, so the letter writer admits to using Hone as a source…

and many of the older of my readers will remember some of the All Saints’ eve customs as here described, common on the Welsh Border. I should very much like to see, in Bye-gones, an account of the manner in which the festival is kept this year of grace, 1872, in the Borders of Wales. —Cynog.

Three weeks later, in Bye-Gones (Oswestry Advertizer) dated December 11, 1872, p.108-9, the following reply appeared, and questioned the naming of the traditional fires:

HALLOW E’EN (O A., Oct. 30, 1872).

The extract from Hone’s Every Day Book, containing a quotation from Pennant, must contain a misprint when it calls the autumnal fires in Wales ‘Coel Coeth.’ ‘Coelcerth’ or ‘Coelcen’ must be the word. Coelcerth, as in Merionthshire, is a proper term for any large fires, whether of gorse or heather on the hills, or bonfires lit up at rejoicings, and, as is the case every year, on the borders, on Hallow E’en. In Llanarmon district, near Oswestry, they say Coelcen, which is probably a corrupted word.

The correspondent then wonders as to where (and/or when) these fires were supposed to have been set, along with the rituals described in Hoare’s account of Baldwin’s travels, as quoted in Hone:

By the way where does Pennant allude to these fires? I never remember such fires lighted in the border town of Oswestry, on All Saints’ Eve, or the game of bobbing for apples in a tub of water, or suspended by a string ; although these amusements were common enough at our wakes.

The correspondent does, however, have firsthand experience of one Halloween (presumably?) tradition:

But we do, annually, hear children sing at our doors the following ditty :—

Wissel wassel, bread and posse!,
Cwrw da, plas yma :
Apple or a pear, plum or a cherry,
Any good thing that will make us merry.

Go down to your cellar, and draw some beer,
And we won’t come here till next year.

Sol cakes, sol cakes,
I pray you good missis, a sol cake,
One for Peter, and two for Paul,
And three for the man that made us all.

God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children,
Around the table too.
Their pockets lined with silver,
Their barrels filled with beer,
Their pantry full of pork pies,
I wish I had some here.

The roads are very dirty,
My shoes are very thin,
I’ve got a little pocket,
To put a penny in.
Up with the kettle, and down with the pan,
Give us an answer, and we’ll be gone.

I did not hear the whole of the verses sung this year, but I think we heard most of them ; and we certainly had the practical application at the end of every version, to wit, a knock at the door, and the request of a ‘apenny. —Jarco.

It is interesting to note that here the phrase described for the requested cakes is sol cake.

Souling, According to Brand et al.#

Another paragraph in Brand associated with All Hallows’ Eve introduces the tradition of “souling”, particularly in Staffordshire:

” It is worth remarking:,” says Tollet, in a note in Johnson’s and Steevens’s Shakespeare, Two Gent, of Verona, act. ii. sc. 2. “that on All Saints Day, the poor people in Staffordshire, and perhaps in other country places, go from parish to parish a Souling, as they call it, i. e. begging and puling (or singing small as Bailey’s Dictionary explains puling) for Soul Cakes, or any good thing to make them merry. This custom is mentioned by Peck, and seems a remnant of popish superstition to pray for departed souls, particularly those of friends. The Souler’s Song in Staffordshire is different from that which Mr. Peck mentions, and is by no means worthy of publication.”

If it was not an indecent one, which it is hardly possible to imagine it was, I cannot help observing that Mr. Tollet might as well have not mentioned the custom at all, as have kept back the song.

In passing, it’s worth noting that the influence of Brand’s work, as edited by Ellis, was to continue throughout the 19th century. For example, in Vol 4 Iss 84 (8th S. IV), p117, of Notes & Queries, dated August 5th, 1893, we find the following response to an earlier query:

Soul-caking (8th S. iv. 49).—

Your correspondent will find much information about soul- cakes in Brand’s ‘Popular Antiquities,’ art, “All-hallow Even” (ed. Bohn, i. 390, sqq.). This includes a note by Tollett :

” That on All Saints’ Day, the poor people in Staffordshire…… go from parish to parish a souling, as they call it, i.e., begging and puling (or singing small, as Bailey’s ‘Dictionary’ explains puling) for soul cakes, or any good thing to make them merry. This custom is mentioned by Peck, and seems a remnant of Popish superstition to pray for departed souls, particularly those of friends.”

The “Bohn” reference is to the publisher, Henry G Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, of at least the 1854 edition.

The response goes on:

It is added by the editor :—

“The custom of going a Souling still continues in some parts of the county, peasant girls going to farmhouses, singing:—

Soul, soul, for a soul cake,
Pray you, good mistress, a soul cake.”

– This description seems to fit with the tradition still extent in Shropshire in 1872 as described in the letter in Bye-Gones cited above.

Brand also provides a reference to who other than the John Aubrey:

[Aubrey, in the “Remains of Gentilisme,” MS. Lansd. Brit. Mus. 226, says that, in his time, in Shropshire, &c. there was set upon the board a high heap of Soul-cakes, lying one upon an- other, like the picture of the Shew-bread in the old Bibles. They were about the bigness of two- penny cakes, and every visitant that day took one. He adds, ” There is an old rhyme, or saying, ‘A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake, have mercy on all Christen Soules for a Soule-cake.’”]

So what did Aubrey have to say for himself? From an 1881 edition of Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme, edited by James Britten, we see at p23-4 a placin go the tradition on All Souls’ Day (November 2nd):


In Salop, &c. die oïum Animarum (All-Soules-day Novemb. 2d) there is sett on the Board a high heap of Soule-cakes, lyeing one upon another like the picture of the Sew-Bread in the old Bibles. They are about the bignesse of 2d cakes, and n’ly all the visitants that day take one ; and there is an old Rhythm or saying,

A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake,
Have mercy on all Christen soules for a Soule-cake.

Note the comparison between soule-cakes and sew-bread.


Is Aubrey’s reference to Sew-bread perhaps indicating shewbread (showbread), the “cakes or loaves of bread which were always present, on a specially-dedicated table, in the Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to God* Wikipedia, accessed 2022-03-35.

Aubrey also suggests the tradition was current at the time of writing (mid-seventeenth century).

This custome is continued to this time. This putts me in mind of the Feralia dict, à ferendis ad tumulum epulis: id quod forant [ferunt ?] tunc epulas ad sepulchrum quibus jus ibi parentare. Feralia deiun manium dies in Febr. Had Ovid continued his Fastorum to Novemb: in probability we should have found such a kind of custome used at that time sc. Novemb: 2d.

Via Google Translate, the Latin is given as Feralia is said, from those who carry the banquets to the tomb; they then bring the banquets to the grave with which they have the right to prepare for the banquet there. The deadly day.

Mdm. Seed-cakes, for the Ploughmen, after Sowing is donne; I thinke, All-Saints’ night, or Eve. Also Cakes at Home-harvest.

Offertories at funeralls.

These are mentioned in the Rubrick of ye ch. of Engl. Comon-Prayer-booke : but I never sawe it used, but once at Beaumaris, in Anglesey ; but it is used over all the Counties of North-Wales. But before when the corps is brought out of Doores, there is Cake & Cheese, and a new Bowie of Beere, and another of Milke with yw Anno Dni ingraved on it, & yw parties name deceased, wch one accepts of on the other side of ye Corps ; & this Custome is used to this day, 1686, in North Wales [From this to the end of the paragraph is added by Dr. Kennett. Ed.], where a small tablet or board is fixt near the Altar, upon whch the friends of ye defunct lay their offerings in mony according to their own ability and the quality of the person deceased. This custom proves a very happy augmentation to some of the very poor vicars, and is often the best part of their maintenance.


It seems a remainder of this custom was lately obtained at Amersden, in the county of Oxford, where at the burial of every corps one cake and one flaggon of Ale just after the interrment were brought to the minister in the Ch. porch. W. K.

One thing that is notable here is the grouping of the entries Soule cake, Offertories at funeralls and Sinne-eaters. Whether these traditions are of independent lineage is perhaps irrelevant if they were similarly grouped together and perhaps seen as part of a “coherent”, or at least, inter-related, set of beliefs around death superstitions in the popular mind at the time, and in the two centuries thereafter.

Of the funeral offering of cake, ableit with an economic angle, a Welsh example is described in the July 15th, 1874, edition of Bye-Gones, at p78-9:


In the parish of Darowen, Montgomeryshire, where my mother was bom. several singular customs prevailed sixty years ago, among them the following:— Funerals in those days were public, and the greater esteem in which the deceased was held, the greater the number of persons who attended the funeral. On these grand occasions the parson and the clerk received large sums of money from the “offerings.” My own grandfather’s funeral was one of this kind, and I was told by my mother that the clergyman on that occasion received upwards of fourteen pounds in “offerings,” and the clerk more.

In is interesting to note that the offerings were a fairy gold kind of gift, only intended to be effective when in constant circulation:

The ” offerings,” made by friends of the deceased, were only loans, in a way of speaking, as the members of the deceased’s family were expected when any such melancholy event happened in the family of any of the persons who attended the funeral to attend and do the same. It was then the custom to regale all who attended the funeral, at the house of the deceased, with spiced ale, and cake, and what was more singular at Darowen, the mourners, as passing through the lich gate into the grave yard, were again served with hot spiced ale, and cake. The money to defray the cost of this second refreshment was not found by the relatives of the deceased, but by the parishioners, and it was a custom for all who attended the funeral, both male and female, if they were parishioners, to send sixpence each to the village inn, the occupant of which provided the spiced ale and cake. There were sometimes as many as four women engaged in dispensing the refreshments. One stood by the lich gate with a large tray, and many pieces of cake upon it; another stood by with a small tray enveloped in a white napkin, upon which one piece of cake was placed from the store off the large tray and handed to one of the mourners as he passed through the lich gate, and the small tray was again replenished. The other two women were engaged with the hot spiced ale, one held the tankard and poured the ale, which was always very hot, into little “tots,” and these, like the pieces of cake, were handed one to each mourner, by woman number four. The residue remaining from the fund, if any was left, was spent by a few persons who generally understood these matters, at the village inn after the funeral.



The specific ritual of souling in Shropshire had been previously remarked in the pages of The Athenaeum in 1847. The year previously, in 1846, William Thoms, the inspiration behind Notes & Queries, had coined the phrase folk-lore in the pages of the Athenaeum magazine and craved the indulgence of the editor of that journal to allow submissions under that designation. In the Folk-Lore column of the Aethenaeum, no. 1004, p95, dated Saturday, January 23, 1847, the following item appeared:


Souling in Shropshire.

I beg leave to mention a custom which existed in Shropshire about sixty years ago, and probably does so still , of going a Souling. This took place on the eve of All Souls’ Day (the 1st of November); and was as follows:- The peasant girls, or Wenches (as was then the custom to call young girls of all ranks), went about in small parties among the farmers’ houses, addressing the mistresses in the following chaunt:-

Soul, soul for a soul cake,
Pray you, good mistress, a soul cake, &c. &c.

This is close to the song given by Jarco, the Bye-Gones correspondent of December 1872.

A second ryhme is also provided:

And the young lads, in parties of three, went among the farmers on a similar errand, singing-

One, two, three (or we be three) jolly boys all of a mind,
We’re coming a Souling and we hope you will prove kind;
And we hope you will prove kind with your apples and strong beer,
And we’ll come no more a Souling until another year.

Christmas is a coming, both dirty, wet, and cold,
To try your goodnature this night we do make bold;
And we hope you will prove kind with your apples and strong beer,
And we’ll come no more a Souling until another year.

I forget the remaining verses. S. I. B.

Whether the songs had died out and then been rediscovered, or reintroduced, perhaps through literary interventions, is a question that must be left to a more scholarly work than this.

Of more immediate concern, perhaps, is the error in the date given for All Souls Day by S. I. B.. But never fear, other correspondents were on hand to address the matter, albeit several months later, in Athenaeum No. 1031, dated Saturday, July 31, 1847, p815:

Souling. Eve of All Souls.

S. J. B. [sic] is in error: All Souls’ day is the 2nd, not the 1st of November, which is All Saints’.

The letter then goes on to attempt to provide some provenance for the tradition:

The practice he describes as having been prevalent in Shropshire doubtless was a remnant of a Roman superstition still in existence in the South of Europe, and which appears to have originated in the supposed efficacy of prayers and penances in releasing souls from purgatory. In Spain and Italy, on the occasion in question, alms are sought for masses for the souls of the departed ; and in some parts of the latter country the people consider that if, on All Souls’ day, they confine their meal to a mess of bean (horse-beans or fave, not faggioli), for every bean so eaten a soul is released from purgatory. In the present degenerate days, however, like the pilgrim who boiled his peas,— instead of real beans they have sugar-plums made in the shape of beans; the costly compound of which substitute, and its satiating nature, cause, I fear, a great falling off in the annual release of souls.


Another month on, and the no. 1035 edition of Saturday, August 28, 1847, p911, steered the thread round towards the topic of soul cakes rather than souling, identifying the tradition as also being prevalent in Wales, again with an attached rhyme, this time on All Souls’ Eve (which is to say, November 1st, All Saints’ Day):


Folk-Lore of the Principality.Soul Cakes. A correspondent from Wales informs us that amongst the instances recited in the Athenaeum under the above head, several have their counterparts in the Principality; and amongst others the custom observed in Shropshire of collecting cakes on All Souls’ Eve. A similar custom existed in North Wales a few years ago; and without doubt still continues- the young people running about the country, calling themselves “the Messengers of the Dead.” When they come to a house, they stop, and continue repeating the following rhyme —

Decca, decca, dowch i’r drws
A rhowch i gennad y meirw.

That is—

Fairest, fairest, come to the door,
And give to the messenger of the dead.

If they do not receive anything, they go away repeating a similar rhyme in abuse of Decca and the mistress of the house.

A note on souling also appeared in Notes & Queries a few years later, in Vol 4 Iss 107, November 15th, 1851, p381:


On the 2nd of November, All Souls’ Day, it is in Shropshire the custom for the village children to go round to all their neighbours souling, as they call it, collecting small contributions, and singing the following verses, which I took down from two of the children themselves : —

Soul! soul! for a soul-cake ;
Pray, good mistress, for a soul-cake.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Them who made us all.

Soul! soul! for an apple or two;
If you’ve got no apples, pears will do.
Up with your kettle, and down with your pan ;
Give me a good big one, and I’ll be gone.

Soul! soul! for a soul-cake ;
Pray, good mistress, a soul-cake, &c.

An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry,
Is a very good thing to make us merry.
Soul! soul! &c.

The cake itself is described as follows, notably as an offering given on All Souls’ Day, November 2nd:

The soul-cake referred to in the verses is a sort of bun, which until lately it was an almost general custom for persons to make, and to give to one another on the 2nd of November. Perhaps some of your readers can state whether this custom prevails in other counties in England. It seems to be a remnant of the practice of collecting alms, to be applied to the benefit of the souls of the departed, for which especial masses and services were formerly sung on All Souls’ Day.

W. Fraser.

Over twenty-five years later, also in Notes & Queries, Vol 10 Iss 257 (5th S. X), p426, of November 30th, 1878, another correspondent recalls an old lady who had kept the tradition alive in her parish until the middle of the 19th century:


The following, which seems worth a note in “N. & Q.” comes to me in a letter from a lady dated “All Saint’s Day, 1878.” Church Pulverbatch is in Salop, and the letter is written at Chester:—

“I knew an old Mrs. Ward of Church Pulverbatch, who was born in 1752 and died in 1853. She never had an illness in her life. On the day she attained her hundredth year she was dressed in her bridal dress of yellow satin, and kept her fête by receivng the Holy Communionwith her friends and neighbours. I am reminded of her just now by the children who are singing their ‘Souling Song’ under my window; for Mrs. Ward was the last of her generation — or of any generation — in her neighbourhood, to make ‘soul cakes.’”

A. J. M.

That note is misrepresented as a Chester-based tradition in a reply to Notes & Queries appearing on August 5th, 1893, Vol 4 Iss 84 (8th S. IV), p117:

For soul-cakes in Chester in the year 1878 see ‘N. & Q.,’ 5th S. x. 426. Consult also ‘A Garland for the Year,’ by John Timbs, p. 115; Brand’s ‘Popular Antiquities,’ vol. i. p. 217 (notes to ” All-hallow Eve”); and ‘Clavis Calendaria,’ vol. ii. p. 229.
Everard Home Coleman. 71, Brecknock Road

A-Souling in Cheshire and Elsewhere#

As well as its prevalance in Shropshire, it seems that the tradition was also kept alive further up the English-Welsh border, towards Cheshire.

For example, in Notes & Queries Vol 2 Iss 50 (4th S. II), p553, of December 12th 1868, we have the following note:

Custom on All Souls’ Day.

In two villages lying side by side in the line which marks off Staffordshire from Cheshire, and doubtless elsewhere, bands of children go from house to house, on the evening of All Souls’ Day, begging for biscuits, nuts, apples, and the like—all of which they call ” soul-cakes” or “sow-cakes” (pronounced “sowl-cake” or “sow”-cake”), in doggrel ballads such as these : —

Step into your cellar—see what you can find :
If your barrels be not empty, I hope you will prove kind. I hope you will prove kind with your ‘aples’ and strong beer,
And we’ll come no more ‘ a-souling’ until this time next year.”

“One for Peter, one for Paul,
One for Him as made us all!
Up with your kettles, and down with your pans,
Give us a ‘sou’-cake’ and we will begone.

(1) goes to a very pretty tune; (2) is in recitative.


Almost a decade later, in Thomas Thiselton Dyer’s British popular customs, present and past of 1876, p405-410, we also have the following entry:


On All Souls’ Eve, both children and grown-up people go from door to door, a-souling, i.e., begging for soul cakes, or anything else they can get. In some districts they perform a kind of play as well, but in all instances the following, or a similar song, is sung : —

” You gentlemen of England, pray you now draw near
To these few lines, and you soon shall hear
Sweet melody of music all on this evening clear,
Foe we are come a-souling for apples and strong beer.

Step down into your cellar, and see what you can find,
If jour barrels are not empty, we hope you will prove kind ;
We hope you will prove kind with your apples and strong beer.
We’ll come no more a-souling until another year.

Cold winter it is coming on, dark, dirty, wet and cold,
To try your good nature, this night we do make bold :
This night we do make bold with your apples and strong beer.
And we’ll come no more a-souling until another year.

All the houses that we’ve been at, we’re had both meat and drink,
So now we’re dry with travelling, we hope you’ll on us think;
We hope you’ll on nu think with your applea and strong beer,
For we’ll oome no more a-souling until another year.

God bless the master of this house, and the mistress also.
And all the little children that round thee table go ;
Likewise yonr men and maidens, your cattle and your store.
And all that lives within your gates we wish you ten times more ;
We wish you ten times more with your apples and strong beer,
And we’ll come no more a-souling until another year.”

Jour. of the Arch. Assoc. 1850, vol. v. p. 252

A little later on, we also get an entry for Salop:


In this county the inhabitants set on a board a high heap of small cakes, called soul-cakes, of which they offer one to every person who comes to the house on this day, and there is an old rhyme, which seems to have been sung by the family and guests:

” A soul-cake, a soul-cake ; Have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul-cake.” Kennet’s’ Collections MS. Bibl. Lansdowne, No. 1039, Vol. 105, p. 12.

The same custom is mentioned, and with very little variation,by Aubrey in the Remains of Gentilisme ; See N. & Q. 4th S. vol. x. pp. 409, 525.

And for the Principality:


The people of North Wales have a custom of distributing soul-cakes on All Souls’ Day, at the receiving of which the poor people pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat. — Pennant.

In the July 15th, 1893, edition of Notes & Queries, Vol 4 Iss 81 (8th S. IV), p49, the tradition referred to here as soul-caking is recalled from recent memory:

“Soul-caking.” A few years ago when living in Cheshire, the youths used to dress up (some in women’s clothes) and go to houses on All Saint’s Day. It was called “soul-caking”. Was this custom the survival of a religious play ; or the asking of alms for masses for the dead, to be said on All Souls’ Day’? Very little notice was taken of Nov. 5 in that part.

Wingeham. Kent.

A follow up in Notes & Queries of August 5th, 1893, Vol 4 Iss 84 (8th S. IV), p117, almost reads as if it were an attempt at product placement!

In Austria “Halloween cakes” are still eaten on November 1; but to my knowledge there is no special custom in connexion with them. A specimen may no doubt be procured in London at either the Vienna Café in New Oxford Street, or at an Austrian confectioner’s shop towards the Shepherd’s Bush end of High Street, Notting Hill. The name of the cake is “Heiligen Stritz’l.”
L. L. K.

Back in Chester, a couple of souling songs, with music can be found in the Journal of the Architectural, Archaeological and Historic Society for the County and the City of Chester and North Wales, pp.74-5 Vol. VI, Part I, 1897.

A few years earlier, related traditions had also been described in Yorkshire, as this note in Notes & Queries Vol 3 Iss 78, p602, of June 26th, 1869 describes:


(4th S. iii 505.)

Griddle is not gridiron, but is a circular plate of iron (or a broad and shallow pan) made on purpose for baking cakes. It is derived from |It is derived from Welsh greidell*, from greidiaw, to heat or scorch. Gridiron is derived from Swedish-Gothic grädda, to bake and iron. The griddle-cake mentioned by your correspondent as being made on All-hallows Eve is, I suppose, the same as the soul-cake. …

At Ripon, in Yorkshire, the women make a cake on the Eve for every one in the family, and it is called “cake-night.” A soul-mass cake was often kept for good luck. Mr. Young, in his History of Whitby, says: “A lady in Whitby has a soul-mass loaf one hundred years old.” Hunter, in his Hallamshire Glossary, says that the custom of making a peculiar kind of cake on this day is recognised in a deposition of the year 1574, given in Watson’s History of the House of Warren (i, 217), wherein the party deposes that his mother knew a certain castle of the Earl of Warren’s, having when a child, according to the custom of that country, gathered soul-cakes there on All Souls’ Day.

John PIGGOTT, F.S.A. Ulting Maldon.

Souling Tradition in Salop (Shropshire)#

From several of the sources thus far included, the existence of various traditions relating to souling and soul cakes in Shropshire appears well attested to.

In 1872, Askew Roberts, editor of the Bye-Gones “hyperlocal” version of Notes & Queries published via the Oswestry Advertizer (Oswestry being a Shropshire town a few miles North-West of Shreswbury) appears to have contributed a further note on the topic to Notes & Queries Vol 10 Iss 256, p409, published November 23rd, 1872. His note was perhaps inspired by the question to Bye-Gones of October 20th, 1872, (p98) on the question of All Saints’ Eve customs in which “Cynog”, the questioner, asked: I should very much like to see, in Bye-gones, an account of the manner in which the festival is kept this year of grace, 1872, in the Borders of Wales.

Hallow E’en at Oswestry.—

I don’t think Brand, Hone, or Chambers says anything of a custom that still prevails on the borders of Wales on the eve of All Saints. Numerous parties of children go round the houses, singing at the doors songs, of which the following are popular samples :—

“Wissel wassel, bread and possel,
An apple or a pair, a plum or a cherry,
Or any good thing to make us merry.
One for Peter, and two for Paul,
And three for the good man that made us all.”

What the first line means perhaps some en- lightened reader will say. In some cases the verse is followed with—

“Go down in your cellar and fetch us some beer,
And we won’t come again until next year.”

And generally we hear a further application :—

“The streets are very dirty,
My shoes are very thin ;
I’ve got a little pocket To put a penny in.”

In all cases the finale is—

“God bless the master of this house,
God bless the mistress too,
And all the little ladies,
Around the table too.”

The singing ended, there comes a thundering rap at the door, and you are greeted with “Pleas to giv’ us a penny.” To my knowledge this has been a custom in Oswestry for forty years, and I hear little voices at my door as I write.

A. R. Croeswylan, Oswestry

He followed this note up a few weeks later, in Notes & Queries Vol 10 Iss 261 (4th S. X), p525, with a more extensive quote of the verse discovered via the note in Bye-Gones dated December 11, 1872, (p108-9), from “Jarco”, that we have met already:

Hallow E’en at Oswestry (4th S. x. 409.)—

I was unable to supply the full text of the doggrel sung on the borders of Wales on All Saints’ Eve when I wrote, but it has since been supplied to the “Bye-gones” column of the Oswestry Advertiser, as follows :—

“Wissel wassel, bread and possel,
Cwrw da, plas yma:
Apple or a pear, plum or a cherry,
Any good thing that would make us merry.

Go down to your cellar, and draw some beer,
And we won’t come here till next year.

Sol cakes, sol cakes,
I pray you good missis, a sol cake ;
One for Peter, and two for Paul,
And three for the man that made us all.

God bless the master of this house,
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children,
Around the table too.
Their pockets lined with silver,
Their barrels filled with beer,
Their pantry full of pork pies,
I wish I had some here.

The roads are very dirty,
My shoes are very thin,
I’ve got a little pocket,
To put a penny in.
Up with the kettle, and down with the pan,
Give us an answer, and we’ll be gone.”

Roberts then makes a note regarding some an apparent cross-over with Christmas carolling traditions:

It would appear from this as if we had yet Christmas Carols mixed up with our Hallow E’en ditties. Ritson gives

“God bless the master of this house,
The mistress also,
And all the little children That round the table go,”

as a Christmas carol of the time of James I., and some of the other lines remind one of the carols that made their appearance after the Restoration.

A. R.
Croeswylan, Oswestry.

Almost twenty five years later, at the start of the decade before the opening years of the twentieth century, another correspondent to Bye-Gones, in the edition dated November 13th, 1895, p215, recorded their experience of song they’d heard in Oswestry just a few days earlier, on that years All Hallows’ Eve:


It may be well to place on record the exact words now sung on All Hallows’ Eve at Oswestry. They were taken down at my door last All Hallows’ Eve. The boys who sang, asked where they learnt the words, seemed to think it a curious question: the words had come to them, probably, among their earliest impressions:—

Wissil wassal, bread and possal,
Apple or a pear, plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
The roads are very dirty,
My shoes are very thin,
I’ve got a little pocket To put a penny in.
If you haven’t got a penny,
A ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny,
God bless you !
Sol cake ! sol cake !
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the man that made us all.


Recalling Askew Roberts’ comments regarding Christmas carols, a note in the December, 1887 edition of Cymru fu, p49, records a soul cake rhyme that is actually presented as a Christmas carol:


The Yule log is still considered indispensable ín some of the old Salopian mansions, but the custom is fast dying away. Supper on Christmas Eve consists principally of pork pies, hot beer, mincedpies and spiced elderberry wîne, hot also. The children sing a very old ditty which runs :—

Soul, a soul, a soul cake,
An apple or a pear; A plum or a cherry
Any good thing that Will make us merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the One Who made us all.

Another old Salopian Christmas Eve custom was after every infirm person in the village had been made the recipient of some good things from the farm for the morrow, every animal had been given an extra supply of food, and the servants had the yule log on the hearth in full blaze, for the head of the household to steal quietly out with a ” feed,” or the quantum of oats usually given to the horses, which he would place on the highest building in the yard, so that even the birds of the air might have a bountiful supply on the mor- row. This custom was specially observed was the winter a severe one and were berries scarce.

Returning to Hallowe’en traditions, a note in Bye-Gones of March 25th, 1891, p53, describes a custom from the mid-1880s in Corwen, North Wales, 20 miles or so North West of Oswestry, on the other side of the English-Wales border:


I am informed by a native of Corwen (Mr Win. Owen, now of Dinas Mawddwy) that it was the custom at Corwen about thirty-five years ago for women and children to go from house to house on All Saints’ Day (November 1) to collect cakes called ” Solod.” The custom was called ” Hel Solod.” The cake was generally made of barley-flour, without any addition of more appetising ingredients than salt and water ; and it was about one inch thick, and four inches in diameter.

The author seems ot be of the opinion that the souling tradition continues to occur in Shropshire, although this may be based on readings from elsewhere rather than direct experience or hearsay:

Souling, I am told, still prevails in Shropshire, where contributions are solicited by singing the following doggerel:—

Soul! Soul! for a soul-cake ;
Pray, good mistress, for a soul-cake.
One for Peter, and two for Paul,
Three for them who made us all.

Soul ! Soul ! for an apple or two ;
If you’ve got no apples, pears will do.
Up with your kettle, and down with your pan,
Give me a good big one, and I’ll be gone.

Soul! Soul! for a soul cake, etc.
An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry,
Is a very good thing to make us merry.
—(The Leisure Hour, 1876, p. 730).

The correspondent then suggests an explanation behind the term “Solod”:

The lines, I think, will throw some light on the Corwen custom; and I would suggest that ” Solod ” is a corruption of soul with the Welsh termination- od=Soul-od. Mr Owen does not know whether the custom still survives at Corwen. But he mentioned that apples, bread and cheese, or any other articles, of diet, were given at those houses where cake had not been prepared, or had been distributed. The supplicatory doggerel at Corwen was much shorter than the English one : —

Dydd da i chwi heddyw,
Welwch chwi ‘n dda ga’ i dipyn bach o fwyd cenedl y meirw ?—Amen.

Cenedl y meirw ” they said ; whatever that may mean. May it not be a corruption of ” Dy’ gwyl y Meirw ?”

The quotation from The Leisure Hour is actually just a fragment from a longer article in the edition of November 11th 1876, Vol 25 Iss 1298, p730, of which the following is also an extract:




NOVEMBER is the gloomiest month of the year, and in our climate generally bears the worst character ; for, in addition to the prevalence of fogs —those solid-looking compounds of moisture—the days are short and dreary, the sky is nearly always overhung with a dark mantle of heavy leaden clouds, and torrents of cold rain often prevail for several days together, not unfrequently combined with a succession of high winds. On this account our Saxon ancestors named the month Wintmonath, that is, Wind-month, Wint being the Saxon word for wind; and Verstegan tells us that it was the custom for sailors to abandon their seafaring life, and to remain at home until more genial and favourable weather enticed them forth again. It was also called Blot-monath— i.e., Blood-month, because the cattle which were now killed in abundance for winter store were dedicated to their gods; or, what seems more probable yet, says Soane, from the quantity of blood that was shed at this season in the slaughter of so many animals.

The 1st day of November was dedicated, we learn from Vallancey, to the angel presiding over fruits, seeds, etc., and was therefore named La Mas Ubhal— that is, the day of the apple fruit; and being pronounced Lamasool, the name has been corrupted to Lambswool, a name given to a composition made on Allhallows Eve of roasted apples, sugar, and ale.

All Saints’ Day (1st November) is the festival of those saints to whom, on account of their numbers, particular days could not be allotted in their individual honour. It was formerly observed, as well as its vigil, by a feast, of which apples, nuts, and lambswool were deemed indispensable ingredients. A custom called souling is still practised in some places. In Shropshire, [“Notes and Queries,” 1st Series, vol. iv. p. 381. ] we learn it is customary for the village children to go round to all their neighbours, collecting contributions, at the same time singing the following doggerel :—

“Soul! soul! for a soul-cake ;
Pray, good mistress, for a soul-cake.
One for Peter, and two for Paul,
Three for them who made us all.

Soul! soul! for an apple or two ;
If you’ve got no apples, pears will do.
Up with your kettle, and down with your pan,
Give me a good big one, and I’ll be gone.
Soul! soul! for a soul-cake, etc.

An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry,
Is a very good thing to make us merry.”

The soul-cake referred to is a kind of bun, which at one time it was an almost universal custom for persons to make, to give to one another on this day. Formerly, at Great Marton, in Lancashire, there was a sort of procession of young people from house to house, at each of which they recited or sang psalms, and in return received presents of cakes, whence the custom usually went by the name of “Psalm-caking.” Among the ancient Welsh this day was considered as the conclusion of summer, and was celebrated with bonfires, accompanied with various merry-makings thought suitable to the occasion. In Ireland it is customary to place lighted candles in the windows of houses on the evening of this day, and a correspondent of “Notes and Queries” (3rd Series, vol. i. p. 446) tells us that when travelling along a country road where farmhouses and cottages are numerous, the effect is quite picturesque on a dark November night.

The Notes & Queries reference is to Vol 1 Iss 23, dated June 7th, 1862, in a note on Curious Customs in the County of Wexford. The exact quotes is:

They had a custom (I suppose they have it still), of lighting candles (more or less) in every window in the house, on the night of the Vigil of All Souls, and when travelling along a country road, where farm-houses and cottages were plenty, the effect was quite picturesque of a dark November eve.

Returning to the article in The Leisure Hour:

All Souls’ Day (November 2nd) is a festival set apart by the Roman Catholic Church for the repose of the dead. Formerly, persons on this anniversary dressed in black went round the different towns, ringing a loud and dismal-toned bell at the corner of every street, at the same time calling upon the inhabitants to remember the souls of the deceased who were suffering penance in purgatory, and to join in prayers for their repose. Brand tells us that it was in days gone by usual for the wealthy people in Herefordshire and Lancashire to dispense oaten cakes, called Soul-mass cakes, to the poor, who, upon receiving them, repeated the following couplet in acknowledgement :—

“God have your soul,
Beens and all.”

In Scotland, too, in the county of Aberdeen, we learn that baked cakes, called “Dirge-loaf,” are given away on All Souls’ Day to those who may chance to visit the house where they are made.

Further into North Wales, on the road to Dolgellau, in south eath-east Gwynedd, lays the village of Dinas Mawddwy, which also had, during the 1850s, an All Saints’ Day tradition involving a food offering, albeit this time of bread and cheese:

I may also mention that it was customary at Dinas Mawddwy forty years ago, if not later, for children to go about on All Saints’ Day to collect bread and cheese, which custom they called ” Bara ‘chawsa.” They used to ask for it in the following form :—

Bara ‘chawsa, bara ‘chawsa,
Os ca’ i beth, mi neidia ;
Os na cha’ i ddim, mi beidia.

But it does not appear that the Dinas Mawddwy boys were so vulgar as to make use of rude remarks, or to mark the doors with chalk, in case of refusal, as I am told their contemporaries at Corwen used to do.

Glyn Trefnant.

All Saints’ and All Souls’ Traditions Shropshire, Revisited#

Finally, we have a rather long excerpt from Shropshire folk-lore, edited by C.S. Burne, “from the collections of G.F. Jackson”, by Georgina Frederica Jackson”*, 1885, pp. 378-90, on a variety of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day festivals.

It opens ith a general introduction to the feast days:


“Upon an ocean vast and dark
The spirits of the dead embark

All voyaging to unknown coasts.
Wo wave our farewells from the shore,
And they depart, and come no more,
Or come as phantoms and as ghosts.

” You shall attend me, when I call,
To the ancestral banquet-hall.
Unseen companions, guests of air.
You cannot wait on, will be there.”
Longfellow, The Golden Legend.

“Earth knows not yet, the Dead has won
That crown which was his aim.

So day by day for him from earth ascends,
As steam in summer even,
The speechless intercession of his friends
Towards the azure heaven.”
Newman, Lyra Apostolica, clxxvi.

It was a common practice of heathen nations to hold a yearly feast in honour of the dead. The Romans celebrated it in May, but other nations more appropriately fixed it at the beginning of the dark days of winter, when the falling leaves and dying year seem in themselves to suggest thoughts of death and momones of the past. Thus the Fathers of the Church did but consecrate an already familiar custom when they instituted the Christian festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. The first hint of honour paid to the saints collectively occurs in the Western Church [The festival had already even then been estahlished in the Eastern Church on the day on which it is still observed there, namely, the octave of Pentecost, our modem Trinity Sunday. ] in the consecration of the Pantheon at Kome on the 12th May, 610, from being a temple of all the gods, to be a church dedicated to St. Mary and All Martyrs. In the first half of the eighth century Pope Gregory II. instituted the observance of All Saints’ Day on the first of November, but it stood alone for more than a hundred years. It was not till a.d. 998 that Odilo, Abbot of Clugny, began to offer mass on the day after All Saints’ for the souls of all the departed without exception ; and from this charitable practice of the monks of Clugny arose the festival of All Souls’, still piously observed in Romanist countries. [Alt, Das Kirchenjahr, p. 79.]

That superstitions should also attach to festivals was to be expected:

Just as we should expect, we find that, beautifully as the ancient Feast of the Dead had been consecrated to Christian purposes, popular non-religious customs still cling around it, and on examination these all appear to hinge on the idea that at this time the spirits of the dead were abroad and revisited their former haunts. Thus, as every reader of Burns knows, ‘Hallow e’en,’ or the Eve of All Saints, was the best possible time for prying into futurity and learning those secrets which dwellers in the other world alone could reveal. The material feast of the day haply once consisted of food and drink set out for the use of the dead, but— after the manner of such offerings from the time of Bel and the Dragon onwards — presently consumed by the living. The bonfires still so religiously lighted in the Scottish Highlands and other places, were probably in the beginning charitably meant to give light and warmth to the poor shivering souls wandering in the cold dark night [Compare for instance the following practices preserved by modern Christian nations. 'In Tyrol, the poor souls released from purgatory fire for the night may come and smear their burns with the melted fat of the "soul-light " on the hearth, or cakes are left for them on the table, and the room is kept warm for their comfort. Even in Paris the souls of the departed come to partake of the food of the living. In Brittany the crowd pours into the churchyard at evening, to kneel bareheaded at the gravoB of the dead kinsfolk, to fill the hollow of the tombstone with holy water, or to pour libations of milk upon it. All night the church bells clang, and sometimes a solemn procession of the clergy goes round to bless the graves. In no household that night is the cloth remoyed, for the supper must be left for the souls to come and take their part, nor must the fire be put out, where they will come to warm themselves. And at last, as the inmates retire to rest, there is heard at the door a doleful chant it is the souls, who, borrowing the voices of the parish poor, have come to ask the prayers of the living.' Tylor, *Primitive Culture*, VoL II. p. 88. (See the whole passage, pp. 30-43, and compare Vol. I. p. 484, note, on savage customs of lighting fires for the use of ghosts. ) It will be seen that I follow authority in the statement made in the text : but inasmuch as bonfires and feasting were also customary at May, Midsummer, and Midwinter (the Yule-fire on the hearth), it seems to me that there is some ground for supposing the Feast of the Dead to have been engrafted, in pre-Christian times, on a more primitive November feast, held simply to celebrate the beginning of Winter, and corresponding to the May feast which celebrated the beginning of Summer. Old-fashioned folk, within my own knowledge, still reckon November, December, and January, as the three winter months : the ' winter quarter ' as the sexton's wife at Much Wenlock called them, speaking of the curfew, which is rung there from the 17th October (the old fair-day) to the 1st February. At Prees too the curfew begins six weeks before and ends six weeks after Christmas : i. e. from November to Candlemas. (*Byegones* for 1882, p. 149.) Country churchwardens do not allow fires to be lighted in the church before the 1st of November. Compare the account (Brand, *Antiquities*, I. 219) of the All Hallows' Eve ceremony at St. John's College, Oxford, in 1607, when a fire (evidently the first of the season) was lighted in the hall, and the whole company of students met together '*to beginne their Christmas*'. Anticipatory allusions to Christmas occur in several of our All Saints' Day ditties. By this reckoning Christmas is literally Midwinter, which season is supposed to end at Candlemas, when the Christmas decorations are taken down. Compare the dance ' round about our coal-fire,' anciently performed by the judges and benchers of the Inns of Court on Candlemas Day. The next three months form the spring quarter (compare Canting-quarter in Shropshire Word-Book), and on the 1st of May summer begins. Old custom accorded to outgoing farm-tenants whose tenure expired at Lady Day, the right of Boosey- pasture (see *Word-Book*) till the 1st of May ; i. e, the right to pasture cattle in the meadows, which at May Day must be 'drawn,' i.e, must have the cattle withdrawn from them for haymaking. (Nowadays farmers generally ' put up'  their meadows for hay at a much earlier date.) On May Day, too, the cattle began to ' lie out ' at night, and on the 1st of November they began to ' lie up ' again. Half-yearly payments were sometimes made on May 1st and November Ist : thus, the barber engaged to shave the old men in the Hospital at Clun (an almshouse founded in 1614) is directed to be paid on the feast of All Sainto and the feast of SS. Philip and Jacob respectively : entering on his duties no doubt on  the latter day like the servants, of whom we shall say more in chap. xxxi. ]

In many traditions, Hallowe’en is an auspicious time for divination, or “fortune telling”:

Of the first class of ‘ Hallantid ‘ [Hallantid (Pulverbateh), Alhalontid (Worthen) ; see *Word-Book*,] customs — viz. practising divinations on All Saints’ Eve — I have met with but few examples in Shropshire. One, known to have been actually tried, has been already noticed (ante p. 176). Another method is, to stand before a looking-glass, combing your hair with one hand and eating an apple held in the other, when the face of the man you are to marry will be seen in the glass looking over your left shoulder. [The West Shropshire maid who mentioned this to our informant said it should be practised on St, Thomas's Eve. (Mr. Henderson says— Northern Counties p. 326 that in county Durham, St. Thomas's Eve is the special season for ghosts.) The latter, however— herself a Shropshire woman assigned it, like Burns, to *All Saints*' Eve. The apples begged, as we shall see, for the feast, would naturally be used in the magic rites of the season. ]

Whilst fortune-telling is perhaps no a major feature of Salopian Hallowe’en tradition, other elements, as we have already seen, certainly are:

Traces of the material feast itself, however, survive in North Shropshire perhaps more fully than in any part of England, except, it may be, Cheshire and North-west Staffordshire. With us. All Saints’ Day is known as ‘ Souling Day,’ and up to the present time in many places, poor children, and sometimes men, go out ‘ souling : ‘ which means that they go round to the houses of all the more well-to-do people within reach, reciting a ‘ ditty ‘ peculiar to the day, and looking for a dole of cakes, broken victuals, ale, apples, or money. The two latter are now the usual rewards, but there are few old North Salopians who cannot remember when * soul-cakes ‘ were made at all the farms and ‘ bettermost ‘ houses in readiness for the day, and were given to all who came for them. We are told of liberal housewives who would provide as many as a clothes-basket full.

There is then a footnote describing other, related traditions elsewhere:

[The following notices of the use of cakes at Hallowmas occur in Brand, Antiquities, Vol II. p. 219 et seq, The Irish peasantry used to feast on griddle-cakes at Allhallows, and the people of St Kilda in the Hebrides used to bake a large triangular cake on All Saints’ Day, which must all be eaten the same night. At Ripon, All Saints’ Eve is called Cake Night, and a cake is baked in each household for every member of the family. In Cleveland the bakers send their customers ‘ Saumas loaves ‘ (= soul-mass loaves), which are kept in the house for good luck. In Warwickshire, seed-cakes used to be eaten at Allhallows, and in Northants they were sent as presents and called ‘ soul-cakes.’ In North Wales, in Pennant’s time, the poor people to whom soul-cakes were given prayed God to bless the next crop of wheat. Tusser says ( Works, E. D. S., p. 223),

‘Whatever it cost thee, whatever thou geve,
haue done sowing wheat before halowmas eve.’

And at the end of wheat-sowing, it was customary in the Eastern Counties to give the ploughman a feast of seed-cakes, pasties, and furmety (Ibid. p. 181). ]

Back in Shropshire, an observation we met previously in Notes & Queries from 1878:

It is remembered that the last person who kept up the old custom of giving soul-cakes at Pulverbatch was Mrs. Mary Ward (born Jaundrell), who died a centenarian in 1853. [*Remains of Gentilisme and Judaisme* (ed. F. L. S. ), p. 23. ]

F. L. S. is the Folk Lore Society, on behalf of whom the book was published. The page reference is the entries on Soule cakes etc., so this is perhaps a referencing error.

I am told that they were made and sold in the village of Welshampton up to 1870, or later. But the late Mrs. Gill of Hopton, near Hodnet, had soul-cakes made in her house to give away to the souling-children every year up to the time of her death in 1884. They were flat round (or sometimes oval) cakes — or rather ‘buns,’ a word seldom or never used by the Salopian peasantry — made of very light dough, spiced and sweetened. [I append the ' receipt,' kindly given me by her family : ' 3lbs. Flour, 1/4lb. Butter (or 1/2b. if the cakes are to be extra rich), 1/2lb. Sugar, 2 spoonfuls of Yeast, 2 Eggs, Allspice to taste, and sufficient new milk to make it into a light paste. Put the mixture (without the sugar or spice) to rise before the fire for half an hour, then add the sugar, and allspice enough to flavour it well : make into rather flat buns, and bake.' ] This is perhaps the last survival of a Shropshire custom which attracted the notice of observers so far back as the seventeenth century, when Aubrey wrote : ‘ In Salop, &c., die oium Animarum (All Soules’-day, Novemb. 2d), there is sett on the Board a high heap of Soule-cakes, lyeing one upon another like the picture of the Sew-Bread in the old Bibles. They are about the bignesse of 2d cakes, and n’ly all the visitants that day take one ; and there is an old Rhythm or saying,

” A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake,
Have mercy on all Christen soules for a soule-cake.” [Remains of Gentilisme and Judaisme (ed. F. L. S. ), p. 23.]

The ‘ rhythm ‘ has lost its religious form since Aubrey’s time.

The author then goes on to provide a wide collection of souling rhymes:

I have obtained versions of souling ditties from the following places :

Edgmond, Newport, Hodnet, Market Drayton, Ellesmere, Welshampton, Whittington, Oswestiy, tVestfelton, Kinnerley, Baschurch, Rodington, Pulverbatch, Berrington, and Wellington. [The version quoted from *Notes and Queries* in Hazlitt's *Brand* (I. 220), comes, I feel sure, from Hordley. The curious will find my collection in the volume of *Shreds and Patches* for 1885. ] They all vary more or less from each other, but on the whole the Market Drayton version seems the purest and oldest :

‘ Soul t soul a for a Soul-cake !
I pray, good missis, a soul-cake !
An apple or pear, a plnm or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him ['The man,' Whittington and Oswestry; 'Them,' Staffordshire. 'The  little lad under the wall,' Westfelton. ] who made us all.
Up with the kettle, and down with the pan, [In Worcestershire (where begging for apples and beer was practised on St Katherine's Day, November 25th, and called Catherning) the line runs 'Up with the ladder, and down with the can.' The ' ladder ' is to be raised to the apple-loft, and the ' can ' taken down to the cellar for beer. This explains our evidently corrupted version. ]
Give us good alms, and we’ll be gone.’

For ‘ good alms ‘ most of the other versions read * an answer ‘ : [A hontle ' (handful), Berrington: ' a big un,' Edgmond.] for example, the WeLshampton version, which shows the point of the last couplet It runs :

‘Soul! a soul;
An apple or pear or plum or cherry
Is a very good thing to make us merry.
I pray you, good missis, a soul-cake ! ‘

Here they pause, and if no notice is taken of them, they peep through the keyhole, crying out :

‘ Soul, soul ! a lump of coal !
I am peeping through the key-hole !
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Give us an answer, and we’ll be gone. ‘

Another distinct variant is the version now in use at Edgmond ; the one relating to the cakes, though still remembered, having been laid aside with the habit of making them. The italics show the way in which the rhyme is recited on two notes, F and E, the words in italics marking the lower note.

‘ Soul, soul ! for a apple or two.
If yeVe got no apples, pears’ll do.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
An’ three for Him, as made us all,
Up wi’ the kettle, an’ down wi’ the pan.
Give us a big un, and we’ll be gone.’

And, like the Lark at Cock Robin’s wedding, ‘ when ‘ they ‘ got unto the end, then ‘ they ‘ began again ; ‘ without an instant’s pause, over and over untiringly and monotonously chanting their ditty, until some answer is received. Shakspeare must have had the sound of this lugubrious sing-song fresh in his ears when he made Speed reckon among the ‘ special marks ‘ of a man in love, that he had learnt ‘ to speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas.’ [*The Gentlemen qf Verona*, Act II. Sc. I ]

The other twelve versions of the souling rhymes which I have before me, vary between the two main types already given …

Several other examples are then given, but we might note with interest the following one in particular:

‘I hope you’ll prove kind with your ale and strong beer.
And well come no more a-souling till this time next year.’ (Market Drayton.)

Note that these are referred to as “carols”:

Much of the substance of these carols reappears in the Edgmond Men’s Souling Song, taken down in November 1863, from the recitation of William Porter of Edgmond, then aged thirty-nine, who said that he and his fellow-labourers had ‘remembered it and put it together’ to sing at their master’s door some ten or twelve years before. ‘They maden it, they maden it the’rsels/ said his wife, anxious to magnify his talents. ‘ Naw, naw, it’s a vera owd sung,’ said the husband ; and so it evidently is, though ‘ re-edited,’ in fact, by the joint skill of the party. The tune cannot now be recovered, …

‘ There’s two or three hearty lads standing hard by,
We are come a-soulmg, good nature to try,
We are come a-souling, as well doth appear.
And all that we soul for is ale and strong beer. [The Rev. W. T. Kenyon, Rector of Malpas, Cheshire, wrote to the Chester Courant on All Saints' Day, 1880, that he had just heard ' three middle-aged men with a concertina, singing a really sweet chaunt ' with words to the effect that 'all that they soul for is ale and strong beer.' ]

‘ The streets they are gotten dark, dirty, and cold.
We are come a-souling, this night we’ll make bold,
We are come a-souUng, as well doth appear.
And all that we soul for is ale and strong beer.

‘Abroad in your meadows, alone in your streets,
If this be a good house, we shall have some relief, [I have been told by a middle-aged woman from Haughton, Staffordshire, on the authority of her mother, that souling parties were wont to go away shouting 'A good house,' or 'A bad house,' according to the treatment they had received. This explains the next verse also. ]
If this be a good house, as well doth appear.
And all that we soul for is ale and strong beer.

‘Look out for your cellar-key, your cellar-key, good dame,
By walking and talking you shall get a good name, [That is, the fame of her liberality would be spread by her strolling visitors. This line occurs in the souling ditty used at Overton in Flintshire. See *Salopian Shreds and Patches*, 26th December, 1888. Other isolated lines of this song are inserted in the ditties used both there and at Oswestry. See *Byegone* of 11th December, 1872. ]
By walking and talking we’ve got very dry,
So I hope my good missis will not its deny.

‘ Go down into your cellar, and there you shall find
Both ale, beer, and brandy, and tlie bast of all wine ;
And when you are drawing, don’t let your heart fail,
But bring us one jug of your bonny [This is the only instance in which / have ever heard the word *bonny* used in Shropshire. But see Shropshire *Word-Book*, s. v.]] brown ale.

‘ I pray, my good missis, don’t tarry to spin.
Look for a jug to draw some drink in.
And when we have got it, then you shall see,
And when we have drunk it, how merry we’ll be !

‘ Now Christmas is coming, it brings us good cheer,
And when it is over, it’s never the near ! ` Returning you thanks for your ale and strong beer,
And we’ll come no more a-souling till this time next year. ‘

The following footnote explains the sense of “near”:

‘Near… Now used as a positive, but orig. the comparative of nigh. (The form nearer is a double comparative.) M.E. nerre, adj., ner, adv., nigher ; AS. neár, comparative adv. from neáh, nigh.’ Skeat, Concise Etym. Dictionary.

`Though ye wolde gyve a thousande more
Yet were ye never the nere.
A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode.

‘Bounce, buckram, velvet’s dear !
Christmas comes but once a year,
And when it comes it brings good cheer.
But when it’s gone it’s never the near.Mummers’ Play, quoted in Brand’s Antiquities I. 268, note 2.

At Newport the children have introduced these lines into the souling ditty, corrupting the first (which of course alludes to the mock finery of the players) into,

‘ A bouncing buck and a velvet chair ! ! ‘

Back in the main text, the author suggests what the collection of apples and ale might have presaged:

The object for which the apples and ale were demanded was beyond doubt to make a ‘ wassail bowl ‘ of ‘ lambswool’ or hot spiced ale with toast and roasted apples in it, such as the ‘ gossip’s bowl,’ in which Puck lurked ‘ in humble likeness of a roasted crab.’ Accordingly, at Oswestry, the children (who have, as there might easily happen, imported a few words of Welsh into their ditty), sometimes begin it with the couplet,

‘ Wissal, wassal, bread and possal, Crw da, plâs yma.’ [*Crw day plâs yma* good ale [in] this Place. Place = mansion ; cf. the 'New Place' at Stratford-on-Avon. This rhyme given in full in *Byegones*, 11th December, 1872 completes our list of variants of the Souling ditty. ]

Notably, perhaps, the author (or editor?) also remarks on the similiarity between the souling gifts and funeral offerings, as well as their roles as doles offered to the poor in exchange for prayers for the dead:

The dole of cakes and ale (the same gifts, be it observed, which were formerly bestowed at funerals) would furnish the poor with the materials for keeping the feast, in return for which they would of course be bound to pray at the All Souls’ Day mass next morning for the souls of their benefactors’ kindred in Purgatory. Like the funeral dole, the All Saints’ Day alms would be bestowed to purchase prayers for the dead.

Finally, the waning in popularity of the souling traditions is mentioned, with compulsory schooling suggested as one of the possible reasons for its decline:

I do not know whether men be grown virtuous in these latter days, but certain it is that there are ‘no more cakes and ale.’ Even the begging for apples is very much on the decline. At Berrington it was completely gme in 1869. In 1872, Bishop How wrote that it had ‘ all but died out ‘ at Whittington, though it was in full force when he first went there in 1851. The stringent enforcement of attendance at school consequent on the passing of the Education Act of 1870, gave a severe check to it at Edgmond, and must have had somewhat the same effect in other places. Only the ‘little idle rascals ‘ now, have leisure to observe the traditions of their fathers.