The custom of strewing the church floor with hay on the Sunday following the Feast of St Peter continues. The hay formerly came from a meadow on Cold Overton Road known as Bell Acre. Is this simply a custom which grew out of covering of the mud floors of churches with hay or rushes, or, does it have a more colourful origin? Some say it records that gratitude of a traveller cast away on a snowy night and saved by the sound of Langham Church bells. Here is one version of the story: A lady lived with her husband at Melton Mowbray, but the old home where she had been brought up was a few miles across the Rutland border. Her mother was dead, but her father, to whom she was much attached, lived in a stone cottage at Oakham. On fine summer days she would ride over to see him. One dark January night she worried because she had not seen her father since Christmas and knew he was not well. Her husband was away fighting for his country, and when a labourer called at her house he brought news that her father was ill. Rather than ride to Rutland she decided to go on foot. She asked Anna, her maid, to go with her, and they set out in their strongest boots and warmest cloaks for Oakham. But the snow began to fall and Anna felt nervous. Stopping still and bursting into tears, she said, “What will happen to us?” She feared they would be found dead in the snow and asked to go back. Her mistress felt pity for the girl but was secretly grieved that she had not more courage and enough loyalty to stand by her mistress. Yet she felt she must not be selfish, for the girl had come to help her. So, she sent the servant back and set forth on her own. At Leesthorpe Hill, she encountered deep drifts, so she could only trust she was on the right road. She turned towards Pickwell, where she had friends and hoped one of the men would go with her. But she could not see three yards before her. Had she but known it, she had passed Pickwell, and had reached the Belt, the line of trees marking the Leicestershire-Rutland border. Struggling into the Belt she found it sheltered from the wind and in some places there was hardly any snow. She was now very tired and moved from tree to tree until she found a hollow oak. Inside was a heap of dead leaves, and she sank down and slept a little. It was still night when she emerged, but she heard a sound so beautiful that she remembered it all her life. Loud and brave across the snow came the ringing of bells, and she set off in their direction. When they stopped she could see the lights in cottages, a village street, and people moving about. She entered the church, where the service had started and the altar was alight with candles. She spoke to the priest after the service, who said, “This is Langham, the church of St. Peter and St. Paul”. It was the Feast of St. Paul‘s conversion. Feeling she must do something to show her gratitude, she decided to give a piece of land to the church. The rent of it was to be paid to relieve the poor, and in honour of St. Peter, whose day was in June, the church should be strewn with hay for the Sunday after his feast. Then she hurried to Oakham, where her father was already recovering...
St Peter & St Paul Langham - Feast Week Hay Strewing - Photo Jim Levisohn
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Feast Week Hay Strewing
Langham Village History Group