It’s not often you come across a tradition that has taken place each year, without fail, for the last five hundred years. But we have one right here.
So, we say: “Happy 500th Birthday, Draycott Dole”…!
If you think the idea of the ‘dole’ started with the unemployment benefit given out by the welfare state – think again. In fact, a ‘dole’ originated as a regular gift of money or goods to the poor.
Which is how the Draycott Dole got under way.
William Draycott, who was rector at St Margaret’s Church here in the village at the time, left enough money in his will for a dole to be “yearly distributed in bread and herrings every Sunday in Lent” to the poor of the parish. (You can still see a copy of that will in the church).
William died in January 1512. Yes, exactly five hundred years ago.
No more herrings
His dole, now known as the Draycott Dole, is still given out to this day, though the ceremony has changed a bit down the years.
In the old days, the poor gathered at the church door for the food, but nowadays, people over the age of 65 are encouraged to sign up on a form to say if they wish to receive the dole. The form goes up in the church about two weeks beforehand.
Also, in the old days the food was given out on each Sunday in Lent. Today, the gift is given as a small sum of money (about £3) on just the one day, Mothering Sunday (two weeks before Easter).
I guess most people would prefer money to herrings these days anyway…
In fact (although they don’t have to) the recipients of the dole in these times usually immediately put the money back into the church collection plate.
The names of the recipients (and what they receive) are listed in a special notebook, the Draycott Dole Book.
The names go back hundreds of years; and you can see this old dole book when St Margaret’s is opened to the public on Heritage Weekend every September.
It’s a fascinating tradition, and it’s amazing that it has lasted so long. One of the trustees, Selwyn Edwards, told us that the amount left in the trust is now very small… but he has assured us that the tradition will go on!
So, see you in 2512 – for the 1000th birthday.
Links: Draycott Dole Charity / Short History of St Margaret’s Church
A fuller account of the history of the Draycott Dole can be found in Matthew Pointon’s book ‘A History of The Parish of Draycott-en-le-Moors‘. Copies are still available either at St Margaret’s Church or on application to the parish council clerk.