Rapper team gated !!
Obliged to attend church to atone for excessive drinking

Stone Monkey at the Gate to Southwell

The Gate to Southwell is a traditional Nottinghamshire event that dates back to the year 1109, when the Archbishop of York – Thomas of York – wrote to each of the parishes of Nottinghamshire, asking them to contribute to the building of a new mother church at Southwell.

This resolved a dispute as to whether the Notts. offerings should be given to York or Southwell. The offerings – the Southwell Pence – were brought to St. Mary's Southwell by an annual procession at Whitsuntide. The procession began at Nottingham and was headed by the mayor and corporation in their best ceremonial robes. Apparently, the mayor was allowed a certain discretion and sometimes did not come “because of a foulness of the way or distemperance of the weder” Behind the mayor came clergy who could use the occasion to get up to date with church business and ordinary people combining a pilgrimage with a holiday excursion.

We do not know precisely when the annual procession was ended, but it seems likely to have been in the 16th century, when the Reformation of the church, and especially the break with Rome, undermined the religious purpose of the procession. In the late 18th century, the annual church meeting, which used to be held in conjunction with the procession, was abolished. Even after the procession had long ceased to be held, the Chapter Clerk kept up the custom of attending in the North Porch of the Minster, where his predecessors had collected the Southwell Pence.

The Gate to Southwell is of particular interest to traditional dance enthusiasts because the Nottingham borough records show that in 1530 entertainment on the procession was provided by a team of morris dancers. They were rewarded for their efforts by payment from the borough for their bells, coats and the ale that the dancers “drank at all times.” ‘Gate’ is derived from the Scandinavian word ‘gata’ meaning ‘road.’

The tradition was revived in 1981 and, since that time, local dance teams have collected and carried the Southwell Pence each Whitsuntide. These days, the proceeds go to a worthwhile charity. The hardiest process the 13 miles [21 km] from Sneinton, on the outskirts of Nottingham, to Southwell, dancing at several of the villages along the route and taking a little light refreshment to sustain their pilgrimage along the way.

Those of a rapper persuasion, being somewhat anarchic, hire a minibus and dance in as many pubs as possible – ranging either side of the main route. Their refreshment is more substantial – more in keeping with the spirit of 1530!

The modern Gate still ends at St. Mary's with the presentation of the Pence, and the assembled dancers are invited into the church. One group is chosen to dance, and the assembly sings ‘Lord of the Dance.’ Finally a blessing is bestowed. Providing they have caught up with the proceedings, and received absolution for their wayward behaviour, the rapper dancers pull up their [striped] socks and adjourn with everyone else to the Bramley Apple for a free pint and a last dance. It has to be one of the best outings of the year!