Bunbury Wakes

These were rumbustious affairs. For example, on 21 September 1618 a certain John Bolland was indicted at Chester for being blasphemous, drunk, a vagrant, and for striking a constable at Bunbury Wakes at St Jamestide (25 July). Another example can be found in Providence Improved, a diary of local events, written by the Rev Edward Burghall, the Puritan schoolmaster of Bunbury Aldersey Grammar School from 1633-46, and later Vicar of Acton from 1646-62. In 1635, Burghall recorded:

"A multitude of people being set under the Church Yard Wall, at the south side of the Church in Bunbury, at the time of their Wakes, to see a Bearbait, the wall suddenly fell down upon them, yet they were not hurt. They had the same disorder the year following and there happened the same disaster, and the same deliverance. Oh! the great patience of almighty God."

Doubtless the Bunbury Wakes were discontinued during the Civil War and re-started again after the Restoration, to continue up to the present century. A fictitious account of the Bunbury Wakes is to be found in Beatrice Tunstall's novel, The Shiny Night. On firmer ground the Chester Chronicle on 20 June 1776 stated:

"We are informed by a correspondent at Bunbury that, at their annual feast on Monday and Tuesday next, beside the usual entertainment on such occasions, there will be horse races and bull-baits. Much company is expected on account of the present agreeable mode of conveyance to Beeston Brook" (now called the Shropshire Union Canal).

From an advertisement for a Master of Ceremonies in 1808 it can be seen that there were many attractions at the Bunbury Wakes. The applicant

"should have a complete knowledge of pony and donkey racing, bag cock and peg racing, archery, singlestick, quoits, cricket, football, cocking, wrestling, bull and badger baiting, dog fighting, goose riding, bumble-puppy, etc. In addition to the above qualifications he must be competent to decide in dipping, mumbling, jawing, grinning, whistling, jumping, jingling, skinning, smoking, scaling, knotting, bobbing bowling, throwing, dancing, snuff-taking, singing, pudding eating, etc."

With such a list what could the two etceteras denote? Perhaps one ecetera was bear-baiting which continued, until made illegal in 1833. Locally, it is recorded that a bear by the name of Old Nell came to the Bunbury Wakes for 15 consecutive years, and when released, after her performance, would saunter off leisurely to sleep in the shippon at the Nag's Head. Not the present-day Nag's Head in the village centre but a hostelry situated not too far from the church. This fact indicates that the Bunbury Wakes were still held near the church, as in Burghall's time. Clearly they were accompanied by the provision of much ale and must have been memorable events -if one remained sober!

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