Rugby mayor joins early risers for ancient Wroth Silver ceremony at Knightlow Cross
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11th November, before dawn. There's a small, oddly tapering, triangular field on the A45 near Stretton-on-Dunsmore.
At the edge of the field, just inside the hedge, mere yards away from the early morning traffic, something extraordinary is about to happen.
A group of people have gathered around a low mound. Torch beams swing about as folks look out for friends and neighbours.
It is a lovely clear morning, with a crescent moon and Venus, low and bright in the east and a frost forming on the grass. Some hardy souls were up at the Half Moon, Wolston for an early morning tipple of rum and hot milk by six am. Others have risked life and limb walking up the side of the road.
Many have travelled far to be here and to witness what is to follow. On the mound, we gather around a big, old, stone cross-base with a square cut hole in the top.
This is Wroth Silver, on record as an ongoing English ceremony in 1080 and most likely of Anglo-Saxon origin, making it much older. A form of land tax, no longer required of the parishes of what was once known as the Knightlow Hundred, enthusiasts have kept it going as a seasonal meet-up.
An ancient ritual of local distinctiveness. The marking of a special day.
Sam Rees, Land Agent of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, standing next to Councillor Maggie O'Rourke, the Mayor of Rugby, reads the Charter of Assembly. "Arley: a ha'penny, Astley: a ha'penny, Birdingbury: a ha'penny..."
So it begins.
As the name of each parish is called out someone steps up, throws coins into the stone and exclaims: "Wroth Silver!"
The whole thing being over rather quickly then off for a big breakfast at the pub!
This year, our host is Craig Newman of the Half Moon, Wolston who leads a toast to His Grace, the Duke. They are proud to have won pub of the year in the Coventry and Warwickshire Foodie awards this year.
All told, 60 breakfast tickets were sold; just what you need after getting up so early. We hear a report from Sam Rees about the Duke's Boughton Estate, a speech from Councillor Maggie O'Rourke, Rugby's Mayor and a history of the ceremony from William Waddilove.
Wroth Silver 2023 is a poignant occasion for those who have attended the ceremony many times due to the absence of Mr David Eadon, the main organiser of the event for many years. After having attended Wroth Silver 85 times, he has now withdrawn for reasons of age and health. We wish him well.
Our breakfast concludes with a poem written for the occasion by me in my tenth year as bard.
Then we all emerge, blinking, into winter sunlight, having participated in what is, in all accounts, the oldest continuous annual ceremony in Britain: Wroth Silver over for another year.