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The Tichborne Dole
A Curious Custom Folk Story

image; flourThe Tichborne Dole is one of the eccentric British traditions and dates back to the thirteenth century. It takes place in the village of Tichborne near Alresford in Hampshire every year on 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady’s Day).

Over eight hundred years ago, there lived a kind and generous women called Lady Maybela. It was custom in those days that if the woman had a lot of money, it all belonged to her husband from the day of their marriage. So, although Lady Maybela had been very rich, she had to ask her husband, Sir Roger de Tichborne, for anything she wanted.

Sir Roger was not the nicest of all people. Lady Maybela had to beg for everything she needed. Most of things she had she gave to the poor.

When she was very ill and dying, she asked her husband if he would still be kind to the poor people after she was dead. She wanted him to give bread to the poor once a year. Sir Roger wasn't very happy about this, for he would have to give up some of the flour that he made from the wheat he grew and he didn't like to give anything away for nothing!

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Now, remember that Lady Maybela was very ill! Sir Roger took a burning log from the fire. He told his wife that however much of his land she could get round before the flames from the log went out, he would set aside for the growing of wheat and this wheat would be made into flour for the poor.

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Lady Maybela called to her maids and they lifted her from her bed into the grounds outside.

Now, everyone knows that March is a very windy month, but as Sir Roger carried the burning log outside to watch Lady Maybela, the winds dropped and the flames from the log burned brightly with an unflickering flame. Lady Maybela tried to stand up but she was too weak, so she began to crawl on her hands and knees. As she disappeared in the distance, the servants held their breath and watched the flames on the log. Sir Roger was getting more and more angry as he saw how far his wife was crawling - he thought he had set her an impossible task. He saw Lady Maybela turn and start to cross across the land - then, still crawling, she turned again, this time to crawl down back to the house. All the time the flame burned brightly.

As Lady Maybela was nearing the house, the log was nearly all burned out, and when at last she reached the place where she had started, the flame suddenly went out. She had crawled over an area of twenty-three acres! These same twenty-three acres are, even today, still known as the 'Crawls'.

Before Lady Maybela died she made Sir Roger promise to give all the flour grown on the 'Crawls' to the poor every 25th March, and just to make sure he kept his promise, she put a curse on the Tichborne family and house. The curse said that anyone in the family not giving flour to the poor on 25th March would find that their house would collapse, their money would be lost and seven sons would be born followed by seven daughters and the name Tichborne would die out.

The flour was given every year until 1796, when Sir Henry Tichborne gave money to the church instead of flour to the poor. He had seven sons, his eldest son had seven daughters and half the family fell down, so a very worried son of Sir Henry, a Sir Edward Doughty-Tichborne, started up the custom again - and things have been all right ever since.

Story as re-told by Toni Arthur in her book 'All the Year Round

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