How the term ‘hedge’ was used as a slur

The loveable hedgehog needs our help.
The loveable hedgehog needs our help.

Written by Heather Elvidge

In June the sun’s rays are powerful. And it’s goodbye to night frosts, so it should be safe to put out those half-hardy plants that bring colour to our summer gardens.

“If St Vitus Day be rainy weather, it’ll rain for thirty days together.”

We probably won’t have to water them much. At the start of June Atlantic winds – loaded with rain clouds – come rolling in. The first three weeks can be so wet that the period has been dubbed the European monsoon. Flaming June, indeed.

Long-term however, folklore is optimistic. St Urban’s Day on May 25 was dry, and that’s a good omen for our summer.

June has two traditional forecasting days, St Vitus on the 15th and St John on the 24th, which is Midsummer Day. The first of these sounds like St Swithin: “If St Vitus Day be rainy weather, it’ll rain for thirty days together.”

Passing on swiftly, St John’s Day is said to predict the wind direction for the following three months, giving us an idea of the summer trend. If the weather gods should happen to be listening, a balmy southerly would do nicely.

After their long hibernation, hedgehogs are about. In summer they spend the day sleeping in a bed of leaves, venturing out at dusk in search of beetles, caterpillars and slugs.

A scuttling shadow, or snuffling and chomping from the middle of a bush, are often the only signs of their presence. However, in the breeding season hedgehogs can be alarmingly noisy.

Detested in the past for their icky diet and secretive nocturnal habits, hedgehogs were considered vermin. Parish wardens paid a bounty for every spiny corpse.

The very name is a slur – “hedge” was used in a derogatory way. A hedge-priest had no parish, so had to preach outdoors. A hedge-marriage took place in secret, without sanction of the church. A hedge-school was one where children were taught in the open. And the hedge-pig was the spiny fiend lurking in the hedge bottom.

Today we love urchins, although we don’t always treat them very well. Strimmers, slug pellets, herbicides, rubber bands, badgers, and cars are all bad news for hedgehogs. So is our tendency to fence in our gardens. Hedgehogs need to roam to find food, so help them move about by making a hog door in your fence – 13cms wide is enough. Alternatively, dig a tunnel underneath it.

Appleby Fair

Before we fell in love with mechanical horsepower, flesh-and-blood horses powered our economy. Horses were bred for particular tasks; like other livestock they were bought and sold at markets and fairs, some of which specialised in horses. One of the largest horse fairs was held at Howden in Yorkshire, where draught horses, carriage horses, army horses and ponies were sold to buyers from Britain and the Continent.

Today almost all of the traditional horse fairs have gone, which is one reason why Appleby Fair thrives. This week thousands of Romany Gypsies and Travellers are in Cumbria for the fair, the largest event of its kind in Europe. At the heart of it are the handsome gypsy cobs. These have a special significance for travelling people, even those who no longer keep horses. Appleby Fair begins today - June 4.