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For the hamlet in England, see Reigate, Surrey.
William Hogarth's engraving "Hudibras Encounters the Skimmington"

A skimmington, or skimmington ride, was a rowdy parade with effigies of victims or people dressed up to represent them, to make a public demonstration of moral disapproval of the individual or individuals. The form of the demonstration, and the reasons for it, varied between different places, but the general intent was public humiliation of the victim(s). In some cases the individual(s) themselves were forced to participate. Skimmingtons were typically noisy affairs, with rough music made by the clattering of pots and pans.[1] It compares with charivari, chivari, chivaree, shivaree, which occur at the homes or businesses of the people being corrected/humiliated.

Origins, history and form[edit]

Skimmingtons are recorded in England as far back as the 17th century,[1] and the practice is also recorded in colonial America from around the 1730s on.[2][3] The term is particularly associated with the West Country region of England, and although the etymology is not certain, it has been suggested that it derived from the ladle used in that region for cheesemaking, which was perceived as a weapon used by a woman to beat a weak or henpecked husband. The rationale for a skimmington varied, but one major theme was disapproval of a man for weakness in his relationship with his wife. A description of the custom in 1856 cites three main targets: a man who is worsted by his wife in a quarrel; a cuckolded man who accepts his wife's adultery; and any married person who engages in licentious conduct.[4] To "ride such a person skimmington" involved exposing them or their effigy to ridicule on a cart, or on the back of a horse or donkey. Some accounts describe the participants as carrying ladles and spoons with which to beat each other, at least in the case of skimmingtons prompted by marital discord. The noisy parade passed through the neighbourhood, and served as a punishment to the offender and a warning to others to abide by community norms; Roberts suggests that the homes of other potential victims were visited in a pointed manner during a skimmington.[4] According to one citation, a skimmington was broken up by the police in a village in Dorset as late as 1917.[5]

The antiquary and lexicographer Francis Grose described a skimmington as: "Saucepans, frying-pans, poker and tongs, marrow-bones and cleavers, bulls horns, etc. beaten upon and sounded in ludicrous processions" (A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1796).

In Warwickshire, the custom was known as "loo-belling", and in northern England as "riding the stang".[5]

Western Rising[edit]

During the Western Rising of 1628–31, which was a rebellion in south-west England against the enclosure of royal forest lands, the name "Lady Skimmington" was adopted by the leader of the protest movement.[6] According to some sources the name was used by a number of men involved with the Western Rising, who dressed in women's clothes not only as a method of disguise, but also in order to symbolise their protest against a breach of the established order.[7]

In art and literature[edit]

  • The Late Lancashire Witches, a play by Thomas Heywood and Richard Brome, features a horseback skimmington ride prompted by a woman who seeks greater independence
  • In Samuel Butler's Hudibras, the central character encounters a skimmington in a scene notably illustrated by William Hogarth
  • A skimmington is depicted in a plaster frieze in Montacute House, which dates from the Elizabethan era, and shows a man mounted on a pole, carried on the shoulders of others[8]
  • A skimmington forms a well-known scene in Thomas Hardy's 1884 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. Effigies of the mayor and Lucetta, a former lover, are paraded through the streets on a donkey by a noisy crowd when rumours of their prior relationship surface. Lucetta, now respectably married to Henchard's rival Farfrae, collapses in distress and humiliation, miscarries her baby and dies.
"They are coming up Corn Street after all! They sit back to back!"
"What--two of 'em—are there two figures?"
"Yes. Two images on a donkey, back to back, their elbows tied to one another's! She's facing the head, and he's facing the tail."
"Is it meant for anybody in particular?"
"Well--it mid be. The man has got on a blue coat and kerseymere leggings; he has black whiskers, and a reddish face. 'Tis a stuffed figure, with a falseface." (...)

The numerous lights round the two effigies threw them up into lurid distinctness; it was impossible to mistake the pair for other than the intended victims.

"Come in, come in," implored Elizabeth; "and let me shut the window!"
"She's me—she's me—even to the parasol—my green parasol!" cried Lucetta with a wild laugh as she stepped in. She stood motionless for one second—then fell heavily to the floor.
— Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • The Skimmity Hitchers are a Scrumpy & Western band from the West Country of England. They took their name from the Skimmington (known as Skimmity in Dorset) to reflect their music and stage show which is a mix of rough music, parody, drunkenness and audience humiliation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cunnington, B. Howard (September 30, 1930). ""A Skimmington" in 1618". Folklore 41 (3): 287–290. JSTOR 1255892. 
  2. ^ Pencak, William. "Riot and Revelry in Early America: Introduction". Penn State University. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  3. ^ Kickler, Troy L. "Skimmington". North Carolina History Project. John Locke Foundation. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Roberts, George (1856). The Social History of the People of the Southern Counties of England in Past Centuries. Longman. pp. 535–536. 
  5. ^ a b Page, Norman (1997). "Appendix G: The Skimmington Ride". The Mayor of Casterbridge. Broadview Press. ISBN 978-1-55111-122-3. 
  6. ^ Allan, D. G. C. (1952). "The Rising in the West, 1628-1631". The Economic History Review (Blackwell). New series, vol. 5 (1): 76–85. doi:10.2307/2591309. JSTOR 2591309. 
  7. ^ Pericic, Marija (2009). "Myth, Memory and Misunderstanding". Limina 15: 6–7. 
  8. ^ Quinion, Michael (16 December 2000). "World Wide Words". Skimmington. Word Wide Words. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 

External links[edit]