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24 September 2014

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February 2004
Oxfordshire's romantic heritage
A Valentine's day rose.
St Valentine's Day is universal - but Oxfordshire has its own Valentine's traditions that go back hundreds of years.

Blenheim Palace

Valentine's Day food ideas

The science of love

Valentine's e-cards

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There are two St Valentines but neither is associated with romance.

The link with love has come about because St Valentine's Day fell on the same day as Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival.

As part of Lupercalia, young men ran through the streets whipping young women with goat-skin thongs to ensure their fertility.

This sort of thing never went on in Oxfordshire.



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An old Oxfordshire omen had it that if a dark man crossed the threshold of a house on February 14, he would marry one of the daughters living there in the coming year.

That's one of the engaging facts on local Valentine's traditions in Christine Bloxham's book on Oxfordshire folklore, May Day to Mummers.

She tells how many poor people couldn't afford to send romantic cards when the tradition developed from the 17th Century.

Instead they smade their own - often rude, rather than romantic.

Courtney Pine - Photo courtesy of David Craig
Romantic Blenheim: Henry II's lover, fair Rosamund Clifford, may have swum in this well.

One, quoted in the book, was a shrivelled pig's tail with a note to it saying "You are the end".

In the 19th Century, farm workers lived in severe poverty and had no money to spare for their children, so a tradition of Valentine's rhymes grew up.

Children would go round towns and villages reciting their rhymes in the hope of being rewarded with coins.

The children of the Baldons called out:

The Rose is red, the violet's blue,
The carnation's sweet, and so are you.
And so are they that sent you this,
And when we meet we'll have a kiss.

In Bodicote, near Banbury, the rhyme went:

The rose is red, the violet's blue
Carnation's sweet and so be you,
So please to give us a Wolentine.

If they got no gift, they shouted:

The Devil's black and so be you!

In Charlbury, the following rhyme was recorded:

Good morrow, Valentine,
I'll be yours if you'll be mine,
Good morrow, Valentine.

Children in Lower Heyford had a similar rhyme, but in 1867 the rector made it clear he objected to begging, and asked farmers to send nuts or cakes to the new village school to be given to the children instead.

In later years, dough cakes were given.

Food was evidently a common gift, according to Christine Bloxham's book.

She quotes the following rhyme from Milton:

I choose you if it's not too late.
If 'tis too late what shall I do?
I hope it's not too late, for I've come to have an egg or two.

Children in Shipton were given chocolates rather than money.

Chipping Norton had a Valentine's custom of its own.

Children would run from shop to shop before school, chanting:

I'll be yours if you'll be mine
Please to give me your Valentine.

Shopkeepers would respond by throwing halfpennies - except at Pettifers bakery, where the children were given stale buns.

One information said that the pennies were heated up to stop the children grabbing too many.

The custom is said to have died about in the early 1950s, when a local headmaster voiced his disapproval.







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