Whitby Myth and Folklore: The Penny Hedge - Whitby Online

Whitby Myth and Folklore: The Penny Hedge

Although the planting of the Penny Hedge originated as a religious punishment the longevity of the practice in itself and the tale surrounding it has come to hold an almost mythical quality. The ritual of planting the hedge is thought to have originated in 1159 when three local hunters were sentence and thus punished for the murder of a local religious hermit. It is told that these hunters where in pursuit of a wild bore when it entered the hermit's abode on Eskdaleside. Despite being denied entry the hunters, three local noblemen, Ralph de Percy, William de Bruce and their friend Allatson, were so determined to have their prey that they murdered the hermit for standing in their way. As the hermit lay dying the Abbot of Whitby was sent for and in front of him the hermit conceded to forgive the hunters on the condition that they and their descendants carry out a ritual each year on the eve of Ascension Day. The men agreed to this in order to avoid execution for their crime.
Thus, each year the men, and later their descendants, wove a short hedge of hazel stakes which is planted on the shores of harbour's east side and challenged to last intact and upright for three tides. Failure to do this would mean that the men would loose some of their valuable land. The hedge was given its name from the stipulation that when making the hedge wood had to be cut from Eskdaleside with a knife costing a penny. The wood is then carried to Whitby and the hedge planted by 9 o'clock in the morning. Today the ritual is still carried out by local people and those thought to now live on the land previously owned by the Abbot. A horn is sounded once the planting has been done in order to inform the town and concludes with the shout of, 'Out on thee, out on thee, out on thee'.

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