Sunday 11 August 2013

English Customs: The Devil's Nutting Day

Did you know that September 14th is ‘the Devil’s Nutting Day’?

An English folk tradition dating back over 450 years connects Holy Cross Day on September 14th with another custom called ‘nutting’.  Originally, the feast day took place to commemorate a piece of the True Cross that was recovered and stored safely in Constantinople, in 629 BC. But as is the nature of events, in 1560 some Eton schoolboys were granted a half-day holiday on Holy Cross Day and decided to amuse themselves by gathering nuts.

“All the youths are now a-nutting gone.”
Grim the Collier of Croydon- a popular 17th century play.

The nuts in question are hazelnuts with the nuts ripening in hedgerows from September onwards. Hazelnuts have many links to folk lore and have associations with wisdom and power (it is a hazel rod that should be used for water divining) The phrase ‘going a nutting’ crops up regularly in 17th century songs and plays, and was a by word for sex and seduction –  young people being alone in the woods ...! Such was the link between collecting nuts and more risque activities that a popular expression in 1660 was:
“A good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”

Eton College in 1690
Over the years the Devil became associated with the collecting of nuts, although exactly how these two things became linked is not clear, (perhaps parents invoked the devil to discourage their offspring from getting pregnant!) Country folk were warned not to go nutting on Sundays as the Devil would be disguised as a gentleman and trick them by offering to pull down the top branches.

Another time the Devil was likely to be abroad was Holy Cross Day, as poet John Clare, writes in 1825:
“On Holy Rood [Cross] Day it is faithfully…believed both by old and young that the Devil goes a –nutting…I have heard many people affirm that they thought it a tale until they ventured into the woods on that day when they smelt such a strong smell of brimstone as nearly stifled them before they could escape…”

Victorians collecting nuts.
And finally, in Warwickshire there is a legend that a particular hill, The Devil’s Nightcap near Alcester, was formed when the Devil met the Virgin Mary on the road and dropped his nutting bag in fright!
This blog post is part of an Absolute Write blog hop. To read the other posts in this hop follow the links below:
Devil Child - a short story
Lurking Musings
Morning Glory
D R Slaten
Do Not Tamper With...
Lizzy's Dark Fiction
Tara Quan


  1. The title had my mind going somewhere else. lol

    1. *winks* - perhaps you were meant to be misled...
      G x

  2. Very interesting. And I love all your pics, especially the cat and the squirrel. So cute.

    1. Thanks for that, Linnea. I'm rather partial to pics with cats's always fun finding the appropriate photo to go with the post.
      G x

  3. “A good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”--I've heard that before. Now I know how it came about. The squirrel picture is adorable.

  4. Tara, I must admit I hadn't heard that expression before - but I do love finding out the origins of these things.
    And yes, the squirrel pic is gorgeous! I wonder if it was hand reared - he doesn't look fully grown and I can't imagine under normal circumstances he'd let a cat snuggle up to him.
    G x

  5. Hiya Grace,

    14th September is Nutting Day -when you should collect nuts
    21st September is Devil's Nutting Day - when you should not collect nuts!


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