First published in Local Reach
We associate St Valentines Day now with the exchange of cards and other messages of love. In the past it seems that it could be a little more complicated for women to ensure that they got the man of their dreams. William Hone in his “Every Day Book” (vol. 1, p,225, published 1825) recounts what one young girl did: “The night before Valentines’s day I got five bay leaves and pinned four of them to the four corners of my pillow and the fifth to the middle and then, if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. But to make it more sure, I boiled an egg hard, and took out the yolk, and filled it with salt; and when I went to bed, ate it, shell and all, without speaking or drinking after it. We also wrote our lovers names upon bits of paper, and rolled them in clay, and put them into water. And the first name that rose up was to be our valentine. Would you think it, Mr Blossom was my man. I lay a-bed all morning and shut my eyes till he came to our house; for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.”
In Somerset it seems there was one seemingly less romantic custom for men. According to Hone, young men in the West Country “used to go out together before daylight on St Valentine’s day with a clap-net to catch on old owl and two sparrows in a barn. If they brought them to the hostess of the inn before the ladies of the house had risen they were rewarded by her with three pots of purl in honour of St Valentine, and enjoyed a similar boon at any other house in the neighbourhood.”
Hopefully Mr Blossom was not amongst them!
Note: purl was basically a mulled ale infused with spices (though originally wormwood)