East of the M60 on a Bonfire Night tradition once practiced in and around Tameside
“We come a Cob-coaling for Bonfire time,
Your coal and your money we hope to enjoy.
Fal-a-dee, fal-a-die, fal-a-diddly-i-do-day.
For down in yon’ cellar there’s an owd umberella
And up on yon’ cornish there’s an owd pepperpot.
Pepperpot! Pepperpot! Morning ’till night.
If you give us nowt, we’ll steal nowt and bid you good night.
Up a ladder, down a wall, a cob o’coal would save us all.
If you don’t have a penny a ha’penny will do.
If you don’t have a ha’penny, then God bless you.
We knock at your knocker and ring at your bell
To see what you’ll give us for singing so well.”
In addition to All Hallow’s Eve (Hallowe’en or Halloween), the run-up to Bonfire Night was commemorated with the practice of Cob Coaling. The above twelve lines of a traditional folk song best explains this succinctly.
Before Trick or Treat, or placing pumpkins on windowsills became popular, children would knock on doors to collect money for fireworks, or combustable materials for a bonfire. They would sing a song and some neighbours would give them loose change (often to shut them up) or anything towards their bonfire. Once they’ve divvied up their tips or hundredweight or so of broken chairs, disused doors or other bits of wood, they would build their bonfire. Then they would buy, or get their parents to buy their fireworks.
Some may argue the Americanisation of Halloween might have put paid to Cob Coaling’s popularity. It goes beyond that; modern day housing estates conspire against Cob Coalers, owing to the reduced density. Tower blocks, for obvious reasons (lack of a decent outhouse or garden) stymie this, and some tenants would be wondering why a chunk of firewood is stopping their lift to the 12th floor from working.
Another aspect, is that persons under the age of sixteen cannot buy fireworks. Though this has reduced the scope for cob-coaling, it has made for fewer hospital admissions or fire brigade call-outs.
If you are old enough to remember Cob-Coaling feel free to comment on your experiences, either as a resident answering their calls or as a cob coaler yourself.
S.V., 04 November 2013.