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Michaelmas was a celebration of the end of harvest and was an important celebration in the calendar for the Tudors.
Michaelmas and Goose Fairs
The festival takes its name from ‘The Feast of St Michael the Archangel’ and Michaelmas was one of the old ‘quarter days’ of the calendar, the four days in the year which marked the changing seasons.
So, these four days became the times of the year when rents and tithes were due and servants were hired or paid, and many agreements specified livestock such as goose as payment.
Geese also became linked with Michaelmas as they were fat at this time of year from grazing the harvest stubble and most livestock was culled before the winter.
Consequently, feasting on goose at Michaelmas was believed to bring luck for the following year. Hence the rhyme: ‘He who eats goose on Michaelmas day; Shan’t money lack or debts pay’.
Goose Fairs, which are still found today, have been held at Michaelmas since the 13th century.
The Mop Fair
The tradition of servants being hired at this time of year, led to the creation of ‘Mop Fairs’.
People would use these fairs to look for work for the following year. They would advertise their skills by what they were wearing or carrying as a symbol of their trade. For example, a maid would carry a mop, a shepherd would have a tuft of wool in his hat, or a farm labourer might carry a scythe.
Once the hiring was complete, the revels would begin.
Michaelmas and St. Michael
There are other traditions and superstitions associated with Michaelmas.
St. Michael was considered a warrior saint and protector against evil and darkness. St. Michael was the archangel that cast Satan down from Heaven and it was quite apt that charms to protect from evil, especially as the days grew darker and spirits were more prevalent in the dark, were made on his feast day.
Astbury Wakes celebrations
Local to Little Moreton Hall, on the Sunday between 4 and 10 October, the Astbury Wakes celebrations were held. Crowds gathered for the ‘Dedication of the Church’.
This was an imposing ceremony where the church bells rang at 6am and a church service was held, followed by a procession.
Cock-fighting and bear-baiting took place which made Congleton famous.