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Rippingale's Ran Tan Tan

There's a centuries old folk custom which developed in slightly different forms round the world. In Britain it was known by many names - mainly (in Lincolnshire) " Ran-Tan-Tan" or "Skimmington," but in America it was called, among other names, "shivaree," in France "charivari," in Germany "katzenmusik," and in Italy "scampanate." It was even recorded by novelist Thomas Hardy in his book "The Mayor of Casterbridge" in the late 19th Century, but had been on the go for long before that.

The intention of "Ran-Tan-Tan" was to draw attention to marital misbehaviour or husband's bullying their partners and wife-beating - in some places it became slightly sinister, taken over by local vigilantes and self-appointed keepers of local morals. In Dorset a form of it survives to this day as a ceremony to scare off evil spirits. It was also called "rough music," which gives a clue to what "Ran-Tan-Tan," actually is.

In many cases, calling it any kind of music was doing it a favour - it was mainly just noise - a masked gang beating a cacophony on frying pans, saucepans, kettles and trays, blowing bugles, bull horns, rattling cleavers and bones, ringing bells and beating drums- usually outside the home of the accused - and usually for three nights. An effigy of the "guilty" party was made up and carried round the village on a pole before being "drowned" in the local pond. They'd sing too - songs like:

There is a man in our town,
Who often beats his wife
So if he does it any more,
We'll put his nose right out before
Holler boys, holler boys,
Make the Bells Ring
Holler boys, holler boys,
God save the King


Rippingale Jazz Band
the Ran Tan Tan
In Britain it was all supposed to be illegal after the Highways Act of 1882 - but not in Rippingale - and I'm indebted to Rosetta Atkinson for the following story reported in the Lincolnshire Free Press in August 1919 and the photo of the Rippingale Ran-Tanners.

Eight men - all from respectable and longstanding Rippingale families - were summoned to Bourne Police Court for unlawfully joining in a brawl in the village earlier that month. Pc. Starmer gave evidence that he was on duty in Rippingale and there was regular pandemonium caused by the beating of drums, tins, buckets, plough breasts, old pieces of iron, playing of instruments, shouting and yelling, with the burning of effigies.

It lasted three nights, the whole village was in commotion and the noise was such it could be heard two miles away - it was described as "ran-tanning." This evidence produced much hilarity in court. The reason for it was that a local woman had been carrying on with a neighbour while her husband was away from home serving in the Army, it was claimed. But the lady, who was called to give evidence, denied this - the denial causing commotion in court.

When, eventually, the group agreed to express regret for the incident, promise there would be no repeat performances and paid costs, the cases were withdrawn and, according to the Free Press - "Thus ended one of the most sensational days in the history of Bourne Police Court."

© Jim Latham, February 2012