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Today we made a mayor! Want the recipe?


The Antient town of Rye (totally their spelling) was once a busy seaport. Then the sea hiked her skirts and tripped away, leaving the town, more or less, high and dry. Now it rises up improbably on Rye Hill surrounded by green flat farms that were once beaches.


I love Rye. Touristy on the surface, rough and crusty underneath. It’s an earthy, bawdy place. If we were going to live in a town, Rye would be high on my list.

Once a year, on the first Monday in May, the mayor of Rye takes the oath of office in a ceremony known as the Mayor Making. The office of mayor goes back to 1289, but nobody knows how far back, or whence came, this particular tradition.

First the town crier comes out of the town hall and hams it up for a while. That’s the prat in the hat here. (I think “crier” might be this dude’s full-time job description; he’s available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs).

Then, about noon-thirty, the new mayor appears in the window above and — in a ritual described as part sadism, part charity — throws scuttles full of hot pennies to the children below.

Pennies. Heated in the fire.

One assumes the custom dates from a time when a penny was a lot of money. One further assumes that the pennies were originally heated painfully — if not dangerously — hot. One assumes the children wanted them very badly. One is cynical about these things.

Today we could see the rest of the town council in the background, milling about in their civvies (they all wear robes on some occasions), drinking alcoholic beverages. After the Right Worshipful the Mayor of Rye’s pitching arm got tired, the rest of this worshipful assembly moved forward and began tossing their small change out the windows.

Something about standing in the street while elderly drunken plutocrats pitch small boobytrapped coins at me from on high seems a refreshingly honest demonstration of the role of government.

Photographs by Uncle Badger, who kindly elbowed two small children out of the way and snagged us each a lucky hot penny.

May 4, 2009 — 5:51 pm
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