The Leigh Candle Auction is held each year in the village hall. The date is not fixed, but takes place before the rights to the land begin on 1st August. The Chairman is Gordon Morris.
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An article in the Western Gazette (September 14 1956) reported that the chairman of the parish council (Mr C Denning) said that the earliest record of the sale, by candle auction, of the aftergrass (also known as the aftershare or aftermath) was dated 1732, and that it was not known how long the sale had been held prior to that date. However, according to Roger Bird (The Law Society Gazette, 05/12/1984 pp3147-3418 – on file), the Charity Commission’s 1981 report on the auction stated, “This auction is of ancient origin dating probably from the beginning of the 17 century ‘(1981 Annual Report, para. 88 p30)’.”
An extract from the 1837 Charity Commissioners’ reports quoted in a letter to the parish council (DCC Record Office MEH/JH EN 01 March 1978 – on file) states, “It seems probable that … [the rights to the aftergrass] … was awarded to … [Leigh’s overseers of the poor] … upon the enclosure of the parish at the beginning of the 17th century … . … The parish officers at Old Lammas [13 August] every year let the grass to the best bidder.” [writer’s emphasis].
The rights to the aftergrass run from Lammas Day to Candlemas Day. There is some interesting complexity here: prior to the change in the English calendar in 1752 these dates were 01 August and 02 February. When the calendar changed, these dates moved to the 13 August and 14 February.
From the files it seems that the dates associated with the rights to the aftergrass have changed over the years. For example, a 1973 agreement between Leigh Parish Council and the Battens specified 12 August to 12 February. In 1974, “Notes on Ancient Candle Auction” also specified 12 August to 12 February, and stated that the auction must be held before 12/8. Finally (until now at any rate), the Charity Commission’s 1981 scheme relating to Leigh’s parish lands specified 01 August to 14 February [see For Information below].
For pragmatic reasons, therefore, we conform to the Charity Commission’s scheme; not least because we have taken note of the court case in 1897 which led to the resignation of the chairman of Leigh Parish Council, the Rev. Doddington (see below).
Although our written records only go back to 1895, information can be found in the county and press archives. 1895 is perhaps coincidentally, about the time that parish councils were first formed (many of Leigh’s records are believed to have been lost in a fire in the then clerk’s [?} house in the village). However, the then newly-formed parish council would have inherited both the management of the candle auction, and the responsibility for spending the money raised, from the Vestry, the predecessor body (and essentially, now, the PCC). In 1981 the candle auction was registered as a charity with seven trustees. Six of the Trustees are nominated by the parish council. The seventh is a co-opted Trustee appointed by the six nominated Trustees.
There is some evident confusion about New and Old Lammas. This stems from the so-called “lost eleven days” caused when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752. This complication was further complicated by the fact that the year 1752, which had begun on the (then standard) day of March 25 ended on December 31 in order to ensure that 1753 would start 01 January. Finally, to add yet more complexity, September 02, 1752 was followed by … September 14! (ie the missing eleven days). 1752 was, therefore, a very short year (ie because January 01 to March 24, 1752 didn’t happen – it was still 1751!).
These changes meant that, in 1753, what would, under the old system, have been 01 August (the original Lammas Day) had, due to the missing eleven days from 1752, magically become 13 August (in reality still the original Lammas Day, just renumbered – hence the term, Old Lammas Day). Thereafter 01 August 1753 was known as New Lammas Day, and much confusion arose, with cries of, “Give us back our eleven days!” rippling around the country.
Anyway, as can be seen from the quote from the Commissioners’ report above, the candle auction plots should, it seems, be let from 13 August. However, as with many other similar agricultural lettings, the 01 August appears to have become the norm (not least, I suspect, because it brings the tenancy back into earlier summer and, with that, better grass).
Obviously, the same number shuffle applies to Candlemas Day (02 February). As far as I can tell, there has been no debate about the “missing” eleven days, possibly because everyone was exhausted by the Lammas debate (or, possibly because the difference in the land’s agricultural use/worth/value between 02 and 14 February is marginal). In the 1890s, however, there was a court case (Leigh Parish Council versus Cox and Salisbury, reported in The Devon and Exeter Gazette, October 19 1897, page 2) in which the council contended that they had the rights to the grass until Lady Day (25 March). The judge disagreed, stating that the council’s rights to the aftergrass ended in February. Following this decision, the plaintiff, the then Chairman of (the then very new) Leigh Parish Council, Rev. Mr Doddington, resigned.