Whitby Penny Hedge

Where: Whitby, North Yorkshire on riverbank next to Church Street
When: Ascension Eve (always a Wednesday and variable in date depending on Easter)
Time: 9am.



In a unique custom, the Penny Hedge or Horngarth at Whitby is planted in the estuary of the Upper Harbour – it must be completed by 9am on Rogation Wednesday, also known as Ascension Eve, and must be strong enough to withstand three tides. The hedge is woven from hazel and willow and legend has it that it is planted in penance (the Penny name comes from penance or from the penny knife used to cut the stems) in memory of a long ago episode in which the local hermit was beaten to death by huntsmen after he protected their wild-boar prey – the huntsmen received pardon for their crime if they agreed to build a hedge every year and their descendants still do so today. It’s more likely that the real origin lies in manorial boundary maintaining customs (see Comments below) but it is certain that the planting dates back to the mid twelfth century so it’s not too surprising that the facts have been obscured by the mists of time. It’s a simple ceremony with two men building the hedge – don’t expect any fuss or festivities except for horn blowing and shouts of  “Out on Ye!” when they finish .

Helpful Hints

It takes place on the east bank of the River Esk just over the railings on Church Street and construction begins at around 20 to 9- look out for the monument to the custom on the pavement then you’ve found the right spot. Sometimes the previous years hedge is still standing as in 2014 (for a moment when we first spotted it I thought we must have got the time wrong and missed the ceremony!).

In 2018 it will be on Wednesday 9th of May.

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