Time to modernise?

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The new mayor, Councillor Andi Rivett

I have been following with interest the excellent coverage in Rye News of the mayor making ceremony that was held recently. I am of a generation that really likes and enjoys tradition and ceremony.

Equally like all businesses in Rye, our shop (Concepts), which is opposite the town hall, welcomes all events that increase footfall in the town.

However, I am writing just to share some thoughts and observations that I have been considering since this event which may strike a chord with some and could be worth thinking about and debating.

I was watching the mayor making ceremony from inside our shop when some European customers asked me what was happening. I explained the ceremony to them and I was taken aback when they asked me if I found it embarrassing to watch this spectacle in 2022. They said they knew that we keep up old traditions in England but they felt uncomfortable to watch what they perceived as the “ landed gentry” of the village, assembled in the town hall, enjoying aperitifs and then throwing money to the “poor” waiting in the street.

My customers also raised another thought that concerned me. Do the robes of office and hats worn by councillors deter some people from applying to be considered for office? The perceived cost of these items could be one issue for many people and when I asked some younger people they were not excited by the prospect of wearing this uniform.

All institutions and organisations, even the monarchy are currently considering how they should adapt to remain relevant and to give the right impression in these difficult times when inclusivity and levelling up are seen as vital.

Should our town council now need to consider these issues?

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .

31 COMMENTS

  1. I can answer one of these questions immediately – there is no clothing cost involved in being a councillor! The robes and hats are owned by the Council : indeed the robes worn by the councillors will be 100 years old next year

    It’s also worth pointing out that the councillors are not (with one exception!) “Landed Gentry”. They are normal Rye residents, with day jobs including shop keeping, fire-fighting, sports therapy, inn-keeping, boat building, bus driving etc.

    As for the general points raised – our traditions and ceremonies are part of Rye’s life, and link us to our past. Civic ceremonial events demonstrate continuity and stability, as well as the practical purpose of demonstrating that the Council’s authority to make decisions on behalf of the Town is official and derives from the Crown (hence the maces).

    On a more pragmatic note, Rye relies on tourism, and its tourist appeal comes from our town’s unique history and (ahem) picturesqueness. Historical spectacles such as Mayor Making and our traditions, such as penny throwing, all help persuade tourists that Rye is a living historical pageant, as well as making life more interesting and colourful for its residents! (Try scrapping the beloved Scrabbling for Pennies and see what reaction you get!)

    Some larger and more modern towns have indeed scrapped all civic ceremonial, but I feel Rye would be all the poorer if it followed suit.

  2. On the contrary, it all sounds quite progressive! Under the current circumstances, maybe we should follow the old traditions more closely and ensure the ‘gentry’ throw a bit more money to the poor…

  3. You don’t say which European country your visitors were from so I can’t point out their homelands deficiencies.
    Perhaps we should dress up as knights in armor in the same way in Rome Roman soldiers pose for photo’s. Or in Whitby our offering is to dress as pirates.
    Many parts of Europe were destroyed by war. If you live in a glass city of course you feel more modern than those of say old town Bruges.
    Tell the Spanish what they should do to modernise and see how that goes.
    Or the French, don’t get me started on the French. Lovely country. Loads of history.

    As for our schoolkids not liking uniforms. I’ve seen how they dress.

  4. Ja Gertrud you are right, das Englanders will never understand the comfort of the Lederhosen. Lets get back home to civilisation, just in time for the beer & medieval festivals in the Bavarian Forest.

  5. I recall talking with the late John Izod as we were watching the Mayor Making ceremony one year and slightly to my surprise he remarked on the inappropriate nature of the proceedings in the twenty first century. A great supporter of tradition (and the town of course) he also saw what a lot of us do. As Mike says, there’s something embarrassing about kids scrabbling around in the gutter for a few pence.

    I can’t recall (in fact I don’t think I’ve ever known) what the origin of the ceremony is but I think it’s very arguable that today the optics are “People in power throw money to those who are poor and beneath them in social status”. What’s even worse is that those who are dispensing this largesse heat the coins so that the children squeal when picking them up, much to the amusement and enjoyment of the coin tossers! Time for a change I think!

    • Paul Goring’s comment is based on fact, whereas the article is based on opinion, need I say more?

    • I think we worry too much about “optics” – the kids love the scrabbling for pennies, and it always attracts a good crowd.

      Although it almost certainly did start out as an act of largess, nowadays it is maintained as just a fun tradition. Pennies are, let’s face it, worthless today!

      Rye Town Council does plenty of genuinely useful charity work, through grants, through the Rye Relief Fund, and through the Mayoral Charities. Nobody pretends that the penny throwing is part of this!

  6. Well said Paul goring, it’s sad to see some of the political sniping, regarding this ancient tradition, that all our mayor’s have had the honour bestowed to them,when taking office.

  7. Perhaps we should get rid of food banks too? Very old tradition of hand outs and rather sad in 2022 and we should start with addressing that, not a symbolic tradition that’s a bit of fun too.

  8. Interesting point about the mayor making ceremony – I thought it a bit off with the symbolism of the rich throwing to the poor, and making it difficult for them to actually trouser the loot as it is hot to handle: reminded me a bit of our current benefits system. Robert Dalton has a point methinks.

    Paul, our town sergeant, thanks for the info: the robes are 100 years old and ‘traditions and ceremonies are part of Rye’s life, and link us to our past …’ I agree that the traditions of mayor making and the ceremonial work that the town council commit too: Remembrance Day, various pageants and town crying are vibrant, interesting and good for the image of the town and our main industry – tourism. Of course they should be kept. However, there is something slightly out of kilter with the throwing of ‘hot pennies’ and I think the town council should at least have a discussion about how the mayor making ceremony could change to reflect a more inclusive, less cap-doffing modern society.

  9. It’s not embarrassing at all. Only if you want it to be. As for “people in power throwing money to the poor”, oh come on, it’s just spectacle. Why do the modern “Guardianista” types always have to analyse things so and draw over thought conclusions. It’s part of history, totally harmless and offends no one except the perpetually offended. Just leave it alone.

  10. My goodness what a lot of waffle. Rye is a small town with very few traditions if we were to “update” the current pomp and ceremony what would we have left in this town. NOTHING we no longer have a Carnival or Sports Day. We still have a Bonfire but for how long, will it soon have to have LED Torches instead of real fire on the end of a stick and the Bonfire well think of the pollution and carbon emitted and the Health And Safety aspect that would have to be electric and the fireworks shown on a big screen. As for levelling up the Citadel area is a prime example the likes of Mermaid Street Church Square West Street etc once the working class/ slum areas are now inhabited by the hierarchy. As for dressing up why not! the costumes are old and colourful and do not need to be put in a museum they need to be seen to show how Rye once was an influential town and not just a satellite of the local government.

  11. I’m sorry Robert Dalton was embarrassed by the children, on the contrary my 5 grandchildren thoroughly enjoyed it (aged 1 to 8) just as their parents and grandparents did as children. It’s an innocent spectacle founded in historical context and a bit of fun for all concerned in an otherwise ever darkening world. I appreciate that many will find the optics (what a dreadful modern marketing word ) distasteful when viewed alongside the issues facing us in today’s world but in my view we need some escapism from time to time. Central government may be justly accused of feathering their own and their pals’ nests but I’m not sure that we can accurately align Rye Town Council with the landed gentry. If anything they are very much moving with the times – unlike previous occasions there will be no commemorative mugs or similar souvenir issued to all the children of Rye to mark the Queen’s Jubilee

  12. They were probably Dutch. The Netherlands is a land void of tradition at almost all levels (unless you count Zwarte Piet – but they become hostile and defensive if you label that embarrassing or antiquated).

    Upholding tradition associated with civic office is the dressing that prevents the role becoming just another dull public servant – a unique facet of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

  13. If such ceremonies are doing no harm, and are teaching people about the past and are being enjoyed in the process, then leave them alone. Far too many people want to erase or rewrite history. Our identity is being lost. You don’t go to France and ask the French if they are embarrassed to eat foie gras. You don’t go to Spain and ask them if they are embarrassed to watch a bullfight or participate in the Pamplona Bull Run. I suspect no children were harmed whilst taking part in the game of scrabbling for coins in Rye. They weren’t forced, and I suspect they enjoyed it. After all, don’t children also love to try and retrieve coins from wishing wells and ponds? Didn’t we also used to enjoy scrumping? Didn’t any of us grow up in seaside resorts where we would fish through dirty litter bins to collect the empty glass bottles of pop and return them for a coin or two? I doubt any of us felt degraded or embarrassed in the process. All that mattered was getting the money.

  14. No, absolutely not. There are plenty of traditions in continental Europe which are older and more unusual, and potentially offensive to those who think they know everything and are of the opinion that centuries old traditions should be changed to fit their world view.

  15. The pennies are just tokens rather than financial gain…..in this climate of political correctness can’t we just leave some things alone.

  16. Reading some of the comments here reminded me of the derision by newspapers reporting some years ago that playing with conkers on a string were banned in schools on the basis that children could be hurt. Perhaps some of us have forgotten children sometimes just do ridiculous things for fun, and scrabbling around on the ground for pennies is one of those times. It is possible they are simply joining in with a funny old tradition, as we did, not because they are desperate. Perhaps they will later be sufficiently curious to investigate why it happens, then they could put it into context rather than misunderstand the intentions behind it. (My understanding is that it is possible Rye had a Mint and produced the pennies, that explains why they were hot.

  17. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t being the Mayor open to anyone who cares to put the time and effort in can achieve, there have been many working people who have been Mayor, an old friend of mines Mum was the Mayor, an old teacher another, these are not people who looked down on me.
    I served on the HORAC committee with the current Mayor, I called him Andy and he called me Tony, ordinary people in a ceremonial roll doing good for the town.
    Stop making this something it’s not, ask the kids if they’re embarrassed scrabbling to grab the money and you’ll just get blank stare.
    It’s an old tradition much the same as a gent in a funny hat clanging a bell telling us peasants that the well off are getting married in the town hall in these days when it’s all available at the flick of a switch and a mobile phone.

  18. My heart sank as I read this article; is there nothing that can be deemed insulting/inappropriate/outdated nowadays? Thankfully I appear to be in the majority, gathering by the responses. Rye is a town steeped in history and tradition, long may it remain so.

  19. Let’s stay preserved in aspic. Not letting in light or air is so healthy after all. Why would we want to evolve or adapt when we can just wait to melt away…The line is very fine between people laughing with you, rather than at you, wherever they are from. Faded power clings to past glories. Confidence embraces change.

  20. Allow me as a long term visitor to Rye to comment.
    Paul Goring has summed it up beautifully- the attraction of the town is its history, music, literary and arts community.
    My wife and I decided to attend the throwing of the pennies ceremony which was advertised to occur at 12.20. We arrived at 12.15 to a buzz of excitement from the crowd and in particular the kids. It all then started to go downhill.
    The procession of dignitaries into the town hall looked like a group of invitees to a wedding – we just stood and watched wondering who was who and what was happening. We then stood for at least 20 minutes watching lots of folk quaffing fizz. A Range Rover drove straight through the crowd. Drummers started assembling but none were able to tell us whether a procession was planned or not.

    Finally and without any speech/explanation the pennies began raining down which was a delight to see – but soon various unknown folk were also hurling them from the windows – glass of fizz in hand.

    This clearly is a great tradition but from a visitor’s viewpoint, it would have been nice to see some historic pageantry linked in. As a tourist we had no idea it was linked to the making of the mayor (unless we missed the main event prior to the advertised 12.20 start time?).

    It wasn’t just the mayor throwing the pennies.

    It didn’t happen on time and it wasn’t enjoyable to stand watching a fizz quaffing party for 20 minutes.

    Why not make this wonderful tradition a proper town event in keeping with Rye’s wonderful heritage?

    The street should have been closed to traffic and a formal procession would have been great with drummers and town cryer etc.

    • Pete: A good point about there being no announcement prior to the penny throwing – I will suggest to the Council that, in future years, either myself or the Mayor will make an announcement to the crowd to let them know what is going on & when.
      There were actually 3 processions that day, which unfortunately you must have missed – civic processions to and from the church (pictured at the top of the article), then, after the penny throwing. a procession (including the drummers,& Town Crier!) from the Town Hall to a local pub, where the less formal part of the celebrations began!
      I believe the advert for the penny throwing stated “gather from 12:20…” – the actual start time of the throwing was scheduled for 12:30, but will always be difficult to fix exactly to the minute, as there are a lot of people to organise and get in place in a short time.
      There were stewards stopping the traffic during the coin-throwing itself.

  21. Well, a lot of great comments on the modernise issue: looks like my original suggestion that “the town council should at least have a discussion about the mayor making ceremony …” is a pretty fair one Look forward to hearing the outcome.

  22. Years ago this wasn’t a tourist attraction it was just ‘Mayor making’ and the throwing of hot pennies was part of that ceremony. It was held after school, not on a bank holiday afternoon, the children would all gather with their friends and if you acquired the imprint of a coin on the sole of your shoe it was a matter of pride! For the parents also gathered below we did feel rather like peasants waiting for the largesse of those above who usually took their time before the windows were opened.

  23. So lots of interest in Tradition then (which is great). I’m still wondering about the origin of the penny throwing though. Does anyone know? If they do, then we might all be better informed about why it started and why we continue with it!

    PS Great to hear from you Yvonne as someone who actually took part. It makes you better qualified to comment than the rest of us put together!

  24. Heaven forfend we have any tradition is this country!! Do we really have to indulge the swooning perma-offended every time they feel uncomfortable?
    You should witness some of the traditions of our continental cousins – they would never be allowed in the UK!

  25. The joy of the hot penny throwing is that it just happens and there is no explanation. As a noted expert on North Korea, Robert, you will be familiar with the enduring debate about Kim Il Sung’s background. Mystery is a powerful thing.

  26. Having been to his birthplace on several occasions, penny throwing is far more mysterious than the early years of The Great Leader Andy! In the meantime, I’m happy to establish a prize fund of five hundred hot pennies to be awarded to the person who comes up with the best explanation for this curious tradition!

  27. I found this in the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore (a volume published in 2003 with 1250+ entries from around the British Isles):

    RYE HOT PENNIES
    A scrambling custom which still takes place on 23 May, as part of the annual mayor-making ceremony in Rye (East Sussex). Immediately after the new Mayor’s election, he/she appears at a window of the Town Hall and throws hot new pennies to the waiting crowd of children and adults. Rye is not unique in including a scrambling element in a civic custom and the two local stories which seek to explain it are also found elsewhere. One is that at one time the Mayor of Rye was also a Member of Parliament and sought to bribe voters, while the other explains that when Rye had the privilege of its own mint, the town ran out of pennies and that they were brought so fast that they were still hot.

    However the sources quoted only go back to the 1960s/70s. If there’s written evidence that this event – which I think people are imagining is very old indeed – is truly venerable, I haven’t seen it.

    I wonder if like a lot of supposedly old traditions, it doesn’t go back much further than living memory? I suppose that’s why shining too strong a light on these things tends to cause disappointment to those who value myth over historicity (which is the great mass of people, truth be told).

  28. Talking of scrambling of hot pennies – it used to be a tradition in Scotland at Weddings which we loved as children. Also ensured there was a crowd gathered when the bride left the church!

    The wedding scramble is a little like the well-known throwing of the bouquet, except it involves children and coins. The father of the bride does the throwing and he throws a handful of coins for children to collect just as the bride is climbing into the wedding car to make her way to the church

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