Annually, the Sheriff's Riding is performed in the dark streets of York on 21st December. The ceremony is based on Yule pageantry as described in detail by Francis Drake in Eboracum, 1736.


The ドeriffs by the cuフom of this citty do ride to テveral parts in the ヂme every yeare, betwixt Michaelmas and midwinter, that is Yoole, and there to make proclamation in the form following.

O yes, &c. we command in our liege lord's behalf the king of England whom God ヂve and keep, that the peace of the king be well kept and maintained within this city, and the ブburbs thereof by night and by day with all manner of men, both gentle and ナmple, in pain that falls thereon.

Alバ we command that no man walk armed within the city by night or by day, except the officers aャigned for keeping the peace, on pain of forfeiting his armour and his body in priバn.

Alバ we command that the bakers of the city bake good bread, and of good boulter, and テll after the aャize, &c. and that no baker nor no huckフer put to ヂle any manner of bread, unleピ that it be テaled with a テal deliverd from the ドeriffs.

>Alバ we command that the brewers of the city brew good ale, and wholeバme for mans body, and テll after the aャize, and by meaブre enテaled.

Alバ that no manner of man paピ out of the citty by night or by day to encounter any manner of victual coming to the city to テll, neither by water nor by land, to lett to come to the market, upon paine ordained therefore.

Alバ that corn brought to the market be purブand, i. e. as good beneath in the ヂck as above, upon forfeiture of the ヂme corn and his body to priバn.

Alバ that corn that's once brought into the market to テll, be not led out of the market for to keep from market-day to market-day, without licence of the ドeriff or his deputys, upon pain that falls thereupon.

Alバ we command that no manner of man walk in the city nor in the ブburbs by night without light before him, i. e. from Haツhe to Michaelmas after ten of the clock, and from Michaelmas to Paツhe after nine of the clock.

Alバ we command that no oフler harbour any フrange man no longer than a night and a day, unleピ he do the ドeriffs to witt, and if he do the contrary he ドall anヘer for his deeds. Alバ we command that no foreign victualer bring any victuals to the city for to テll, whether that it be fleド, or poultry, that he bring it to the market-フead limited therefore in the city, and not テll it or it come there, upon pain that falls thereupon.

Alバ we command that the lanes and フreets of the citty be cleanテd of all manner of nuiヂnce, i. e. of フocks, of フones, of middings, and of all manner of filth, on paine that falls thereupon.

Alバ we command that no manner of men make no inブrrection, congregation, or aャembly within the city or ブburbs in diフurbance of the peace; nor letting of the execution of the common-law, upon paine of puniドment, and all that he may forfeit to the king.

Alバ that no common woman walk in the フreet without a ray=hood on her head and a wand in her hand.

This proclamation I have given at length as it was antiently uテd in the city, what is uテd now is much abridged. The ceremony of riding, one of the greateフ ドews the city of York, does exhibit, is performed on this manner, the riding day of the ドeriffs is uブally on Wedneヅay, eight days after Martinmas; but they are not フrictly tied to that day, any day betwixt Martinmas and Yoole, that is Chriフmas, may テrve for the ceremony. It is then they appear on horテback, apparelled in their black gowns and velvet tippits, their horテs in ブtable furniture, each ドeriff having a white wand in his hand, a badge of his office, and a テrvant to lead his horテ, who alバ carries a gilded truncheon. Their テrjeants at mace, attorneys and other officers of their courts, on horテback in their gowns riding before them. Theテ are preceeded by the city's waites, or muナcians, in their ツarlet liveries and ナlver badges playing all the way through the フreets. One of theテ waites wearing on his head a red pinked or tattered ragged cap, a badge of バ great antiquity, the rife or original of it cannot be found out. Then follows a great concourテ of country gentlemen, citizens, &c. on horテback, who are invited to do this honour to and afterwards dine with them, and though they dine テparately I have テen near four hundred people at one entertinment. In this equipage and manner, with the ドeriffs waiters diフinguiドed by cockades in their hats, who are uブally their friends now, but formerly were their テrvants in livery cloaks; they firフ ride up Micklegate into the yard of the priory of the Trinity, where one of the テrjeants at mace makes proclamation as has been given. Then they ride through the principal フreets of the city, making the ヂme proclamation at the corners of the フreets on the weフ ナde of Ouテbridge. After that at the corner of Castlegate and Ouテgate; then at the corner of Coneyフreet and Stonegate over againフ the Common-hall; then again at the バuth gate of the Minフer. After that they ride unto St. Marygate tower without Bootham-bar, making the ヂme proclamation there. Then returning they ride through the フreets of Petergate, Colliergate, Foャgate, over Foデbridge into Walmgate, where the proclamation is again made ; and laフly they return into the market-place in the Pavement; where the ヂme ceremony being repeated, the ドeriffs depart to their own houテs, and after to their houテ of entertainment ; which is uブally at one of the publick halls in the city.

The ドeriffs of the city of York have anciently uテd on St. Thomas's day the apoフle before Yoole, at toll of the bell to come to Allhallows kirk in the Pavement, and there to hear a maピ of St. Thomas at the high quiere, and to offer at the maピ ; and when maピ was done to make proclamation at the pillory of Yoole=girthol, in the form that follows by their テrjeant, &c.

We command that the peace of our lord the king be well keeped and mayntayned by night and by day, &c. prout バlebat in proclamatione praedict' vicecomitum in eorum equitatione.

Alバ that all manner of whores, thieves, dice=players, and all other unthrifty folk be wellcome to the towne, whether they come late or early, at the reverence of the high feaフe of Yoole, till the twelve dayes be paャed.

The proclamation made in form aforeヂid, the fower テrjeants ドaIl go and ride, whither they will, and one of them ドall have a horne of braピ of the tollbroothe, and the other three テrgeants ドall have each of them a horne, and バ go forth to the fower barrs of the citty, and blow the youle=girthe ; and the ドeriffs for that day uテ to goe together, and they and their wives, and their officers, at the reverence of the high feaフ of Yoole, at their proper coフs, &c.

from: EBORACUM by Francis Drake, 1736


What we've been doing in York every 21st December since the early 1980s is a hybrid of two ceremonies: the Sheriffs' Riding (there two sheriffs until the 20th relatively recently) and Yulegirthol. Historically (as far as we know), the waits only appeared at the Sheriff's Riding and what we perform is a sort of Yoolgirthol with Sheriff and waits, Tony with his horn representing the four sergeants.

THE SHERIFFS' RIDING usually took place on a Wednesday, roughly eight days after Martinmas (11th November + 8 days = 19th November).

The waits led the procession.

Theテ are preceeded by the city's waites, or muナcians, in their ツarlet liveries and ナlver badges playing all the way through the フreets. One of theテ waites wearing on his head a red pinked or tattered ragged cap, a badge of バ great antiquity, the rife or original of it cannot be found out.

We can go one better than Drake, for in the City Cahmberlains' Rolls (Y:C6:10, 1539) we read:

Item paid to Iohn wayte wyff for an old Reyd hoode Iaggyd for one of the Eldest wayttes to weyre              xvj d

John wayte will have been John Harper, chief wait, who died in 1539 and it seems likely that his wife was handing over the hood he wore to display his seniority. The question remains, does "Reyd" mean red or rayed, as in striped? If Drake's "red pinked or tattered ragged cap" is the descendent of Harper's hood it would seem that red is correct.

Beginning near Micklegate bar, the long proclamation quoted above was promulgated at:
Holy Trinity Priory (now Priory Street)
and they rode down Micklegate for repeat the proclamation at
the corners of the streets on the west side of Ousebridge (possibly including
Jacob's Well, what is now George Hudson Street, North Street, Skeldergate)
over Ouse Bridge to
the corner of Castlegate and Ousegate (Spurriergate)
along Coney Street to
the corner of Coney Street and Stonegate (St Helen's Square)
Along Stonegate to
the south door of the Minster
through Bootham bar to
St. Marygate tower
Then they returned through Bootham Bar to ride down Petergate, Colliergate and
Fossgate to
Walmgate and then returned to
Pavement for a final proclamation in the market place (Market Cross at the outside
the east end of All Saints).

YULEGIRTHOL occurred later in the year, precisely on St Thomas's Day (21st December). The Sheriffs would go to mass at All Saints Pavement and, after mass, preside over proclamation of the Yulegirthol at the pillory (was this by the Market Cross, outside the east end of the church?) which was performed by one of the four sergeants after a blast on a brazen horn which was at other times at the toll booth. Thereafter, the four sergeants would go each to one of the four bars (Micklegate bar, Bootham bar, Monk bar and Walmgate bar), each with a horn, to make further proclamations of the Yulegirthol.

Historically, there is no record of the waits' presence at this ceremony and the Yulegirthol was a brief proclamation, the same that we use today on the "Sheriffs' Riding" which takes place on 21st December.

Today it is common knowledge (and our practice) that after the Sheriffs' Riding the participants celebrated with "venison pasty and pints of sherry". I can find no evidence of this, so can it be that it is a tradition of so great antiquity, the rife or original of it cannot be found out? Perhaps this document will provoke the emergence of historical support for this merry custom.

James Merryweather, 2004

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