Old Man’s day - 2 October
Mathew Wall was a sixteenth century resident of Braughing, who had a lucky escape from being buried alive.
Legend has it that on October 2 1571 a sad procession was making its way to , Braughing. Among the mourners was the fiancée of farmer Mathew Wall who, though still in his prime, had been found dead. As the pall-bearers walked down the tree-lined Fleece Lane one of them slipped on the leaves that had fallen in early autumn. The coffin slid from his grasp and fell with a jolt to the earth.
When the men took hold of their burden again, they were shocked and frightened to hear banging from inside the coffin. The jolt had woken Mathew from his coma or narcoleptic fit, and he was thumping the lid quite literally for dear life. Saved from being buried alive, Mathew went on to marry his sweetheart and to live another 24 years.
In his will dated 1595 he made provisions to commemorate his remarkable escape. Mathew left the income frm a house and piece of land in Green End to ensure every October 2 the church bells would toll in remembrance, and later that they would ring a wedding peal to recall his marriage. The sexton of the church was charged to place brambles on his gravestone to stop sheep from wandering over it. And rather more strangely given the circumstances, Farmer Wall made arrangements to ensure Fleece Lane be swept on October 2 – had the lane been clear of detritus on October 2 1571 he would have met a terrible end. On this day each year the custom begins outside The Golden Fleece, where the vicar tells the story of the dramatic event and the current resident of The Haven’, part of the 17th century house built on the land owned by Mathew Wall, pays his annual fee of £1.00
These days it is schoolchildren of Jenyns First School who sweep the lane on Old Man’s Day, and are rewarded with sweets then a song, concerned with the miraculous escape, is sung by his graveside.
This year saw a very different Old Man's Day celebration. Following the Covid guidelines the Rector, Rev Julie Gawthrope and five other representatives of Jenyns school - all from the Cook family with a school history going back five generations - met to sweep Fleece Lane.
Following tradition, the current owner of ‘The Haven’ - Mark Landon - handed over his due and the sweeping began ending at Mathew’s graveside with a song and prayers.