1 August is traditionally known as Lammas Day and, although not necessarily observed on this day, was meant to coincide with the first reapings of wheat. The name ‘Lammas’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘hlafmaesse’, meaning ‘loaf mass’. The festival of Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest, when traditionally farmers would make loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and present them to the church for use as Communion bread during a special mass to thank God for the harvest. This custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and was replaced with harvest festivals at the end of the season.
A full moon occurs once every 29.5 days and so, with the exception of February, the possibility exists for two full moons to occur in any of the remaining eleven months. (This year August has two full moons, on 2 and 31 August.) The second of these is called the ‘blue moon’, hence the expression ‘once in a blue moon’, referring to the rarity of the occasion.
The English calendar is littered with fairs and festive gatherings. An official fair could only be granted by royal charter, which gave the ‘owner’ of the fair the very lucrative right to collect any tolls and dues generated by the event. Charters were often granted to religious or charitable institutions as a way of ensuring their long-term funding. One such very famous event was the Bartholomew Fair held in Smithfield in London on 24 August every year since it was granted its charter in 1133 by Henry I. However, the Bartholomew Fair gradually became more and more raucous and lawless and was eventually closed down in 1855.
On the last Sunday in August every ear, the village of Eyam in Derbyshire remembers the sacrifice made by the villagers in 1665 when the plague struck and the decision was taken to isolate the village in a self-imposed quarantine to prevent disease from spreading. Many of the graves can still be seen.