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The Witch and the Pancakes

The Witch and the Pancakes - origins

How did the pancake originate?

  • Pancake
  • Pancakes have been around, in one form or another, for a very long time. Archaeologists have found evidence of pancakes from back in the Stone Age, made from wheat and also millet and barley. These would have been cooked over hot stones, placed on a fire. In the Middle Ages, pancakes, known as frayse, became particularly associated with Shrove Tuesday.

    Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, is the last Tuesday before Lent. In the Christian calendar, the 40 days of Lent see a period of fasting, when rich foods may not be eaten. Therefore, people used up all of their rich ingredients, such as eggs and milk, before the fast, so they were not wasted. Pancakes were a good way of using up these ingredients and a celebratory feast developed. Fasting during Lent was more severe than today. In some places, all animal products were forbidden; in other places, people did not eat all day until a small meal in the evening, usually without meat.

    Today, pancakes come in all shapes and sizes from thick fatty batters to thin crêpes and can be served with lemon, sugar or with variety of sweet or savory fillings.

    What is the mound at Conger Hill?

    Mount at Congar Hill
  • The mount at Congar Hill
  • Conger Hill is an ancient British fortification, thought to date originally from the Bronze Age, that was later used as the site of a type of Norman castle, known as a motte and bailey. The motte is the mound that supported the strongpoint of the castle and the bailey is the enclosed courtyard below. The original Toddington castle would have been made of timber and later replaced with a stone building. The stone castle was built during the 12th century. In the 13th century, it was listed as the stronghold of Sir Paulinus Pegure (Paul Pever) who leased it from Roger Bigod, one of the most powerful barons in England.

    Today the motte, encased by a wide ditch, can still be seen. Some irregular depressions, which may indicate the site of buildings, have also been found by archaeologists. To the west and south, the bailey is partially built over, with only the slightest of ramparts now remaining. Some people have suggested that the name Conger Hill originates from its use, in the 16th century, as a rabbit warren, although not everyone agrees.

    The 12th - 14th centuries saw a time of great upheaval. Many Barons had Castles, or strongholds, to protect their households in time of war. During the regin of King Henry III most of the land was held from the king by a small number of wealthy Barons. The King was not popular as he chose to govern through his hand-picked trusted aides rather than publically appointed ministers. Eventually in 1260 he was forced to hold the first parliament.

    Who was Sir Paul Pever?

    King Henry lll
  • King Henry lll
  • Sir Paul Pever actually existed. He was also known as Sir Paulinus Pegure or Peyvre and he was, indeed, a steward of the royal household of Henry III.

    His family had held land in Toddington, from around 1198. Toddington Manor and Castle were subinfeudated (leased) to Paul Pever from Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, and, in 1250, Paul Pever obtained a grant of a market in this manor.

    He was listed as one of the king's seneschals (stewards) in 1249 and died in London in 1252. It is also true that he instructed that his body should be buried in London, but his heart taken to Toddington. It is buried in a recessed tomb in the wall of the south transept of the church. The manor passed to his grandson John, and remained in the family for around 200 years.

    The manor experienced mixed fortunes. In 1346, it was listed as being held by Nicholas Pever, aged only fourteen and a half years. On his death in 1362, the manor was valued at only £12 12s. 8d., 'because the tenants are dead', so Toddington must have suffered heavily from the plague of that year. Toddington manor recovered and Nicholas’ great grandson, John Broughton, was sheriff for Bedfordshire in 1436, 1460 and 1466.

    The estates were eventually inherited by his great, great, great grandson, -Henry Cheney. Henry was knighted in 1562 at Toddington and, as a baron of the realm from 1572 to 1586, was one of the peers appointed to sit at the trial of Mary Queen of Scots. He died shortly afterwards, without children, and the estates passed to his wife and then her nephew, ending the direct line of inheritance.

    Is there really a Pancake bell and what about the witch?

    Toddington Church
  • Toddington Church
  • Old earth works and mounds often have supernatural stories attached to them and there are other examples of mounds under which a witch, or even the devil, is thought to live.

    It is true that every Shrove Tuesday at Toddington, the 'pancake bell' was rung in the church to remind the women to make their pancakes. It is also true that school children would then run to Conger Hill, put their ears to the ground and, supposedly, listen to the sizzling sound of the 'old woman' frying her pancakes, most likely the vibrations from the church bells or clock. The last outing of this kind had been in the early 1970’s but was revived in 2012, and incorporated into Myths and Legends learning at the school.

    With the knowledge that a castle once stood on the site and that Sir Paul who owned it was steward to the king, the rest of the story has arisen to be one of several local explanations as to how the old witch, rumoured to live in the mound, came to be there and why she is said to be frying pancakes.

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