Snippets 164. An early form of calendar used in England, amongst other countries, was the “clog almanac”. It was described in detail in The Book of Days (1864) by Robert Chambers, one of the great pioneers of the trivia book. The illustration on the right is also from the same book. It is not upside down, despite some appearance to the contrary!
The simple-minded, yet for his time intelligent and inquiring Dr Robert Plot, in his Natural History of Staffordshire (folio, 1686), gives an account of what he calls the Clog Almanac, which he found in popular use in that and other northern counties, but unknown further south, and which, from its being also used in Denmark, he conceived to have come into England with our Danish invaders and settlers many centuries before. The clog bore the same relation to a printed almanac which the Exchequer tallies bore to a set of account books. It is a square stick of box, or any other hard wood, about eight inches long, fitted to be hung tip in the family parlour for common reference, but sometimes carried as part of a walking-cane. Properly it was a perpetual almanac, designed mainly to show the Sundays and other fixed holidays of the year, each person being content, for use of the instrument, to observe on what day the year actually began, as compared with that represented on the clog; so that, if they were various, a brief mental calculation of addition or subtraction was sufficient to enable him to attain what he desired to know.
The entire series of days constituting the year was represented by notches running along the angles of the square block, each side and angle thus presenting three months; the first day of a month was marked by a notch having a patulous stroke turned up from it, and each Sunday was distinguished by a notch somewhat broader than usual. There were indications— but they are not easily described — for the Golden Number and the cycle of the moon. The feasts were denoted by symbols resembling hieroglyphics, in a manner which will be best understood by examples. Thus, a peculiarly shaped emblem referred to the Circumcisio Domini on the 1st of January. From the notch on the 13th of that month proceeded a cross, as indicative of the episcopal rank of St Hilary; from that on the 25th, an axe for St Paul, such being the instrument of his martyrdom. Against St Valentine’s Day was a true lover’s knot, and against St David’s Day (March 1), a harp, because the Welsh saint was accustomed on that instrument to praise God. The notch for the 2nd of March (St Ceadda’s Day) ended in a bough, indicating the hermit’s life which Ceadda led in the woods near Lichfield. The 1st of May had a similar object with reference to the popular fete of bringing home the May. A rake on St Barnaby’s Day (11th June) denoted hay harvest. St John the Baptist having been beheaded with a sword, his day (June 24) was graced with that implement. St Lawrence had his gridiron on the 10th of August, St Catherine her wheel on the 25th of the same month, and St Andrew his peculiar cross on the last of November. The 23rd of November (St Clement’s Day) was marked with a pot, in reference to the custom of going about that night begging drink to make merry with. For the Purification, Annunciation, and all other feasts of the Virgin, there was a heart, though “what it should import, relating to Mary, unless because upon the shepherds’ relation of their vision, Mary is said to have kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, I cannot imagine,” says our author. For Christmas there was a horn, “the ancient vessel in which the Danes used to wassail or drink healths, signifying to us that this is the time we ought to make merry, cornua exhaurienda notans, as Wormius will have it.” The learned writer adds: “The marks for the greater feasts observed in the church have a large point set in the middle of them, and another over against the preceding day, if vigils or fasts were observed before them.”
The British Museum holds a very good example of a clog almanac, as illustrated on their website. “Wormius” refers to Ole Worm, a Danish antiquarian and natural historian, and his Latin quote can be translated as “denoting drinking from horns”. Some readers may have stumbled on “patulous”, which means “spreading from”, and a gridiron is a cooking grill.
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