There’s a centuries old folk custom which developed in slightly different forms around the world.
In Britain it was known by many names – mainly (in Lincolnshire) ” Ran-Tan-Tan” or “Skimmington,” but in America it was called, among other names, “shivaree,” in France “charivari,” in Germany “katzenmusik,” and in Italy “scampanate.”
It was even recorded by novelist Thomas Hardy in his book “The Mayor of Casterbridge” in the late 19th Century, but had been on the go for long before that.
The intention of “Ran-Tan-Tan” was to draw attention to marital misbehaviour or husbands bullying their partners and wife-beating – in some places it became slightly sinister, taken over by local vigilantes and self-appointed keepers of local morals.
In Dorset a form of it survives to this day as a ceremony to scare off evil spirits. It was also called “rough music,” which gives a clue to what “Ran-Tan-Tan,” actually is.
In many cases, calling it any kind of music was doing it a favour – it was mainly just noise – a masked gang beating a cacophony on frying pans, saucepans, kettles and trays, blowing bugles, bull horns, rattling cleavers and bones, ringing bells and beating drums - usually outside the home of the alleged guilty party – and usually for three nights.
An effigy of the accused was made up and carried round the village on a pole before being “drowned” in the local pond or burned. They’d sing too – songs like:
There is a man in our town, Who often beats his wife,
So if he does it any more, We’ll put his nose right out before
Holler boys, holler boys, Make the Bells Ring,
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King
In Britain it was all supposed to be illegal after the Highways Act of 1882 – but not in Rippingale – and I’m indebted to Rosetta Atkinson for the following story, reported in the Lincolnshire Free Press in August 1919 and the photo of the Rippingale Ran-Tanners.
Eight men – all from respectable and longstanding Rippingale families - were summoned to Bourne Police Court – which was packed with villagers - for unlawfully joining in a brawl in the village.
PC Starmer gave evidence that he was on duty and there was regular pandemonium caused by the beating of drums, tins, buckets, plough breasts, old pieces of iron, playing of instruments, shouting and yelling, with the burning of effigies.
It lasted three nights, the whole village was in commotion and the noise could be heard two miles away, according to Sgt Borrill who cycled in from Billingborough – it was described as “ran-tanning.”
This evidence produced much hilarity in court. The reason for it was that a local woman had been carrying on with a neighbour while her husband was away from home serving in the Army, in France, they claimed.
But the lady, who was called to give evidence, Mrs Ethel Jane Steele, denied this – the denial causing commotion in court.
Eventually, Mr Cecil Crust, the solicitor representing the eight men summoned to court, after consulting his clients, told the Bench they were willing to express their regret for the incidents, promise there would be no repeat performances and would pay costs.
Supt Baily said the conduct was disgraceful and it was abominable that people should be subjected to such rowdyism but he would be willing for the cases to be withdrawn, on the expression of regret, if the defendants undertook not to repeat such incidents under any circumstances.
The cases were withdrawn and, according to the Lincolnshire Free Press – “Thus ended one of the most sensational days in the history of Bourne Police Court.”