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Judas Burning - The Liverpool Good Friday tradition
The Liverpool Good Friday tradition of burning an effigy of Judas around the streets of Dingle and Toxteth was unique in the U.K. Every Good Friday in the first half of the twentieth century the streets of Dingle and Toxteth would ring to the noise of running feet, cries of ‘Judas’ and the crackling sound of burning. The custom of burning an effigy of Judas at Easter was common in Greece, Spain and Mexico. There’s little record of the tradition taking place in the U.K. apart from in Liverpool, even then it was confined to a small area of streets in one area. David Glyn Hughes recalls the tradition during his childhood in the 1930’s. “I was born in 1928 and my childhood up to the blitz was spent living in a two-up-two-down in one of the streets leading down to Grafton Street from Cockburn Street in Toxteth. I remember that we used to get up early on Good Friday morning and “burn Judas” up against the wall of some building.”
The tradition of Judas burning was very parochial and many people from neighbouring districts were unaware of it. The practice generally involved children aged between 8-12 years old who would collect and store wood in the weeks preceding Easter and build an effigy of a human figure, along the same lines as that of Guy Fawkes. The ‘Judas’ would have to be hidden away from rival gangs who would attempt to steal the effigy. The ritual would begin early in the day. In her 1992 book ‘Confessions of a Judas Burner’, Carole Sexton describes that “Mrs Lympany who lived in Lothian Street recalls her two elder sisters going out at 4am around 1914 carrying a burning torch and running through the streets shouting ‘Burn Judas’.” Children would parade the Judas as they ran through the streets asking for contributions with the cry of ‘A penny for Judas’s breakfast.’ The Judas would then be burnt on a local waste ground. Sometimes a pig’s bladder would also form part of the ritual. The bladder would be purchased from a local butcher, inflated and then tied with string before being attached to a stick. The bladder would be used to beat the Judas and often other children too. Authorities intervene The police and fire brigade would often attempt to thwart the burnings as David Glyn Hughes says “Of course it would not be long before the police would be around putting out the fire and picking on one or two of the boys, it was always boys in my memories of these events, and chasing them through the streets.
"I can't remember which year it was. I was simply watching these other lads burning their "Judas" when two policemen arrived, would you believe - on a motorcycle and sidecar! We all scattered but for some reason they decided to chase me.
"I was running along the jigger behind Cockburn Street toward my back entry between Draycott and Charlecote Streets where I would be home. Because every time the police came to a street to cross they had to stop to make sure nothing was coming down the street, I was able to keep ahead of them. I turned down my back entry without them seeing which of the back doors I had turned into. The dog in the yard next to mine kicked up a shindig and I heard the police open that back door, saw I wasn't in that yard and decided to call it a day. Was I relieved! I don't think my parents ever knew that I had been involved."
Local residents would often leave their front doors ajar so fleeing children could hide inside. Most people recall that the fun would generally be over by noon, with mid morning the popular time for fires to be lit.
One explanation for the development of Judas Burning was that sailors from Greece, Spain and Portugal would carry out the ritual on their ships. This was witnessed by the local children who then took up the custom themselves.
In Liverpool it seems to have been in existence from the late 19th Century although it was most prevalent in the years between the two world wars. There are reports of Judas Burning taking place as late as the 1950’s.
Do you have recollections of Judas burning? Have you heard stories about it? Add your comments here.
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Too old to suffer
My chap's an old Dingle lad - we used to live there - I will ask his family if they remember it.
I live in Mexico and last Easter we were in the beautiful city of San Luis Potosi where we saw the still common Judas burning.
Larger than lifesize papier mache figures are brightly painted and then burnt in a ritual cleansing of evil, accompanied with firework displays.
Judas is usually portrayed as a devil complete with horns and tail but very often other more modern "devils" are portrayed including local politicians and even George Bush.
This is completely new information to me. First time I have heard of it. My maternal grandfather grew up on Merlin Street and Beaufort
Street in Toxteth. I wonder if he knew about it or ever engaged in it?
It was introduced by Portuguese and Spanish sailors in the 1800s who berthed in the south ends docks. It was only
Originally Posted by ChrisGeorge
applicabale to the south end of the city and only around Toxteth and predominantly the dock area. Few people living outside had ever heard of it. The
bonfires were set alight at dawn when it was dark on Good Friday and by noon it was all over. The last of it centred around Toxteth St and the very last was
conducted by my cousin, Alan Rietdyk on waste ground between Prophet St and Northumberland St in around 1970-71.
Strangely his brother David, was in
charge of the slipways at Lairds, and put the last vessel in the water - a submarine.
Thank you for that additional information, Waterways.
Originally Posted by Waterways
There is a Dingle Historical Society.
Actually they're pensioners who use the occasion as a weekly coffee morning, but some of them
remembered the Judas Burnings.
Like other "immigrants" to the Dingle I'd never heard of it before.
My cousin who did the very last is in his 40s.
Originally Posted by PhilipG
Help find Madeleine
Not quite so Waterways, we kids in my neighbourhood (bottom end of Scotland Road) would,
Originally Posted by Waterways
starting on the Monday of Holy week, parade an effigy of Judas, just like a "Guy" on Guy Fawkes night and beg a "Penny for his soul, Judas!". Or, "A penny
for the soul of Judas". We would share out the money on Goodfriday afternoon at 3:00pm, the supposed time that Christ died on the cross, and burn "Judas" in
effigy on a bonfire. The time frame would have been the late forties and early fifties. I will assume that we got the tradition from the generation before
mine, where they got it from I don't know.
I wonder if this tradition will ever be revived...there are enough candidates for the Judas effigy. The latest Easter bonfire I heard about was '75/76 by kids in the Dingle Blocks.
Phew, just got in after being legged by the bizzies....
hang on a mo (the scouse Indian Chief) - till I get my breath back....
Yeah, just back from the oller behind Bleak House
Gizza glass o'water will yer.
No Judas burnings here? Long since died away, smoke free!! In the Readers Digest book of Folklore and Myths, it says Liverpool is the only city in Britain that did this, it says the Catholic areas, but we were Proddys! Hey up here's the fire brigade! ' now dodge the army!'
As a Dingle lad I remember staying up all night as with bonfire night to save other kids nicking our wood the eve before Good Friday. As the area was slowly "decanted" in the mid 1970's the tradition faded away, but not the memories.
My belated apologies to the residents of the Dingle for nicking a bottle of their milk from thier door steps in the early morning after staying up all night.
Help find Madeleine
WE would carry his effigy from street to street with the cry; "Penny for his soul JUDAS". We would use any money collected to buy hot cross buns from the bakery. I was raised at the bottom of Scotland Road.
Originally Posted by Kev
Originally Posted by Sloyne
That's very interesting because I thought it was stated that the tradition was confined to a small area of the Dingle. It's nice to know that the custom was more widespread.
Did people shout "Eee! Grass!" at the effigy as it went past?
My dad was born in 1923 in Northumberland Buildings in Northumberland Street and he often told me about it.
He and his mates would get someones judas and set it alight, they would then run through the back entrys dragging the burning judas and shouting burn judas.
My dad god bless him often told me about his childhood, these memories of him keep me close to him.
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