The Duck Feast, BuckinghamshireAnnual village celebrations are by no means rare in Britain, with some like the Kingsteignton Ram Roast qualifying as a folk custom. The Duck Feast at Charlton St Peter in Wiltshire is another such event, though with a decided difference and some famous names - and a largely forgotten one - behind it.
Duck here refers not to the quacking bird, but a local man Stephen Duck, born about 1705, who came from a very poor farm-labourer background but rose by his studies and poetry to become something of a literary darling for a short time. Queen Caroline was one of his patrons (she made him a Yeoman of the Guard, made him Keeper of Duck Island in St James’s Park, and paid for him to be prepared for the cloth), Lord Palmerston another. In 1734 Palmerston gifted the rent from a piece of land to the village in perpetuity, the money at first paying for a yearly feast in the local pub, The Charlton Cat, attended by 12 of Duck’s fellow threshers and the poet himself, then later all the adult males of the village.
The tradition continues, with a few flourishes: the money from what has gained the name Duck Acre pays for a dinner on June 1 for 12 Duck Men plus a Chief Duck, this dignitary wearing a tall silk hat trimmed with duck feathers and bearing an image of the poet. All the Duck Men must be locals born and bred. Toasts are drunk by all from a special vessel called the Duck Goblet; these consisting of three-quarters of a pint of beer to be downed in one; the toasts are traditionally to Lord Palmerston; the Queen; and Stephen Duck.
Sadly poor Duck, who had risen to be Rector of Byfleet, went mad and drowned himself. But the feast is his continuing memorial, having been celebrated every year – even in wartime – since the first gathering.
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to The Duck Feast
From Verlaine BAKER on 8th February 2013
I am a DUCK descendant of I believe of Stephen DUCK. Mr James William DUCK JP was my G.G.G.Grandfather. Mr James DUCK was born in Pewsey Vale Wiltshire 1832 - died in South Australia possibly a descendant of Mr Stephen DUCK born 1705. Noting your DUCK Feast held annually in Charlton. Can you please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org My mother's maiden name was DUCK. Message: February 2013.