Guest Post by BK
October 18 is St Luke’s Day in the Christian Calendar. Charlton parish church is dedicated to St Luke and so the Charlton Horn Fair has been held on this day since medieval times.
Popular mythology has it that the fair was founded in the reign of King John (1199-1216). The King was out hunting when he came across the attractive wife of the local miller. He was about to seduce her when the miller returned home and made to kill the King who managed to save himself by revealing his identity. He then offered the miller the lordship of all the land between Charlton and the bend in the River Thames at Rotherhithe. He also gave permission for a fair to be held on St Luke’s Day. The bend in the river has since been known as Cuckold’s Point. A more prosaic explanation for the name of the fair is that in Christian art St Luke is usually associated with a horned ox.
A cuckold is a man whose wife has been unfaithful. It is derived from the cuckoo which lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. It has been a very potent source of ribaldry and insults throughout Europe since the Middle Ages and has traditionally been associated with animal horns or antlers. The stag will give up his flock of hind to the victor if defeated in a fight. A man whose wife had been seduced by another was said to ‘have the horn’or ‘be wearing the horn’. There was even a hand gesture called the sign of the horn. The index and little fingers are extended and the middle pair folded. The hand may then be held to the forehead. This was a very insulting gesture and still is in places like Southern Italy. Although in Britain references to ‘the horn’ now tend to be more priapic and less insulting.
Cuckold’s Point marks the point where the river narrows and the rougher waters of the Thames Estuary turn into the calm of The Pool Of London and so also became known as Cuckold’s Haven. It was marked by a tall pole on which were mounted rams horns or deer antlers and this became a landmark that travellers looked out for. It was also said that it reminded returning sailors what their wives had been up to whilst they had been away. The pole and its decorations were maintained by the Guild of London butchers.
Cuckold’s Haven became an obvious metaphor and it figures frequently in popular English literature and many a husband finds himself stranded there. More of this in Part 2