Historian Arthur Nicholls recounts the legend of Dickie Doodle

LEGENDS are fascinating, whether fact or fiction. Many historians descry them as being without any basis but some might have begun with a long lost true event.

One of Kendal’s legends continues to intrigue – that of Dickie Doodle.

It tells of a young ‘jack-the-lad’ at the king’s court who became an embarrassment to the ladies, so the king sent him to Kendal with the town’s first market charter.

It would have been a dangerous journey and, if he failed to arrive, another charter could be sent, problem solved.

In the story, he reached Kendal, got drunk, became a nuisance and was chased through the town as far as the ford over the river at the foot of Stramongate where his pursuers stopped as he waded through the water to the other bank.

The area up to Far Cross Bank was the ‘east end’ of Kendal and was thinly populated by poor, labouring classes who envied the townsfolk their wealth and power but derided them for their superior manners and their foppish ways.

Dickie was welcomed with open arms by the people, who applauded his escape and made him their Mayor. The area then became known as Doodleshire.

That is the story. Is there even a grain of historical truth in it? Who knows? We can believe it or not as we wish.

At the end of the 18th century the inhabitants of Doodleshire set up a mock Corporation with its mock Mayor.

He was appointed each year in October on ‘Mayor Chusing Day’ or ‘Dickie Doodle Day’.

This was designed as a parody of the borough’s fancy ceremonies, pompous manners and self-important personalities.

There was a formal ceremony and a procession, followed by festivities, including sports.

In 1829 James Wiggin, a weaver, accepted the office of Mayor. He set off on a tall horse, dressed in a puffed and powdered, red-brown wig, holding his staff of office topped with a narrow strip of blue ribbon, to ride the boundaries of Doodleshire.

He supped well on the way and became so drunk that he had to sleep it off and an ex-Mayor continued the riding.

Some wags in the crowd jostled him, smearing his face with tallow and soot. He did not discover this until he had dismounted when he rolled on the floor in anger, vowing never again to be Mayor.

About nine in the evening, Wiggins regained consciousness and joined in the fun, swearing to be a good Mayor and discharge his duties well.

The next day he was chaired and formally installed as Mayor for one year – and the blacking of the new Mayor’s face became the tradition.

The Mayor-making ceremony continued until 1837, incidentally the same year Wiggins was thrown into prison and died a pauper.

The sports were held for some years after until it all became a farce and died out.

In an bid to revive the fortunes of the area, the Mayor-making of Doodleshire was resurrected with a Sports Day in 2007 – but it lapsed after a couple of years.