Mischief Night – a Northern Tradition or a British One?

2 11 2019

4th of November
One of my favourite nights of the year when I was a child was ‘Mischief Night’ – the night before Plot (or bonfire) night so 4th November. I’m not sure whether this was a Northern thing or a British thing so please feel free to leave comments about what you got up to if you had a mischief night when you were kids…

I’ve a feeling that Mischief Night no longer exists amongst modern generations anyway. When I mentioned it to my much younger colleague today at work, she thought (perhaps predictably) that I meant Halloween. We actually didn’t really do anything much for Halloween back in my day. All the ‘trick or treating’ is an American import and a fairly recent one at that.

Anyway… to get onto what went on on Mischief Night…

The main and favourite pastime was ‘knocking on doors’. We used to make this a lot more interesting in our ‘gang’ by taking a length of rope and tying two neighbouring houses’ doors together and then knocking (we would leave around a couple of feet spare in the rope).

This was absolutely hilarious to watch. The first person to answer the door would open it, quickly followed by the second person who, in opening their door, would slam the other person’s door shut. They would furiously yank it open again as we were generally stood not far away laughing. This would then slam their neighbour’s door and so on ad infinitum (until they gave up and we would retrieve our rope). The beauty of this one was that you could openly stand laughing at them and they couldn’t get out to get you! 😉

We also used to pour golden syrup all over the telephone box phone and receiver (a bit anti-social and vandalistic that one) so that people would end up getting all sticky and horrid when they went to make a call. This, of course, was in the wonderful days before mobiles and even before most people had phones in their house. It was also in the days where you took a stack of 2 pence pieces with you to make your call – costs a bit more nowadays!

We always used to remove as many garden gates as possible and hide them. The farmers of the area probably used to scratch their heads in a morning when going into their fields and finding a row of gates along the other side of their wall! Actually, a google search reveals that, due to others doing this, some areas call mischief night ‘gate night’!

Also, as ‘plot night’ (bonfire night) was the next night, we also used to naughtily steal the best bits of other bonfires for our own. I got a rusty nail through my hand one dark night doing that – I suppose tetanus would’ve served me right!

One particular mischief night, we decided to raid the village bonfire which was on the recreation ground. This was the vicar’s baby – he was organising it all. We actually stole a door, a sofa and a piano off this bonfire and, for some reason, decided to take the route round the village past the vicarage.

We were just wheeling the piano and sofa and carting the door towards his house when he appeared walking towards us. We promptly dropped our loads and turned round, making it look like we were taking them TO his plot rather than pinching them. He was fooled and thanked us for our efforts…

An interesting point about pianos here… most houses in Britain had a piano at one time back then (40s, 50s, 60s). They went out of fashion in the 1970s and we broke up many a piano on the green outside our houses with a sledgehammer. It was a test of strength whether you could swing the sledgehammer hard enough to break the thick metalled backplate in those days. I feel terrible that I destroyed so many upright pianos now but, back then, it was normal and acceptable. How times change…

Another thing we particularly did around mischief night but also year-round really was ‘hedge-diving’. This completely wrecked people’s garden hedges but was excellent fun. You basically took a good run at the hedge, dived onto the top of it and it pinged you into the air and into their garden. We would then scarper after we’d done it a few times and they came out to chase us.

Strangely, we were friends with the two children of the ‘big house’ in the village for a while and they used to join us in wrecking their own laurel hedge!

I also used to (not just on mischief night though) go around the village barking and setting all the dogs in the houses off barking. There were a couple of yappy little dogs which I got barking madly in a car once by hammering on the windows and barking at them. They were completely hysterical after a minute or so. Strangely though, so was my mate – she was on the floor and speechless with laughter.

“It’s not THAT funny is it?” I thought to myself. Then I looked in the car and saw a very astonished looking old lady was sat with the dogs.

So… what did you guys get up to? anything? nothing? or you just haven’t heard of ‘mischief night’?

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21 responses

13 11 2019
tessapark1969

Not heard of mischief night but like the idea. Halloween is just too commercial these days – like Xmas – bah humbug!!

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14 11 2019
mountaincoward

Yeah – I used to love Christmas but it’s really lost it’s spirit. My friend and I went to Midnight Mass at the village church last year to try to revive the feeling. Unfortunately it didn’t work – the church was populated by all the incomers (whom we don’t like), they didn’t have the service by candlelight like they used to and they didn’t ring the bell at midnight! I was really disappointed!

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4 11 2019
Alli Templeton

Great post, Carol, and I love the mischief you got up to! I’ve heard of mischief night but I didn’t know anything much about it until now. It’s good to know you actually marked it, although we didn’t celebrate it in the south, so maybe it is more of a northern thing, or perhaps it is British and it just hung on more up there. I was telling my daughter Maddie on Halloween how it’s so different now from when I was a kid. We didn’t do anything much at all either, just wander round the house with a sheet on our heads at most. It’s gone bonkers now with trick or treating, and I remember seeing an item on the news about how bad it is for the environment with all this throw-away stuff with plastic in it – even the costumes. How things change, eh?

My family have an upright heirloom of a piano – apparently it’s worth a fair bit, so I’m glad it didn’t get trashed at any point. Mum’s still got it in her house, although none of us play much any more – other than Maddie who had lessons for quite a while. But it’s been a fixture of my whole life, so in many ways it feels part of the family. 🙂

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4 11 2019
mountaincoward

I was just thinking when I was in a shop the other day and saw the Halloween Costumes what a waste it was to make a glittery, plasticky outfit, have your kids wear it once and then throw it away. If we had dressed up in our day, the family would have made the costumes themselves using old clothing.

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5 11 2019
Alli Templeton

Absolutely, I completely agree. Seeing all this stuff in the shops and knowing it’ll all be in landfill in a couple of weeks’ time leaves me feeling a bit nauseous. We have a few decorations but we use them year after year and Maddie usually makes her own costume, then upcycles it the next year. Anything else is madness. Bring back the old days! 🙂

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5 11 2019
mountaincoward

I use the same Christmas tree and decorations every year and have used the same stuff for more than 20 years now. My parents went one further – they used to leave their fake tree decorated, shove a plastic bag over it and bung it in the loft until the next Christmas – saved a lot of effort that!

And you can thank all us horrible upright piano-breakers for making your escapee more valuable! (I still wish we hadn’t broken them all up though – very sad)

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5 11 2019
Alli Templeton

I know piano-breaking was quite a tradition for a while. Ours is a Berlin one, and it’s quite old and quite rare I think, so it’s worth a fair bit for that alone. Needs tuning though…

I’ve kept the Christmas decorations the same for many years too, although I’m tending to incorporate a bit more natural stuff nowadays, the greenery and orange/cinnamon decorations etc that remind me more of what you’d have found in a medieval castle. Last year we had a door garland thing of all natural stuff and we put it out in the woods locally after the 6th Jan. It’s still there now, but it’s good to see it gradually breaking down and being reclaimed by the Earth.
As for putting the tree away with the decorations still in place – that’s a piece of genius! I doubt I could manage that, but well done to your parents!:-)

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5 11 2019
mountaincoward

Great way to do it with natural decorations and then letting them decay naturally. I ought to look around this year to do that. I have a holly in my garden but I don’t think it berries…

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5 11 2019
Alli Templeton

I got into the more natural stuff when we went to Barley Hall in York last year in late November. The medieval townhouse was all done up for Christmas as it would have been in the middle ages and I couldn’t believe how fantastic and festive it felt. There was greenery and natural adornments everywhere – including holly – and it really didn’t need any modern commercial stuff to make it any more Christmassy. It was a real eye-opener.

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4 11 2019
chrissiedixie

I had never heard of Mischief Night until meeting Geoff. He used to get up to stuff in Leeds, but in both Co. Durham and Cheshire – the two places I lived as a kid – I never came across it at all!

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4 11 2019
mountaincoward

It’s never too late to give it a try! 😉

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4 11 2019
Blue Sky Scotland

I have heard of it and similar types of things but only around the Yorkshire/ Southern Lake District area so it might just be local to there. England has a lot of old traditions in the different regions that still remain, mainly in the autumn/winter months that go back to pagan roots. It’s only with the birth of smart phones that they may be lost…. to swiping endlessly with a finger instead- something I see on every bus journey now.

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4 11 2019
mountaincoward

people on phones at inappropriate times are getting a mention on one of my next posts. They get quite ridiculous don’t they? Whatever happened to looking out of the window or watching the antics of your fellow passengers on a trip on public transport?

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3 11 2019
John Bainbridge

Never got down to the Midlands/

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4 11 2019
mountaincoward

You should have moved to your current area sooner – I bet they had it around there!

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5 11 2019
John Bainbridge

They don’t now. Quiet as anything.

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5 11 2019
mountaincoward

that’s sad really – children staying in instead of playing out – even if we/they did make a nuisance of themselves, it was how children were supposed to behave in my book…

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2 11 2019
mbc1955

We didn’t do it in Manchester. i’ve heard it mentioned, recently, as a Yorkshire tradition. Round East Manchester, you didn’t even start collecting firewood or doing Penny for the Guy until November 1st.

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4 11 2019
mountaincoward

I have to admit we didn’t do ‘penny for the guy’ though…

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2 11 2019
treksandtors

Got to say that I’ve never heard of it, maybe I’m to good and pure of heart (goes off to find polish to shine his halo!!). I guess it might be our version of Halloween if it involved knocking on doors, although we did that most nights anyway as knock and run

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4 11 2019
mountaincoward

Yeah, we did quite a bit of knocking and running year-round really. But Mischief Night it was expected of us!

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