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Parish Ale

The Parish ale was a festival in an English parish at which ale made and donated for the event was the chief drink. The word "ale" was generally used as part of a compound term. Thus there were leet-ales (held on "leet"--the manorial court day); lamb-ales (that held at lamb-shearing); Whitsun-ales, clerk-ales, church-ales and so on. The word bridal originally derives from "bride-ale", the wedding feast. Bid-ales, once very common throughout England, were "benefit" feasts to which a general invitation was given, and all the neighbours attending were expected to make some contribution to help the object of the "benefit." These parish festivals were of much ecclesiastical and social importance in medieval England. The chief purpose of church-ales and clerk-ales, at least, was to facilitate the collection of parish-dues, or to make an actual profit for the church from the sale of ale by the church wardens. These profits kept the parish church in repair, or were distributed as alms to the poor. At Sygate, Norfolk, on the gallery of the church is inscribed:
God speed the plough
And give us good ale enow . . .
Be merry and glade,
With good ale was this work made.

On the beam of a screen in the church of Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, is the following inscription in raised Gothic letters, on a scroll held by two angels: "This cost is the bachelers made by ales thesn be ther med." The date is about 1480. The feast was usually held in a barn near the church or in the churchyard. In Tudor times church-ales were held on Sundays; gradually the parish-ales were limited to the Whitsun season, and these still have local survivals. The colleges of the universities used to brew their own ales and hold festivals known as college-ales; some of these ales are still brewed and famous, like "chancellor" at Queen's College, and "archdeacon" at Morton College, Oxford, and "audit ale" at Trinity, Cambridge.