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CHAPTER X

THE BULL-ROARER

some parts of the British Islands boys occasionally play

with a toy which consists of a thin slat of wood tied to the end of a long piece of string, the rapid whirling of which results in a noise that is expressed in the various names given to this simple instrument. Prof. E. B. Tylor informs me that the name of “bull-roarer” was first introduced into anthropological literature by the Rev. Lorimer Fison,' who compares the Australian turndün to "the wooden toy which I remember to have made as a boy, called a 'bull-roarer, and this term has since been universally adopted as the technical name for the implement.

For some years past I have collected all the specimens and information I could about this interesting object. I have one specimen made by a boy at Balham in Surrey (London, S.W.); it is 7 inches in length and 17 inches in breadth (187 mm. by 30 mm.). The ends are square, and it is serrated along each side. I have heard of it in Essex, but have not seen a specimen.

In West Suffolk it is called a “hummer," and is slightly notched; I have been told that in East Suffolk the edges

1 Fison and Howitt, Kamilaroi and Kurnai, 1880, p. 267. Prof. E. B. Tylor in his review of this book in The Academy, April 9, 1881, p. 265, gives “whizzer" as an alternative name.

* Subsequently I give, within parentheses, the English measurements, followed by the same converted into the metric system.

were sometimes plain. I have several specimens from different parts of Norfolk, where it is called “ humming buzzer," or simply “buzzer " (105 x 1, 11 x 13, 1If x f; 257 x 38, 282 x 47, 292 x 35). The ends are usually square, but the string end is rounded in the last one; the sides may be serrated or simply notched along both surfaces of each side, the notches being more or less deep. One specimen "buzz" from Mid-Norfolk is rounded at the string end and pointed at the other, and with only five notches along each side (77 x 2}; 184 x 54). I have been informed that in Cambridgeshire it was called a “bull," and has plain edges. In Bedfordshire its name is “buzzer.” The Lincolnshire variety," swish," is quadrangular, like the ordinary Norfolk form, and notched. I have heard of its occurrence in the East Riding of Yorkshire, but have no details. In East Derbyshire it is known as a “bummer” or “ buzzer.” My Derbyshire specimen is plano-convex, the string end is square, and the other rounded. In nearly every specimen the string passes through a hole near one end; but in this example the string is tied in a nick in each side near one end, and the opposite half and the free end are alone serrated (105 x 14; 257 x 47). A model of a Warwickshire type has the ends practically square, but the sides are slightly concave (6 x If at each end and 14 in the middle; 152 x 44 and 38). Another model, also called “bummer," said to be used in Warwickshire, Staffordshire, and Shropshire, has square ends, and the sides are concave near the string end, and there are four pairs of oblique grooves in the middle (74 x 14 and 1 in the narrow part; 190 x 38 and 25). I must confess that I am not satisfied about these last two implements. I have one or two others that were given me by the same friend which vary considerably in form, and had no localities given with them. I reserve these for the present, as I have my doubts about them.

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5 Fig. 38.

Bull-Roarers from the British Islands. 1. Ballycastle, County Antrim. 2. Warwickshire, Staffordshire, and Shropshire. 3. Warwick

shire. 4 Montgomeryshire. 5. Derbyshire. 6, 7, 8. Norfolk. 9. Balham (Surrey).

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The Rev. Elias Owen, of Oswestry, kindly had a “roarer made for me as they were used sixty years ago in Montgomeryshire in Wales. Here again we have the East Anglian pattern, but with the ends differently finished off. Although there is a large hole at one end, strangely enough the string is tied through a small hole at the other extremity (124 x 2}; 311 x 64). (Fig. 38, No. 4.)

I have been told that the bull-roarer was known as a

thunder-spell” ' in some parts of Scotland, and in Aberdeen as a 'thunder-bolt." Professor Tylor also records it from Scotland.' My friend, Mrs. Gomme, has very kindly allowed me to copy the following from the second volume of her Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1898, p. 291):

Thun'er-Spell.A thin lath of wood, about six inches long and three or four inches broad, is taken and rounded at one end. A hole is bored in that end, and in the hole is tied a piece of cord between two and three yards long. It is then rapidly swung round, so as to produce a buzzing sound. The more rapidly it is swung the louder is the noise. It was believed that the use of this instrument during a thunder-storm saved one from being struck with the thun'er-bolt.' I (Dr. Gregor] have used it with this intention (Keith). In other places it is used merely to make

It is commonly deeply notched all round the edges to increase the noise.

* Since the above was in type, Mr. W. S. Laverock, of the Liverpool Museum, has informed me that “thunner spells" are quite common in Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire ; they were made by farm-servants and villagers. They are usually flat laths, twelve to fifteen inches in length and two and a half to three inches wide; the perforated end was rounded, and the notching varied in amount according to the taste and patience of the maker. They were used with a short string. Mr. Laverock does not know whether the word “spell” means, in this connection, a charm, or the Scottish term for a shaving, the English "spill."

? Journ. Anth. Inst., xix., p. 163.

"Some years ago a herd-boy was observed making one in a farm kitchen (Udny). It was discovered that when he was sent to bring the cows from the fields to the farmyard to be milked, he used it to frighten them, and they ran frantically to their stalls. The noise made the animals dread the bot-fly or 'cleg.' This torment makes them throw their tails up, and rush with fury through the fields or to the byres to shelter themselves from its attacks. A formula to effect the same purpose, and which I have many and many a time used when herding, was: Cock tail! cock tail ! cock tail ! Bizz-zz-zz! Bizz-zz-zz!-Keith (Rev. W. Gregor).

“ Dr. Gregor secured one of these that was in use in Pitsligo and sent it to the Pit-Rivers Museum at Oxford, where it now lies.

“ They are still occasionally to be met with in country districts, but are used simply for the purpose of making a noise."

In her first volume, under the title of “ Bummers,” Mrs. Gomme writes:

A play of children. ‘Bummers '—a thin piece of wood swung round by a cord (Blackwood's Magazine, Aug., 1821, p. 35). Jamieson says the word is evidently denominated from the booming sound produced” (p. 51).

I have only two notices of the bull-roarer from Irelandone from the town and county of Cork, the other from Ballycastle, County Antrim, where the Rev. J. P. Barnes kindly gave me a specimen, which is a long, narrow lath, with straight, smooth sides; the string end is square, but the opposite end is rudely pointed (13* * I; 350 x 25). (Fig. 38, No. 1.) Its use is very local, but I am informed that the schoolboys in Coleraine often make them. Mr. Barnes writes:

“From inquiry made, I come to the conclusion that the ‘ Bullroarer' (its local name) is not indigenous, but an importation.

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