The annual Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing ceremony is an entertaining tradition celebrating an important ancient role of Ashburton's ancient Court.
Each year on the third Saturday in July a procession weaves its way through the town, many of the participants dressed in a motley variety of mediaeval garb and cheering and laughing at the spectacle that unfolds at each pub and bakery in the town.
Bread and ale were important staples of the mediaeval diet
Ashburton’s Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing Ceremony celebrates a tradition that dates back to the 14th century. As bread and ale were important staples of the mediaeval diet, their quality and price were significant concerns to the authorities leading to one of the most significant commercial laws in mediaeval England - the Assize of Bread and Ale.
The Leet Court would appoint an Ale Conner to test the quality of ale sold in the pubs and inns whilst the assizes would adjust the weight of bread according to the price of wheat - the price of a loaf would remain the same even though the price of wheat fluctuated, so the weight of the loaves would change accordingly.
To this day, Ashburton’s Leet Court appoints Ale Tasters and Bread Weighers though their role is purely ceremonial. During the ceremony, the Ale Tasters and Bread Weighers process around the town with members of the Courts preceded by the Marshals, Portreeve, Bailiff and other officers and dignitaries. The procession visits each pub and bakery where beer is quaffed, bread is weighed and certificates awarded.
Ale Tasting & Bread Weighing - Photos by John Germon
They do sell good ale here!
As legend has it, the Ale Taster tests the quality of ale by pouring a quantity on a wooden bench and sitting in it wearing leather breeches. A little later he rises from his seat and if his breeches are stuck to the bench this is supposed to be a sign of bad ale! Ashburton’s Ale Tasters take any opportunity to squeeze every last drop of humour from the spectacle that takes place at the numerous drinking establishments around the town, before declaring "They do sell good ale here!"
Whilst legend has arguably given them less to work with, Ashburton’s Bread Weighers more than make up for this with a stock of well rehearsed double-entendres to entertain onlookers.
Following the ceremony, the procession makes its way to the Town Centre where the bread collected from the bakeries is auctioned. It’s not unusual to receive bids in excess of £20 for a loaf, particularly as the bakers often produce extraordinary creations for the occasion. The money raised is donated to the Portreeve’s fund and used to support local causes. After the auction the Ale Tasters and other participants waste no time in dispersing to Ashburton’s excellent ale houses!
The ceremony starts at 2pm on the third Saturday in July and typically ends in a pub!
St Lawrence Lane, Ashburton
find us on Google Maps