Church’s very own whipping boy . . .

Stone carving: of a church dog whipper from medieval times
Stone carving: of a church dog whipper from medieval times

Having met Mandy on more than one occasion I can testify to her perfect behaviour. In the past, the attitude to the church seems to have been rather different towards our canine friends, and a man was regularly employed to see such were kept out of hallowed buildings.

His duties have vanished with the passage of time, but fascinating entries about the parish “Dog Whipper” abound in the Halifax Parish Registers in the 17th century.

dog whippers whip

dog whippers whip

The men who then held this obsolete office were Brian Nowell, Sam Ellwick, and William Swift. The dog whippers apparently wore a uniform - at any rate, their attire was paid for by the parish - and their main duty was to keep dogs out of church, and to prevent unruly behaviour by the lads of the parish. In J. C. Cox’s book “Churchwardens’ Accounts from the Fourteenth Century to the Close of the Seventeenth Century” (London, 1913) is a sketch of such an official.

He is equipped with a large whip which hangs in his belt; and a pair of long tongs, the latter being apparently extendable. Were these tongs used for dealing with curs of dubious character? Or did the bad lads have to be handled from a safe distance due to child protection rules?

Here are a few snippets about the dog-whippers at Halifax Parish Church (the spelling is original):

1624 - Paid to Bryan Nowell for looking to the disorders in the church by children and dogs £1 8s. 0d.

1629 - Paid Bryan Nowell ffor looking theare be noe disorder with boyes in the church nor dogges upon the saboth dayes, 2s. per month for 12 months is £1 4s. 0d.

1667 - Cloth for the Whipper’s Coat £0 12s.0d.

1813 (April) John Hellawell the Dog Whippers Cloathing £2 8s. 3½d.

In the Churchwardens’ accounts for Elland is recorded:

Mar. 27th, 1749. Dog whipper coate and cap and making 13s. 6½d.

A dog whipper’s whip survives in a glass case at the church of St Anne, Baslow, Derbyshire; it has a thong three feet long, is still in excellent condition and is bound round the handle with leather.

A dog whipper’s pew is preserved in St. Margaret’s Church, Wrenbury, Cheshire. A notable carving of a dog whipper removing a dog with his whip can be seen in the Dutch Church of St. Bavo in Haarlem. [see attached pics]

Some historians claim dog whippers used to maintain order among worshippers during the service, and also used the whip to wake up those who snored!

David C Glover