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Knutsford’s Street Sanding, Cheshire

There is a rather pleasing folk custom in the suitably pleasant Cheshire town of Knutsford, associated with the very name of the place according to legend.
Knutsford of course means Canute’s ford (or could – an alternative without the romance is ford by a hillock). It is said that King Canute on his way north to fight the Scots had to ford on foot the River Lily (others claim it was the Birkin Brook nearby) where the town now stands. When he had crossed he stopped to remove the sand from his shoes. A wedding party was passing, and he wished the couple as many children as he had thrown down grains of sand, which must have caused the bride to blanch.
To commemorate that event a custom grew up in the town where every May Day patterns and quite elaborate pictures are made with sand that has been dyed various colours, the focus of this art work St John’s Church in the town centre. Records of the tradition go back as far as the early 17th century, but it is possible indeed probable that it dates from well before that. Some other special occasions see the custom extended, such as certain weddings and for example the visit by Queen Victoria to the town in 1832, the young monarch noting the custom ‘peculiar to this town’ in her journal.

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