During the nineteenth century a large part of the Yorkshire population worked in the textile mills. Days were long and arduous, and sturdy clothing and footwear a necessity. In this situation the clog was the shoe of choice. Inelegant but hard wearing, over time it came to symbolise the grit and bloody minded staying power of a Yorkshire marriage, and thus grew up the custom of sailing the clog.
Every year, on All Hallows’ Eve, the young men and women with marriage in mind would meet down by their nearest beck. In turn, the young men would present their right clog to the maiden they wanted to wed, and she would launch it into the stream. If the clog sank, the omens for such a pairing were bad, but if the clog floated, they were good, and the couple would agree on a date for their wedding.
A great deal hinged on the clog’s performance, for if it sank, not only was the youth disappointed in his choice of sweetheart, he would also have to spend many weeks with a bare right foot – an uncomfortable situation in the chilly north.
The story goes that one village lass, a proud beauty named Edna Tiplady, was keen to avoid marrying any of the local lads, and devised a way of slipping an old horseshoe into the clog before throwing it in. She succeeded in this ruse for many years until at length she caught the eye of the mill owner’s son, Archie Longbottom. Smitten by her beauty, Archie started courting her.
One day, he asked how it was she had remained unmarried for so long. She explained about the horse shoe ploy. Astonished by her cunning, Archie broke off with her, reasoning that a girl who would put a horseshoe in a clog to rid herself of an unwanted suitor would not be beyond putting arsenic in glass of claret to rid herself of an unwanted husband. (To be fair, Edna could see his point.)
Fortunately, losing the chance of a rich husband proved but a small setback, for Edna went on to create the very first treacle toffees. These soon became that well-known brand, Tiplady’s Tasty Tyke Toffees.
Eventually, sailing the clog died out as a custom. As for Edna, she never married and remained for the rest of her life an astute, wealthy, and happy business woman.