I WAS conducting some research recently via a copy of the Salisbury Journal from 1949 when this interesting snippet caught my eye: “The walls of Downton’s old buildings have resounded many times to the shouts and primitive music of a skimmington.

"This old custom has been observed in the parish within living memory.”

I have to admit that the word skimmington is one that I am not familiar with but apparently, in certain parts of Wiltshire, particularly in Downton, villagers ganged up and carried out the custom of making a terrific din outside the house of a man who had been unfaithful to his wife.

The din was created by tin cans and anything else which could cause a rumpus.

There was even liberty by law for a man’s front door to be broken down. Bonfires would be lit and an effigy would be made of the unfaithful husband.

Another account of a skimmington is this one which was played out in a Salisbury court hearing of 1890. “Is it not the custom in Nomansland when people misconduct themselves for the whole village to serenade outside the house of the offender with tin pots etc?”

Later in the hearing Supt. Stephens stated that “skimmington” as it was called, had been carried on at Nomansland for several nights, and the people were under the impression that they had a legal right to take part in the proceedings.

He hoped that the case would put an end to the practice.

A skimmington also forms a well-known scene in Thomas Hardy’s 1884 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. Effigies of the mayor and Lucetta, a former lover, are paraded through the streets on a donkey by a noisy crowd when rumours of their prior relationship surface.

Lucetta, now respectably married to Henchard’s rival Farfrae, collapses in distress and humiliation and dies.