13 February 2013

Love-days and Loveday Street

There aren't many Loveday Streets in the country, Birmingham seems to have one the only one (if you type "Loveday Street" into Google Maps it goes straight to Birmingham), which is surprising as the love-days were an ancient but not uncommon custom. The tradition of these days stretches back quite a bit further than the period this blog covers, but they were an important cultural event which may have reached into the early Georgian period. William Hutton, writing in 1782, noted that the land which Loveday Street had been built on was a croft** donated by a John Cooper*** in the late sixteenth century for use on love-days. A love-day was a Medieval practice for the settlement of disputes and differences through arbitration, and kept personal disputes between friends, neighbours and townspeople out of the courts. Shakespeare mentioned it as a day when 'quarrels die'.*

The meeting of those in disagreement could be arranged anywhere, but perhaps Birmingham was one of only a few places that had a particular place set for these meetings, which is why it has the rare recording of the event in one of its street names. It would be important to settle these quarrels as they developed, and the love-days would have helped to regulate social behaviour and bring peace in the community. With this in mind it seems likely that love-days would have been a regular occurrence. With the Birmingham archives closed at present I cannot delve deeper to see if there is any more information on this intriguing practice, but I can make some speculations.

Hutton mentioned that the land of the croft where the love-day was held was of about four acres, so we can only imagine that the love-day may have been more of an event than its descriptions as an arbitration of disputes allows for. It could be that the scene attracted large crowds, which is likely as disputes probably were not quick to be resolved and could have held some entertainment value. Or it could be that once disputes were settled there was some form of celebration to seal the deal, as it were. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales hints at this, as the character of the Friar who arbitrates at love-days, is 'wanton and a merry' and 'a very festive man', he also 'arranged full many a marriage [o]f young women'.*4* This opens up the possibility for another aspect to the love-day, a more event based one, and the arranging full of marriages suggests that marriage contracts may also have been negotiated on love-days, which, on an agreement, could have resulted in some kind of festivity afterwards. Also, in 1339 in Oxford, a disagreement over the butcher's shambles led to the mayor holding a love-day where plentiful 'wine, oysters, herring, stockfish, plaice, lampreys, pickerels, eels and fruit' could all be had,* outlining more than just simple arbitration. The love-days could also have acted as more than just resolving disputes, but also as a formal piece of reconciliation, where appeasement could be given in a public place.

Whatever form the love-day took, those held in the Birmingham croft left their mark on the landscape of today, and Loveday Street is a reminder of this near forgotten custom.     

Part of Loveday Street built circa 1800. One of the few
groups of housing from this period still standing in the city.

* References on request
** The croft was between Walmer Lane, St. Mary's Chapel and Steelhouse Lane.
*** This is the same John Cooper who was given leave to bait bulls as he pleased in the Bull Ring. Find out more here.
*4* Translation of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, see here.


  1. Another fascinating post, thanks for all your efforts.

  2. I found researching the love-days really interesting as well, it was a custom that I had never heard of before. I'm glad you like it. Jenni