Join the Historic Byzant Ceremony on Monday 08 May 11.00

The Byzant is unique to Shaftesbury, though it resembles May Garlands carried in festivities elsewhere. As inhabitants of a hilltop town, Shastonians were long dependent on water carted up the hill from springs at its foot in Enmore Green. Some householders had – and still have – their own wells, but most would have bought their supply from a water-carrier. A great deal of beer would also have been consumed in preference to potentially impure water. The right to draw this water required ceremonial payment of an annual tribute to the Lord of the Manor of Gillingham, first mentioned in a document of 1364. On the Sunday before Ascension Day, the Mayor of Shaftesbury walked in procession down to the wells to deliver bread, a calf’s head, a cask of ale, and a pair of gloves. (Shown in Janet Swiss’s mural in Gold Hill Museum, above).

The Byzant was also handed over and then immediately returned. The origin of the name is uncertain, but a legal document of 1662 requires that a staffe or prize besome be carried. In discussing possible derivations of the name, Gordon Ewart-Dean comments that a Harry Potter broomstick makes a good base to posh up with ribbons, feathers, flowers and a few trinkets. The trinkets may have been rather more expensive plate and jewels, loaned for the event by local worthies, as the Corporation’s accounts for 1708 include two shillings paid for watching ye bezant. Other expenses at the time included new clothes for the most recently married couple in the borough, who were appointed Lord & Lady for the day. No doubt there was a festival atmosphere, with much music, dancing, dining, and drinking. The Mayor and the twelve Capital Burgesses (co-opted rather than elected) always treated themselves to a private banquet. In 1771 this cost £54.11.0., when £17.11.0. was also spent on a new Byzant. It is a reasonable assumption that this was the gilded wooden Byzant (photo above by Alan Booth) saved by Lady Theodora Grosvenor, given to the town, and now on display in the museum. In 1830 the still-unreformed Shaftesbury Corporation decided to abolish the ceremony to save money, and the last Byzant became a relic of a lost tradition, revived again this year to coincide with King Charles III’s coronation. There was a re-enactment in 2019 before the pandemic.

You are invited to join the Byzant Procession, gathering outside the Town Hall from 10.45a.m. for an 11.00a.m. start. Vaguely medieval or Tudor costume welcome, but not compulsory. You can choose a costume to hire from a selection at the museum. On the day, look out for the seven silver pennies!

Further details of the event from Elaine Barratt at