A Ran-Tan-Tanning!

The preacher, my father, said: “He wants a ran-tan-tanning. That’s what he wants” after the Sunday morning service when a young lad had a fit of the giggles during his long-winded sermon. He often said this about anyone who misbehaved in the 1920s and 30s.

“He’d have had a ran-tan-tanning if he’d done that when I was a lad! ” That would have been in the 1880s. My father exaggerated somewhat. Giggling in chapel was unlikely to have led to a ran-tan-tanning. A good spanking, yes, but hardly that!

I had no idea what he was referring to, and just accepted it as parental words of wisdom. Until the day of enlightenment.

One day in the early 1930s Tommy, the pony, was harnessed to the trap and father, a struggling farmer, drove to the village some two miles away to fetch mother a sack of flour.
He took a long time, and had to explain himself to his irate wife and wide-eyed daughter.

“There’s been a ran-tan-tanning,” he grinned with delight. “Haven’t seen one for years. I stopped to watch.”

A brute of a man had beaten his wife, and not for the first time. He made a habit of it, but she’d had enough and was determined to show him up and put a stop to it.

He was tucking into his dinner when she popped outside and put the ribbon on the door. It was a desperate cry for help.

The custom in the fenland area to shame the offender and summon a ran-tan-tanning was to pin a red ribbon on the door. Neighbours, especially women, knew what this signified. Someone was being abused and was at the end of her tether.

They hurried home, collected pans and anything that would create a noisy din and gathered en masse outside the house
displaying the ribbon.

The deafening banging of tin pans and lids attracted crowds of onlookers and eventually forced the accused to come outside for a mock-up court hearing in the street.

The noise would go on until he promised to stop beating his wife. He was in disgrace, and even his male friends would be sniggering at him in the pub later and telling all and sundry that he’d had a ran-tan-tanning.

“What a to-do it was. Like a circus,” said my father. “He’ll behave himself now, for a while…”

Ran-tan-tanning was a common practice way back when he was young in the latter part of the 19th Century, and carried on in our area until the early 1930s. I think the one he witnessed was probably the last on record.

(It’s a pity it went out of fashion!).,

Hazel Gill.