• English Heritage has re-created a medieval sweet treat for Halloween
  • From Battle Abbey and Framlingham Castle to Eltham Palace, an “unlucky” 13 English Heritage sites are offering the special historic treat to trick or treaters.
  •  Trick or treat sessions run from 28-31 October

From Framlingham Castle in Suffolk to Scarborough Castle in North Yorkshire, an “unlucky” 13 sites across the country will be opening their historic doors to trick or treaters this Halloween. From 28th October until Halloween evening on 31st October, the public can knock on the doors of castles, palaces and abbeys after hours to receive a special Halloween treat. In the medieval tradition, the charity will be treating those who knock to a Soul Cake - a small, round spiced cake, made to celebrate and commemorate the dead.

Jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, jelly snakes and synthetic cobwebs may be all the rage today, but some Halloween traditions can trace their origins back hundreds of years. Believed to be a precursor to modern trick or treating, going “souling” was an activity which took place, particularly during the medieval period, around Halloween and All Souls' Day (on 2 November). People would go from door to door singing and saying prayers for the souls of the treat givers, their friends, and deceased relatives, in exchange for a Soul Cake. A Soul Cake, also known as a soulmass-cake, was a small round cake (although more like a biscuit), traditionally made using oats and may have been spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, as well as raisins or currants. This Halloween we are reviving this historic tradition by re-creating the medieval sweet treat and will be handing out Soul Cakes to trick or treaters (while supplies last!) who knock at 13 of its sites after hours.

Dr Michael Carter, Senior Properties Historian at English Heritage, said: “I’m sure that many assume Halloween traditions are pure Americanisms, but in fact we know that the tradition of Souls Cakes in the British Isles is very old indeed! Even in 1511 it is said, ‘we read in old time good people would on All Halloween Day bake bread and deal it for all Christian souls.’ Of course, originally this tradition had great religious significance, and All Souls’ Day was one of the great holy days of medieval Europe, England included (and it remains an important holy day for some). It was a way of affirming the bonds between the living and the dead, the saying of prayers to release souls from the pains of purgatory, considered to be a great act of charity.

But the popularity of the tradition even continues to the 20th-century where groups of the poor, usually children, would go “souling”. Today’s trick or treating definitely bears resemblance to that tradition of old, and I hope people will knock on our doors to try them – they’re inspired by history and perfect with a cup of tea!”

It is believed by some that Halloween has its origin in a pre-Christian festival that marked the start of winter. It was this time of year where people believed the boundary between the worlds of living and dead became blurred and was when the souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes. In the era of Christianity, this tradition became absorbed into the celebration of All Saints Day, held on 1 November, dedicated to honouring all saints and martyrs. The 2 November became All Souls’ Day, a day to honour the dead, and here many existing traditions, such as bonfires, parades and dressing up in costume, may have blurred with Christian celebrations, to form festivities accepted, and even encouraged, by church authorities.

All Saints’ Day was also known as All-Hallows, and from this the night before came to be referred to as All-Hallows Eve. From this term derived the name ‘Halloween’, the name for the beginnings of the festival that was celebrated across Europe in the early Middle Ages, and stuck even as the religious celebrations fell out of favour in later centuries.

Soul Cakes will be available at 13 English Heritage sites while they last, and as well as the free Trick or Treat sessions, many historic places around the country are also hosting a number of Halloween events including Spooky Woodland Walks and evening Ghost Tales – see below for details.

Trick or Treat at 13 English Heritage Sites this Halloween
Sat 28 – Tue 31 October: See below for timings

Deal Castle, Kent: 28-31 Oct, 5-6pm
1066 Battle of Hastings Abbey and Battlefield, East Sussex: 28-31 Oct, 5-6pm
Framlingham Castle, Suffolk: 28-29 Oct, 5-6pm / 30-31 Oct, 4-5pm
Marble Hill, London: 28-29 Oct, 5-6pm / 30-31 Oct, 4-5pm
Eltham Palace and Gardens, London: 28 & 31 Oct, 5-6pm
Scarborough Castle, North Yorkshire: 28-29 Oct, 5-6pm / 30-31 Oct, 4-5pm
Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire: 28-31 Oct, 5-6pm
Carlisle Castle, Cumbria: 28-31 Oct, 5-6pm
Tynemouth Priory and Castle, Tyne and Wear: 28-29 Oct, 5-6pm / 30-31 Oct, 4-5pm
Portland Castle, Dorset: 28-31 Oct, 5-6pm
Portchester Castle, Hampshire: 28-31 Oct, 5-6pm
Yarmouth Castle, Isle of Wight: 28-29 Oct, 5-6pm / 30-31 Oct, 4-5pm
St Mawes Castle, Cornwall: 28-31 Oct, 5-6pm

Simply knock on the historic doors of these sites and say ‘Trick or Treat’ to receive your Soul Cake, while they last. Please note that Trick or Treat sessions do not include entry to the sites or coinciding Halloween events. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Learn more about Soul Cakes and find our recipe to make your own here.

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