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Video of Winkleigh Moris performing Franken's Nights Mummers Play in 1997

available on Youtube 

Various people kindly responded to my request in the local newspaper for information on the Franken's Night story. Together with my own fairly limited research to date, the results are given below. I would appreciate contact by email from anyone who can shed further light on the topic - Colin Andrews.


The Folk lore of Devon. Ralph Whitlock (Batsford 1977)

Contributed by Hazel Harvey, Exeter.

(page 22)

On one occasion the saint (St Dunstan) had bought up a large stock of barley, for brewing beer, which he hoped to sell in competition with the local beverage, Devonshire cider. The devil offered to blight all the apple trees, so that there would be no cider, in return for Dunstan’s soul. The saint, ever one to drive a hard bargain, argued with him, and eventually a compromise was reached whereby the devil had Dunstan’s soul for certain days each year, while, for his part, he would blight the apple trees on three days: 17,18 & 19 May. These, at least in the nineteenth century, were still known as St Dunstan’s Day, and country folk awaited them anxiously, to see whether the old pact held, and their apple trees would be blasted by frost.

Another version substitutes a brewer named Frankan for St Dunstan. He is sometimes referred to as St Frankan, and his feast as Francimass.

(St Dunstan’s Feast Day is 19th May).


The Legend of Culmstock Bridge - an extract from a book by a Mr Elworthy of Wellington on West Somerset Dialect Words

Contributed by Mrs Margaret Bromwich, Culmstock, Cullompton

Till Culmstock Fair be come and gone

There mid be apples, and mid be none

Probably at least a thousand years ago, in ancient Devon, May 19th - 21st inclusive was known as Frankinmass or the St Franklin Nights, when it was the fear of cidermakers that sharp frosts might blight the apple blossom when it was in full glory on the cider apple trees. This fear doubtless gave rise to a personification of rival beverage makers because the maltster’s barley and hops are much less frost-sensitive. So we have Frankan, a beer brewer, selling his soul to the devil in return for the devil browning-off the apple blossom by intense cold. In legend we have the Devil/Frankan having a spectacular showdown with the Devon cidermaker on Culmstock Bridge after Culmstock Fair on the evening of May 21st. There is a fearful fight which is supposed to end with the victor having (presumably) thrown his opponent into the river: if it’s the devil who’s won then the pretty blossom will wither, if the cidermaker wins he will have a jolly good year selling his cider. In the Culmstock oral tradition this is called The Devil and The Maltster, but this muddles the whole theme - unless the ancient Culmstockians were bedevilled by an inordinate number of personages getting sozzled on cider ("the devil") and the scathing sober turned the legend round.

I was fascinated to hear that one of my mother’s friends from Clayhidon told her that as a child, before the First World War, she and her father visited Culmstock Fair on horseback. She remembers her father telling her that they were hurrying home afterwards because ‘the devil’s going to have a fight’


Comment added by Mrs Bromwich:

To even start to understand this slightly muddled legend, we have to remember the happenings in the first millenium in England. There were those of ancient British stock and there were the immigrants who tended to become ‘top dogs’, namely the Anglo-Saxons. These Anglo-Saxons could be called the Franks because the Franks were the powerful Germanic tribe that conquered Gaul (France sort-of) in the AD 500's. So we’ve got the tensions there> Furthermore one associates Germanic tribes with beer and Ancient Britons with Coder (though they drank a lot of ale).

She believes there is also a reference to Franken and Glastonbury.


St Dunstan (924 - 988) was born in Glastonbury (From Richard Knight)


May 19th St Dunstan’s Day, or Francimass S.E.Devon

Taken from Devonshire Calendar Customs Part2

Contributed by Mrs Bromwich


Francimas, St Frankin Days, St Franklin Nights, etc. frost blights apple trees :- St Dunstan bought up a quantity of barley, and therewith made beer; the devil, knowing the saint would naturally desire to get a good sale for the article which he had just brewed, went to him, and said "that if he (the saint) would sell himself to him (the devil) the latter would go and blight all the apple trees, so that there should be no cider, and, consequently, a greater demand for beer." St Dunstan accepted the offer, but stipulated that the trees should be blighted on three days, which fell on May 17,18, 19.

P. Hutchinson, Notes & Queries 2 S. Xii, 303 (1861)


In some parts of Devon, it is held that a certain night in June decides the fate of the apple crop for the coming season. Three powerful witches then pass through the air; and if they drop certain charms on the blossoming orchards, the crop will be blighted.

In other parts of the country this is known as ‘Frankum’s night’, and the story is that long ago one Frankum made a ‘sacrifice’ in his orchard with the object of getting a specially fine crop. His spells were answered by a a blight, and the night is thus regarded as critical

Fraser’s Magazine viii 779 (1873)

(Casts Frankum as the cidermaker - CMA)

"My gardener, on being told to put some bedding plants from the greenhouse into the open to harden, said it would not be well to do so’until Franklin Nights were over’. The same day, may 21st, I was fishing in North Devon, and the water bailiff remarked that he did not expect that I had much sportas ‘St Franklin nights were on’. To my enquiry he said he did not know who St Franklin was, but the people thereabouts never thought the cherries or mazzards were safe from frost until St Franklin nights were over, and that these nights were the 19th,20th & 21st May. On these nights we had severe frost at St Cyres, and the potatoes were much cut.

Western Morning News May 27 1907. See also S. Baring-Gould, Trans. Edev. Assoc xxvii, 64 (1895) and M.R.D. Trans. Dev. Assoc. xlviii 91 (1916)


S. Baring-Gould Thirteenth report of the committee p.64

Contributed by Mrs Bromwich

In the Taw Valley, at Eggesford, Burrington, etc, there exists a saying that the 19th, 20th or 21st May, or three days near that time, are ‘Francimass’ or St Frankin’s days’ and that then comes on a frost that does much injury to the blossom of apples. The story relative to this frost varies slightly. According to one version, there was a brewer, of the name Frankan, who found that cider ran his ale so hard that he vowed his soul to the Devil on the condition that he would send three frosty nights in May to cut off the apple blossom annually.

The other version of the story is that the brewers of North Devon entered into compact with the Evil One and promised to put deleterious matter into their ale on condition that the Devil should help them by killing off the blossom of the apple trees. Accordingly, whenever these May frosts come, we know that his Majesty is fulfilling his part of the contract because the brewers have fulfilled theirs by adulterating their beer. According to this version, St Frankin is an euphemism for Satan.

Told to me at Chawleigh and at Burrington, August 1894


Notes by S.J. Bryant in The Meteorological Glossary c. 1948 : Franklyn Nights

Contributed by Richard Knight

Although the name is sometimes Franklin, Franken or Frankum, Franklyn’s night was also known as Francesmass, which coincided with St Dunstan on 19th May, so they are probably the same.

However, according to Sherman’s excellent little book, ‘Folk Tales of Devon’, Frankin was an Exeter brewer who sold body and soul to the Devil in exchange for frosting the apple trees on May 18th, 19th, or 20th each year.


Barbara Batten, of Plymtree has known of Franken since a child. Locally the story is referred to as ‘The Devil fights the Maltster’ on School Hill, around 19th -21st May. If the Devil wins, there will be frost to kill the apple blossom, but if the Maltster wins, there will be plenty.


Bill Cork, of Uffculme recalls his father talking of Franklin’s Nights, when the Maltster sold his soul to the Devil to kill off the apple blossom.


Mrs M. Yeo, Honiton, contributed the following:

"I use the expression Franklin Nights to refer to nights of 21st & 22nd May after which it unlikely to have a frost ..... Who Franklin was I don’t know, but a Franklin was a freeman and freeholder of land in the 14th& 15th centuries. One is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (c. 1387)"


A Franklin was a freeman, but not a nobleman.


Ronald Joy, Tavistock, contributed the following:

"Franklin’s Nights are 19,20 & 21st May, and most people around Torrington, Bideford area would never till delicate plants until Franklin’s nights are gone. These nights are the last frosts of the winter - any frosts after that would not harm the plants. As far as I can remember, Franklin, against the wishes of his fellow farmers, sold the apples a lot cheaper than the local farmers - this put a lot of them out of business, so frost came on the 19 -21st may and put paid to Franklin’s apple blossom. This pleased everyone of course, not sure how it was arranged"

(Franklin again cast as cidermaker)


C,Greenslade, Crediton, wrote:

"With reference to the letter 'Franklin's frosty nights', we were always told that a farmer called Franklin living near Crediton had upset the devil and he put a curse on him and the surrounding area (corresponding to what is now the A377 around Crediton). As a consequence there is often very cold weather at the end of May which kills the apple blossom and blights the cider harvest - leaving the poor farmers without their favourite drink."