Church of England Diocese of Hereford Sellack

Pax Cakes - A Rare Custom

<span style="font-size: 1rem;">The rare custom of distributing cakes after the Palm Sunday Service is observed here in Sellack. Hentland and Kings Caple also observe this custom, which is thought to be unique to this small area.</span>

They are known as Pax Cakes – clearly because they are distributed with the salutation ‘Peace and Good Neighbourhood’.

The cakes are now really biscuits and carry an impress of a lamb and a flag. They were originally buns and at Sellack and Kings Caple ale was at one time also provided, but this was discontinued some time ago. The bequest to provide this was two shillings per year and the cakes, a bequest left by Lady Scudamore, was at the rate of five shillings per year.

It is not known what actually prompted the gift but it may perhaps be meant to be part of the preparation for the Easter communion to receive which, profitably, we must be in ‘charity with all men’. ‘Peace and Good Neighbourhood’ might suggest this.

Always known now as the ‘Pax Cakes’ ceremony the original bequest was called ‘cake money’.

The origins are with the family of Thomas More, vicar of Sellack and Kings Caple in 1442. For those times he was a wealthy man (he owned Pengethley and Ivorston). He died on Palm Sunday 1448, leaving £20 to charity locally. A large sum for the times – no one in his parishes (including Hentland) was worth more than £2 per year! He willed ‘that bread and ale to the value of 6s 8p be distributed to all and singular in the aforementioned churches for the good of my soul’.

Matters however did not run smoothly for this bequest. As with other affairs, Henry VIII caused problems! When he had finished with getting rid of monasteries he turned his attention to charities in ordinary churches where pious people had left gifts for ‘the good of their souls’.

With many a twist of fate, however, the Palm Sunday bread and ale continued, although several pennies were whittled away down to 5s 10p. As the years passed, the Scudamores became the benefactors and the administration of the fund changed from time to time. In 1836 the charity commissioners found that a Mr Jones of Baysham Farm was regularly paying 5s to all three parishes. For economic reasons ale was dropped out of the reckoning and from 1831 it was only the cakes that were mentioned.

‘Peace and Good Neighbourhood’ is the traditional greeting when the cakes are offered and received – probably said at the 15th-century instigation. Since then, apart from some high-spirited encounters at Sellack Tilt-up, Caple Feast or at the cricket matches in Hentland, the three parishes have largely obeyed Thomas More’s injunction to be good neighbours.

Thomas More lies buried near the East Window in the chancel of this church. Let us not forget him.