The derogatory use of this nickname has its roots in a version of a legend that recounts how a traveller encountered some drunken Wiltshire men one moonlit night. These drunken local men were apparently trying to rake a round glowing object out of a pond. When questioned about their behaviour the rakers claimed that they were trying to retrieve a big round cheese from the pond, which to the wise and intelligent traveller was clearly the reflection of the moon. So off the traveller goes, having had a good chuckle about the stupidity of the locals.
The people of Wiltshire would however, point out that this nickname is derived from a different version of the legend, one that shows just how clever and cunning the locals really are.
The more readily recounted version of the legend, which predates 1787, is that on a moonlit night some local smugglers were observed by customs officers using their rakes to retrieve barrels of contraband which they had previously hidden in a pond. When challenged by the customs officers as to what they were up to, the locals played dumb by pointing to the moon’s reflection and saying that they were trying to retrieve the big round cheese! The customs men, baffled by the stupidity of these yokels, laughed at them and left. The smugglers, amused by the gullibility of the customs men, laughed at them and carried on retrieving their contraband.
This version of the legend is immortalised in the town of Devizes by a little plaque that sits near the town pond, which is known as The Crammer. The plaque reads:
The Crammer and its Legend
The origin of the Crammer is not known and neither is its name, which was probably derived from Cranmere, meaning Crane Pond. However it has often been associated with the famous Wiltshire Moonraker Legend, bestowing this nickname on the county’s inhabitants.
The story goes that some Wiltshire smugglers who had concealed kegs of brandy in the pond were observed by Excisemen in the moonlight in the act of trying to retrieve the kegs. The moon was reflected on the water and the smugglers said they were trying to rake out “Thik gurt yaller cheese.” Convulsed with Laughter, the Excisemen rode on. While the smugglers chortle “We were too vly for they. There baint no vlies on we.”
The pond is owned by Devizes Town Council.
This plaque was the gift of Mr John Drake. Mayor of Devizes in 1972/73, who was made an honorary freeman of the town in March 1996.
So which version of the legend should be believed? Well I guess that depends on whether you are a customs officer or traveller who suspects that the residents of Wiltshire lack intelligence, or if you are a resident of Wiltshire who considers themselves clever and cunning!
|The Devizes town pond, known as "The Crammer".|
|The plaque explaining the "Moonrakers" legend.|
|The local "Moonrakers" public house.|
Pictures: Wiltshire (January 2016).
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