This article has been contributed by Neil Rees, who writes for the Nostalgia page in the Amersham & Chesham edition of the Bucks Free Press. As Neil tells us, older readers will not recall Halloween being celebrated when they were younger, as it is a relatively recent annual event.

There were exceptions however. For example, in High Wycombe in the 1950s a Halloween party became an important part of the social programme of the local branch of the Caledonian Society. I would be very interested in learning more about the history of the Wycombe branch of the Society; if you have any information please contact me by email


The word Halloween is a contraction of term Hallow-E’en, which is Scottish for Hallowed Evening, known in England as All Hallows’ Eve, or the night before All Hallows’ Day on November 1st. All Hallow’s Day is now called All Saints’ Day, which is the time in the Church calendar for remembering departed “saints” - used in its biblical sense of meaning any Christian, living or dead. In many strongly Catholic countries, All Saints’ Day is a public holiday, when many people visit family graves to clean and decorate them with flowers or candles.


Different superstitions and folk traditions grew up around the Hallowed Evening. Hallowed means holy, but there was nothing holy about them.

In some places people wore scary masks and played pranks, and they carved scary faces into turnips to create lanterns lit by candles, called jack o’lanterns. Bobbing for apples was one of the most popular games. Apples were floated in a bowl of water, or hung from strings, and guests were invited to catch and eat an apple with their hands behind their back. The evening would end with a big bonfire.

These traditions survived and thrived in Ireland and Scotland. In 1785 Robert Burns, wrote a 252-line poem about Scottish Hallowe’en. However, Halloween had died out in most of England, where from 1605 some of the traditions transferred to Guy Fawkes’s Night on November 5th.

Queen Victoria

Scottish Hallowe’en started to become known in England when it was reported that Queen Victoria marked Hallowe’en at Balmoral. In 1866, whilst in Scotland, the Queen saw locals building fires, carrying torches, and enjoying music and dancing. She asked about it, and was told it was their Hallowe’en tradition.

From then until 1883, there was an annual Hallowe’en party at Balmoral, enjoyed by the Queen and her family. Up to a hundred staff would carry lit torches to a large bonfire in front of the castle. They paraded an effigy of a “shandry dann” (witch), which they then tossed onto the fire. This was then followed by dancing to music from the Queen’s pipers. At the time the Queen faced criticism, that as Head of the Church of England, it was not appropriate for her to entertain such irreligious superstitions.

Halloween in America

Meanwhile Hallowe’en was taken to North America by millions of Irish and Scottish emigrants, where it started to became part of American culture. Instead of turnips, they used the more plentiful pumpkin, which was larger, and easier to carve. By the end of the nineteenth century, the pumpkin became associated in America with the fall (autumn), harvest, Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving. Hallowe’en lost its apostrophe and became Halloween. American Halloween was first introduced to England by Americans in the second world war.

Halloween in the Scottish community

Older people in Buckinghamshire do not recall Halloween being part of their childhood, unless they had links to the Scottish community. From 1950 it was reported that an annual Halloween party was held at the Scottish Presbyterian Church Hall in Aylesbury. Similar parties were held in the 1950s by the High Wycombe Caledonian Society in the civic restaurant in St Mary Street, High Wycombe. From 1974 the Amersham and District Scottish Association held an annual Halloween Party at St Michaels Hall, Amersham. These evenings typically included “tattie-bogles” (scarecrows), a fancy dress competition and lanterns carved from “neeps“ (turnips) or pumpkins. A lady dressed as a witch would tell children spooky stories, who then partook in apple-bobbing or eating treacle-laden pancakes hanging from string. Later there would be a dinner of mashed potatoes, followed by singing and reels of highland dancing led by a bagpiper.


The pumpkin is a part of the squash family. There are many varieties in different colours and sizes. In England they take up to five months to grow and are harvested in the autumn. In 1959, 22 regulars at the White Hart pub at Three Households, Chalfont St Giles formed the Pumpkin Club. It was started by regular Harry Bedwell and landlord Ron Hall. The first competition had 49 entries and the heaviest pumpkin weighed 56 ½ lbs. Prize money was awarded from 1972. There were classes for the heaviest, best shaped, ugliest, and best decorated pumpkins. The club ran into the mid-1980s.

Halloween Parties

From the 1950s Halloween started to be used in Bucks in general English society, as an excuse for dinner dances, sausage suppers and children’s parties. These were more innocent affairs with apple-bobbing and fancy dress. In 1969 Agatha Christie published a Poirot detective story called “Hallowe’en Party” about a murder at a children’s Hallowe’en Party.

Scout Hut Bonfire

The 1st Tylers Hill Scout troop, attached to St George’s Church at Tylers Hill, near Chesham was formed in 1948. In the 1960s they used an old hut on Meadhams Farm. In 1969 they took up residence at their new six-acre grounds off Botley Road. On the evening of Halloween in 1969, they said farewell to their old scout hut in a 30-foot bonfire. Hedges surrounding the land were ignited by flying sparks. Rapid action from the scout leaders extinguished the flames, and attention turned to the firework display. Refreshments were served in a marquee adjoining the scene, and the proceeds went towards the new Scout hut.

Halloween in popular culture

From about 1978 Halloween started to go in a more scary, macabre and sinister direction. The film “Halloween” came out in 1978, and started a new genre of Halloween being associated with horror and the Occult, and American television shows often had a Halloween special. Through television and films, English people became more aware of Halloween as practised across the Atlantic. From the 1980s the American tradition of trick-or-treating, started to be copied by young people in England.

Halloween today

On a pleasanter side, pumpkin carving has become increasingly popular. More farms have started to grow pumpkins, and sales peak at Halloween, mainly for decoration and carving.