This is one of the potential costumes for a project I’ve been researching for a few years, about creating entirely new folk traditions and community events in the style of very old ones. Most communities in Britain and Europe had festivals and unique masked or costumed characters from the first settlements until the beginning of the 20th century. The majority of them are now forgotten, or exist as a very pale reflection of their former glory.
The Tarryman’s costume was made of hessian sacks, wood, rope, tar and nails. His gloves in particular were coated with tar, and were used to mark certain important places. He wore heavy boots made of rope and carried a long loop of rope slung over his shoulders. Large nails were sometimes hammered into parts of his body, especially the hands and the head. The Tarryman was the focus of festivals celebrating skilled manual workers such as ropemakers, barrelmakers, carters and carpenters, as his “tarriness” and the tying of knots in his ropes supposedly attracted and held all the bad luck and injury that could attend these occupations. At sunset, the designated performer secretly slipped out of the Tarryman costume and it was immediately thrown onto a bonfire. There are no records to indicate that the Tarryman was ever really burned alive, but it is possible that the ritual was a sanitised version of a more violent pagan practice.