60 Sealed with a kiss

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Whether or not they were in­tended as a spot for em­brac­ing, kiss­ing gates have a ro­man­tic his­tory, ob­serves Steven Des­mond

Whether they were in­vented to ex­clude un­mar­ried cou­ples from en­ter­ing church­yards or as a de­vice in which to wan­gle an em­brace from your com­pan­ion, kiss­ing gates have a ro­man­tic his­tory, ob­serves Steven Des­mond

Of all the in­ge­nious con­trap­tions ever de­vised for get­ting from one side of a fence to the other, the kiss­ing gate is the one that causes the most in­ter­est­ing so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. The name helps, of course, but there is also that busi­ness of be­ing some­what jammed in a corner dur­ing the process of tran­si­tion to con­sider. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less.

for all that, there seems no par­tic­u­lar ev­i­dence that the kiss­ing gate is any­thing other than a fairly modern in­ven­tion. Some­one must have thought of it, but there is no claimant to the de­sign. They of­ten oc­cur in 19th-cen­tury runs of park rail of the ro­buster kind, sug­gest­ing that a Vic­to­rian mind was at work in its de­vis­ing. Cer­tainly, noth­ing could have been more ex­pressly con­ceived for a mo­ment of dal­liance, per­haps by a thought­ful so­cial en­gi­neer.

Be­fore our imag­i­na­tions get too car­ried away, a lit­tle sober re­flec­tion brings more pro­saic con­sid­er­a­tions to mind. In the first in­stance, the term ‘to kiss’ need have noth­ing to do with hu­man lips. It is true that the gate within the fixed frame swings from side to side and ‘kisses’ each side of that frame with­out be­com­ing se­curely latched to ei­ther. We’re fa­mil­iar enough with the use of this verb in the con­text of a game of snooker, in which the ball kisses ei­ther an­other ball or the cush­ion at the edge be­fore com­ing to rest. It seems likely that this is the ori­gin of the name.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity, how­ever, presents it­self. There is a north-coun­try ar­gu­ment that the present name is de­rived from the ‘kist­ing gate’. A kist is, after all, a chest and the term can also be used for a cof­fin. Such gates are some­times found at the en­trance to church­yards and present an op­por­tu­nity for weary (and ner­vous) bear­ers to park the cof­fin for a few mo­ments en route to the church en­trance, in the man­ner of a lych gate.

A kindred ar­gu­ment, which will ap­peal to mem­bers of the League of Pu­ri­tans, sug­gests that the true func­tion of the kiss­ing gate is to ex­clude un­mar­ried cou­ples from the church­yard. El­e­ments

Noth­ing could have been more ex­pressly con­ceived for a mo­ment of dal­liance

of this ar­gu­ment are at present beyond my un­der­stand­ing, so I in­vite read­ers to write in and ex­plain it to me. I re­mind po­ten­tial cor­re­spon­dents of the value of con­cise­ness in such mat­ters.

It’s al­ways pos­si­ble that the ro­man­ticin­ter­lude tra­di­tion has grown up over time on the pop­u­lar misinterpretation of the word ‘kiss­ing’. It would not be the first tri­umph for that wil­ful thing called folk et­y­mol­ogy. For all that, we would in­deed be stony hearted not to recog­nise the so­cial pos­si­bil­i­ties pre­sented at the mo­ment of han­dover. There must be many cou­ples that have wan­gled a kiss by way of per­mis­sion to pass over the years, mak­ing the mech­a­nism as fa­mil­iar a de­vice as a bunch of mistle­toe hang­ing from an ar­chi­trave at Christ­mas. There can be no com­pul­sion about these things, but a gen­tle op­por­tu­nity is of­ten wel­come and who knows where it might lead?

In some places, the as­sump­tion is quite di­rect. At Tan­nagh­more Gardens in Craigavon, Co Ar­magh, it’s more or less as­sumed that cou­ples who kiss at the kiss­ing gate will marry within the year. The in­sti­tu­tion has plenty of pho­tographs of cou­ples who did just that and who re­turned to the scene of the event to com­mem­o­rate the mo­ment. Pre­sum­ably, it’s not com­pul­sory, but the fris­son is per­cep­ti­ble from here. No doubt their com­pan­ions urged them on at the time.

As a method, it seems a lot more straight­for­ward than that busi­ness of tak­ing the peel off an ap­ple in one go and throw­ing it over your shoul­der to re­veal the first ini­tial of your in­tended.

The­o­ries aside, we can be clear that there are broadly two plans in use for the mech­a­nism it­self. The tim­ber ver­sion gen­er­ally favours the cor­ral—the bit you walk through—to be built on a sim­ple V-plan, whereas the metal al­ter­na­tive typ­i­cally prefers a C-shaped cor­ral. The brief sen­sa­tion of be­ing herded —in­deed, cor­ralled—into a con­fined space will be richly en­hanced by any vo­lu­mi­nous cloth­ing.

In these more in­clu­sive times, it will come as no sur­prise that there is of­ten a wheel­chair-friendly ver­sion of the kiss­ing gate avail­able, fea­tur­ing a longer gate. This will also be good news to any­one who has ever tried to ne­go­ti­ate a kiss­ing gate with a de­cent-sized dog on a lead, with pre­dictably far­ci­cal re­sults.

In the­ory, a sec­ond per­son helps in that in­stance, but ex­pe­ri­ence sug­gests they are so over­come with help­less laugh­ter at your ex­pense that they’re un­able even to kiss you, thus de­feat­ing the whole object of the ad­ven­ture. The fi­asco, will, how­ever, be­come a bond­ing mem­ory for you both in the years to come. I can­not speak for the dog.

The Kiss­ing Gate at Bishop’s Walk by an un­known artist: the cre­ator of these cosy pass­ing places may re­main a mys­tery, but cou­ples around the coun­try will be for­ever grate­ful

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