60 Sealed with a kiss
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