Monthly Archives: April 2013

Custom survived: Hallaton Hare Pie Scramble and Bottlekicking

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Beer, Pie and a fight…the average night out in town!

Hallaton Hare Pie
Hallaton is one of those villages if visited, outside Easter Monday, it would be quiet serene and probably completely empty…but go on Easter Monday and what a difference. In what could be described as the most verbose custom is actually two customs rolled into one..and if that was not enough, there’s a third tacked on too.
The idea of beer, pies and fights may be sometime familiar to those Friday nights in town, but I guess very few would be eating hare pie, drinking their beer from a small wooden casket, rescued from a fight were there are no rules.

The Hare pie being cut in 1994

The day starts ordinarily enough with a procession. The peace of the town being pierced by the sound of the bagpipes of the band and soon there appears the Warrener, suitably dressed in medieval custom. He carried aloft a pole which has a bronze hare affixed. Traditionally this was a live one caught and tied (presumably after being killed) to its end. I was lucky in 1994 to see this splendid sculpture on its first outing but it looked just as fine 10 years later! The most noticeable feature then are the three bottles, a mighty pie and a lady also suitably dressed with the basket of loaves.

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The pie emptied into bags in 2009

A happy participant enjoys the pie!

A happy participant enjoys the pie!

The crowd await the pie scarmble!

The crowd await the pie scarmble!

The first part of its name comes about in the morning. At the Procession’s arrival at the church, the hare pie is solemnly placed on a table at the gates of the church, blessed, and a crowd surround it ready for its distribution. A large knife is produced and given to the vicar who duly cuts into the hefty pastry and like any clergy worth his salt is keen to distribute it. However, this is no sermon on the mount, I don’t recollect Jesus grabbing the fishes and bread and then throwing them into the assembled crowd. Mind you if he had it might have gone even further. However throwing the pie, pasty and all occurs after great dollops are handed out to the crowd. Pie goes everywhere coat, hair and open mouths, people scramble to have a piece – good luck apparently coming with it. What’s left is then poured into a bag and tied up to disposed of later.

Gotta-Lotta-Bottle!

At the bank the crowds assemble to watch the sacks open and then swayed back and forward; empty ceremonially its contents upon the ground.

There is a sort of strange hush and one can feel the tension in the air. This is built up even more by the throwing up of the three bottles in succession by the Master of Stowe. Bottle one! Everyone waits. Bottle two! A few legs twitch and an. Bottle three! Then as it falls to the ground, it vanishes beneath a pile of heavy bodies. Somewhere in that mass is the bottle and we all await for its appearance. Screaming shouting and seething it appears we could wait a while for any movement. An elderly lady leans in to get a better photo and then bang! Someone breaks free! The bottle is in his arms. The crowds scatter. The old lady is cast to the floor, legs in the air, underwear for all to see. He body appears in tact if not her dignity!
The escapee does not get far and soon he is pounced upon by someone who appeared at first to be a spectator. Good tactic! Soon others join with the original man and his bottle as its nucleus, slowly it moves down towards a stream below.
The stream below is significant, for it is Hallaton’s goal a few yards below the Hare pie bank, at quite a steep incline. From this field, one cannot see Medbourne’s goal a field boundary some greater distance away, about a mile but uphill to get there, less steep and with two boundaries! At first this does not appear fair but surprisingly the worm turns and the scrum moves upwards. Their goal a hedge behind the bank, get there and it’s downhill to Medbourne’s goal. Soon after another breakaway to beyond the hedge, spectators and participants push, barge, trample and hurtle themselves over the hedge. Some climb the trees and somersault into the field beyond. Here the scrum reformed.

Not hare today gone tomorrow

The scrum push against the fence!

The scrum push against the fence!

The scrum swayed and heaved and despite the obvious help of gravity which would mean a Medbourne win, someone broke free from Hallaton and made a break to the Hallaton goal. The assembled mob appeared a little confused at first and then in a few seconds like some giant amoeba poured towards the fence separating the fields. A great mass of humanity pushed dangerously upon this sturdy fence, a call came out to pour it back..too late, crack, it gave way followed by members of the scrum tumbling headlong onto the mud and mire below. There was a gate nearby could they not used this I thought. Now the barrier was breached and it only needed one person to break free with the bottle. It happened and off they went the stream in their sights. A few tackles appeared not to stop him but gave him greater velocity, he slipped, he fell and begun to appear to cartwheel downwards. However, his passage was not completely free. Getting ahead of him I stood by the bank ready for a photo. I was not the only one so were the Medbourners. Just at the last moment the grabbed him and tried to force him uphill, but the muddy bank edge was in his favour, he slipped and the bottle fell into the stream. A cry went out especially from the pub overlooking, but we it’s not over! Best of three.

We return to the bank and slightly worse for wear the participants await and we are off again! The scrum again envelopes the bottle and it heaves and pushes, occasionally there is a gulp of air and a hand thrown up, for despite any real rules, the crowd respect the need to relieve someone and the scrum disassembles and the weary person stumbles out. Broken bones can often be the trophy of the day but in one sad occasion recently a fatality, although his death was not directly related to the scrum.

And its gone...the scrum tumble over!

And its gone…the scrum tumble over!

This contest appears to be clearer cut. Had the Hallaton crew got the wind up their revivals by the first goal- two out of three a Hallaton win! It seemed so. Soon the bottle was back in the stream. Despite being an ‘easy win’ for the village other times Medbourne were the winners perhaps because anyone outside the village, such as professional rugby players, join the competition.

After the game, participants and spectators return to the village. Those players who put in an especially good effort (for example, carrying a barrel across the goal stream or holding on to a barrel for quite some time) are helped up onto the top of the ten-foot-tall Buttercross, and the opened bottle is passed up for them to drink from before being passed around the crowd.

Pie in the sky notions?

Like other street or mob football customs, the origins of the custom are difficult to trace. The earliest written record appears to be in 1698 from a Glebe terrier which records a hare pie bank. A local tradition tells that a raging bull was and came charging towards two women, it was then startled by a hare Local lore claims that the custom began when two ladies of Hallaton were saved from a raging bull by a startled hare, who distracted the bull from charging. They showed their gratitude to God for sending the hare by donating money to the church on the understanding that every Easter Monday, the vicar would provide a hare pie, twelve penny loaves, and 2 barrels of beer for the poor of the village who then would fight for them. The provision by the church continued until 1962 meaning that there may have been some found basis in the charity if not the legend.
It is probable that the competition only involved the H

allaton villagers who would fight each other for the food and drink! The Medbourne villagers apparently once stole one of the bottles and hence after a tussle to regain it, they became a regular part of the event. Although it may be more likely that the event arose from some pagan rivalry between neighbouring tribes and that the bull is possibly significant and perhaps the object they fought over was the head of the bull!
Some authorities drawn reference to the hare aspect and of course hare hunting was often undertaken at the time. This may be because this usual corpuscular creature is very often seen frolicking in the fields at March and so became easy game. Folklorists would prefer to believe that it was a sacrifice to the Saxon Goddess Eostre. You decide.

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Certainly, it is easy to see a pagan origin to the Bottle kicking. Although it is known that land called Hare crop leys was given in 1771 to provide for the expenses, the association of a St Morrell’s chapel being positioned on the Hare pie bank is significant. It is possible that the chapel was built on a old pagan site to Christianise it. However, the Christian connection with the contest has since been up-and-down with a famous rector attempting to cancel the hare pie and discourage the bottle kicking in 1790. A local tale states that the next day a sign on the vicarage wall read “No pie, no parson and a job for glazier”. Since then there does not appear to have been any notable priestly disapproval indeed the local clergy appeared to enjoy the event greatly..

 

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

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Custom revived: Cusworth Hall and Fountains Abbey Egg Rolling

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Is everywhere! I don’t know whether it is the consequence of the internet spreading the nature of the custom across the country or whether the internet has made me more aware of its occurrence elsewhere, but egg rolling was everywhere this year. From Calverley Park in Tunbridge Wells to One Tree Hill, in Essex (both with very suitable hills to do it) to a humble hill in Wanstead and down a flat road in Nottinghamshire, and in various schools apparently…everyone was rolling eggs.

Eggs-plain.

Well traditionally egg rolling is said to commemorate the rolling away of the tomb from the Christ’s tomb remembering the Resurrection. Of course this would have a double significance as the egg itself represents rebirth and has continued albeit as a chocolate one in virtually every household in Britain at Easter. Folklorists have suggested that the rolling event however has a deeper pre-Christian significance and may represent the solar patterns moving from spring to winter

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Presently despite what some books and websites state, there appear to be only two English sites where rolling is done ‘traditionally’ with regular crowds: Avenham Park Preston and Holcombe Hill, Ramsbottom. There other two long term revivals one very well known, the other less so.

Rolling into the 20th century

Fountain’s Abbey near Ripon is perhaps the most famous revival.  It is said that the custom was revived in 1954, when someone connected with the site remembered it being undertaken there in the early parts of the 20th century.

Egg-citing

Turning up at the site despite an egg hunt stuck in various odd locations: trees, walls and by an old well, there did not appear to be no-one awaiting an egg roll. Then I noticed an area of the hillside and some organisers checking their handiwork. Soon a loud hailer was called and people begun to arrive. You could see the excitement on the faces of the children feverishly grasping their baskets of coloured eggs. Close inspection revealed there to be a wide range in quality from simple unadorned (but hopefully hard boiled) to those boiled in colouring to those both painted and draw to resemble cartoon characters – Perhaps more a result of the enthusiasm of the parents than the child perhaps I thought. Different age groups assembled and at the bottom of the slope the adjudicator to judge the fastest egg and give out the sweet prize. The cutest people those just about able to walk…let alone through. As the group lined up, a countdown begun and the first roll begun…sometimes these younger participants had to be held back to prevent this becoming a egg rolling-cum-cheese rolling event.

There was no such problem at the other notable revival indeed following the egg was actively encouraged with hilarious results. Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster, has been rolling since the 1970s and was a conscious effort to ensure the survival of a local custom by the council who own and run the estate; although it was unclear where the hill here was the exact site it was done.

I shouldn’t include Cusworth Hall, because it is unusually is done on the Thursday before Easter and this year that was in March, but when I visited last it was in April. Despite this welcome, for custom followers (as it allows one to attend more than one rolling event), change of day, it did not lack rollers and the event consisted of two sessions; one 11 am and one at 2 pm. I didn’t make the earlier event as I was involved in another ceremony which I may report at a later date.

Hundreds of people, mainly mothers and their children congregated at the hall, where at first they did a timed Easter egg hunt and then progressed around to the front of the hall where the hill flowed steeply towards a lake below.

Again it was divided into age groups, with some very eager teenagers, some which considering they were in their late teens appeared exceedingly enthusiastic. Then the ready-steady-go was called and the eggs were projected at great speed down this rather steep hill. Watching from below they appeared like bouncing balls hitting hard and leaping into the air like bombs; and remarkably unbroken. Get out the way…this could be dangerous! Certainly what was slightly more hazardous was the cavalcade of children building up greater and greater speeds looking like at any point terminal velocity would be achieved and some appeared even eager to catch up with their egg although physically impossible considering the speed some very rolling. The satisfaction of many of the children’s faces when they uncovered their egg unscathed and some distance down the slope was very apparent…although fortunately none actually reached the water.

Of the two sites, I preferred the Cusworth Hall one, firstly access was free (of course there is a charge for non- National Trust or English heritage members to Fountains, although well worth a visit if you have not been there!) and the steepness of the hill meant that the speed at which the eggs rolled, bounced and somersaulted down the hill was something to be seen quickly followed by some very eager children….roll on next year.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

Custom demised: Primrose Day

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In a month when we have been discussing the death of a noted Conservative Prime Minster, it is perhaps a strange coincidence that April, the 19th to be particular, was the date commemorating another famed prime minster – Benjamin Disreali, who died on that date in 1881. So popular was he and his polices that in 1883 an organisation within the Conservatives was formed, called the Primrose league to commemorate the man and promote his political views, centred on one nation Conservatism.

A rose by any name!

In those days, Monarchs never attended the funerals of Prime Ministers; even one so well thought of, Victoria was apparently very fond of him! However, this did not prevent her sending a wreath of primroses. Attached to them was the note ‘His favourite flower’.

Here lies the confusing because someone thought that this meant Disraeli, but actually Victoria meant Albert! Despite this anyone wishing to show support to the prime minister and his work wore a primrose on their lapel. Even soon after the death of Disraeli, the wearing of primroses had so popular that a reported in the Pall Mall Budget:

“Lord Beaconsfield died Wycombe was full of visitors and they all wanted primroses. One enterprising genius established a regular business. He employed bands of children who scoured the countryside far and near for primroses, which he made up into bouquets and sold to visitors, guaranteeing that each bunch had been gathered on the favourite walk of the late Earl. Innumerable basketfuls were disposed of in this way, and now, no doubt, primroses are somewhat scarce.”

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The correspondent went on to discuss that:

“Primrose Day is leading to the extirpation of the primrose; and unless the eccentric craze changes, the last primrose is likely to take its place with the “last rabbit” in the British Museum.”

Primrose fever had certainly begun early as the Daily Telegraph on 1888 it was noted:

Never have primroses been so largely worn Merchants in the city, ladies in the West-end, cabmen on their hansoms, ‘bus drivers, errand boys, and nursemaids were alike in their tastes.”

The correspondent in the Pall Mall Budget further noted that:

“At Hughenden the work of extinction has progressed apace, and Primrose Day will find few primroses blooming on the wooded slopes of Hughenden Manor… Up the hill and through the park hardly a primrose was to be seen. ….. After wandering the long way through the wood I carne at last upon a tuft of the missing flower.”

However at the grave:

“Here, indeed, I found some primroses. At the head of the grave they grow in a circle, but their effect was obscured by the gorgeous, not to say gaudy, flower-bed which occupied the rest of the grave. There, in the form of a cross, flowered a brilliant display of hyacinths of all colours, mingled with which were, here and there, bright red and yellow tulips, the whole forming a mass of colour much more characteristic of the Oriental taste and policy of the late Prime Minister than the pale primrose. The grave is carefully tended, and a perpetual succession of flowers is kept up all the year round…..The Queen’s wreath still lingers at the head of the grave, looking rather the worse for wear, and partially concealing the inscription.”

The custom was not restricted to Buckinghamshire and membership grew to a peak of one million members according to the Primrose League gazette of April 1978. It rallyappears to have been very popular in Devon and the other side of the country. Sutton (1996) in her Lincolnshire Calendar notes how widespread the celebration became. A correspondent noted:

“My father used to cycle to the woods in Potterhanworth, a day or two before Primrose Day. He gathered as many he could, and my sisters and I had to do them up in little bushes. He would cycle all the way to Lincoln to sell them on the market to raise funds for the party.”

Another recollection notes:

“I was a girl guide and when it was Primrose Day we all had to go out to gather Primroses. We pulled them from the ‘banks’. Sincil Banks. Then we took them around the streets of Lincoln to the old people’s houses, for whoever wanted to wear one.”

And:

“My parents used to walk us to Skellingthorpe Walks to gather primroses. There were so many it was like walking on a yellow carpet. We tied them up in little bunches with tiny pieces of twine. Sometimes the flowers were so cold they nearly froze your fingers. Then we had the jolly job of selling them on the market. A lot of people like to wear them. Mother used to wear an enamel badge, it was shaped like a primrose and yellow in colour, she was in the Primrose League.”

Records show that London’s Disraeli statue was regularly adorned with wreaths. However, it was at his grave that the most noted celebration of the custom was the laying of flower wreaths on monuments to him. The most famous being the Hughenden Pilgrimage to his grave. This would be followed by a service at the church and luncheon at the Manor. This was heavily reported in the media up until the 1940s with a number of notable Pathe reports showing a great congregation of well dressed and not so well heeled it appears, flowing down the lane to the grave carrying a great range of wreaths and floral tributes. According to one report, the laying of the wreath could often be done by the sitting leader of the party or more usually an ex-prime minster, Winston Churchill (his father was instrumental in its foundation) and Alex Douglas-Hume who were both the Grandmaster or chairman of the association as we would call it.

This ceremony appeared to have petered out in the late 1980s or early 1990s (the last report I can find is in 1987) although I have been unable to confirm this. This disappearance of the custom went hand in hand with decline in the League. Then on the 16th December 2004, the Daily Telegraph reported:

“this week saw a significant event for any observers of political history: after 121 years, the Primrose League was finally wound up. The league’s aim was to promote Toryism across the country. ‘In recent years, our meetings have become smaller and smaller,’ says Lord Mowbray, one of the league’s leading lights. Its remaining funds have been donated to Tory coffers. “On Monday, I presented Michael Howard and Liam Fox with a cheque for £70,000,” adds Lord Mowbray proudly.”

From wikimedia

From wikimedia

However, despite a few groups surviving notably in Leicestershire I believe, a visit to London’s Disraeli’s statue on the 19th and you will find no evidence of wreaths, and although the National Trust at Hughenden Manor celebrate it in their way, with talks, the death of the Primrose league in 2004, appears to have been the last nail in the true celebration of Primrose Day. Fortunately someone thought to plant primroses on his grave and these flower on the day. I am sure he would have approved…Albert that is!

learn more about the League from this excellent website and thanks to John King for the help with this article http://primrose-league.leadhoster.com