Monthly Archives: August 2013

Custom survived:Bourton on the water Water football


Picture the scene:  a chocolate box village, young families bathing in the sunshine on the green, the elderly ambling along with their ice creams….a typical August bank holiday (except yes I did mention sunshine!)…eyes focus on a river flowing peacefully through this village and then peace is shattered as twelve men enter the water and kick a ball around making everyone drenched. This is not some anti-social group of trouble makers this is in Bourton on the Water, well known tourist hotspot and home to the country’s oddest match of the beautiful game…the Water Football. DSC_006122

Water a goal!

Details are scant on its history, the team formed in 1894 and this competition is said have been done as long as the club has existed and most authorities state it is over 100 years old, being linked to celebrations for Edward VII’s coronation. This year I introduced the contrived catergory for the many curious modern customs, perhaps best described as ‘devised by blokes down the pub’. This is probably the grand daddy of such beer fueled brainwaves. No one appears to know why it begun, but it probably did so as a way to raise money for the team. I say team, because, this is neither a national tournament nor a local derby, but played between the A and B teams of Bourton Rovers FC. We had left home a little late on the Bank Holiday, and hadn’t intended to visit Bourton on the Water. Leaving late on this day to such a popular place is a possible recipe for disaster. Bourton on the Water is a delightful Cotswold village one of a number of noted charming places on the route. Unfortunately, charming on Bank Holiday means chocker block traffic jams and once we had reached Moreton in the Marsh the road snarled to a halt, so a detour via the villages of Swells was needed to get back to the Stow on the Wold road….then bang…straight into another snarl up and so another detour through the Slaughters, another delightful village which itself was having a fete. Entry into Bourton on the Water was unhindered however and we arrived at two thirty!

Water on the pitch

People swarmed around the village like the bees at such a honey pot, but finding a place by the ‘pitch side’ was surprisingly easy and so being a nice day, with the river Windrush peacefully flowing, it was not difficult to seat for a few minutes for the game to begin. At four, the teams moved their goals into the water and the crowds, several thousand of them, thronged banks. Those close to the edge wisely wearing water proofs, in most years I am sure this would be standard considering our bank holiday weather!

Bourton Football (15)

  Football leagues under the water

The team wore no special uniform, not even wellies, but the referee was dressed in a pokadot dress, pink blouse, blonde wig and holding an umbrella…and yes it was a man – a water football tradition.  Although this did largely seem a game without rules, after all how could you judge an improper tackle when obscured by a fan of water? Goal!The goals were moved into the water and the team prepared splashing each other to get over the cold. The whistle blew and the serious splashing begun. Indeed, for the first half the players took considerable pleasure in making sure that the crowds, especially those in the middle it seemed, that they got very wet more than any actual play. In some cases it became clear that some well known the team members…were getting more than their fair share of water. At first people kept to the banks, but realising that there was less chance of getting soaked in the water crowds gathered behind the goals or so they thought! I overheard one boy sagely state ‘ I don’t think much of these seats they’re very wet’

Took a dive

The half-time whistle blew and wet jerseys were swapped. Sitting were I was I had felt fall brunt of the a  ball soaking so I decided at one point to position myself in the river near one of the goals. Good idea for a photo, bad idea for keeping dry. Soon I watched through the view finder, the players getting nearer and a nearer and looking down the ball was at my feet…and within seconds so were the players. I was even more drenched then before and this time a sizeable portion of the River Windrush entered my mouth! Great action pictures with the water smears!

Bourton Football (16)

It was difficult to follow what the score was. There’s no commentary. You would not be able to hear anyhow, the screams of laughter were too loud. Cheers went out when the goals were scored, and they came thick and fast in the second half when the teams appear to have got their ‘water’ wings. Then the final whistle was blown and the team threw themselves into the water in exhaustion. I could see why the game is only thirty minutes…ninety minutes in the water would be tiring to say the least. The goals were removed to the banks and the teams went off for an early bath. Bourton on the Water Water football have distilled in a way all the things which typify the English: picturesque village, Football and transvestitism. Long may it play!    

Bourton Football (2)

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Custom revived: Old Woodstock Mock Mayor


DSC_2344The Old Woodstock Mock Mayor is a little known custom which appears to have been ignored by books on calendar customs, but it is a classic example of the reason behind the establishment of this perhaps most English of traditions – taking the mickey!

The rise, fall and rise of a custom

The election of the Mock Mayors in this case was a response to the newer Woodstock over the stream! This is because Old Woodstock was until 1886 in the parish of Wooton when an independent of the borough of “new” Woodstock arose and so the custom developed as mockery of the Borough authorities in the new Woodstock who had by 1776 built themselves a new Town Hall and so they responded with this light hearted repost.


The first formal recognition of the custom appears to be linked with the mace which is inscribed:

“This Mace was made at the Sole Expense of Charles Lewellyn Perkins Esq. Mayor of the ancient village of Old Woodstock – Anno Domini 1786”

The custom continued it appears without break until 1928.

Why the custom died out in 1928 is unclear, but it was probably due to the First World War. However, whereas in most cases this would bring the end of the custom it was revived in 1954. This new Mayor wore a crimson gown made out of a 19th century blanket, a chain of curtain rings and a top hat. The event was associated with the Rose and Crown and unlike today it never crossed into New Woodstock. Evidence suggests that originally the custom was associated with the Wootton Parish Feast Day which was the 19th September, but this revival moved it to August Bank Holiday. The event saw a Beauty Queen and Flower show as well. The revival was short lived and although it saw its first female Mayor, a Miss K. Castle, with the installation of Mr Frederick Warmington in 1958, the custom lapsed and so for 25 years he remained the reigning Mock Mayor!


A local writer recalled in 1973:

“It seems unlikely that those ceremonies will ever be started again in view of the fact that Mayors and Borough Councils will disappear in 1974. Also the changes in population mobility will leave fewer people to remain interested in purely local affairs since many are newcomers to the district.”

Despite these joint fears, the later unnecessary for ‘foreigners’ have embraced the custom and although Woodstock became a Town Council it retained its Mayor.It was revived by the Rose and Crown, it has moved locations and dates a number of times to settle at the Black Prince, since the former’s closure. Despite the 25 year break, the custom appeared to grab the zeitgeist and has continued ever since as a charity and community event. The ceremony used to take place in September and consisted of a dinner at the Rose and Crown and a cricket match: the Mayor being usually selected for his drinking capacity, but the closure of the Crown moved it to the

Mock up

Like other Mock Mayor the regalia which resembles that of the real Mayor but at half the price. However, this regalia appeared to have become a bit more sophisticated: a Mayoral chain chained from curtain rings to Mechano metal pieces, a black top hat, a robe of office said to be made from a 19th Century red blanket. The mace did consist of a holly stick entwined with a large cabbage stem capped by a crown but is now a more sophisticated three sided wooden mace. Clearly the mock mayor is more serious matter now! Despite what could easy be described as a local event, this is a tradition with all the regulars: coconut shy, plate breaking, Punch and Judy and Oxfordshire favourite Aunt Sally.

Mock the week DSC_2147

At the allotted time a motley bunch appeared made up of the Mock Mayor, his deputy, a constable, Town Crier, Mace bearer, two flag bearers and an inexplicable Saxon Warrior an odd dressed group if ever there was one. Then the ‘town’ cryer with his blue frock coat and black tricorn hat asked those intending to stand or those representing those intending to stand to join in the hustings….there was a bit of an embarrassing silence. Then a few people stood up to appeal for election, in 1993 one candidate promised to bring the Olympics to Blenham Park and promised good weather. I’m not sure which was more probable. In 2013, the crowd appeared a little reticent although one candidate, perhaps the crowd knew it was a fix! Of those who stood one candidate suggested they would investigate fracking…at New Woodstock whilst a young boy boldly proclaimed he would make the village more interesting…he didn’t win!

After the hustings the committee huddled in the corner to agree what had already been agreed – and selected the new Mock Mayor. Previously the adjourned to a room in the pub and white smoke was sent up. The outgoing Mayor caused the newly appointed to kneel to which he then knighted him and passed on his robes. It was made clear that the new Mock Mayor had already been selected, making a mockery of the whole custom- perhaps due to the ducking aspect and whole ‘health and safety’ its best they know who it is…a random member might not be so happy with the impromtu swim!

Mock a doodle do!


The newly selected mock mayor and his entourage then called upon the audience to join them in their procession…or perhaps march in protest to the New Woodstock Town Hall. This was an odd route across the road from the pub, in through a gate and into the spacious grounds of Blenheim Palace and up hill…fighting the wind to the top of the hill where the New Woodstock physically and metaphorically reign over them! On the way, the mace bearer stopped at the gates and like Blackrod in parliament tapped the door with a silver cane…slowly the doors opened and the group marched forth to their goal the Georgian Town Hall. At the Town Hall stood a more obvious Trumptoesque Mayor bedecked with the finery of his mayoral red robes and chain, one could understand previous generations being annoyed by the pomp of this new Town! Here the Town Crier called for a dance between the Mayor and Mock Mayor


Mock turtle soup….

The climax of the ceremony is the ducking of the Mock-Mayor. Although this was a bit confusing because although there was a ducking stool set up, the process appeared to consist of simply throwing him in the water. The ducking signifies the Mayor and the Corporation turning their backs on and declaring their independence from the “other” Woodstock by crossing the boundary line. A similar ducking of a Mock Mayor occured in Birmingham in a local holy well and it is possible that this part of the procedure is the oldest part…did it signify a water sacrifice? Despite its rather frivolous nature, Old Woodstock’s Mock Mayor is the closest to the true nature of the mock mayor tradition across the country – still metaphorically raising its two fingers at the New Woodstock…Or should I say both two fingers…its W oodstock after all!


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Custom demised: Tutbury Bull Run


image “It may not be so, gentle sir, For I must be at Tutbury feast; And if Robin Hood will go thither with me, I’ll make him the most welcome guest.”

So goes a verse of the popular ballad ‘A New Ballad of bold Robin Hood, shewing his birth, breeding, valour and marriage at Tutbury Bull Running’ where he married not Marian but a Clorinda! Tutbury, a small village with its romantic ruined castle was the scene of the country’s only other Bull run. The origins of this custom derive from the need to control a local festival of musicians (or minstrels) that came from all parts of the country to Tutbury. As with such festivals, which surely involved a fair amount of alcohol, disputes would occur and so to sort this out, the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt established a means to settle arguments between the minstrels; this became the Tutbury Court of King’s Minstrels. It is said that when in 1374, Gaunt married his Spanish Princess, Constance, daughter of Pedro the Cruel of Castille, she suggested establishing a bull running, although what this had to do with minstrels is unclear. Gaunt established a King of the Minstrels whose job would be to apprehend and arrest any law breaking musical miscreants. As in all these cases, a Charter enshrined the custom called Carta le Roy de Minstralx. Plot (1696) in his work on Staffordshire translates it as:

“John by the grace of God King of Castile and Leon, Duke of Lancaster, to all of them who shall see or hear these our Letters greetings. Know ye we have ordained, constituted and assigned to our well-beloved King of the Minstrells in the Honor of Tutbury, who is, or for the time shall be, to apprehend and arrest all the Minstrells in our said Honor and Franchise, that refuse to doe the services and Minstrelsy as appertain to them to doe from ancient times to Tutbury aforesaid, yearly on the days of the Assumption of Our Lady; giving and granting to the said King of the Minstrells for the time being, full power and commandement to make them reasonably to justify, and to constrain them to doe their services, and Minstrelsies, in the manner belongeth to them and as it hath been there, and of ancient times accustomed.”

This developed into a special Court which meet the day following the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the 15th August. All the minstrels in the Honor which were the counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire were obliged to meet at the house of the bailiff of the honor were they met the Steward of the court. All minstrels who failed to attend would have to pay a fine. A procession was formed and headed by the musicians walked in two rows to the parish church with the previous years King of the Minstrels marching behind the musicians with the bailiff and four stewards carrying a white rod each. After the church service, which cost a penny, the group went to the Castle Hall, here the court was called and two juries of twelve Staffordshire men and twelve men from adjoining counties, after the steward reminded the attendees of the importance of the court:

“the jurors proceed to the Election of the said Officers, the King to be chosen out of the 4 stewards of the proceeding year and one year out of Staffordshire, and the other out of Darbyshire interchangeably; and the 4 stewards, two of them out of Staffordshire, and two out of Darbyshire; 3 being chosen by the Jurors, and the 4th by him that keeps the court, and the deputy Steward or Clerk”

The two juries leave this Court to make the decision, with the rest having a banquet. Upon their return, the new officers were appointed and the Old King passes on the white wand and drink toasts. After which, the minstrels would gather for the bull running. Before the Reformation the Minstrels received, after coming to Matins on that feast day, from the Prior of Tutbury:

“a Bull given…if they can take him on this side of the River Dove which is next to Tutbury; or else the Prior shall give them xld for the enjoyment of which custom they shall give to the Lord at the same feast day xxdg.”

This bull was then used for the running, after the Reformation, this bull was provided by the Duke of Devonshire. However, this was at a price, for if the bull ran into Derbyshire, a likely case considering Tutbury’s geographical location, the Duke retained it. The custom involved the minstrels gathering at the barn. The poor bull had: “… his horns are cut off, his ears cropt, his taile cut by the stumple; all his body smeared over with soap, and his nose blown full of beaten pepper.” This was apparently to make it as mad as possible! A solemn proclamation was made by the steward and the bull released:

“The bull being let loose, the steward proclaimed that none were to come nearer than forty feet, nor to hinder the minstrels, but all were to attend to their own safety. The minstrels were to capture the bull before sunset, and on that side of the river, “

To avoid the Duke regaining the bull it was allowed that a tuft of fur could be produced as evidence to the Market place. If the bull was collared and taken to the bull ring in the market it was baited with dogs first ‘alloted for the King, second for the honor of the town and last for the King of the Minstrels’ After which the minstrels could do what they wanted with the beast. Hundred years after Plots account the bull running had fallen into disrepute and had: “ultimately degenerated into a scene of wild debauchery, often resulting in a terrible riot.” Certainly by the late 1700s the writing was on the wall. A petition from the Court of Minstrels to the ducal owner of the manor in 1772 read:

“The Honourable and Antient court of the Minstrels, assembled at Tutbury 17 August 1772, to the Duke of Devonshire May it please Your grace. We the Jury of this court must humbly petition Your grace that the Writings concerned this court may be laid ope n before the King and Stewards of this Court, that we may understand our right. We apprehend we have a right to a piece of land called the Piper’s meadow, formerly ui n the hands of Pratt of Tutbury. now Thomas Tatler of Etwel, who lets kit to Samuel Salt of Rolston. This rent has been publically demanded at the castle but without any redress……Most gracious Duke, we cannot maintain the rights of straining for these misdemeanours of the Minstrels of Staffordshire, Derbyshire., Leicestershire and Warwickshire without the protection of your Grace…..It hath therefore been concluded and believed that Derbyshire stands to the conclusion that without the rent of the said Piper’s meadow to be paid to the King of the Minstrels, the said Jurors do not appear….and in consequence must be in a short time be a want of a Bull Running”

Thus it was clear that without the Duke provided the remedy the custom would decay and indeed it did. For unlike, Stamford’s Bull Run, the abolishing of the custom in 1778 was due more to the rowdy nature of the crowds in this sleepy town than any care for the animal’s welfare. It was finally abolished although the minstrels did meet a few years after this the custom had lost its star attraction and died off. Now Tutbury is quiet on the days around the feast of the Assumption bar some curious tourist visiting its wonderful castle….having thought about a Court which keeps musicians in order…perhaps now this is even more needed to keep our wanton pop stars in order!!

STOP PRESS: Drama re-enactment of the Stamford Bull Run Looks like someone read my notice about acting out the run and this year at the town’s inaugural Georgian festival there is a drama re-enactment of this most famed Bull Run. The date is 28th September 2013 at three. Details from their website.. image