Category Archives: Street football

Custom demised: Shrovetide Street Football, Dorking, Surrey

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dorking

1898: Shrove Tuesday football in Dorking: PS Campbell severely kicked in the struggle with the crowd and was incapacitated and forced to retire

Today it is the picture of a genteel Surrey town, bustling with shoppers in and out of shops. On Shrove Tuesday this year it will be much the same as it was the year before. However until the early 20th century each year the streets would be bustling with boisterous boys and blokes ready for a day of street football. Of course Shrovetide football survives still in a number of places of course, but each is subtly different and Dorking’s was no different.  The game much as any street football was a mixed game of kicking, throwing and scrumming which was curiously more formalized then others.

Original football chant?

Kick away both Whig and Tory/Wind and Water Dorking’s glory’.

So read an inscription on a frame carried by an old band. One unusual custom was that before the match there was a band. The Taffer Bolt’s Band disguised in back were the opening act for the match. They played pipes, drums and a triangle and were lead by one of them who carried three footballs, red and green, white and blue and gold leaf, attached to the said frame. Amusingly being genteel Surrey, the ‘organisers’ were keen to ensure everyone was provided for after the match and a collection was made before the match started.  It is worth noting that it was recorded that:

Wind and water is Dorking’s glory.” Mr. Charles Rose, in his Recollections of Old Dorking, 1878, suggests that “wind” refers to the inflation of the ball and “water” to the duckings in the mill pond and brook, at one time indulged in.”

Over the years the event became formalized. It begun at the gates of St. Martin church at 2 o’clock and was played until 6pm a meal was even organized at the Sun Inn afterwards.

 Kicked in to the long grass

Shrovetide football across the country has always had a fragile relationship with their communities and the police. In Dorking the combined concerns of the damage caused and the lost of trade for shop keepers lead for its abolishment. However the local council liked it. In the end Surrey County Council banned it. In 1897 the following account appears:

“Shrove Tuesday football in Dorking: Traders in West and South Streets in Dorking asked the Standing Joint Committee to adopt measures to end the nuisance. Superintendent Page was in charge and reported that he met with Superintendents Alexander and Bryce and with a force of sixty constables did their best to prevent the playing of football.

The ball was kicked off by a member of the Town Council and was then seized by the police. More balls were produced all of which were taken into the possession of the police after a severe struggle. By 5 and 6 o’clock the crowd was increased by a great number of people leaving work, joined in and added to the general confusion.

There was no riot or damage to property. Later in the year fifty two defendants were all convicted of the offence of playing football on Shrove Tuesday to the annoyance of passengers. Eventually they were fined five shillings being unable to produce the charter said to give them the right to play.”

Interestingly, the defence of the participants was supported not only by Dorking Urban District Council who passed a resolution criticising the action of the Surrey Standing Joint Committee but local important people amongst them Mr. Henry Attlee (father of the ex Prime Minister Clement).

However. despite this support the more powerful Surrey Council continued to penalize participants, 60 people in 1898 including Dorking councillor had been fined. An account reads above:

“PS Campbell severely kicked in the struggle with the crowd and was incapacitated and forced to retire.”

With such incidents, Surrey County Council were more strenuous in their attempt to supress and in 1907 the streets were silent on Shrove Tuesday. The custom had given up the ghost. It was extinct and was never revived.

Sadly, such street football events by their very nature I doubt will ever be revived. So today a walk down the streets of Dorking on Shrove Tuesday will not see scrums of people fighting over their ball…buts let us hope somewhere there might be a small group kicking some ball about!

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Custom survived: Atherstone’s Shrove Tuesday Football

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Atherstone is a curious town, setting on the ancient Watling street, about give or take 100 miles from London, famed for its hats and now a great place for books…it one of those British towns which has gone through many phases but never aspiring to be a metropolis – happy to be a small county town. A small proud county town it is at that – justly proud of its Ball Game. There are of course a number of such games, and I have covered Hallaton and Sedgefield in my accounts..there’s something a bit to coin a term often used in football ‘ a bit special’ about this one!

A load of balls?

In 1999 the town proudly celebrated the 800th anniversary of the event. However, this is perhaps a bold claim. Locally they will tell you that the town was granted the game in 1199 on the accession of King John. However, details are scant if that. Indeed, the claim seems to rest upon the vague suggestion of a Ralph Thompson who wrote in 1790:

“It was a match of Gold that was played betwixt the Warwickshire lads and the Leicestershire Lads on Shrove Tuesday; the Warwickshire Lads won the Gld. It was in King John’s reign…Atherstone, being the nearest town to the place where they play’d it, it is and has been a custom to turn a Foot Ball up Atherstone on Shrove Tuesday every Year since that time.”

What time? No date is given. Hugh Hornby in his excellent compendium of football games Uppies and Downies states that even if John did grant it on his accession he didn’t become king until the 6th of April! Never mind. It is certain that the Game has a long origin and was certainly continually played from the 1700s and despite the absence of any mention of the custom in the 1700s we can assume it happened.

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Game over?

In the early 20th century many Shrove tide games were quashed. An 1835 Highways Act prevented Football played in the street had attempted to stem them and combined with the potential drinking and civil unrest which could ensue, one by one across the country the red card was shown and the game stopped. When in 1901 the Warwickshire County Council tried to move in on the game, then then Chairman of the Parish Council in a meeting on the issue, a Mr. C Orton asserted:

“the custom had been observed so many years that it had become to be looked upon as a kind of charter by the working classes and not only by them but by others as well.”

And it was observed by a Mr. H. E. Vero that:

“The reason that football kicking has been stopped in other towns was because the tradespeople objected to it, but in Atherstone they did not.”

The meeting apparently concluded to support the custom and continue removing panes of glass from the gas lamps. The game went ahead, despite Warwickshire Country Council’s wishes and so it has been – ironically that same council trumpet it as a tourist event – how times have changed! The game continued unabated until in 1974 an committee was established to organise it and focus the action in Long Street and prevent the rampage around the town and then in 1986 established players were used a stewards. Indeed the focus in one street meant that unlike other more rural shrovetide games it was saved from a ban in 2001 foot and mouth outbreak and continued through both World Wars.

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Kick about

One of the reasons why it has remained I believe because unlike its counterparts it is far more a spectator sport. The ball is much larger and hence more visible in the scrum, it is focused on more place and more importantly everyone gets a chance to kick it. For during the first 90 or so minutes the game seems quite complexing – is this a ‘game’ or not? Why is no one trying to score? During this time all and sundry are given a go. I saw children of all ages getting involved, women – including quite an elderly one I feared might fall over and even a policeman! There’s no competition only for catching it and returning it and often a steward is on hand to make sure anyone who wants a kick has a go. This is clearly a great way to engender both interest and inclusion and whether or not any of the kickers really get involved in the game is irrelevant they had a kick – added to the apparent luck of doing so – its eagerly taken on.

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Jumpers for goal posts

I must admit to having a soft spot for Atherstone’s football and its only one of two I have been to more than once because of its accessibility. The last time I went I had come fresh from a pancake race elsewhere to be confronted with another just about to start down Long Street by the Major and other local dignitaries. A nice addition. Indeed, Atherstone’s Shrove Tuesday is not just about the Football it developed another custom to compliment it – a sweet presumably originally a penny scramble. With the addition of the pancake race it could be seen to be developing a shrove tide triathlon!

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The sun was bright and the white walls of the Angle Inn glistened its warming rays as a crowd of youngsters gathered beneath it. In the windows shadows can be seen. The children below appeared to move closer and stand eyes gazing up and hands ready. Soon a plastic pot appeared and a hand. Then a hand full of sweets and then to cheers below the sweets were cast upon the crowd. The children ducked, dived and tussled below. As more and more sweets descended the crowd went crazier and crazier. The face of the children more determined and fevered. It was quite intense and after a while it was clear that some of the younger children were dragged out of the mix. In the distribution was a giant Golden penny I saw it go out…but didn’t see it after, but presume the lucky child returned it for the £10 prize. The scramble was a clever device, a way both to attract fresh blood to the football, get them trained for the future and possibly satisfy their need to get into the throng.

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Golden balls

Then at 3 pm a new face appeared at the window. The children had dispersed and those that hadn’t were quickly removed. Now a new crowd arrived. Often burly men, clothed in rugby shirts and old jeans and trousers, probably ritually worn each year for the game. The guest of honour appeared holding the ball. A cheer went out and people positioned themselves. Interesting I noticed a few likely characters standing a drift from this throng..biding their time and conserving their energy for the right time to pounce on the ball. For unlike other Shrove football competitions and similar, there are no goals and unlike others there is a time limit. The winner? They who should have the ball when the horn is sounded. It was thus wise to wait. Then after a pep talk from one of the organisers asking for good conduct the ball was held ready to be through, attached to it three ribbons and off it went. The ribbons did not last long as the ball made its first appearance from the throng a few minutes they were gone grabbed by the attendees and again latter exchanged for their £10 prize money.

Then around 4.30 the crowd became to thicken and the ball’s direction changed. The game had really begun as the first attempt was made to take control. A big kick sent it down the street to a waiting pair of hands. The crowd surged towards it. It soon disappeared. The ball surfaced again. The crowd separated into participants and observes. The throng rushes downhill as the ball is kicked out of sight. I rushed down as a wall of people are looked against a wall with the ball somewhere within. The ball breaks free and is kicked again up the street. It does not go far as the throng and ball bow to gravity and roll further downhill. A steward steps in and a break occurs to refocus back to prevent it spilling too far. The ball is seen for a fleeting moment and then its gone. Too and fro. Piles of bodies encase the ball. Then it is out off and with it the crowd. Those watchers appear then to make their move, fresh of energy then enter the fray, ready to put their full weight and effort taking possession. Then the horn sounds, a cheer is let out, but the scrum does not disperse readily the scene is brightened by the reflective coats of the stewards, who now gently peel the bodies from each other to release the ball and the winner. Weary, bruised, shirt torn, sweaty the winner emerges, a smile beams across his face – he’s won – the ball looks a little worse for the encounter, its flat and devoid of any spherical appearance. Everyone is off to celebrate and it is over for another year.

Custom survived: Sedgefield Ball Game

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 “The liberal use of sheet leg guards is not merely a precaution but an absolute necessicity, for no sooner does the ball touch the ground than the most indiscriminate kicking begins and on times throughout the game.”

On the head…literally

Like the many of surviving and demised ball games a long history is suggested according to this account in 1889 that it:

“has been played on the Green at least since the twelfth century. It can last for hours and gets rowdy; the object is to ‘allay’ the ball and get it in part of the village defended by the other side.”

The account as gives an interesting reason:

“It is said to have started as a quarrel between Chester-Le-Street apprentices and a retainer at Lumley Castle, the first football being the latter’s head.”

Such an origin, probably confused may hint at earlier pagan origins. As indeed does the most common legend which states that it started in 1246-56 when the church was being built, the game ensuing between the craftsmen were occupied with its building and the local farm workers when the rector threw the ball at noon. Despite all this claimed heritage the earliest mention is in 1802 in the Sporting magazine. Although, a later account by William Parson and William White states that it is an ancient custom and relates the role of the parish clerk who provides the ball providing some evidence for the legend perhaps or origin.

Not a game of two halves

The first explanation may have some grain of truth for over the years the game has been known to have changed and fought in teams. Now it appears to have no teams but two goals were indentified until the 1920 which were for the two opposing teams, town and county. The town goal being a stream running along the boundary to the south and the county a pond a few hundred yards north of the town centre. The location of the goals, the county one being nearest to the town may hint at its age, recalling a pre 1636 date when farm workers would have lived within the town walls for protection.

copyright ball game sedgefieldPost 1920s the rules changed, the county goal was filled in when the blacksmiths nearby became a petrol station. This meant only one goal survived and the game was no longer divided into opposing factions. Now individuals or groups compete making it even more exciting as you do not know who is going to win!

Eye of the ball

It was a bright but cold day, I arrived at noon, no one was there, The church bell rang, a local noticing I was looking a little perplexed, informed me that this was the pancake bell, rang to encourage the locals to prepare them, and no doubt to fill the stomachs of the participants to warm them up and sustain them. An hour later a man appeared carrying a small ball, it was much smaller than the other ‘footballs’ from similar games and soon a scrum surrounded him as he stood over the bull ring in the Green.

DSCF84512As the participants scrummed around, the ball is passed unnoticed in the sea of men through the ball ring. There was a little to-ing and fro-ing awaiting to grasp the ball once it has been passed through the bull ring. One! The crowd jocked into position. Two! The scrum got closer. Three! Up it went and it soon disappeared….then it appeared as one member bravely kicked it across the grass and ran after it. The ball skirted down the main road, chased by three men, under a car and caught the other side. Then back into the centre. Then a tremendous kick into the air and I caught a glimpse as it glided above me…a happy participant then took procession and kicked controllably down the road. He didn’t have it free for long as soon the mass ranks of participants were after him and soon a scrum developed. I wryly observed as nearby life appeared to be continuing as normal as a bus turned up destined to the outside world and an elderly lady boarded just as the scrum surged in the bus’s direction. A small car behind not being so lucky as the passengers got a close view of the participant’s flesh pressed against the window as they waited at the crossing. I was surprised no one thought of passing the ball inside….to pick up later. The intense scrumming and breaking free continues until bizarrely it appeared to stop…where did they go? I checked my watch. It was 2pm and they’d obviously stopped to have a drink in the pub or have some sandwiches.  Just under an hour later and the game apparently appeared as if it hadn’t gone and it became more fevered. As the light begin to fade there was a more determined effort to get the ball to the goal…

After a while I retreated to a delightful team room as the cold had got to me and watched it through a half boarded up window… A mass scrum of dirty, wet and mud strewn bodies came into view, the ball somewhere with in them. Then at 4 the ball is to ‘allay’ to the goal a beck in the south of the village and the back to the centre and through the bull ring three times. Whosoever retrieves the ball from the goal of that team brings it back to the market bull ring and after passing it three times through the ring is declared the champion and allowed to keep the ball

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Of all these street games, this is the best one for the spectator, the ball is often kicked and the village green large enough so as not to feel claustrophobic, although it is difficult due to the ball’s size to work out exactly was in going on, the roars and shouts more than make you aware of its progress as long as it doesn’t disappear!

Find out when its on

Calendar Customs when its on…http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/sedgefield-football/

Copyright Pixyledpublications

Custom survived:Bourton on the water Water football

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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!

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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!

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  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 faces..to 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!

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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!    

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Custom survived: Rothwell Trinity Fair Proclamation Day

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Rowell Proclamation (14)Fair enough

“I ******* love Rothwell…where else do they get you up a 6 am so you can get bladdered early”

Not perhaps the most erudite introduction to Rothwell (pronounced Rowell), a small market town but perhaps correct. For this is a town which retains a curious and unique custom, which I must admit I had never heard of until recently.

On the Monday after Trinity Sunday, which falls either in late May or June (usually more often in June), this quiet and often bypassed town. However, on that day, often a normal working day, the pubs and restaurants of the town open and serve a very early 6 am pint! Everyone has a drink, even the horse! So important is this aspect, indeed it was probably one of the reasons the custom has survived, that its advertising flyers were beer mats!

This is perhaps a rather antisocial customs for a number of reasons, least of all the fact it starts so early, requiring an overnight stay. So I booked myself a small hotel in the town so that I wouldn’t have to get up that early…6 am is early enough! Booking in the concierge remarked “I have to tell you there is a proclamation outside the main entrance at 6!” if that would put me off. I replied “It’s why I am here…good to see they are bring the custom to my door.”

I woke early, around 5.30 and made the short journey to the west porch of the church where the festivities begun. For a short time, I was the only one and then a large group of teenagers appeared, then another and an even larger group…I immediately thought  “if you’d asked some teenagers to get up at this hour..the response wouldn’t be positive, but get a promise of fighting and you get loads!”

A local couple obviously realising I was not local asked:

“Have you been here before? If not you’ll enjoy it, it’s weird”

Soon enough I could see and hear a procession climbing from the main street towards the church followed by a large number of people. The procession consisted of a brass band, the bowler hatted Bailiff on a horse with his bowler hatted officials accompanied by his bodyguard of halberdiers holding a type of medieval lance. I noticed that the older members held full sized ones whereas the younger members carried shorter ones..the significance of which would become self evident later. As the clock chimed the allotted time, the Bailiff cleared his throat and with a scroll in hand he read out the proclamation:

“Whereas heretofore, his late Majesty King James the first and his progenitors, Lords of the Manor of Rowell had, and used to have, One fair in the year, to be holden within the said Manor, which said fair is now by good and lawfull means come to Zandra Maunsell Powell.

She, the said Zandra Maunsell Powell, doth by these presents notify and declare, that the said fair shall begin this Monday after the feast of the Holy Trinity, and so to continue for the space of five days next, after the holding and keeping of it, and no longer, during which time it shall be lawful for all Her Majesties Subjects to come , to go, to buy and to sell all manner of cattle, merchandise and other stuff being saleable ware and allowed to be bought and sold by the laws of this Kingdom. No toll for cattle, stakes for horses, sheep-pens, shows and stalls are charged for as heretofore. And she further chargeth and commandeth all manner of persons within the liberties of the said fair to keep the Queen’s peace in all things upon such penalties as the laws and statutes of this Kingdom are provided. God save the Queen and the Lord of the Manor.”

The crowd gave out a cheer and the band played the National Anthem. As soon as they had finished, the vicar appeared with the traditional glass of rum and milk, called Rowell Fair rum and milk which was intended to keep the bailiff warm. Once drunk, off they went.

Next they stopped outside the newsagent below the church and did it all over again…except this time the gleeful shopkeeper provided beers for the halberdiers and the band.

So far despite an obvious picturesque and old world nature there was nothing particularly exciting about it. Yet, there was an air of excitement especially amongst the youth element that sometime was about to happen.

At the third stop, the proclamation was read, band played the National Anthem, drinks went down and then there was a pause and all hell broke out. It was as if the surrounding crowd collapsed onto the road as any local lad worth his salt tussled and struggled in the street. Their object, to lay claim to one of the halberdier’s spears….the short ones not the full length, a fight for those of course would have resulted in a loss of some of bystanders no doubt. After much to-ing and fro-ing. One of the bowler hatter men blew a whistle and on we went to the next hostelry.

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And so and it went on, but at each pub or in some cases sites of old pubs, the fight became more powerful and yet more comical. At one point the conflict appeared to become very aggressive and intense, with one body halberdier struggling under the weight of a number of burly youths. But then the whistle was blown and immediately without quarrel they all stood up brushed each other down with smiles and handshakes and went on! I quickly noticed that the free alcohol liberally distributed to the halberdiers played into the hands of their disarmers. Who remained sober and more able to wrestle the spears off the increasing more ‘drunk’ bodyguards. However, it all appeared well humoured and despite a combination of alcohol and street fighting not usually being a desirable activity, those police present appeared to find no need for intervention.

The crowd moved on and finally stopped at the Rowell Charter Inn, their final stop. After the final proclamation the crowd disperses and with all the pubs and restaurants open, continue to have a breakfast both liquid and solid!

Fair Tarts

Rowell Fair Day is still a time for homecoming with tasty treats such as home cured ham and Rowell Fair tarts, although I was unlucky not to try one, I did notice they were advertised in a shop window. Below is a recipe!

Despite the details in the proclamation I saw no cattle, pens for sheep nor stakes for horses, these have long gone, but at its height it attracted cattle dealers from far as way as Wales, local people advertising the availability of accommodation with birch branches over their doorways. It also became an important horse fair from the seventeenth century, but what with the advent of the train and better roads, all commercial trading ceased replaced by the now all too familiar frenetic sounds of the pleasure fair.

The proclamation appears to have survived the periods which killed most customs, the war years, but by 1968, it appeared to be at risk as a result the Rowell Fair Society was formed and its work has been very successful in preserving this unique custom if the crowds are anything to go by.

Yet the Proclamation Day is one of those great customs, surviving 800 years, and with its curious mix of pageantry and punch-up should survive many years to come.

Clearly not everyone was out in Rothwell that morning. I later over heard a conservation between two women explaining the day. One saying in reply

“ I wondered my I was woken up by the sound of the national anthem.”

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

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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

Customs survived: The Haxey Hood game

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Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

364 days a year, one imagines people passes through the quiet village of Haxey (more correctly Westwoodside and Haxey and hence the town) quite unaware of its great day of celebration; a day which puts itself apart from early other village in the land, a day which is full of the strange and wonderful features that this blog is all about: the Hood game. The great event always falls on the 6th January (unless this is a Sunday and then it falls on the Saturday)

<b>Hood wink!<b/>

The basic premise of the event is a scrum, Rugby like, for the hood, a two-foot length of stout leather, rather than a ball, with the goal one of the village’s pubs  As such, the Hood game can be seen as a type of ‘street football’ as seen in other villages but it is much more than that, especially in colour and ceremony. Unlike any other ‘street football’ game it has obvious ‘organisers’ The Lord of the Hood and his Boggins and the Fool with his face blackenedin their red jackets and jumper s and hats festooned with feathers they make a striking sight…especially on the drab and colourless landscape of the fens in January.

Arriving around midday, the village looks strangely deserted..but if you enter one of the village’s four pubs you will find this Lord of the Hood and his Boggins  accompanied by another figure called the Fool in full song and sway and it is an evocative scene. The pub is so full it is almost impossible to move and the group sway in unison singing traditional folk songs:, Farmers Boy, John Barleycorn and Drink Old England dry as they psych themselves up with a mixture of machismo, beer and patriotism. Often the songs would end with the chant:

“Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

Which means

“House against House, Town against Town, if you meet a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”

After feeling suitably fortified the group then proceed to an old stone, what appears to be the base of a cross or mounting block outside St Nicholas parish Church (called the Mowbray stone). Here is perhaps the strangest part of the ceremony and therefore the most evocative of the day perhaps. From the stone, from the stone Fool with his tassled custom and face blackened, makes a speech of welcome holding the Hood ahigh. He states that running and throwing with the hood are disallowed. Nothing unusual about that perhaps, but whilst giving this oration damp straw is placed beneath him and he is smoked! As the speech continues a considerable amount of smoke is generated and this  `Smoking the Fool’, is believed to be a safer version of an older ritual of  watered down version of suspending the fool over a bonfire of smoking straw. The ‘newer’ method is said to be safer, although the flames were very real in 2009 when I am sure I saw the fool burn! Clearly the fool is aware of the danger and traditionally runs away before the talk and ceremonially captured…although he still gets to kiss every girl on the way to his sacrifice.

Once the speech is over and the fool smoked the  crowd begins its chant of:

 “Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

This tells everyone that the game is about to begin and a field on Upperthorpe Hill is the destination. Here any crops in the field appeared to be trampled indiscriminately although I was careful to gingerly tread over it. One wonders why this hill is chosen as it has a fantastic view across the fens to the Humber and it may have had some earlier significance.

To begin with the Lord of the Hood and his boggins doing some practice, mainly for children where the sacking versions of the hood are thrown and caught in the field for £2.

Then the leather hood is thrown up and the scum or rather sway begins….like a giant amoeba, this sway moves one way and then another but ultimately in the direction of the village and its four pubs, either of which is a goal. Along the way,as darkness sets, the sway becomes a large mass of steaming humanity guarded by the Boggins whose purpose is to prevent any property such as parked cars being enveloped and damaged in the ensuing madness. As there is no teams as such, indeed anyone visiting can join in and frequently do, it is difficult to see the motivation to get it into a said pub, but perhaps the teams do exist as bar regulars or else the glory is in being the one which gets it to the front steps. This event after much pushing and shoving, a great clouds of steam , is the ending of the game and once the landlord takes the Hood they will proudly display it until the following year. .

But what is it all about?

There are two origins of the custom, indeed both may be true…..

The ‘official story’

The official story dates from the 14th Century, is that the John and his wife Lady de Mowbray ( the Mowbray family held lands here ) whilst riding across Upperthorpe Hill when a gust of wind hit her silk riding hood. Nearby, there were thirteen farm workers working nearby who rushed to catch the hat. However, the one who caught it apparently was too shy to hand it back directly and thus gave it to a braver co-worker. Lady de Mowbray remarked that by doing so the man who caught it was behaving like a fool and the man who returned it a Lord. She appeared to like the idea and gave thirteen acres to the parish with the only stipulation being that the chase for the hood was re-enacted each year.

The pagan origin theory…

This story may have some origin in the truth but it appears to be a too convenient back story to explain some of the aspects of the story. It clearly has an older origin. Indeed, folklorists recognise some pagan traditions. Taking certain aspects…

Smoking the fool….is perhaps a vestige of a sacrifice. Certainly the kissing of girls on the way and escape are indications of this.

The Hood itself is said to be the hide of a sacrificed bull…but surely it’s the skin of the sacrificed fool! Perhaps the blackened face either a remembrance of the burnt evidence or to disguise who was the victim

Roasting the hood…..Certainly the tradition of roasting the hood soaked in ale in a spit in the fire has also has indications of sacrifice. The fact the ale is drunk by the people there .

Thirteen Boggins…witches covens are comprised of thirteen!

Link with plough Monday

The character of the fool is interesting. He is a character seen in the Plough Monday plays enacted in the midlands, and was particularly well recorded from the Gainsborough area where they were called Plough jags. Of course the main theme of these plays is resurrection and although the fool is not the one to die in these plays, but it may be significant. It is possible that at some point the plough play perhaps got amalgamated with a shrove tide football game or perhaps all plough plays were distilled from sacrifices.

Whatever its origin if you happen to be around in this region come the 6th; the Haxey Hood game is a must.

Remember

“Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agen Toon, if a man meets a man knock  ‘ I’m doon, but d’ont `urt’ im”,

Image and text copyright Pixyled publications