The English are odd. I can say that because I’m English and as for odd, well, I’ll let you judge for yourself. Being eccentric is not a new phenomenon here on the British Isles. We’ve been at it for centuries. Each of us is descended from a long line of ‘Barmpots’*.
*In the dialect of the Black Country – in the midlands of England – a Barmpot is described thus:-
Meaning: A silly person.
Example: “You’re a bit of a barmpot”.
I was minded to publish this post after I had read ‘Once a year’ – Some Traditional British Customs – by Homer Sykes. It’s a photo book, with pictures dating back to the 70’s (You can read my review of the book here ). The book contains hundreds of images from events which take place once a year across Britain (mainly England). Well worth a read.
The first event in the book is the Haxey Hood held on the 6th of January each year in the little village of Haxey in the Isle of Axholme, an area on the borders of Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, and Nottinghamshire. At 650 years old it’s likely to be the oldest surviving tradition in England. You can read more about it here…
I visited the Haxey Hood 30 years after Homer Sykes. These pictures are from the 2004 hood.
It all starts with hundreds of people descending on 4 local pubs. There’s lots of drinking and singing of traditional songs.
The ‘Boggins’ singing in one of the pubs. Haxey 2004 ©PD Barton 2016
The ‘Fool’ is carried to the village green
The “Fool” delivers his speech before he is ceremonially smoked.
The Lord of the Hood, and chief Boggin, watches as the Fool is smoked. He carries a willow staff with which he can call a halt to the proceedings when the ‘Sway’ collapses. A form of early health and safety.
The ‘Sway’, not unlike a large, uncontrolled Rugby scrum, made up of hundreds of players out in the fields. The ‘Hood’ is in there somewhere.
The event finishes between 2 and 4 hours later when the Hood is wrestled to one of the 4 village pubs and is handed to the landlord. That’s the end of the game, but not the drinking.