Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday 1 April 2024

Bottle kicking at Hallaton

I have written previously about several surviving ancient village or town games played on religious feasts as in the instances of the Haxey Hood at Epiphany and the Shrove Tuesday traditions of football matches at Atherstone, Ashbourne and Alnwick, as well as that of the Corfe Marblers in Dorset - and, of course, the Olney pancake race.

Now the curious serendipity of the internet led me just the other week, whilst researching an entirely different subject, to another of these games, and one of which I was unaware. That is the bottle kicking at Hallaton in south-east Leicestershire. It is held each year on Easter Monday. This is another rough and tumble match with another, neighbouring village, Medbourne ( which always has to lose the game ), and with the partial involvement of a third community. The game is first recorded in the 1770s but is doubtless much older on the basis of its similarities to other such events, not least the lack of rules.

Wikipedia has an account of the game and its particular, and quite complicated traditions at Bottle-kicking

Such games were doubtless a means in the middle ages and succeeding centuries ( whatever their possible origins ) for the young men and boys of a village to burn off pent up energy at the time of a religious celebration or to have an opportunity for being boisterous before the return to work, as at Haxey. A much more recent, and controlled, version was the sponsoring of football and rugby clubs by churches as well as employers in the nineteenth century to keep young men from idleness and drinking by playing or watching team sports.


Zephyrinus said...

A most interesting Post, John, which threw up a nice debating topic:

“ . . . A much more recent, and controlled, version was the sponsoring of rugby clubs by churches in the nineteenth century to keep young men from drinking”.

Well, that worked, didn't it !!!

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

Like so many well intentioned and high minded ideas! When I wrote of rugby clubs what I had in mind was not so much the RU world of hearty public school boys as the RL world of working class lads and clubs such as Wakefield Trinity

Zephyrinus said...

Understood, John. Thank you for that.

I've always had a soft spot for Batley !!!