I was thinking about the fairs and festivals I’ve seen over the years that are portrayed in English movies. I thought I would research some of them on Google and entered “Obscure English Customs”. It brought up lots of different things, some I’ve heard of and some I could never even imagine.
I pulled a dozen, from all over the UK. I got them from a large calendar of events that I thought might interest you. A few throughout the year:
January–Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland
The largest fire festival in Europe is celebrated in Scotland on the last Tuesday of January every year. A torch-light procession through the streets of Lerwick, followed by the burning of a full-size replica of a Viking longship.
Wow, I’d love to see this!
February–Blessing the Throats, St Ethelreda, London
Two candles are tied together, lit, and touched on to the necks of people suffering from sore throats.
I wonder if this works? Can’t be any worse than taking a man made chemical remedy:)
March–Tichborne Dole, Tichborne, Hampshire
The Tichborne Dole is one of the eccentric British traditions and dates back to the thirteenth century. It takes place every year on March 25th the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady’s Day). The dole was flour and it was given to the poor until 1796. From 1796 Tichborne family have given money to the church instead.
This is a nice custom to help the less fortunate. I wonder why they stopped? Let’s hope the church helped to feed the poor.
April–World Coal Carrying Championship – Near Wakefield in Yorkshire
On Easter Monday, The World Coal Carrying Championship takes place in the village of Gawthorpe, in Yorkshire. Contestants run for one mile, carrying a 50kg bag of coal. The contest dates from an incident at the Beehive Inn in 1963, when Lewis Hartley said to Reggie Sedgewick: “Ba gum, lad, tha’ looks buggered!” to which an affronted Mr Sedgewick riposted: “Let’s ‘ave a coil race from Barracks t’ Maypole.” And they did.
This isn’t a very old custom, but it sounds like a good idea after a few ales!
May–Cotswold Olimpick Games, Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
An annual highlight of The Cotswold Olimpick Games is the Shin Kicking Championship. As the sun began to set on Dover’s Hill, a band of white-coat-clad competitors began stuffing straw down their trousers ready for the British Shin Kicking Championship. Competitors grasp each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent’s shins (between the knee and ankle). Only then – in mid-kick – can a player attempt to bring his opposite number to the ground. The sport has been practiced on Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, since the early 17th Century.
June–Nettle Eating Contest Marsham, Dorset
Held as part of a charity beer festival at the Bottle Inn in the village of Marshwood near Crewkerne, the event attracts entrants from around the world. Challengers attempt to out eat the current champion nettle-eater.
July–Swan Upping (last Monday) River Thames
The Dyers and Vintner’s Companies have the right, established in medieval times, to keep swans on the Thames River. Every year the Queen’s Swan Keeper and Swan Markers from the two livery companies row in skiffs along the river to mark the cygnets (baby swans).
I imagine this is fun to watch.
August–Bog Snorkelling Championships,
Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales
The aim is to swim two lengths of the 60-yard Waen Rhydd peat bog with flippers and snorkel in the fastest time. There are different categories including juniors, fancy dress, women’s and men’s.
And this is probably funny to watch! She looks to be having a good time!
September–The Horn Dance-Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire
The ancient Horn Dance is an annual event held traditionally on the first Monday after the first Sunday after September 4th! The famous Horn Dance is performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village, whilst the musician plays tunes such as “The Farmers Boy” and “Uncle Mick” on a melodeon, with accompaniment from a triangle.
Lots of laughing and clapping, I’ll wager!
October–Pearly King Harvest Festival-(First Sunday)Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Dating from the 19th century, the Pearly Kings & Queens are a much-loved Cockney tradition. It started when a young boy covered a suit with pearly buttons to attract attention and to raise money for the poor at charity events and fairs. Other boroughs were so impressed that they got their own Pearly King or Queen.
The tradition continues to thrive today and Pearly Kings and Queens can be seen in their full spectacle at the annual Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival. The annual Harvest Festival Service at the church of St. Martin-in-the Fields offers a spectacular display of historical London in all its glory.
These costumes have to be costly, even if they only use buttons!
November–Tar-Barrel Racing Ottery St Mary, Devon
Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century. The annual event involves people racing through the streets of the town, carrying flaming wooden barrels of burning tar on their backs.
A crazy carry over I guess, not for the faint of heart!
December–Maldon Mud Race-Essex
Hundreds of people wading through muddy lagoons and marshes around Maldon. The event takes place at Promenade Park, at 1pm, with all money raised going to local charities.
They are dedicated! Brrrr!
I may plan my next trip over around one of these, some really interesting events. You can read more about these on Wikipedia or by following my search to “Festivals and Celebrations”.