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agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man,
knock 'im doon, but doan't 'ot 'im"
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|Every January, the parish of Haxey goes a little crazy for the day. They play a mad game called the Haxey Hood and have been practicing this ancient tradition since the 14th Century. It's the oldest local tradition in England.
Next Hood Day: Saturday 6th January 2024
|In a Nutshell
|The Haxey Hood is a annual event held in the village of Haxey, North Lincolnshire. It is most easily described as a kind of rugby game with unlimited participants and few rules, where a leather tube is slowly walked by a large unorganised rugby scrum to 1 of 4 pubs. Here it it remains until the following year's game.
|The official story is that in the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray, wife of an Isle landowner, John De Mowbray, was out riding towards Westwoodside on the hill that separates it from Haxey. As she went over the hill her silk riding hood was blown away by the wind. Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field. It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady, gave it to one of the others to hand back to her. She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord. Whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool. So amused was she by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase, that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year. This re-enactment over the centuries has become known as "The Haxey Hood"
|In the weeks before the event the Fool and the Boggins tour nearby villages in order to collect money (traditionally to pay for the event, but now to raise money for local charities). Traditionally they sing a number well-known folk songs including John Barleycorn, Drink England Dry and The Farmer's Boy. All wear their full festival costumes, the only exception being that the Fool's face is not marked.
At twelve noon work in the parish comes to a standstill and people start to make their way to Haxey village to gather and take part in the traditional ritual.
The Fool leads the procession and has the right to kiss any woman on the way. Once at the green in front of Parish Church, at around 2.30pm, the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome stood on an old mounting block in front of the church known as the Mowbray Stone. During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him. The smoke rises up and around him and this is known as ‘Smoking the Fool’. This is in fact a watered-down version of the earlier custom (abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century due to its obvious danger) in which a more substantial fire was lit with damp straw beneath a tree. The Fool was then suspended over the fire and swung back and forth until he was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could. At the end of the speech, the Fool finishes with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him. They are:
(This translates as: House against House, Town against Town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.)
The Town�s being the villages of Westwoodside & Haxey, and House�s being the Public Houses (Pubs) of those villages.
The pubs are:
Proceedings start with the throwing of twelve Sack Hoods. These are rolled Hessian sacks sewn up to prevent them unrolling. This is a prequel to the main game, mainly for children. The youngsters in the crowd run for them when thrown and attempt to get them off the field. If they are tackled then they must immediately throw it in the air unless the challenger is a Boggin in which case the hood is �boggined� and it is returned to the Lord who starts it off again .
The first two or three of these are stopped by the Boggins on the edge of the field and the hoods returned to the Lord. After a while the Boggins let the Sack Hoods be taken off the field in which case they can be returned later for a cash reward, currently £2.
|The Main Game
|After this bit of fun to warm up the crowd the Sway Hood is then thrown up in the air. The rugby type scrum (or Sway to give it its official title) then converges on the Hood and the game starts in earnest. The idea is to get the Sway Hood into one of the four Pubs in either Haxey or Westwoodside.
The Hood, which cannot be thrown or run with, is moved slowly by 'swaying', that is pushing and pulling the Hood and people within the 'Sway' toward the direction of their pub. Although everyone is trying to push in a particular direction, there are no real organised teams. The Sway makes very slow progress, as it snakes around, stopping quite often when it collapses, in order to pull bodies out, that became crushed into the mud. Safety is of prime concern and the whole thing is supervised by the Boggins. The Lord is referee and sees that the game is played fare. At anyone time there is usually around 200 people in the Sway and about one thousand people watching. Games can last anything from a couple of hours onwards and have been known to go on well into the night. Everything in the path of the Sway goes down before it, including hedges and walls. Another of the Boggins' jobs is to stop the Sway destroying everything in its path!
The game ends when the Hood arrives at one of the pubs and is touched by the landlord from his front step. The landlord then takes charge of the Hood for the year, and is supposed to give everyone a free drink. The winning pub pours beer over the Hood and then hangs it behind the bar (each pub has two hooks especially for this purpose). According to legend it used to be roasted on a spit over the pub fire having been doused with ale. The ale then being drunk by those present.
The Hood hangs there until New Year's Eve when it is collected by the Boggins in time for the next game.
Despite it being a very rough game there are very few injuries and little damage. Most injuries that there are come from too much beer before or after the game whether it be the winners celebrating or the losers commiserating.
The event is as much about the drinking in the pubs as anything else. Just as with Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, more ale is probably drunk on Hood Day, and Hood Eve in Haxey, as any other. The pubs are always heaving. The landlords prepare for this by covering their carpets with thick black plastic, to protect them against all the mud that will come off the fields on people's feet from the game.
|The Haxey Hood takes place on Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas (new calendar) or Old Christmas Day (old calendar). This is the 6th of January. If this falls on a Sunday, it is held on the 5th.
|Haxey is a large parish on the southern border of the Isle of Axholme. It consists of the villages of Haxey and Westwoodside with the hamlets of High Burnham, Low Burnham, Eastlound and Graiselound (or Craiselound as it is referred to by some people). In earlier days Westwoodside was divided into Park, Newbigg, Nethergate, Upperthorpe (or Overthorpe) and Commonside.
|Haxey is geographically sited between Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough. It's on the A161, easily accessible from J2 of the M180, follow signs towards Gainsborough. You'll see the Kings (one of the competing pubs, from this road as you drive through Haxey)
• Fools Speech
• Game Starts
• Haxey Pubs
(The Carpenter's Arms is not illustrated here, but is located just left off of the main map)
Nobody parks on the roads where the Sway may go, and for good reason. In 2002 a couple of unfortunate souls parked opposite the Duke William. The Sway headed right for them and pushed one of the cars 10 feet down the road and into the other!
If you want to have a car left to go home in, then make sure you don't park on the Main Street through Haxey.
The thirteen characters from the original story are represented as follows. There is the Lord, the Fool and eleven Boggins; one of the Boggins being the chief Boggin.
The Lord and chief Boggin are dressed in hunting pink (red) coats and top hat decorated with flowers and badges. The Lord also carries his wand of office. This is a staff made from twelve willow wands with one more upside down in the centre. These are bound thirteen times with willow twigs and a red ribbon at the top. The thirteen willow wands are supposed to represent the twelve apostles and the upside down one represents Judas. The staff is supposed to represent the sword and the blood from when the game was played with a bullock�s head after it had been slaughtered. The Fool is like a harlequin, with multi-coloured strips of material attached to his trousers and top. He wears a feathered hat decorated with flowers and rags, and his face is smeared with soot and red ochre. He carries a whip and sock filled with bran, which he belabours anyone who comes within reach with. The remaining ten Boggins wear red jumpers.
|The game is played by locals, although anyone can join in. There are no official teams, but everyone involved tries to push the Hood towards their favoured pub.
In folklore, when a custom is too old for its origins to be remembered, a story is often devised to rationalise what would otherwise be baffling. The 'official' story of the Hood's origins are unlikely, but strangely enough there are parallels between the Hood and bog burials in Europe.
The nobles mentioned in the story did exist, see further reading for details.
Left to right: Phil Cogan - Lord for the past fifteen years, Luke Cogan - future Lord?, Stan Boor - past Lord for 24 years.
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page was last updated: 7/1/2018)
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