The Ancient game of Haxey Hood held in the North Lincolnshire village of Haxey every year on the 6th of January
Haxey Hood 2017
Haxey Hood 2018, Saturday 6 January.
One of the oldest local traditions in England, probably dating back to the fourteenth century, the Haxey Hood takes place on January 6th each year at Haxey, on the Southern border of the Isle of Axholme, in North Lincolnshire.
At around noon the Lord of the Hood and his Boggins begin a tour of the four public houses in the parish, The Carpenters Arms Westwoodside, the Kings, Low Street Haxey, The Loco and the Duke William, both Church street Haxey, singing three traditional songs in each establishment, Farmers Boy, John Barleycorn and Drink Old England Dry (Canons). They then proceed to a mounting stone outside St Nicholas parish Church from which the Fool makes a speech of welcome, during which damp straw is placed at the foot of the stone and lit. This generates a certain amount of smoke and is known as "Smoking the Fool", but it is only a watered down version of the ancient ritual which involved suspending the fool over a bonfire of smoking straw. This practice was abandoned years ago after an incident in where someone forgot to damp the straw and the Fool caught fire.
The basic rules of the game are these; no one is allowed to run with the hood and no one is allowed to throw the hood, the game consists of one large rugby type scrum or 'sway' in which the Hood is pushed or pulled or 'swayed' in the desired direction. The object being to manoeuvre the Hood into one of the four public houses in the parish, with the game officially ending when the Hood is touched by the pub landlord standing on the front step of his establishment. The landlord then takes possession of the Hood and proudly displays it for the following year
There are no official teams as such, all participants simply join in and attempt to move the hood to their favoured public house. The Lord acts as referee as far as this is possible and the eleven Boggins have the task of rounding up any stragglers as well as attempting to protect property from any damage. It is this latter responsibility which is the most onerous as the sway is quite capable of demolishing the odd fence along the way and has on occasion severely dented carelessly parked motor vehicles.
At the end of the Fool's speech, he urges the crowd on by proclaiming:
"oose agen oose, toon agen toon,
If a man meets a man, knock ' im doon,
But d’oant `ot’ im",
Which translates into 'House against House, Town against Town, if you meet a man, knock him down but don't hurt him'.
This indicates that the game of Haxey Hood is about to begin, and everyone proceeds to the field on nearby Upperthorpe Hill
Events begin with a few short games where the children chase after hoods made from tightly-rolled pieces of sacking and attempt to carry one off the field to a local pub, where they are rewarded wit £2, these are a merely a prelude to the main event. The main game of Haxey Hood is played with a 'hood' made up of a two-foot length of stout leather, this being the nearest modern equivalent that can be employed in place of the original hood which was allegedly a freshly slaughtered bullock's head.
The official explanation for these fun and games is that sometime in the fourteenth century when Haxey, together with the rest of Axholme was owned by the Mowbray family, the wife of John de Mowbray the local landowner, was riding across Upperthorpe Hill when a stiff wind whipped away her silk riding hood. There happened to be thirteen farm workers who were working nearby who thus rushed around the place trying to retrieve the hood. It was finally caught by one of the field hands who, feeling unable to approach the lady of the manor personally, handed it to one of his braver colleagues who duly handed it back to her. The Lady de Mowbray remarked that the worker who had actually caught the hood but failed to return it had acted as a fool, whilst he who had returned it had acted like a lord. She was however sufficiently impressed as to bestow thirteen acres of land to the parish on condition that the chase for the hood was re-enacted each year
It has also been suggested that this official explanation is nothing but a cover story invented to allow the villagers to continue with their enjoyment of a time honoured pagan ritual without interference from the authorities. Its survival into the modern era is a testament to the enthusiasm with which the modern day Englishman and woman will adopt any old excuse to spend most of the day down the pub.