20 Facts about Haxey Hood
Saturday 5th January is Haxey Hood day - the day when part of the Isle of Axholme goes travels back in time to honour one of England's oldest traditions.
Regulars from four pubs go head to head in a marathon battle to get the famed ‘Hood’ into their favoured watering hole in the latest staging of the traditional contest which has been running for more than 700 years.
The official story is that in the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray, wife of 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, he 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.
- The contest is always held on the Twelfth Day Of Christmas - the 6th January, unless the date falls on Sunday when it’s held on 5th January, like this year.
- The rugby style scrum is officially called The Sway.
- The hood is actually a cylindrical piece of leather.
- Four pubs compete - The Loco, Duke William and the King's Arms in Haxey and the Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside
- The nobles mentioned in the story did exist. Records show that John De Mowbray (29 November 1310 - 4 October 1361), the 3rd Baron Mowbray of Axholme, would be the most likely candidate for the husband of the lady.
- The Hood is thought to date from about 1359.
- It has similarities to other village combats, such as Ashbourne's Royal Shrovetide Football, the Shrove Tuesday Football Games in Sedgefield, Durham and Alnwick, Northumberland and the Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest in Leicestershire.
- Speculation regarding the hood having originally been the head or genitals of a sacrificial animal, to be used in a fertility ritual are just that - pure speculation.
- The songs sung ahead of the contest in the pubs are well-known folk songs including John Barleycorn, Cannons (Drink England Dry) and The Farmer's Boy.
- The red-coated overseer of proceedings is the Lord of The Hood. He is assisted by the Chief Boggin, ten other boggins and the Fool.
- The Fool leads the procession between pubs and has the right to kiss any woman on the way.
- Once at the green in front of the Parish Church, the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome at around 2.30pm standing 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’ - see the picture.
- This is a watered-down version of the earlier custom 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: "hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man knock 'im doon, but doan't 'ot 'im," which translates as: "house against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him."
- 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.
- Proceedings start at 3pm with the throwing of twelve Sack Hoods. These are rolled hessian sacks, a prequel to the main game, mainly for children.
- 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.
- Nobody parks on the roads where the Sway may go, and for good reason. In 2002, a couple of drivers 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.
- 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).