bread and cheese throwing

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An annual Whit Sunday scrambling custom which still takes place at St Briavels (Gloucestershire), in which bread and cheese is distributed by being thrown from the top of a high stone wall to the waiting crowd below. The ceremony once took place in the church, but changing ideas of appropriate behaviour prompted a move outside, with the throwing being done from the top of the tower, and another move out into the lane where it now resides. The first known record of the custom dates from 1779, but it is presumed to be much older and somehow (although it is not clear how) connected to the preservation of the right of local people to take firewood from a nearby wood. An alternative explanation is that King John stayed at St Briavels castle in or about 1204 and he gave to the village a thousand acres of land stipulating that bread and cheese should be distributed every Whit Sunday to uphold the right.

Although St Briavels is the only surviving example, it was not unique. A report in the London Magazine (Dec. 1737, 705) details a very similar custom in Paddington (London), which lasted until 1838. Edwards also reports other bread and cheese doles, but without the scrambling element.

Kightly, 1986: 59;Crawford, 1938: 160–1;N&Q 3s:2 (1862), 68–9;4s:8 (1871), 507;Edwards, 1842: 17–22.

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