cheese rolling

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In this annual custom a large round Double Gloucester cheese is set off rolling down a very steep hill at Cooper's Hill, near Brockworth (Gloucestershire). People chase after it—themselves running, tumbling, rolling, and bouncing—and the one who gets to the bottom first wins the cheese. There is usually no shortage of runners. There are several cheeses, and therefore several races, including one for females only. The custom formerly took place on Whit Monday, but is now held on the Spring Bank Holiday. Its origin and development are not known, but there are references at least as far back as the early 19th century. The locals even managed to keep the custom going during the food rationing of the Second World War, and in 1998, when the custom was banned by the local authority because of safety fears, a few dedicated traditionalists came out early on the day to chase one cheese down the hill and thus ‘keep the tradition going’ (Daily Telegraph (26 May 1998), 3); it resumed officially in 1999. The Cooper's Hill custom is a unique survival, but cheese rolling certainly took place elsewhere. Thomas Hughes’ The Scouring of the White Horse (1859), for example, mentions the custom taking place at Uffington in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Shuel, 1985: 17, 24–5;Kightly, 1986: 70–1.

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