Hallaton Hare Pie and Bottle-Kicking

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At Hallaton, Leicestershire, they have an Easter Monday custom involving a hare pie, which is not made of hares, and a bottle-kicking game where the objects are not bottles and are not kicked. The pie and the bottle-kicking may have been two customs at one time, but now they are inextricably linked as two elements in a day-long village celebration. The day starts with a church service and blessing of a locally made pie, traditionally called the hare pie but nowadays made of beef. As hares are out of season at Easter, it is unlikely that it ever did contain that animal, and an 1892 account speaks of mutton, veal, and bacon. Half of the pie is distributed to participants at the churchyard gate, while the other half heads a procession through the village out to the Hare Pie Bank. Also in the procession are three men, each holding aloft a small iron-hooped wooden barrel, called the bottles. At the Bank, the rest of the pie is broken up and thrown to the crowd to be scrambled for. Then the serious bottle-kicking game commences. Two of the bottles are filled with ale, the third is not. Like the street football games described elsewhere, the bottle-kicking is played between two teams, ostensibly people from Hallaton on one side and from nearby Medbourne on the other, but in reality anyone not from Hallaton has to play for Medbourne—which gives the latter a tactical advantage. There are virtually no rules, and much of the play involves the bottle disappearing in a mass disorganized scrum, while occasionally a player manages to break free and run for the goal. The goals are a stream at one end and a hedge at the other, and a game can last for hours. Once a goal is scored, the second bottle is brought into play and if the score is even the third will be used as a decider. The origin is, as usual, unknown, although it is known that at some date a plot of land called Hare Crop Leys was bequeathed to the local rector on condition that he use the rent to provide two hare pies, a quantity of ale, and two dozen penny loaves for the Easter Monday custom.

Kightly, 1986: 56–7;Shuel, 1985: 165–6;Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 117–18;Hole,1975: 47;Crawford, 1938: 151–2;Stone, 1906: 43–5.

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