Haxey Hood

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Unique among England's calendar customs is the Haxey Hood game in Lincolnshire, played every year on 6 January, although it bears some relationship to the football games played elsewhere. The game is organized by thirteen officials, called Boggins, including a Fool. From New Year's Eve, the Boggins have been round the neighbourhood pubs, singing, collecting money to defray costs, and announcing the forthcoming game. At two o'clock on the 6th, they gather at the church gate. The Fool tries to run away and is caught and brought back. He makes a speech, standing on a convenient stone, and he is ‘smoked’ with the aid of burning straw placed behind him. They then troop off to the field, which is halfway between the two communities of Haxey and Westwoodside. Here, the preliminary games are played. The Boggins have twelve ‘hoods’, rolls of sacking, which are thrown up one by one and the players have to get hold of them and carry them off the field, past the Boggins who are placed round the edge. Once this has been achieved the main hood is brought out, this one made of heavy rope, covered in leather and about eighteen inches long. This is thrown up and immediately disappears into the ‘sway’, a huge mass of men which moves slowly, almost of its own accord, towards one of the two pubs which are the ‘goals’. There is no running, throwing, or kicking, just this huge scrum. Hours later, when it reaches a pub, and the landlord touches the hood, the game is over. The pub keeps the hood till next year.

The locals have a well-developed legend to explain the game's origin. One day, Lady de Mowbray was out for a ride on 6 January and the wind caught her scarlet hood and whisked it away. Thirteen local labourers saw the Lady's distress and each tried to catch the hood and return it to her. Their antics so amused her that she granted half an acre's land to each of the men on condition that they re-enacted the scene every year. None of this is likely to be historically accurate, but at least it makes more sense than the theories of pagan sacrifices invented by recent ‘authorities’. The Mowbray incident is said to have taken place hundreds of years ago, but the earliest description of the game so far found only dates from 1815.

Jeremy J. Cooper, A Fool's Game: The Ancient Tradition of Haxey Hood (1993);Shuel, 1985: 166–7;Venetia Newall, Folk Life 18 (1980), 7–23;Mabel Peacock, Folk-Lore 7 (1896), 330–49;Ethel H. Rudkin, Lincolnshire Folklore (1936), 90–7.

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