Every Easter Monday the quiet, picturesque village of Hallaton in Leicestershire becomes a hive of activity. Thousands of people turn up to witness or even get involved in an ancient tradition. Bottle Kicking.
What is Bottle Kicking?
Imagine a rugby scrum involving hundreds of willing participants. Pushing, shoving, rucking, mauling, punching and kicking each other over a small keg of beer. In a field full of hedgerows, trees and barbed wire fences. The goal lines being two brooks, over a mile apart. There is one aim, to get the keg of beer over your village’s brook.
There are virtually no rules to the Bottle Kicking, except that there is no eye-gouging, no strangling, and no use of weapons.
The bottles that are used small wooden kegs. Two are filled with beer, the other is solid wood, painted red and white.
In the afternoon, one of three bottles are tossed in the air three times, signaling the start of the competition. Each team tries to move the bottles, on a best-of-three basis, across two streams one mile (1.6 km) apart. By any means possible.
The contest is a rough one, with teams fighting to move the bottles over such obstacles as ditches, hedges, and barbed wire. Broken bones are common.
After the game, participants and spectators return to the village. Those players who put in an especially good effort (for example, carrying a barrel across the goal stream or holding on to a barrel for quite some time) are helped up onto the top of the ten-foot-tall Buttercross.
The opened bottle is passed up for them to drink from before being passed around the crowd.
The festive day normally draws to a close with participants and spectators retiring to pub for drink and banter.
Origins of Bottle-Kicking.
Bottle-Kicking has been going on at the village for well over 200 years.
The village lore claims that the tradition begun when two ladies of Hallaton were saved from a raging bull by a tiny startled hare.
They then showed their gratefulness to god for sending the hare by donating a small sum of money each year to the local church.
This was on the understanding that every Easter Monday, the local vicar would provide the poor of the village hare pie, bread and beer.
The villagers would often fight over the food and drink, and on one occasion, the poor from the neighbouring village of Medbourn joined the fray and stole the beer.
The Hallatonians cooperated to retrieve the stolen beer, thus begging the rivalry that still exists today.
Other explanations of the custom include that the tradition was one of England’s pagan past, when hares were sacrificed to a goddess, Eostre.
The tradition has been cancelled only once in living memory, in 2001 because of concerns over foot and mouth.
The village parade.
The event starts with a parade through the villages of Medbourne and Hallaton. Locals carry a large hare pie and the three kegs of beer.
The pie is blessed by the village vicar before being cut apart and thrown to the crowd for the “scramble”
The bottles are then taken to the Buttercross (a conical structure with a sphere on top, used for keeping butter and cheese cool when the village was a market town) on the village green to be dressed with ribbons. Here, the bread is distributed to the crowd.
The procession is normally followed by a marching band playing pipes.
The order of events on Easter Monday. (2009)
9.30am: Parade through Medbourne, traditionally held to ‘wake’ the villagers.
10am: Tug-of-war match between Ashley and Medbourne in the field behind The George pub in Ashley.
11am: Church service in Hallaton at 11am.
1.45pm: Hare Pie parade from the Fox Inn, Hallaton, to the church gates.
About 2.50pm: Parade departs to the bottle kicking field, with the pie handed out to the crowd.
Have you ever attending or been involved in the “sport”. Please tell your story on our social media pages linked below. Bottle Kicking is one of those great English traditions that is well worth a visit.
If you are interested in more of England’s unusual customs then we recommend the following book (Click on the images or links below)The English Year
This enthralling book will take you, month-by-month, day-by-day, through all the festivities of English life. From national celebrations such as New Year’s Eve to regional customs such as the Padstow Hobby Horse procession, cheese rolling in Gloucestershire and Easter Monday bottle kicking in Leicester, it explains how they originated, what they mean and when they occur.
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