Monday saw the parish of Haxey, in North Lincolnshire, play their traditional annual game of The Haxey Hood. Most easily likened to a game of rugby but with unlimited participants, few rules and plenty of drinking in the lead up to, during and after the game, whilst trying to make it to the pub of each man’s choice. The ‘Sway Hood’ – a long leather tube – is slowly driven by a huge unorganised scrum of anyone who’s brave enough, to 1 of 4 pubs, either in Haxey or Westwoodside, where it remains until the following year.
It’s one of the oldest local traditions in England, and based on a re-enactment of a story from the 14th century when one Lady de Mowbray, whilst out riding one day, between the two neighbouring villages, lost her hood in the wind. 13 farm workers rushed to help and chased it all over the field until one of them finally caught it, but too shy to hand it back to the lady, he passed it to one of the others to do. She thanked the farm worker who handed back the scarf saying that he acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who caught the hood was a Fool. Amused by the whole episode she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.
The proceedings start at mid-day when the 13 characters, represented from the original story, the Lord, the Fool and 11 Boggins, start their tour of the pubs, drinking and singing their traditional folk songs. After a couple of hours the Fool gives his welcome speech to the crowds in front of the church, while a fire is lit behind him, known as ‘smoking the fool’. He then leads the crowd to the fields where rolled hessian sacks are thrown out to the crowd for children to play in a gentler prequel to the main game…
The Sway Hood is thrown up in the air to mark the start of the main game, and the scrum (or Sway) converges and slowly they move towards one of the pubs. The hood can’t be thrown or run with, only swayed, and in that sense is much more gentle than other games like the Bottle Kicking in Hallerton at Easter. However, there are usually about 200 people in the Sway at any time, and when it collapses they do have to stop to pull the bodies out, and perhaps take a quick refreshment break.