Doncaster’s Oldest, Craziest Tradition
The story goes that some time during the 14th century, Lady de Mowbray of Haxey was riding in the field that separates Haxey from neighbouring village, Westwoodside. A particularly strong gust of wind blew Lady de Mowbray’s riding hood from her head drawing the attention of thirteen farm workers. The farm workers, being a subservient lot, started to fight over the honour of returning the hood to the Lady. Unfortunately for him, the first worker who managed to grab the hood had an attack of nerves and daren’t approach the good lady to return the hood. Little did the farmhand know that this seemingly small event would lead to him being referred to as ‘the fool’ for centuries to come.
The fool gave the hood to one of the other farmhands who must have been chuffed when the Lady described him as having behaved like a lord. This young chancer has been described as ‘the lord’ forever thus. The other 11 farmhands were given the name ‘boggins’. There must be an origin to this phrase, but I think it is more fun to let the word boggins wash over you in an awesome wave and just accept it…
So fast forward 650 years or so and I find myself in a taxi on the way to the annual Haxey Hood event with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart. Little did I know that 10 pints, some milkshake flavoured strawberry vodka, 3 pork sandwiches and an embarrassing fall into some poor woman’s lap later I would be feeling a lot less chipper.
Preparations for Haxey Hood actually begin weeks before, but the official kick off to the day is the painting of the fool in the Carpenters Arms (Carps to the locals). This involves the fool having his face painted and his clothing feathered and then the drinking begins. From there the Boggins and some officials do the tour of the four pubs that take part in the Haxey Hood stopping off in each one to sing the traditional songs of the day.
I was in The Loco when the singing started and it is truly a spectacle; a pub packed full of people all singing and swaying along. If I had a sword in my belt and a goblet in my hand instead of dark berry cider in a plastic cup it would almost have felt like I had wandered onto the set of Game of Thrones.
The game itself is best described as a chaotic rugby scrum with an unlimited number of players. The object of the game is to get the long covered pole (representing Lady de Mowbray’s fateful hood) back to the pub of the players choice. This can go on long into the night and indeed there are stories of people leaving the scrum during daylight for some dinner only to return in the dark to join right back in.
After a few very enjoyable pints in The Loco where I first got a taste of the locals impeccable hospitality, everyone piled down to the churchyard to watch the smoking of the fool. This involves the fool delivering an impassioned speech whilst a small fire is set behind him. I suppose this is the 14th century version of pyrotechnics.
The fool then leads the crowd to the battle ground (or farmers field as it would be known for 364 days a year) and the Haxey Hood begins. As I am more of a wilting flower than an athlete I decided my inaugural appearance at Haxey Hood would be as a spectator rather than as a participant. After standing in the field for half an hour in which the scrum had moved about 10 metres, we decided to retire back to the pub and await the Hood’s glorious return to Haxey. After sampling an outrageously good pork sandwich we hunkered down in the historic Duke William Hotel for a few hours as the rain poured outside. It began to become clear that the Hood probably wasn’t going to come back to Haxey and therefore must have made its way to The Carpenters Arms in Westwoodside.
Unburdened by this turn of events, we rambled on to the Kings Arms and had a couple in there, before returning to the Duke William Hotel to see out the night. After consulting with a Haxey Hood veteran about what to bring with me before the big day, I had decided to bring a hip flask to help beat big queues in the pubs. Unfortunately the only thing I had left over from Christmas was strawberry milkshake flavoured vodka which to be honest, was rank. I bravely managed to force it down anyway and it was the heady mixture of crap spirits, good lager and great people that combined to make me miss a step on the way to the toilet and fall into a poor unsuspecting woman sat at the bar. Such is the buoyant mood around Haxey Hood however that she actually apologized to me and I went about my day.
Haxey Hood is a genuinely brilliant and affordable day out. They say everyone should try it at least once, but when you have been bitten by the Haxey Hood Bug you may well find yourself returning every year.
Words by Rob Johnson
All images credited to Alan Holgate and the www.haxeyhood.info website.