5th January: The Haxey Hood Game

I didn’t know until I researched my Father’s family tree that he could trace his ancestry back to the Isle of Axeholme. It’s a strange and isolated part of England;  the only part of Lincolnshire which is west of the River Trent and until the land was drained by Cornelius Vermuyden in 1626 it was a collection of villages, each on a little island separated by a huge marsh teeming with wildlife. The mediaeval strip fields can still be seen around Haxey as can the remnants of the ‘retting’ pits where locally grown hemp was mashed before it was made into rope. This old map gives you an idea of the shear bogginess of it all....the little bit of high ground on the bottom centre margin is Crowle, where I tracked Dad's tree back to.

Axehome was relatively untouched by the modern world for centuries and maybe for that reason the Haxey Hood Game is an amazing survival. The game is played every Twelfth Night in the villages of Haxey and Westwoodside, except as this year, when Twelfth Night is a Sunday. It dates back to the 14th century and is probably the oldest continuing folk tradition in England, apart from the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance which takes place in September. 

As with so many things tradition and folklore have formed a palimpsest of memory. But the story is as follows.

In the mid 1350s, Lady De Mowbray, the wife of the third Baron Mowbray of Axeholme lost her silken hood when she was out riding between Haxey and Westwoodside. The silk hood flew across the fields, the farm workers nearby gave chase and one man caught it. He handed it to another who returned it to the Lady. She was charmed by their chivalry and persuaded her husband to grant thirteen acres of land to the parish on the condition that the chase for the Hood was re-enacted every year. 

I’m wondering whether there’s a connection with the turbulent years following on from the Black Death here? The Black Death raged across Britain in the late 1340s. After the population was decimated, there were insufficient labourers to farm the land and wages were vastly inflated. It was to all intents and purposes the beginning of the end of the feudal system. Maybe the grant of the land was a thank you or an inducement for the peasantry to encourage them to carry on working for the De Mowbrays?

Anyway whatever the reason, hundreds of people will be out in force in Haxey today. The Hood game is similar to the games of mob football that I talked about last year, but much more slow moving. In effect it’s a scrum like in rugby. The ‘Fool’ who together with the ‘Boggins’ is in charge of proceedings, throws the Hood, which is a sausage shaped stuffed hessian bag into the crowd and they form a ‘Sway’ which is a mass of people jammed together shoulder to shoulder. The crowd ‘sways’ in the direction of a particular pub (Why aren’t you surprised?) and it make take it hours to get there, depending on the strength the supporters of each hostelry. Once the Hood is touched by the landlord, the game is over and the Hood remains hung up in the winning pub until the following year. 

The whole thing is colourful, rowdy and a great way to spend a winter’s afternoon. 

I’ve made plum bread. It’s a traditional Lincolnshire fruit loaf, my Mum and my Grandma made it often when I was a kid. You serve it well buttered with a cup of tea. I love it.

Lincolnshire Plum Bread

Makes 2 large loaves. Oven 160c

This is the recipe as my mother gave it to me from her memory. If I made it again I would reduce the flour to 1lb. It was more cakey than I thought it should be and the mixture was too stiff. I used 4 eggs in the end.

1½lb Self Raising Flour

½ tsp salt
¼lb lard
¼lb butter
½lb sugar
1lb mixed dried fruit
3 or 4 large eggs and milk (see method)
1 tablespoon black treacle

Rub the fats into the flour and salt. I did this in my food processor. Add the fruit and the sugar. Now add the treacle, beaten eggs and sufficient milk to give a dropping consistency. Put into 2 lined loaf tins and bake at 160c for 1 hour 15 minutes.

It’s better after a couple of days when it’s got less crumbly and can be cut and buttered and it’s great with white crumbly cheese.


Marcus said...

Beautiful looking loaves, they look similar to the welsh Bara Brith?
Love fruited loaves toasted with lashings of salty butter.

Toffeeapple said...

I love to hear of traditions being upheld in this modern age, especially when it involves getting to a pub...

Your loaves look very tempting and the idea of them being well buttered has my mouth watering.

Happy New Year to you!

Liz Woods said...

Thanks both. I think bara brith is made without fat, which plum bread definitely isn't! I'd love to go to Haxey and see the Game..and go to the pub...Happy New Year to all. x

Mary Beth said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Liz! Your posts and reposts have been delightful, as usual. *Loved* reading (and some further internet exploring) about the Haxey Hood. Brings to mind some of the Mummers traditions around this time of year. The ancient bits and pieces of our collective past find a way to come out.
Thank you for shining the spotlight on this lovely bit of revelry along with a tasty looking loaf.
I am looking forward to your 2013 offerings! Here's to good health and much happiness!

PS. Season 3 of Downton Abbey beings tonight here. There was overkill with the anticipation from the media, though- playing and replaying the first two seasons for the past two months. I found "Call the Midwife" to be absolutely riveting as a gritty antidote to all the grandness of DA.