Hallaton Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle-Kicking, LeicestershireThis traditional day must be one of the most quintessentially British customs. The origins are obscure, mooted by locals as dating back to the Iron Age (though solely it seems on the basis of Iron Age remains on the same site as the main event); the bottles are in fact barrels which even The Hulk would think twice about kicking; and the whole aim of the thing is to win some beer. To add to the wonderful contrariness the hare pie is made from beef these days and very possibly never contained hare if the most believable tale of its origin is correct.
Although the Iron Age claim is highly debateable, the event was certainly around in the 18th century, and as the village website states field names as far back as 1600 contain reference to hare pie, it is perfectly reasonable that the custom pre-dated that.
The tale goes that two ladies were crossing a field when they were threatened by a bull. A hare that crossed its path distracted the beast, and the ladies made good their escape, grateful for the smaller creature’s intercession. They gave a large sum to the church on condition that every Easter Monday the vicar would procure for the people of the village a feast consisting of penny loaves, beer, and a large hare pie. Given they had been rescued by a hare it seems probable that this was a pie commemorating the hare, rather than full of his relations.
The distribution of the food and ale became a rowdy event, and at some point some likely lads from the neighbouring village of Medbourne hijacked the beer and tried to smuggle it back to their settlement. The hard men of Hallaton were having none of it, and they fought for the beer and their honour. Thus was the second part of the tradition born.
Every Easter Monday then, in what has now become a major event in the area, after the presentation of penny loaves, a children’s parade, and other peripheral ceremonies and marches several hundred locals gather at Hare Pie Hill. After a scramble for pieces of pie thrown to the masses three small tuns, one of solid wood, the other two filled with beer, are held aloft by players and displayed to the crowds, then the wooden one (dubbed “the dummy” one is thrown in the air three times. The third time it lands the game commences.
The rules, such as they are (for there are no officials to enforce any) are that the game is the best of three. A bottle is scored if it is forced across either of the two streams between Hare Pie Hill and the two villages (Hallaton struggling to get it over the stream nearest their village, and Medbourne theirs.
No vehicles may be used, no weapons carried, but other than that it is somewhat anarchic. A huge scrum forms, tussling for the bottle until someone makes a break, only to be tackled and another scrum formed around and on top of them. There is no marked pitch, no time limit, and little chance of anything being appealed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The game, though described by some as ‘football’, is more like an unruly rugby match.
Traditionally players who have done well get to drink from one of the bottles, though the beer on offer in the local pubs probably goes down better. And drinking is not limited to after the game. Some players feel they perform better with a few pints inside them before the start. Others leave the play for a while to have a bit of snap and maybe a sip or two of beer with friends and family before rejoining the scrum for another effort.
A sporting event whose object is beer, and many of whose players are fuelled by beer. Brilliant
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to Hallaton Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle-Kicking
From Steve Wickham on 17th April 2009
In your article "Hallaton Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle-Kicking", it states that the Hare Pie that is central to the event contains beef. That is simply untrue; I am good friends with the couple who make the pie, and tasted it this year as it was being made. It does contain hare (and a bottle of port!). Perhaps you could correct this point please? The rest of the article is pretty accurate, although it is not just the dummy bottle that is fought over, all three are, in turn. The dummy is always the middle of the three to be used.