Purbeck Marblers Football Ceremony, DorsetThe cutting of marble in the Purbeck Hills of Dorset was once a considerable concern, and from medieval days the business was regulated for the benefit of The Company of Marblers and Stonecutters there. Nothing too odd in that, but surely only in England would the rules of what amounted to a cartel involve beer and football.
The company’s rules were set out in 1651, and if the ceremonies surrounding the matter now seem rather comical the fines of £5 for infringements were no laughing matter back then.
The members still gather on Shrove Tuesday, firstly for the induction of apprentices, who have to pay a tiny sum plus a loaf of bread - and two pots of ale. These newly made Freemen of the Company then have to make their way from The Fox Inn to the Town Hall, carrying a football and a glass of beer, while their seniors try to get them to spill it.
After a meeting at the Town Hall to discuss business matters the assembly then enacts another custom, kicking a ball brought by the most recently married man among them from the Town Hall to Ower Quay on Poole Harbour , whence in previous times their stone was shipped. The ball must not be handled, and the custom is a ceremony rather than a game, no competition being involved. This part of the day is said to date from 1695, when the Company agreed to pay a certain John Collins for their number to have a right of way over the route, the passage over the route with the ball retaining the right for another year.
At the harbour the ball is booted into the sea, and a pound of pepper tipped over it – the original rent was indeed a football and a pound of pepper -in 1651 a pound of pepper would have cost a large sum.
Beer and football. All that is lacking is a curry, though the pepper maybe was the 17th century equivalent.
More British Folk Customs?