Ripon Hornblower Tradition

Meet the Ripon Hornblower and get to know the almost unbelievable story of the longest ongoing tradition in the world. Venture to this nightly ceremony and learn how the Hornblower carries out his duties to support the Mayor of the day and how he helps to safeguard the continuity of the ancient ceremony of ‘Setting the Watch’, which has been carried out every evening on the market square for 1,128 years. It is the longest unbroken daily ceremony in the world.

The ritual is carried out at 9pm every night in Ripon at the Obelisk and it is said that if the horn is not sounded to the satisfaction of Hugh Ripley, the first Mayor of Ripon, he will appear in the attic window of the Wakesmans House and a pestilence and other great tragedies will descend upon the city.

While you are there, buy a Hornblower Lucky Wood Penny and wait for your luck to turn. There have been amazing stories from people who have said the pennies work and do bring luck!

For more information about the Ripon Hornblower and the tradition, please log onto their website below.

Opening Times: Every evening at 9pm

Bun Throwing Tradition

Bun throwing first began when rich people started giving bread to the poor which then moved on to the rich giving cakes to the poor on special occasions. The town of Abingdon took up that tradition and in 1760 when King George III came to the throne, councillors threw thousands of cakes to the crowds to celebrate the coronation.

The tradition still carries on but only for royal occasions such as a royal wedding,  jubilee and coronation. Councillors in full ceremonial robes climb to the top of the County Hall and throw four thousand current buns at crowds chanting “We want buns”. This tradition is unique to Abingdon and is a ceremonial event, although at times it might seem like a bun fight as people fight for the buns which are often preserved for families and visitors in the future. The County Hall Museum has a fine selection of preserved buns that have been thrown over the years. They are definitely worth seeing.

Hurling the Silver Bowl Tradition

This old form of rugby dating back over a thousand years takes place at St Ives on Shrove Tuesday after the major’s civic procession.  A cricket-sized ball made of apple wood and coated in silver is hurled into the air and players, men and teenagers, try their best to get the ball of each other as they run, tackle, tumble and tussle around the town.  Each team tries to get as many points as possible by placing the ball in goals situated two miles apart from each other in the town.  Shops and businesses often have to barricade their windows to prevent any damage happening just in case a player misses the ball!

Players often stop to allow onlookers to touch the ball as it is believed that touching the ball  brings luck and fertility.  Furthermore, if a player returns the ball to the Guildhall at the stroke of midday and hands it to the major who is waiting on the steps of the Guildhall, the player receives a silver coin. In the afternoon, town councillors stand on the balcony of the Guildhall and throw pennies to children who have been waiting in the forecourt eager to catch some money.

‘Hurling the Ball’ is also known as ‘Cornish Hurling’ and is believed to be Pagan. It is also played in St Columb in Cornwall.

Weighing the Mayor Tradition

The Town of High Wycombe Weighing-in Ceremony

The ceremonial surrounding the annual election of the town’s new Mayor is unique to High Wycombe and is thought to date back to medieval times. It is not known how the ceremony was ordered originally but there is a direct report from 1678 of a change in procedure arising from the misconduct of a certain dignitary who became very drunk and ‘offered affronts to several gentlemen’. The townsfolk were so disgusted by this behaviour that he was stripped of his burgeeship and ‘in token thereof it was ordered that the great bell should be rung out in testimony of his misdemeanours’.

Thereafter the ‘old’ mayor was tolled-out on the morning of the election of his successor and, on the parade to the Church; the procession was preceded by a drummer who continued to drum the old mayor out.  Following the election of a new Mayor he would be drummed around the market place in procession and the church bells pealed to announce to the town that a new Mayor had been chosen. This custom ceased with the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, but has in part been revived as now when a new Mayor is elected, a quarter peal of bells sounds from the Parish Church to announce the election. Also in 1999 the procession was once again preceded by a drummer from the local Sea Cadet Corps, High Wycombe Unit 181, TS Jaguar and it is anticipated that this ancient custom will continue, now re-instated.

In the ‘weighing-in’ ceremony, the newly elected Mayor, the Charter Trustees, Honorary Burgesses, and the outgoing Mayor are all weighed. As their weight is recorded the Town Crier shouts out the words ‘and some more’ if the Mayor has gained weight, or ‘and no more’ if there is a weight loss or it remains the same. The spectators wait for the call and, if the words ‘and some more’ are heard, the person being weighed is jeered. It is traditionally believed that they have grown fat at the expense of the towns’ people.  If the words ‘and no more’ are heard, the crowd cheers and claps. If no weight has been gained, or some lost then they must have been working hard for the good of the town.

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Jack in the Green Tradition

During the 16th and 17th centuries, flower garlands were a popular form of headwear and individuals tried to outdo each other with their garland designs. By the late 18th century, chimney sweeps made garlands in frameworks that covered their whole bodies. The garlands were so impressive they became costumes in their own right and became known as ‘Jack in the Green’ which was paraded in Hastings until 1983.  However, the parade stopped in 1889 when an Act was passed to prevent children working as chimney sweeps. Nevertheless, in 1983, the Mad Jacks Morris Dancers revived the ‘Jack in the Green’ tradition which takes place on Bank Holiday Monday in the old town of Hastings in May.  This custom is part of a four day festival, known as the ‘Jack in the Green May Day Festival’ and is one of the biggest gatherings of Morris Dancers in the country.

Pixie Day Tradition

On the Saturday nearest to Midsummer’s Day on June 24th, many residents of Ottery, St. Mary commemorate the day pixies were banished from their town. Locals says that the pixies hated the sound of bells ringing so when the town first hung a bell in St Mary’s Church in Ottery and rang it in 1454, the pixies were forced to move away, but they did not go without a fight. The pixies tried desperately to capture and imprison the bell ringer but failed and that is why they left the town and were not seen or heard of  for over 500 years.

However, in 1954, locals of Ottery decided to establish Pixie Day to commemorate the day the pixies exiled the town, and every since then it is believed that the town is full of pixies on the Saturday before Midsummer’s Day. The celebration starts with a large fete in the early afternoon on the Land of Canaan. In the evening, hundreds of local Cubs and Brownies dress up as pixies. The ‘pixies’ head to St Mary’s Church where they capture and drag the bell ringers to the town square where a re-enactment of the pixies’ exile takes place. Afterwards there is a huge firework display on the Land of Canaan.

Our Traditions - World Hen Racing

This family-friendly World Hen Racing Championship event takes place every year in the car park at the 200-year-old Barley Mow pub in Bonsall. Participants can either bring their own hen or rent one for a small donation of £5.00.  The hens have to race a 30-foot course with the help of their owners who entice the clucking hens with meal worms, corn and lots of encouragement. It is all in good humour and the hens are well looked after even if they head back to the start line.  The fastest time for a hen to complete the course was three seconds but it usually takes much longer than that. The winning hen receives a bag of grain and the owner a trophy.

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Wife Carrying Tradition

It is believed that wife carrying originated on the northeast coast of England over twelve centuries ago when Viking raiders stormed villages and carried away women who were unwilling to leave their homes.  However, after a period of nearly 900 years, wife carrying was introduced in 2008 in the form of a ‘Wife Carrying Race’ which takes place in Dorking.

The rules are simple. Males and females over the age of 18 can carry a ‘wife’, but this does not mean they have to be married to that person. The wife has to weigh over 50 kilos, otherwise tins of food will be placed inside a rucksack to ensure the wife is the correct weight. The wife has to wear a helmet just in case she is dropped, and if she is dropped, penalties will be imposed.

The wife can be carried piggyback style or over the shoulder, but in many cases, the wife is hung upside-down with her legs around her husband’s shoulders while she holds onto his waist.  It does not look very dignified, but a couple from Finland, Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen, have won the race may times using this technique!

The objective of the wife carrier is to carry his wife through an obstacle track consisting of two dry obstacles (sand and hurdles) and a wet obstacle usually around one metre deep.  They have to get to  the finishing line in the fastest time without penalties. spectators armed with water pistols and buckets of water, throw or fire water at the wife carriers just to make things a little more difficult.

The wife carrier who passes the finishing line first wins a barrel of ale and £250 which is used towards the expenses of entering the World Wife Carrying Championship which takes place in Finland.

Maypole Tradition

The custom of Maypole dancing used to be a medieval Pagan dance for fertility. In days gone by, only young girls danced around the maypole, but nowadays both boys and girls, men and women, take part in the dance. The introductory dance consists of 10 or more dancers who stand in a circle around a wooden pole three to five metres tall with a crown on the top to which ribbons are attached. When the music starts, the dancers take four steps towards the maypole and raise their arms in air, they then take four steps back and lower the arms. They then circle the maypole to the count of eight and the same procedure starts again.

There are many variations of maypole dancing, but the most common dance is the ‘Plaiting Dance’ whereby dancers circle around the maypole whilst wrapping or plaiting the ribbons around the pole. The dancers hold the ribbons in their right hand and move in the same direction around the pole but they are not allowed to overtake each other otherwise a knot will be formed in the ribbon. The dancers start the dance when the music begins and they continue to dance until the ribbon has been wrapped around the maypole. The dancers then they have to reverse their steps to unwind the maypole. If they have unwrapped the ribbon without any knots then they have successfully completed the plaiting dance. It looks a lot easier than it looks.

To learn more about maypole dancing and different dance routines such as the ‘Grand Chain’ and the ‘Gypsies Tent’, log onto: