RB Camera Club: The Haxey Hood
The twelfth day of Christmas, being the sixth day of January, marks the date of one of the oldest traditional events in England.
The celebration is held at the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, where hundreds meet, schools close and vehicles are moved from the roadway. It’s a festival that has occurred on this day for the past 1,300 years.
Legend has it that John de Mowbray and his wife Lady de Mowbray were riding on a hill called Upperthorpe, separating two villages: one called Westwoodside and the other Haxey. Suddenly, her silk hood was blown away by a strong gust of wind and twelve farm workers, who were working the land nearby, saw what had happened and all gave chase to capture the hood as it blew across the hillside. A robust scrum soon developed between the farm workers who were all eager to capture it and return it to her ladyship. It was finally caught by one of them, but he was too shy to to take it back and foolishly handed the hood to another farm worker to give back to Lady de Mowbray.
She was amused at watching the scuffle and thanked the man who returned the hood saying he had acted like a lord, but she said the man who had actually caught the hood was a fool in not returning it to her! She had laughed so much that she donated thirteen acres of the land, on condition that the chase for the hood was reenacted every year on that day.
Tradition states there are twelve men, some of them dressed in red with floral hats, who take on the part of the original farm workers, one of these being the ‘lord of the hood’ and his ten ‘boggins’ and one being the ‘fool’.
The day starts around noon, when the ‘boggins’ tour the local packed public houses and sing old farm songs, finally walking to the front of St Nicholas’ church where the ‘fool’ makes a speech from the Mowbray stone stump, during which a quantity of damp straw is set alight behind him. This ritual, called ‘smoking the fool’, is a modified version of an earlier custom where a ‘fool’ of a village was suspended over a .re, only to be cut down when he was on the verge of suffocating!
The ‘fool’ finishes his speech with some traditional words: “Hoose agen Hoose, Toon agin Toon, if a man meets a man knock ‘im doon, but doant hurt him”. Then the ‘boggins’, the ‘fool’ and the large crowd head for Upperthorpe Hill where the game will proceed. After some provisional preliminaries for children, the game starts by throwing a leather tube around three feet long into the air, the tube representing the original silk hood lost from the head of Lady de Mowbray.
Perhaps the best way to describe this event is a massive rugby scrum, with hundreds of men all pushing towards their favourite public house, either in Westwoodside or Haxey. The sound of groaning is unbelievable and the game can continue for days, even through the night, until finally the hood is pushed towards a public house, where the landlord of the house is held high in the air above the crowds in an effort to touch the hood. If he succeeds in doing so, then the game is officially over and the public house will have the honour of having the hood hung over the bar for one year.
Being an ex-freelance media photographer, I enjoy these types of events and the challenge of getting photographs of this particular tradition, even in the dark and sometimes in the pouring rain or driving snow for no weather stops the game! I try to capture the pain and suffering on the faces of these men, who are pushing with all their might to win the hood for their village and public house. However, extra care is needed while photographing, because to fall under the sway of more than 200 hundred men when walking backwards might hurt a little!
Alex Birch | RB Camera Club