Easter Monday. I decided to check out this 'Strange and Ancient Custom' at Hallaton in Leicestershire.

Hallaton is a picturesque village with lots of old thatched cottages and set in beautiful countryside.

The parade set out from The Fox public house in the early afternoon and was led by a gentleman in a green robe. He carried a pole with a metal hare on top. With him was a lady also in old fashioned costume. She was carrying a basket full of penny loaves (bread rolls). Then there were two young ladies not in any particular costume. They were carrying between them a large Pie, which presumably they had cooked earlier. Behind them came three men dressed in football shirts. These gentlemen were carrying the three bottles, small beer casks about a foot long. One of the bottles was brightly painted in red, white and blue. The men held their bottles in one hand high above their heads. Behind these came the Carlsberg Band wearing kilts and playing bagpipes and drums.

The parade went down through the village and stopped at the cross on the main village green, next to the other pub - the Bewick Arms. Both pubs by the way were closed but had set-up beer tents in their gardens (only the Bewick had a decent real ale - a bit pricey though at 2.50 a pint).

Later the parade went on to the Church where the pie was broken up and pieces thrown into the crowd. The parade then returned to the cross and the penny loaves were also broken up and thrown into the crowd. Eventually the parade left along the road past the church and to the top of the hill overlooking the village. By this time large crowds were gathering on the hill. When the parade entered the field at the top of the hill more hare pie was thrown into the crowds before the bottle kicking commenced.

The bottle was thrown into the air three times and then all hell broke loose.
Basically there are two teams. The Hallaton side are trying to get the bottle down the hill and over the brook behind the Bewick Arms, while the Medbourne team are trying to get it over the fields for a mile or so towards their village. I was told that the Hallaton team was only open to locals from the village but that anyone could join in on the Medbourne team - although, as a newcomer it was very difficult to figure out who was in which team and which way you were supposed to be going. There were a lot of lads there wearing rugby shirts and the scramble to get at the bottle and to move it in the required direction, often resembled a huge rugby scrum. Every now and then someone would get loose and either throw the bottle or try to run with it, but it usually never got more than a few feet before falling to the ground, where it was either kicked or dragged along by the mass of men. There appeared to be a core of perhaps a couple of dozen or so lads who were getting really stuck in, and lots of other people trying to get close enough to see the action without getting too close. I was in the latter group for a while, but eventually decided to take the plunge and get stuck in. It was pretty rough in there but there was no deliberate kicking or punching, everyone seemed intent on getting the bottle or pushing the melee in the relevant direction. It reminded me very much of the pike pushes that I used to get involved in when I used to do English Civil war battle re-enactments with the Sealed Knot society (only without the weapons and armour). I managed to kick the bottle several times and even managed to grab hold of it once, although there was no way that I was going anywhere with it under a huge pile of bodies. After moving along the top of the hill for half an hour or so someone managed to throw the bottle over the hedge into the next field where the action continued for another hour or so before the bottle went over another hedge and someone managed to sprint away with it over the fields towards Medbourne.

Everyone then made their way back to the starting point and it started all over again with the second bottle (the painted one this time). It wasn't long before the bottle started heading down the hill towards Hallaton and eventually across the brook. The third bottle went pretty much the same way, although Medbourne did manage to get close to the edge of the field at one point, and things could have changed if someone had managed to get the bottle over the hedge.

Final score 2-1 to Hallaton.

2nd April 2002
Phil Preen