All good for the Haxey Hood

The Fool Dale Smith holds the hood and chants whilst being smoked. Picture: Andrew Roe
The Fool Dale Smith holds the hood and chants whilst being smoked. Picture: Andrew Roe

Every year people travel across the country to the Isle of Axholme to take part in the Haxey Hood festival which has been drawing crowds since the 14th century.

So get ready for mud, sweat and beers as the Haxey Hood, which is believed to be in its 654th year, returns for what is hoped to be its best year yet.

The Hood, will be fiercely contested as ever with last year’s victors, The Kings Arms hoping to hold on to the prized leather cylinder, as battle commences tomorrow afternoon.

No one pub has dominated the annual battle in recent years with the Duke William, Carpenters Arms and Kings Arms all triumphing in the last three years.

The Hood is one of Britain’s oldest traditions and is usually held on Epiphany on January 6 with drinkers from four local watering holes endeavouring to guide the trophy to their favoured pub.

Carol Kemp took over the Kings Arms in October last year, and says she’s looking forward to her first Haxey Hood and is hoping to continue the pub’s winning streak.

She said: “I’m looking forward to it. Everyone’s been talking about it for months.”

“It would be nice if we could win again, but who knows. I guess we’ll find out on the day.”

The game’s other participating pub, The Loco, has only chalked up one triumph since the turn of the new millennium while the Kings Arms has racked up seven victories, including a hat-trick of wins between 2008-10.

The game’s traditions date from the 14th century when Lady de Mowbray, wife of an Isle landowner, John De Mowbray, was out riding towards Westwoodside on the hill that separates it from Haxey.

As she went over the hill her silk riding hood was blown away by the wind.

Thirteen farm workers in the field rushed to help and chased the hood all over the field.

It was finally caught by one of the farm workers, but being too shy to hand it back to the lady, he gave it to one of the others to hand back to her.

She thanked the farm worker who had returned the hood and said that he had acted like a Lord, whereas the worker who had actually caught the hood was a Fool.

So amused was she by this act of chivalry and the resulting chase, that she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.

This re-enactment over the centuries has become known as The Haxey Hood with scores of participants lining up each year to take part in the annual mud bath – which can often turn into a bruising encounter for the hundreds joining in the fun.

Traditionally, The Fool leads the procession and has the right to kiss any woman on the way.

Once at the green in front of the parish church, at around 2.30pm the Fool makes his traditional speech of welcome.

He stands on an old mounting block, in front of the church, known as the Mowbray Stone.

During this speech a fire is lit with damp straw behind him.

The smoke rises up and around him and this is known as ‘Smoking the Fool’.

This is in fact a watered-down version of the earlier custom (abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century due to its obvious danger) in which a more substantial fire was lit with damp straw beneath a tree.

The Fool was then suspended over the fire and swung back and forth until he was almost suffocated before being cut down and dropped into the fire, where he had to make his escape as best he could.

At the end of the speech, the Fool finishes with the traditional words that the crowd chant along with him.

They are: “Hoose agen hoose, toon agen toon, if a man meets a man nok ’im doon, but doant ’ot ’im”

The tour of pubs begins tomorrow (Monday, January 6) at 12.30pm and the smoking of the fool at 2.30pm with the Hood getting underway shortly afterwards.