IT IS part rugby scrum, part pub crawl: a 700 year-old tradition in which villagers go to war over a piece of leather.
January 6, traditionally Three Kings’ Day, is when the village of Haxey, south of the Humber and east of Doncaster, abandons 21st century niceties in favour of the peculiarly local medieval practice of congregating around a 2ft leather tube, known as a hood, which is walked around four pubs dispensing free ale.
The ritual has its origins in the tale of Lady de Mowbray, wife of a local landowner, who lost her silk riding hood to the wind. A shy farm worker caught it after 12 others had failed, but then passed it to a colleague, who handed it back to Her Ladyship. He was, she said, a Lord; the shy farmer a fool.
In gratitude, she donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase for the hood would be re-enacted each year.
In the modern version of the Haxey Hood game, a man dressed as “fool” recites an old English chant which translates as: “House against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.”
This has been gradually watered down from an earlier, less politically correct incarnation, in which the fool was suspended over a fire until he suffocated.