Haxey Hood 2020 goes ahead as Yorkshire tradition defies the setbacks

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One of Yorkshire's quaintest traditions took place today.

The Haxey Hood is contested annually in early January in the village of Haxey, on the outskirts of Doncaster.

James Chatwin is the first new Fool in 25 years

James Chatwin is the first new Fool in 25 years

The game - featuring teams from local pubs - dates back to the 14th century and remains hugely popular, attracting large crowds of spectators.

The tradition is still thriving despite several setbacks over the years, including pub closures, licensing rows and the retirement of the long-serving 'Fool' who starts the game.

Guesthouse owner's anger after licensing restrictions stop her taking part in Haxey Hood
In 2019, only one of the four original pubs was open for business during the Hood, and at one point it seemed the event's future was in doubt due to a dispute involving one of their landlords.

The folklore surrounding the Hood is based on the story of Lady de Mowbray, a local landowner's wife, who was riding between Westwoodside and Haxey in around 1359 when her silk riding hood was blown off in a gale. Thirteen farmhands rushed to retrieve it from a nearby field, but the man who caught it was too shy to present it to her, and gave it to one of the others instead.

Huge crowds gathered for the Hood

Huge crowds gathered for the Hood

Lady de Mowbray told the man who handed it back that he had acted like a lord, while the man who had found it was a fool for his reticence.

She then donated 13 acres of land on condition that the chase would be re-enacted every year by the men of the village. It's always held on the Twelfth Day of Christmas according to the Christian calendar - January 6.

The hood itself is a piece of leather and the rugby-style scrum that takes place during the game is called a 'sway'. Players can't throw the hood or run with it - they must push and pull it within the sway towards the direction of their pub.

The Loco, Duke William and The King's Arms in Haxey and The Carpenter's Arms in Westwoodside historically fielded teams. The overseer is called the Lord of the Hood, and there are other 'referees' called boggins as well as the Fool, who leads the procession between the pubs and has the right to kiss any woman he encounters along the way. He then makes a welcome speech and a fire is lit behind him - a custom known as 'smoking the Fool'.

The sway begins

The sway begins

In centuries past, the poor Fool used to be suspended over the fire before he nearly choked, and was then dropped down and told to try and escape.

His traditional chant translates as 'house against house, town against town, if a man meets a man, knock him down but don’t hurt him.'

The game is won when the hood arrives at the front step of the victorious pub and is given to the landlord, who retains possession of it for the year.

The patch of land used to contest the Hood is so prominent that the churned-up ground can even be seen from space in Google Earth satellite images.

The Fool is smoked

The Fool is smoked

Due to the lack of Haxey pubs taking part in 2019, a winning milestone near the The King's Arms had to be nominated instead.

In 2002, a car was shunted 10ft down a road into another vehicle by the sway. Parking along the route is no longer allowed.

Bad blood in the Hood

The Hood was in jeopardy last year because of a long-running dispute between the owner of two of the pubs and the local community that began in 2018.

Paul Chapman chose not to open the Duke William and Loco on game day after deciding he could no longer support the Hood.

He had submitted a planning application to knock down the Duke William and replace it with housing. The plans were rejected by North Lincolnshire Council and there was fierce resistance in Haxey.

The King's Arms was also closed for a period due to licensing issues and did not open for the Hood.

It was the first time in centuries that one of the pubs was not trading during the Hood, let alone three. The situation was described as 'unprecedented'.

Mr Chapman said he felt 'let down' by locals over their campaign against his development proposals.

A guesthouse in Haxey that offered to replace one of the original pubs was also forced to close over licensing complaints after objections to the idea.

Organisers said 'two fingers up to everyone who has tried to disrupt the Hood' in an emotional Facebook post after a successful game.

However, Hood enthusiasts pointed out that the tradition actually pre-dates the building of the pubs in the villages and can still go ahead using beer tents and marquees if necessary.

2019 was also the final time that Fool of 25 years Dale Smith performed the role before retiring. The position is now held by James Chatwin.