10th July 1786. Breaking Heads, Country Style.
The Reading Mercury announced in June 1786, what nowadays would constitute a dangerous health and safety hazard, but then was regarded as a normal country pursuit in the East Midlands.
This is to give notice that the Yattendon Revels will be kept as usual on Monday the 10th July, ‘For the encouragement of gentleman gamesters and others, there will be given an exceedingly good, gold laced hat of twenty-seven shillings value, to be played for at cudgels, the man that breaks most heads to have the prize’.
Also, ‘Two shillings will be given to each man that positively breaks a head, for the first ten heads that are broke, the blood to run an inch, or to be deemed ‘no head’.’
Also on offer was a hat to be wrestled for, then another hat to be bowled for beginning at 1 pm and ending at 9 pm. They were tough then!
The next day a prize was offered, ‘to be run Jack Asses with the best of Three Heals’. Whatever that might have been, ‘then tobacco was to grinn’d for by old women through a horse-collar, as usual’.
Legend has it that The Revels, which were were held in the village square, to commemorate a battle on Yattendon Field on 10th July on old St Peter’s Day, before the calendar reform, when Sir William Norries won his spurs at the Battle of Northampton on 9th July 1486.
The likes of the Yattendon Revels would have been repeated then in many areas of Britain, reflecting the rude, pastoral vitality of those times, and can anyone say the modern Fete is any improvement.
Jeffrey Kacirk’s Forgotten English. 2008.