This month’s object is the Hallaton bottle kicking ‘dummy’, researched by one of the Harborough Museum volunteers, Susan Hammond. Susan writes a blog at www.creationlifeadventure.com.
This bottle kicking ‘dummy’ displayed in the ‘District’ cabinet in the museum comes from the Leicestershire village of Hallaton. It had a very important role in the wonderfully bizarre Leicestershire custom – the bottle kicking. This annual competition between the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne, usually held on Easter Monday, involves a team from each village attempting to get two ‘bottles’ from the start at ‘Hare Pie Bank’ across their home stream one mile away by any means possible. With virtually no rules and resembling a huge rugby scrum traversing ditches, hedges and barbed wire, the competition is notoriously bloodthirsty and it’s not uncommon for there to be broken bones! The Hallaton Village Chronicle (1938) reported: “there are broken heads and ribs occasionally”, but people still have lots of fun.
The proceedings begin with the parading of an enormous hare pie through the streets of Hallaton accompanied by a local band. The village’s vicar emerges from the church, blesses and carves the pie then distributes it to the waiting onlookers while a small portion is put in a sack to be used later in the ’Hare Pie Scramble’ where handfuls are thrown to the hungry scrambling crowd. When everyone has had their fill the two bottles are taken to the Buttercross and decorated with ribbons and in the afternoon the bottle kicking begins at Hare Pie Bank.
According to the museum records, this ‘dummy’ was used from 1850 to 1950 in playoffs when the score was one all. Made of solid wood and painted red white and blue, it differed from the ordinary bottles which were miniature wooden casks of ale bound with iron bands.
Although records of bottle kicking only date to the late 18th century, it is believed by some to originate from much earlier and may be linked to the sacrifice of the hare in the Dark Age worship of the goddess Oestre. Yet, according to local lore the tradition began when two ladies of Hallaton were saved from a raging bull by a startled hare that distracted the bull. They showed their gratitude to God by donating money to the church on the understanding that every Easter Monday the vicar would provide a hare pie, 12 penny half loaves and two barrels of beer for the poor of the village. The Hallaton villagers would fight one another for the food and drink, and on one occasion the neighbouring village of Medbourne joined in and stole the beer! The Hallatonians cooperated to retrieve the spoils, thus beginning the village rivalry that continues to this day.
In 1790 the rector tried to ban the event because of its pagan origins and next day, graffiti appeared on the vicarage wall: “No pie, no parson”. This led to the church joining in with proceedings and the event continues today. It’s only ever been cancelled once due to foot and mouth disease in 2001.
The village of Hallaton (from Old English meaning a settlement in a narrow valley), situated in the heart of the rolling Leicestershire countryside, is an attractive place to visit at any time of year. The many thatched cottages and houses, built of the local ironstone and limestone, simply bloom in the springtime when masses of daffodils appear in almost every garden. This former market town, proudly boasts a medieval Buttercross on the village green, where butter and cheese used to be kept cool. After the bottle kicking contest, the players who put in an especially good effort are helped onto the top of this 10 ft. structure where they take the first swig from the opened ‘bottle’ before passing it around the crowd.
Things to do
There is plenty to do in the village. At the Hallaton Museum, housed in the iconic ‘Tin Tab’, you can discover the story behind the famous Hallaton Treasure, browse the collection associated with the Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking event, and find out more about the history and architectural traditions of the village.
Set in picturesque countryside, Hallaton is a fantastic base for walking. Castle Hill, one of the most impressive 12th century motte and bailey castle sites in the county, is an easy walk from the village centre and can be seen from the Leicestershire Round.
There are several excellent inns in the village providing a good selection of food, drink and accommodation for visitors. Perhaps you’ll choose to enjoy a pint of bottle kicking cider which is made in the village. The Bewicke Arms and Hare Pie Café provide an excellent view of Hare Pie Bank from the terrace while The Fox is situated in a rather pleasant spot by the village pond.
For more wonderful historic images, make sure to visit Image Leicestershire.