This bottle kicking dummy comes from the nearby 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 miles 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, but the 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.