Running Auction for White Bread Meadow, LincolnshireThe traditional British auction, auctioneer with gavel in hand trying to drum up bids, the bidding ending when he or she deems fit, could be open to manipulation by the auctioneer. No wonder then that throughout the country various different ways of getting round this have developed. Candle auctions are one style that is not uncommon (see the entry on the Chedzoy Candle Auction in this section), the extinguishing of a flame or dropping of a pin giving a definitely recognisable end point to the event. Bourne in Lincolnshire though has a unique variation on the cut-off auction theme.
As so often with these auctions, the survival has been because it was part of a charitable bequest, in this case that of William Clay, who left the interest in two half-acre pieces of land to the poor of Eastgate in Bourne, the rent to be used to purchase white bread (a luxury that it should be white) for them. So every year the land is let by auction of a very strange style: the auction lasts as long as a footrace between two schoolboys (or girls these days), over a course of roughly 200 yards, near The Queen's Bridge in Eastgate. Bidding can only commence once the race is begun, and ends when the first runner crosses the line, the highest bid standing at that moment winning the right to lease the land.
The land itself has changed - enclosure meant that what is now known as White Bread Meadow was given to the charity in lieu of the original two pieces - but the tradition has not, though the money raised now goes to local charities rather than being used for its original purpose of providing good bread to the needy.
It will come as no surprise to know that traditionally once the auction was over the participants made their way to the pub, in this case to enjoy a meal of bread, cheese, spring onions, and beer (hopefully Bateman's), which has the mouth watering just thinking about it. The runners were rewarded with a shilling apiece, and in earlier times would have been allowed full participation in the eating and drinking.
More British Folk Customs?