Cotswold Olimpick Shin-Kicking, GloucestershireThe so-called Cotswold Olimpicks, or Dover Olimpicks, began in 1612, the brainchild of lawyer John Dover. Whether he was making a serious attempt to revive the ancient Greek games, starting a money-spinning entertainment, or campaigning against the Puritan element then rife which wanted to ban games and sports and anything else remotely enjoyable, is not known.
The earlier Olimpicks featured athletic events like running and jumping, plus an English version of tossing the caber, wrestling, and other tests of strength and courage. It even had equestrian events, and chess. No sponsorship by carbonated drinks manufacturers was required, which was lucky as the drinks had not been invented yet, participants settling for ale and cider instead.
In 1852 enclosure of the land used for the annual games led to a hiatus, but they returned to Dover's Hill near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire in 1951 during the Festival of Britain , by which time the hill was in the hands of The National Trust.
The strangest event in the games to modern eyes is the shin-kicking, but this is really an old version of wrestling. Two fighters grip one-another's shoulders, and manoeuvre in a crabbing dance until one manages to kick the shins of the other, giving the kicker the right to try to throw his opponent to the ground. Referees called sticklers judge the matches, ensuring no steel toe-caps are used. The kickers can (and do) stuff straw down their trouser legs, hoping to avoid too many bruises in the best of three falls contests.
The Olimpick Games take place on Dover's Hill on the Friday after Spring Bank Holiday, with thousands attending.
More British Folk Customs?
If you like this, Share it
On this day: