Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill

This is one of the most bonkers and often dangerous events, when people tumble down a very steep hill near Brockworth in the Cotswolds. Injuries are common but the event is claimed to be a long standing local tradition. It used to be on Whit Monday but moved to Spring Bank Holiday.

Wiki claims there are two explanations for this potentially lethal event. It could have evolved from a requirement to continue grazing rights. Or it was a pagan tradition to roll objects down the hill, possibly burning brushwood which sounds like an environmental disaster though they don’t seem very rollable. It’s meant to represent the new year after winter.

I’m always dubious of pagan traditions as I can’t see how they could survive. Beliefs need communities to remember, to repeat the practice accurately and there have been too many social and political upheavals and migrations to allow this to happen.

Suggestions that there was a traditional scattering of buns, biscuits sweets etc so I guess that brings it into the age of sugar consumption.

Or it could be a fertility rite. No idea how that might work.

Apparently the first record of it dates from a Town Crier announcement in 1826 by which stage it was already an old tradition.

But I think I’ve found an explanation in a book published in 1939 so almost within living memory.

“On Whit Monday, you may see the survival of a 500 years’ old ceremony of cheese-rolling on Cooper’s Hill. On this day the villagers of Brockworth preserve their grazing rights here by rolling wooden discs (representing the cheeses) from the flagstaff at the top down the hill, and the first to catch the disc wins a real cheese. When the cheese rolling is finished, the Merry company takes part in foot races on the grassy top of the hill.”

So it seems two separate events have somehow become combined. Not pagan. Just badly remembered over a surprisingly short space of time in an isolated area where memories should have survived.

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