Shrove Tuesday Football Ceremony
Pancakes and Football
Shrove Tuesday, Also known as "Pancake Day", Shrove Tuesday always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent in the Christian faith. Dates vary from year to year, but it usually falls in February, sometimes early March.
It is the day of preparation for Lent, when the eating pancakes was made obvious by the need to up the eggs and fat, the eating of which were prohibited during the forty days of Lent.
A photograph of Purbeck Marblers kicking a football through the streets of Corfe Castle, Dorset, on Shrove Tuesday, 1938
At Corfe, the village holds the annual custom of Shrove Tuesday Football1 Ceremony of the Purbeck Marblers. This occurs on this day that new apprentices are introduced to the Ancient Order of Purbeck Marblers and Stonecutters.
Apprentices seeking to join the order must bring along a quater of ale, a penny loaf, and 6s 8d (33p). According to custom the most recently married member of the Order must bring along a football, which is used in a vigorious game on the village's streets. The initiates have to negotiate West Street from the Fox Inn to the Town Hall with a football and a glass of beer whilst others try to spill the beer. Arriving in the Town Hall, a closed ceremony is held for the initiates.
The football used to be kicked across Rempstone Heath all the way to Ower Quay, three miles away. This game was a means of preserving the right of way so the local Purbeck Marble can be taken to the timber wharf. Once the footballers finally reached Ower, it is kicked into the water and a pound of pepper sprinkled over it. This annual tradition has survived since the marblers agreed in 1695 to pay John Collins of Ower a pound of pepper and a football.
In his book 'History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset', the 18th Century Dorset historian, Rev. John Hutchins writes an account of the custom:
"Ower seems to have been formerly the chief port of the Isle of Purbeck, and it was the principal if not the only quay for the exportation of stone and marble. On this account the quarries pay on Ash-Wednesday yearly one pound of pepper and a football to the lord."
Marblers Football and Boots displayed at the Corfe Museum
Though the quay has long gone and the custom is held mainly in Corfe itself. On Shrove Tuesday, the owner of Owen Farm, which the Purbeck Marblers route (a section of the track is still known to this day as Peppercorn Lane) passed through. Still gets paid a 'peppercorn rent'2 for allowing the Purbeck Marblers to cross the farmers land.
1In England, as part of community celebration, many towns held traditional Shrove Tuesday football ('Mob football') games, dating as far back as the 12th century. The practice mostly died out in the 19th century, after the passing of the Highway Act 1835, which banned playing football on public highways. A number of towns have maintained the tradition, including Alnwick in Northumberland, Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football Match), Atherstone (called the Ball Game) in Warwickshire, Sedgefield (called the Ball Game) in County Durham, and St Columb Major (called Hurling the Silver Ball) in Cornwall.
2 'Peppercorn rent' - The term peppercorn rent is derived from the high price of black pepper during the Middle Ages in Europe, where it was accepted in lieu of money or as a dowry. Today this term means exactly the opposite.