Pancake Day

This year I just don’t have the energy for pancake races. Not that I ever took part in them, but since I first photographed the Worshipful Company of Poulters Pancake Race in 2007 I’ve returned most years, as well as photographing other races in Spitalfields and elsewhere.

Pancake Day 2011

The race in Guildhall Yard has become something of a tradition for those taking part, particularly for a few of my photographer friends, and is certainly one of the odder events in the city. Hardly an ancient tradition (it began in 2005, a couple of years before I first went) but as I noted in 2007 is:

organised by The Worshipful Company Of Poulters which got its charter to regulate the sale of poultry and small game in 1368, and run, by permission of the Chief Commoner, in the yard fronting the Guildhall building, which got a controversial new gothic facade in 1788 thanks to George Dance the Younger. It was first run in 2005*, but as befits the city it has a serious set of classes and rules, music from the Worshipful Company of Musicians (1500), time-keeping by the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers (1631) and a starting cannon for each of the many races provided and fired by the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers (1637.)

Pancake Day 2012

Pancake Day 2013

Pancake Day 2014

Like most of the other pancake races, this is a charity event, and one thing the City is not short of is money. And while I suspect that many of those taking part will be up to all sorts of dodges to (mainly legally) avoid paying tax they will at least be giving some of their ill-gotten gains to good causes.

2008 Poulters’ Company Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race

Its an event that often amuses me, with some very serious people trying hard to let their hair down and wearing very silly hats, but also one that shows how competitive the City can be – and with sometimes a certain amount of sharp practice despite elaborate rules and a large number of people observing compliance.

Great Spitalfields Pancake Race winners 2007

My own athletic ability has some years been taxed by jogging with a heavy camera bag from the Guildhall Yard to The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race across the border in Tower Hamlets. Taking place in what was a part of the Brewery site off Brick Lane, the shortest route is just over a mile, and the only sensible way to make the journey fast is on foot or bicycle. But taking a bicycle to events like this involves an unacceptably high risk of not having a bicycle for the journey home. So I walk and run and walk and run…

Unlike the Guildhall race, this and three others are included in the Official Tourist Guide to London. It takes place in a rather more confined space making it difficult to take pictures for the crowds of others taking pictures. It starts a little later than the Guildhall event, but they overlap in time and it isn’t really sensible to try and cover both – so most years I’ve done so. The contestants here are teams, mainly from local businesses and there is rather more fancy dress, and rather fewer rules, most of which are broken. It’s much more straightforward fun than with the Livery Companies.

The start of the 2008 Parliamentary pancake race

Another that I’ve photographed in the past – and is starting as I write now – is the annual race between media and parliamentarians in the Victoria Tower Gardens, which takes place too early to draw a very large crowd and is a rather more serious event. This is a highly organised and tightly fought race to raise funds for the charity Rehab – complete with a 32 page brochure for various sponsors to advertise in.

There are also an increasing number of other pancake races, mainly charity events around London, now including many suburban centres. I could even go and photograph one ten minutes walk away from where I live in Staines this lunchtime, and I may just stroll down there later, but I doubt it.  I’m not a great fan of pancakes (and crepes really give me the creeps – such a food rip-off) and I feel I’ve photographed enough.

* or 2004 according to the Clockmakers who ought to know.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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