Posts Tagged ‘Olney’

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races – 2013

Monday, February 12th, 2024

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races – Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, but in 2013 it fell on Tuesday 12th February and was celebrated in several places across London with Pancake races.

Shrove Tuesday is the final day of the Christian Shrovetide or Carnival, observed in different ways around the world as Wikipedia relates. It is the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. We are perhaps rather short-changed here in the UK with pancakes, while in Venice and Rio Janeiro they have real carnivals to celebrate Mardi Gras.

Some other countries also have rather more interesting foods than our traditional pancakes. All are ways to eat up richer foods before Lent when Christians ‘fasted’ or rather ate more simply for 40 days before Easter. It was also a day when people went to priests for confession to have their sins absolved – shriven – before getting down to serious service of repentance the following day, Ash Wednesday, and some churches still ring their bells to call in worshippers.

People in the UK have been eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday since the 16th century, and even in families which did not observe the ecclesiastical calendar almost everyone ate them on that day in my youth, even if in homes like mine they came after the standard meat and two veg. I’ve never been keen on them, and perhaps the best you can say about them is that British pancakes are rather better than crêpes.

In many towns and cities in Britain the day used to be a half-holiday and work ended before noon to be followed by some kind of riotous mob football games with hundreds taking part in the streets. But most of these ended with the passage of the 1835 Highways Act which banned playing football on public highways, though the tradition continues in a slightly more organised form in a few towns.

Pancake races are said to have begun in 1445 in Olney, Buckinghamshir when a woman making pancakes was surprised by the sound of the shriving bells and ran to church hot pan in hand, tossing the pancake on her way to stop it sticking. Whatever. But they soon became a fairly common tradition, along with various forms of begging and trick and treating now more associated with Halloween. But apart from a few particular instances – such as at Olney – these races and other practices had more or less died out by the twentieth century.

This century has seen a revival in pancake races, often raising funds for charities, including in London the Parliamentary Pancake Race between parliamentarians and press raising funds for Rehab and the City of London pancake races begun in 2004 by the Worshipful Company of Poulters to support the annual Lord Mayor’s Appeal.

I’ve photographed both these, and in 2013 made another visit to the City of London race in Guildhall Yard, then rushed from there to the Great Spitalfields Pancake Race at the Old Truman Brewery just off Brick Lane which was supporting the Air Ambulance and is a fancy dress team relay event. Races I’ve been to in other years have included those in Leadenhall Market and outside Southwark Cathedral as well as the Parliamentary race.

You can read more about both events and see many more pictures of them on My London Diary, where there are also pictures from the races in other years – put ‘pancake’ in the search box at the top of the My London Diary page to find more. Links to the 2013 races below:

Great Spitalfields Pancake Race
Poulters Pancake Race

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Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races 2012

Tuesday, February 21st, 2023

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races 2012
The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers get ready for the inter-livery pancake races

Back in 2012, Shrove Tuesday also fell on February 21st. The annual date depends on the date for Easter, calculated by an esoteric formula, the computus, agreed in AD395, which makes it first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, the first full moon after the fixed approximation of the March Equinox, 21 March. The actual date differs between the western Christian tradition (Protestant and Catholic) which uses the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582 and the eastern Orthodox churches which stuck with the Julian.

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races 2012
The Chief Commoner shows how to toss a pancake

Of course historically its more complex than this, but fortunately we don’t need to bother about it, as the annual dates are marked in calendars published in print or online. Shrove or Pancake Tuesday is always 47 days before Easter Sunday, and the ecclesiastically more important day that follows, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent.

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races 2012

Few of us still give up things for Lent, though some still stop eating things like chocolate or biscuits, but it used to be a much more serious and widespread observance. Making pancakes was simply a way to use up eggs, milk and fat before the start of Lent and it was also an occasion for a bit of fun – hence pancake races.

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races 2012
The Gunmakers fire a cannon to start each race

But there was also a more serious side to Shrove Tuesday, with people attending church and confessing their sins to a priest and being assigned appropriate penance, after which they were absolved from their sins, a practice known as shriving.

There are separate races for men, women and Masters

Until relatively recently, pancake races were only held in a few villages, reputed to have their origin in 1445 at Olney in Buckinghamshire, a few miles north of Milton Keynes, when a local housewife was still making her pancakes when the church bell for shriving rang, and she ran to the church holding her pan.

Earlier in origin were mob football games with large crowds taking place and streets and commons, sometimes between goals large distances apart, which sometimes caused a great deal of chaos and injury. In 1835 football was banned on public highways by Act of Parliament, and the practice has largely died out, though still celebrated in a few towns around the country.

Pancake races have come back in a big way this century, often as charity events such as that which takes place in Guildhall Yard in the City of London. The races here, which are between members of the various City of London Livery companies, where begun by the Worshipful Company of Poulters in 2004 and raise money for the annual Lord Mayor’s charity.

A fancy dress competitor – the 2012 event was supporting Bart’s Trauma unit

I’ve several times written more about what goes on in these races on My London Dairy, including in 2012 and won’t go into more detail here. But its interest is very much in the way that the City lets its hair down a little and in the hugely competitive spirit which has perhaps made the City what it is – for better or often for worse.

The other pancake race I photographed in the City in 2012 was very different, although those taking part were also workers in the city. This is very much a fun event, organised by businesses in Leadenhall Market, particularly the Lamb Tavern which provided the prizes.

There has been a market here since 1309, though the current structure is splendidly Victorian from 1881, finely restored in 1991. The alley on which the races take place is a little narrow and hard to keep clear for the races as tourists wander through and customers go into the shops on each side. There was only room for two teams to compete in any race, which were run as relays with three legs.

Shoe-shiners kept at work between races

The race was first held here only in 2011, and the contestants are teams from local offices and businesses in and around the market. In 2012 a number of heats eliminated all but a team from the shoe-shine stand on the corner by the Lamb Tavern and another from a nearby cheese shop.

But the final provided a surprise with the cheese shop team making no effort to win and simply walking the course as they preferred the second prize of £50 to spend at the Lamb Tavern bar to the first which was a £75 voucher for the pub’s restaurant. After some haggling the Lamb called for a rerun promising both teams a bar tab, and there was then a hard fought battle battle for the honour of winning, won narrowly for the second year in the short history of the race by the team from the shoe stall.

Neck and neck as they come to the finish

I won’t bother to go and photograph the races this year, either these or several others around London which I’ve also photographed in some past years. The Guildhall event has become rather more organised and attended by many, many more photographers making getting good pictures almost impossible and accreditation – which I can’t be bothered with – essential. And while I’ll certainly return to Leadenhall Market and the Lamb Tavern, I’ll do it again (as I did a couple of months back) on a day there are no races and it is less crowded.

Pancakes in the City – Leadenhall Market
Pancakes in the City – Guildhall