Posts Tagged ‘Worshipful Company of Poulters’

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

FlickrFacebookMy London DiaryHull PhotosLea ValleyParis
London’s Industrial HeritageLondon Photos

All photographs on this page are copyright © Peter Marshall.
Contact me to buy prints or licence to reproduce.


Sunday, February 21st, 2021

Pancake Race winners in Spitalfields, 2007

I’m not a pancake lover, and didn’t celebrate last Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday. For once there was not a pancake in sight in our household as I think I’ve finally made my views on the subject clear. It isn’t that I would refuse to eat them but more that I find their taste and texture mildly offensive and feel that whatever filling or topping is applied to them would go much better with something else such as potato or bread.

Guildhall Yard, 2012

That hasn’t stopped me going out to photograph some of the many “tossers” who take part in the many pancake races which have mushroomed in our cities in recent years. I think back when I was young, pancake races were confined to a few places around Milton Keynes. The tradition is said to have begun in Olney in 1445, but had died at the start of the Second World War and was revivied in 1948 by the Vicar of Olney the Reverend Canon Ronald Collins, going international when Liberal, a town in Kansas, USA, sent Olney a challenge to a timed race in 1950.

What had once been purely a local tradition was spread through film and TV coverage, but it was only relatively recently that we began to see pancake races in London. I’ve photographed them in half a dozen places, the most interesting of which, a highly competitive event between the City of London’s Livery Companies, takes place in Guildhall Yard, and was begun by the Worshipful Company of Poulters in 2004, though I only photographed it for the first time in 2007. All except the top picture on this post are from Tues 21 Feb 2012.

Back in 2007 I think I was one of very few photographers present, though a few of my friends came along too, at least in the following years, and by the time I last went in 2020 there was a whole crowd of photographers and things had become rather more organised and less interesting. There wasn’t a race this year, but even had things been normal I wouldn’t have bothered to go again.

Leadenhall Market, 2012

These races take place across lunchtime, and in some years there was another race by myself and my friends leaving the Guildhall before the final races to rush and cover one of the other events taking place, at Leadenhall Market (750 metres away) or Spitalfields, just outside the City, and 1.18km distant before these finished. Other pancake races take place south of the river in Southwark, though I’ve found them less interesting to photograph – and I’m not sure I’ve ever published any pictures.

I think all of the London pancake races are raising money for charities and are team events. The Guildhall race is an opportunity for many in City businesses of all ages to let their hair down a little, with separate classes for the Masters of the guilds and women as well as other team members, and a separate fancy dress class; they have clear rules about gloves hats and more which are strictly applied, as well as timekeepers and a starting cannon. The other races are rather less organised, with teams from local businesses or pubs some in fancy dressthough others in their normal work clothes and generally rather younger.

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

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.