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British Life & Culture
Unusual British Customs & Traditions
by Mandy Barrow

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Strange, bizarre, wacky, eccentric and even mad festivals still taking place in Britain today

Calendar of unusual Customs and Traditions
in England, Scotland and Wales
image: Unusual Calendar

A long time ago the year was marked out with special days which marked the passing year. These were days of celebrations where people would do things, eat things or make things which they would not normally do.

See also folk, facts and sayings about May

May Day

May Day is a time of many traditional and colourful customs.
Click here to read about our customs and traditions surrounding this day.

Maypole Dancing
May is a traditional time for Maypole dancing

May Day Holiday (First Weekend in May) ( Spring Bank Holiday )



Sweeps Festival, Rochester, Kent. (First weekend in May)

This occurs in the first weekend in May. It is a throwback to pagan traditions and coincides with the tradition of Chimney Sweeps welcoming the summer so that they could clean the dirty chimneys.

Dancers and Musicians converge on the street to provide a wonderfully colourful spectacle.
See the photographs


morris dancers
May is a traditional time for Morris Dancing

Morris Dancing

Spalding Flower Festival Lincolnshire

This is not an unusual event but it is a pretty one!. Thousands of tulips adorn floats in this annual event.

Flower float
A float made from tulips

The parade was started by local growers using the flowers from tulips grown for bulb production.

Well-Dressing Derbyshire

Well dressing is one of Derbyshire's and the Peak District's best known, most popular and colourful customs. It dates back hundreds of years, and though there have been religious associations, the true origins remain unknown.
Click here to find out more

Well dressing

Beating the Bounds

A custom dating from the 5th century when parishioners asked for God's blessing to protect their crops. During the Reformation walking the parish boundary became a more important part of the ceremony as it provided the community with a mental map which could be drawn on in disputes over boundaries. It is celebrated with Ganging Beer and Rammalation biscuits.

Early May Bank Holiday Monday

Stilton Cheese Rolling, Stilton, Peterborough 10am-3pm
A cheese-rolling championship and May Day celebrations.
Participants compete in rolling large rounded blocks of wood along the high street for a prize of stilton cheese and bottles of port.

Near 8 May

Furry Dance, Helston, Cornwall
The Floral Dance always takes place on the 8th of May, except when that falls on a Sunday or Monday, when the Dance is held on the previous Saturday.
The Helston Floral Dance is one of the oldest surviving customs in the Country, and is a festival to celebrate the coming of spring and the Click Click here to find out more

The Minehead Hobby Horse
Click here to find out more

The Padstow Obby Oss

The oldest May Day celebration still taking place to day, is the Padstow 'Obby 'Oss celebration in Cornwall. Its roots date back to the 14th century. Every May Day thousands of people come to see the two famous Hobby Horses, the Old Oss and the Blue Ribbon Oss.

Celebrations in Padstow officially start the night before at midnight, when a groups of 'mayers' meet outside the Golden Lion Inn to serenade the owner with their Night Song:

Rise up, Mr. Rickard, and joy to you betide,
For summer is a-come in today;
And bright is your bride, that lays down by your side
In the merry morning of May.

The whole town is ablaze with bluebells, forget-me-nots, cowslips, and sycamore twigs. Dancing and other celebrations take place all day.

Find out more

Blessing the Sea, Hastings, Sussex

The local fishing season begins at the end of May and the custom of blessing the sea goes back to medieval times.

29 May

Oak Apple Day

Many people used to wear oak-apple leaves in their lapels or hats and decorate their front doors on Oak Apple Day. At one time, if you didn't, you would risk being stung with nettles or kicked and pinched for being a Roundhead. This is still celebrated by some children in Sussex as 'Pinch-Bum-Day'.
Read more about this special day

Whit Sunday Evening

Bread and Cheese Throwing, St Briavels, Gloucestershire

Following evensong on Whit Monday, basketfuls of bread and cheese are thrown from a wall near the old castle, to be scrambled for in a lane below.
Find out more

Spring Bank Holiday Monday

Cheese Rolling, Cooper's Hill, Brookworth in Goucestershire.

Forty thousand spectators congregate at Coopers Hill in the Gloucester village of Brockworth to watch the traditional 7lb Double Gloucester cheese hurtle down a steep slope, pursued by dozens of running, rolling competitors, the fastest of whom wins the cheese.

The video below shows competitors chasing the cheese down the hill

Wool Sack Race, Tetbury
Regulars of the Crown and Royal Oak pubs compete in the annual Wool Sack race. They run up Gumstool Hill with a 60lb sack of wool on their backs.

Jack in the Green Festival, Hastings East Sussex
The Jack is the symbol of the summer.

First Friday after the last Monday in May

Cotswold Olimpick Games, Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

An annual highlight of The Cotswold Olimpick Games is the Shin Kicking Championship.

As the sun began to set on Dover’s Hill, a band of white-coat-clad competitors began stuffing straw down their trousers ready for the British Shin Kicking Championship.

Competitors grasp each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent's shins (between the knee and ankle).

Only then - in mid-kick - can a player attempt to bring his opposite number to the ground.

The sport has been practised on Dover's Hill, near Chipping Campden, since the early 17th Century.

Click here to find out more

Click here to watch a video of shin kicking

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.