Great Finborough, Suffolk Race – Old English Tradition Lives On

Great Finborough village sign

By Martin Males

On Good Friday of the Easter weekend in 1896, Joseph John Hatton, the farmer at Boydon Hall, set off as he always did at this time of year, to the local pub in Great Finborough.  Once at the pub he would award a team of six men the farming contract for the coming year.  On arrival at the pub he was disgusted to find the men drunk and disorderly, he left, deciding to source his workforce elsewhere.  The pub in the next village of Haughley would satisfy his requirements.

It is Easter

The following day the Great Finborough men, full of remorse, went to see the farmer begging him to reconsider, after all this was much needed work which would support their families throughout the year.  The farmer pondered over the situation, feeling a certain amount of sympathy towards the men he had used many times before.  After careful deliberation he decreed that the only fair way to settle the matter would be a race, to be held on Easter Monday.

Pre-race fight is staged

It was a race with the six Haughley men in one team, and the six Finborough men in the other. Each team would choose one of their side to be the ‘Boggman’, he would be marked with a cross on his forehead. The race would start at Boydon Hall with the farmer throwing the contract into the air, the winners would be the first team to get their ‘Boggman’, contract in hand, over the threshold of the pub.  Ahead of them there was a mile of heavy plough and a river to ford.

The ‘Boggman’ receives his cross to the forehead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Boggman’ hat

And so it came to be, that on Easter Monday the twelve men gathered in the pub around midday, drink was taken and fighting between the two teams spilled out of the bar and onto the village green opposite.  Soon afterwards they were collected by horse and cart and taken to Boydon Hall where the ‘Owld Boi’ (colloquially, respected older man) explained the rules of engagement.  The race was run and the Finborough men were the victors. The contracts were safe for another year.

And they are off……..

 

Landlady of the Chestnut Horse public house with original 1896 contract

Fast-forward to Easter Monday 2018 and the tradition continues.  Inside the Chestnut Horse pub eleven hardy men and one very brave young lady are preparing themselves for the race, as true athletes do, by imbibing several pints of beer and a burger.  The village has turned out in force at the pub and on the village green to witness another moment in sporting history!  With egg competitions taking place and a party atmosphere the twelve runners make their way onto the green, the ‘Owld Boi’, once again does his duty, the pre-race fight is staged.  They are then delivered to Boydon Hall where Vera, the current incumbent, throws the historically correct contract pouch into the air to start the race. With much pushing, shoving and charging (not to mention hilarity) the race is run and the Finborough men are once again the victors.

The winners

More information on Great Finborough Race of the Bogmen

 

All photos: Martin Males

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