News from Played in Britain

Shrove Tuesday launch for Uppies and Downies

January 28 2008

Ashbourne in Derbyshire - home of the famous annual Shrove Tuesday ball game - is the venue for the launch of the latest book in the Played in Britain series. Uppies and Downies - the extraordinary football games of Britain, by Hugh Hornby (price £16.99).

In many parts of 19th Century Britain, Shrove Tuesday was popularly known as 'football day'. Over 70 towns and villages played host to a wide variety of mass participation games, held in streets and alleys, fields and meadows, streams and rivers. Now only fifteen mass games survive, of which ten take place during Shrovetide. The largest of these is at Ashbourne, involving hundreds of players for periods of up to eight hours of gruelling action, much of it in a river. If you've never witnessed this extraordinary spectacle, it is highly recommended.

Hornby, a former curator at the National Football Museum in Preston, has spent the last three years travelling around the British Isles watching and studying these weird and wonderful relics of traditional British sport, several of which can trace their origins to at least the 17th century.

He will be signing copies of Uppies and Downies in the Coach & Horses pub at 27 Dig Street, Ashbourne, from 11.00am on the morning of the big match until 1.30pm - Tuesday, February 5. The match itself starts close by at 2.00pm. The book will be on sale at a special launch price of £14.99 and visitors will also get a chance to see the Coach & Horses' landlord Mark Harrison's collection of historic Ashbourne balls, many won by members of his own family.

Other venues in England where mass games take place over the Shrovetide period are at Atherstone (Warwickshire), Sedgefield (County Durham) and Alnwick (Northumberland), with mass games of Cornish hurling also being played at St Ives and St Columb. Four mass Shrovetide games of handball are also scheduled in the Scottish Borders, at Hobkirk, Jedburgh, Ancrum and Denholm.

Later in the year similar games will take place in Hallaton (Leicestershire), where the balls are actually small wooden barrels, and Workington (Cumbria), both in Easter. These are followed by games at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands over Christmas and New Year and by the bizarre Haxey Hood game at Haxey in Lincolnshire in early January.

Download a schedule of this year's games here. (Please note: this PDF has since been updated for 2009-10.)

At Ashbourne the teams consist of Up'ards and Down'ards. At Workington it's the Uppies v. the Downies, or in Scotland, the Uppies v. the Doonies. Uppies and Downies is a unique record of a great British sporting tradition, with action shots, maps and explanations of how the games are played. It is yet another first from Played in Britain - the series that charts the heritage of a nation at play.

Please do join Hugh Hornby and the Played in Britain team at Ashbourne for a day to remember.


Coach & Horses
27 Dig Street

Book signing starts at 11.00am
Match commences at 2.00pm

Spectators are advised to park on the outskirts of the town and to dress warmly

If you cannot make it to Ashbourne, buy a signed copy of Uppies and Downies here.

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