Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden and overlooking the Vale of Evesham, is a beautiful plateau commanding extensive views from the plains of the Avon and the Severn to the foothills of the Welsh mountains. Owned by the National Trust, it provides an ideal setting for open air games.
Each year, on the traditional date of Friday after Spring Bank Holiday (the date for the Games this year will be held on Friday 3rd June 2011 on Dover's Hill starting at 7.30pm), the hill echoes with the shouts and cheers of competitors and spectators as Robert Dover’s Cotswold ‘Olimpick’ Games (not Olympic Games) are celebrated. Bands march, cannon fire, rustic activities and wrestling take place, and the evening is brought to a close with fireworks and a torchlight procession into Campden followed by dancing in the square.
World Championship Shin Kicking ... open to all comers.
400 Years of Olimpick Passion
Shin Kicking - Olimpick-style
An Olympic Games held in London in 2012 will mark a unique anniversary - it will be exactly 400 years from the moment that the first stirrings of Britain's Olympic beginnings can be identified'. This statement was made by no other than the British Olympic Association in their successful bid for the games.
They continued, 'In 1612 in the tiny village (we forgive them that) of Chipping Campden, Robert Dover opened the first 'Cotswold Olimpicks', an annual sporting fair that honoured the ancient Games of Greece. Those early 'Olimpick' competitors were as remote as you could imagine from the Olympic stars of today, and the 'sports' included singlestick, wrestling, jumping in sacks, dancing and even shin-kicking. But whatever the eccentric nature of the event, this was the pre-dawn of the Olympic Movement, and the Cotswold Games began the historical thread in Britain that was ultimately to lead to the creation of the modern Olympics.
Origins of Robert Dover's Games
The James have a long history, possibly going back to the time when the hill was the site of the Kiftsgate Hundred Court.
Their present form takes much from the records of the Games in the early seventeenth century. Prominent is the picture of the Games published in 1636 with a collection of poems entitled Annalia Dubrensia in praise of the Games by reputable poets of the period.
The title page describes this as 'Olimpick'. The picture depicts Robert Dover presiding over his Games. On the summit of the hill a castle structure has guns firing to start events, and there are representations of the different activities - dancing, backswords, coursing, throwing the sledge hammer, spurning the barre, pike drill, tumbling and even shin-kicking.
The poems by Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Randolph, and others describe the excitement of the contest, the good-humoured rivalry, and, above all, the sense of good honest sportmanship which Robert Dover engendered.
Robert Dover (1582-1652) came from Great Ellingham in Norfolk. After being educated at Cambridge and Gray's Inn, he came to Saintbury in 1611 and soon gave vitality to the Games which still bear his name.
The Games probably date from 1612. According to the historian Wood he was given permission from James I to hold them. In the 1636 portrayal he is shown wearing the clothes of James I. There is a general impression of a warm-hearted friendly man who believed in harmless activities.
Shin Kicking World Championship
Shin-kicking has once again become a regular feature of Robert Dover's Olimpick Games, much to the delight of the spectators. Contestants hold each other by the shoulder and try to kick shins and bring opponents to the ground. A Stickler, the ancient name for our judge, makes sure that shins are hit before a fall can count. Our kickers wear the traditional white smocks associated with shepherds. They are allowed to protect their shins with straw.
The Champion is the winner of the best of three challenges in the final bout, having kicked his way successfully through the early rounds.
The sport dates back to the original Games. The 1636 picture shows shinkicking taking place, probably as the underplay of Cotswold Wrestling. The activity continued through to the 18th century.
The poet William Somervile provided a lively account of Hobbinol of the Vale and Pastorel of the Wolds in 1740. In the early 19th century the activity was more brutal, with villages challenging each other, contestants hardening shins with coal hammers and wearing boots tipped with iron. Many a leg was broken! We still have pictures of Joe Chamberlain and Ben Hopkins shin-kicking to make the 1951 Festival Games memorable.
Some of The Other Events and Entertainment
Expect to be welcomed to Dover's Hill by the sound of an old time Fairground Organ.
The Campden Morrismen, one of the oldest groups in the country, will provide you with some lively dancing, in contrast to the stirring sound of the Coventry Corps of Drums and the lilt of the pipes from the St Andrew's Pipe Band of Cheltenham. Elsewhere on the upper slope you will find a Punch and Judy presentation, and may be able to gurn through a horse-collar.
Providing an exhibition of backsword fighting which was a feature of the Games for three centuries will be some doughtly Londoners.
Not to be missed is the rousing conclusion to the Games, the lighting of the bonfire by the Scuttlebrook Queen, the fireworks that light the night sky, and then the sight of thousands of people in the torchlight procession wending their way from the hill down to the Square in Chipping Campden.
|Stuffing socks before the shin kicking|
The Scuttlebrook Wake
The festivities in Campden do not end with the Friday night. There are Scuttlebrook children's races in the High Street early on the Friday evening. But the Scuttlebrook Wake, so named after the Cattlebrook or Scuttlebrook which used to flow through Leasbourne until it was covered over in 1831, is celebrated mainly on the Saturday afternoon with a procession of the Scuttlebrook Queen and the crowning of the new queen in the Square.
There is a colourful display of imaginative fancy dress and decorated floats, children dance round the maypole. And after all this the Street Fair is declared open.