The annual fixture between the
Lewes Operatic Society and the hop-based life-forms of the front bar will be
held at 2.30 pm on Sunday 9th. July. All musicians are not only welcome, but
protected by heavy fines from being splashed with stale beer and eligible for
bribes in the form of free drinks.
For those of you who have not
witnessed this ancient and almost mystical sport, there are two teams of
twelve. They dress themselves in bucolic gear and their kit is inspected
by the umpire before play begins. Points are deducted for poor turn-out, such
as the absence of twirlers (string tied round trouser legs to keep rats out)
and excessively flarksy weskits.
The first member of the batting
side takes a position next to a bucket of carefully-matured beer in which is a
swadger (broom handle) with a dwyle (bar towel) wrapped round the end. At a
blast on the umpire's duck whistle, music strikes up and out desperately
(that's where you come in) and the members of the fielding team join hands and
dance round the batsman in a circle. When the umpire blows again the
dancing team must immediately stop, but must not break the circle. The batsman
must then immediately flunk the dwyle at any member of the opposing team. He
scores one point for a hit on the arms or legs, two for a hit on the body and
three for a hit on the head. If he misses, he has to drink a pint straight
down in less time than it takes the fielders to pass the swadger from hand to
hand round the circle or lose a point.
The batsman may be fined for
hesitation; the fielders may be fined for breaking the circle or moving
after the whistle. Anyone may be fined for intimidation. A batsman who
splashes the band or onlookers is fined. A side whose score is weak can
improve it by bribing the umpire, scorer or the band with drink, gifts or
sexual favours. One year every member of a team gave the umpire a scented
candle, so this is not necessarily as attractive as it might sound. Bribes are
declared to the scorer and registered in the score book. At the end of the
match the losing side may empty the bucket over the
This is obviously a pagan
survival which has evaded religious persecution by adopting a
faintly Christian disguise. Students of folklore will
recognise elements from the Grail legends: the Holy Spear, the
vinegar-soaked rag and the vessel of bitter drink. The dancers in their circle
echo the twelve apostles, but also the members of a coven. The batsman is a
sacrificial victim who spreads blessing in the form of a stylised asperging
before being despatched for the good of the community. The umpire's
fate would have originally been ritual drowning, but appears to have been
converted to stylised baptism in accordance with the practices of the more
This is a much more venerable
and stimulating sporting contest than any other which may be on display before
the public at the same time.
(N.B. Not indoors if wet.)
20, St. John's Terrace, Lewes, BN7 2DL
Lewes Arms Folk Club
Residents: Bryan Creer, Dave Earl,
Sandra Goddard, Valmai Goodyear, Steve & Diane Nevill, George Oakley,
Robert O'Mahony, Derek Seed
LEWES ARMS FOLK CLUB WORKSHOPS
Workshops last a full Saturday and the tutor performs at the club in
the evening. Booking forms are available from the club and can be printed
from the website.
Mick Ryan & Pete Harris - Songwriting & folk
drama, 18th. February
Coope Boyes & Simpson - Vocal harmony, 1st.
Georgina Boyes - Early song collectors in Sussex, 1st. April
Gavin Bird, Melodeon, 3rd. June
Martin Carthy - Guitar
& song, 10th. June
Sandra Kerr - Concertina (all systems) 8th.
John Kirkpatrick - Anglo concertina, 16th. September
Kerr - Fiddle, 7th. October
James Fagan - Bouzouki &
cittern, 7th. October
Alistair Anderson - Concertina (all systems) 28th.
Dave Townsend & Phil Humphries - West Gallery
Carols, Saturday 18th. November
Dave Townsend - Sacred Harp, Sunday
Phil Humphries - Early Music for Folk Musicians,
Sunday 19th. November
Brian Peters - Melodeon, 2nd.
Gordon Tyrrall - Whistle & Flute, 2nd. December
Peters - Ballad Forum, Sunday 3rd.