DOVER'S MEETING.-WHITSUN SPORTS.
(To the Editor of the Mirror.)
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 7 Edited by John Timbs, London, 1828 Pages 354-355
Sir in the No. CXCVII. of the MIRROR I was much pleased to see a slight notice taken of the games practised on the Coteswold Hills, especially of Dover's Meeting, of which you seem uncertain whether it is still kept up; I assure you it is, and although it is not countenanced by persons of such rank and consequence as it was some half century ago, it is still a great holiday for all the lads and lasses within 10 or 15 miles of the place, and is attended by great numbers of gentry and people of respectability in the neighbourhood. Being a native of the Coteswold Hills where these games are practised, I feel happy in giving you an account of them, as I have with thousands more spent many a happy hour there. Dover's Hill (so called from a Mr. Robert Dover, who instituted those games about the year 1600) is about half a mile from Chipping Campden, and a mile and a half north of the London and Worcester road, it may very properly be called a second Olympus; on the top of the hill is a beautiful level turf about a mile and a half long from north to south, and half a mile from east to west. In walking across the hill towards the west, you seem to be going over an interminable space bounded only by the horizon, when on a sudden you come to the brink of a very steep precipice, and one of the finest views in the world bursts upon the sight; nearly the whole of the counties of Worcester, Gloucester, Warwick, and Hereford lie spread before you like a carpet, and on a clear day some of the mountains in Wales may be distinctly seen; on the south, Brecon and the Malvern mountains cut a fine figure in this beautiful landscape. Many, a pleasant hour have I spent on Dover's Hill (when a schoolboy in the neighbourhood) it was a favourite amusement of mine to sit on the brink of the precipice, yiewing the beautiful scenery, and counting the spires that shoot up among the trees, even now “When I think on boyhood’s glowing years, How soft how sweet the scene appears; How calm, how cloudless pass'd away, The long, long, summer holiday.” At the southern extremity of the hill is a thick wood, called Weston Park; under the shade of the trees on the borders of this wood the booths are built, and the principal sports are carried on, (on the Thursday and Friday in Whitsun-week) they consist of single-stick, (in Gloucestershire called backsword) wrestling, running, jingling, morris-dancing, and other sports of a minor importance. On Friday the sports conclude with a horse-race for £50. Backsword is looked upon by the cockneys, and those living in counties where it is rarely practised, as a most barbarous and bloodthirsty piece of business; but I think there is no game that shows the courage, hardihood, and manliness of the British character like it : on Dover’s Hill, it is practised in its greatest perfection, I have seen two scientific men play nearly an hour and a half before one could break the other's head, and when it was over, it could not be seen that more than one blow had been struck on either side. Certainly when two novices contend it is thrashing work, and the blows fall heavily, then they are not obliged to enter the ring, but there it is they show their courage. There are generally about twelve couple play at backsword, the prize is a guinea each couple, eighteen shillings goes to the victor and three shillings to the vanquished. The prize for wrestling is a handsome silver cup, and is generally contested be. tween the lads of two rival villages, great numbers of musical gipsies attend, who strike up some lively airs, while the flymphs and swains foot it not exactly on the Tlight fantastic toe. The morris dancers are not like what I saw in the London streets a few days back—country fellows in their dirty working dresses scratching the pavement to pieces, but they are spruce lads sprigged up in their Sunday clothes, with ribbons round their hats and arms, and bells on their legs; they are attended by a jester called the Tom Fool. He carries a large stick with a bladder tied to one end, with which he buffets about and makes room for the dancers; one of the finest looking fellows among them is generally selected to carry a large plum cake with a long sword run through the middle of it, the cake resting on the hilt, on the point of the sword is a large bunch of ribbons with about a dozen streamers flying, of divers colours, a large knife is stuck in the cake, and when the young man who carries it sees a favourite lass or any one that is rather bountiful towards them he treats them with a slice. Jingling is by about eight men entering a large ring all blindfolded but one, who has bells in his hands which he keeps ringing and running about the ring, if he is caught within a certain time by one of the others who is blindfolded, the man that catches him gains the prize, but if he escapes them all till the time is expired, he wins the prize. I believe those sports are partly supported by subscription, and partly by a sum of money that was bequeathed for the purpose. That they are very ancient may be adduced from its being asserted in an old work which I have read, that the immortal Shakespeare was sometimes a spectator of those games (being celebrated about ten miles from the place of his nativity) and that many of the scenes in his comedies were taken from Dover's meeting, especially the wrestling scene in As you like it. I am certain if any of our rigid mirth-destroying moralists, possessing the least sensibility or liberality of feeling towards the youth of both sexes, were to witness the innocent mirth and happy countenances at Dover's meeting, and at our country wakes and revels they would not strive as they do to the utmost of their power to cramp the amusements of the humbler classes, but would regret with every generous mind that the old English pastimes are so much upon the decline. At Dover's meeting there is no bull-baiting, badger-baiting, or any cruel diversion whatever allowed, unless horseracing may be considered so, everythin is conducted with the greatest order and decorum. I am afraid, Mr. Editor, I am encroaching too much, therefore I'll subscribe myself your humble servant, A REAL LOVER OF OLD ENGLISH May 30, 1826. PASTIMES.