Fingernail Contest

An extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

It’s rumoured that the main reason that the Normans invaded England in 1066 was for the truffle-hunting in the New Forest. The locals didn’t need pigs to find truffles as they have always been possessed of fine long fingernails, which can quickly scrabble in the earth to find a truffle. Of course the truffles in the New Forest became extinct after overzealous hunting by the locals and the Norman invaders.

Although the truffles have gone the fine fingernails remain and are celebrated in the Fingernail contest in September held in Brockenhurst.

Thimble Throwing

An extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

In the mills of Lancashire, sewing fabric together with a thread from each new bale of cotton from North America was very important. In this way, the owners could determine how strong the cotton was and so they employed professional sewers for this reason. The sewers were issued with a new thimble every six months to protect their fingers from the needles.

If the sewer lost their thimble they had to pay for a new one, so there was a tendency to share the thimbles. In order to save time, thimbles were thrown from sewer to sewer. Some throws were more accurate than others, which led to thimble throwing contests on the annual works day out to Blackpool. This was first recorded in 1862 and the Thimble Throwing contest has taken place every year since then on July 5th.

Kite Racing

An extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

Kites have been popular in Suffolk since their introduction into England in the 19th Century.

In 1873, Oliver Holmes was flying his kite near Aldeburgh when the wind started to blow really hard – Oliver had difficulty holding on to his kite and thought that running with his kite would make it easier to control. This proved to be true. Oliver was seen by his friends and they tried running with their kites too. Soon a race was on, which was only brought to an end by a set of trees near Rendlesham Forest.

Thus the Aldeburgh Kite Racing Festival was born. It’s held in October and lasts for a week, during which racers have to be ready to race at all times. When the judges decide that the wind is strong enough for the longer races to be run to their conclusion, including the 10-mile Kite Marathon, then racers have 10 minutes to prepare.

Pea Shooting

An extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

In the Middle Ages not everyone could afford a bow and arrow, so some poorer families became proficient with a pea shooter for self-defence. As Arnold de Boycott said in 1562, “appen peas are cheaper than arrows and are easier to returne – some arrows gette stucke in things don’t they ande breake, but them peas don’t.”

Accuracy with a pea-shooter is difficult, but the Penistone Pea-Shooting Prize Contest celebrates this accuracy over varying distances. The contest dates back to the Wars of the Roses when young Alec Ramsbottom protected his house from 50 Lancastrian soldiers with only a pea-shooter and 10 pods of peas. Ramsbottom’s technique was to fill his mouth with peas and then fire them out rapidly, aiming at the mouths of the Lancastrians. He was so accurate that he succeeded in making each soldier swallow a pea; he then shouted, “them’s plague peas them you Lanky bastards.” The soldiers retreated to the nearest stream where they tried to regurgitate the peas, believing them to be detrimental to their health. This is one of the first examples of psychological warfare known to historians.

Hairy Legs

An extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

When people were painting the town red in Melton in the 15th Century some of the locals started to compare various parts of their bodies with those of other people. Eventually, the comparisons turned to the hairiness of the legs and it was noticed that a man called George Loveless had ‘ye legs as hairy as that of a horse.’ Loveless proclaimed himself as having the hairiest legs in Leicestershire and defied anyone to be hairier. He challenged all comers to a contest on the fifth Wednesday of Michaelmas on an annual basis – this was 1456 and the rest, as they say, is history.

In the Hairy Legs competition there are a number of different sections to enter. There’s a prize for the longest leg hair, another for the most amount of hair, and yet another for the most artistic shaping of leg hair. There are separate sections for men and women.

Pipe Cleaner Festival

An extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

Throughout the centuries the hobby of smoking a pipe has steadily declined. However, the usage for pipe cleaners has increased, largely because of the Kirby Muxloe Pipe Cleaner Festival.

A Pipe Cleaner is a strong metal wire covered in some material such as cotton, which can be easily bent into shapes or used to make sculptures.

At Kirby Muxloe this art form reaches its zenith on the 111th day of the year, which is almost always April 21st apart from in leap years. There are many different categories of pipe cleaner art. Competitors are allowed to colour their pipe cleaners before they begin their sculpture, but can’t change those colours once the sculpture is complete.


Arrow Catching

An extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

In days of old it was a huge honour to be chosen as captain of the line to lead the nation’s troops into battle.

This honour was decided by firing an arrow into the air from a longbow – whoever caught the arrow upon its return to earth would win the prize. Some knaves without armour did try and use their hands to catch the arrow but didn’t appreciate its speed of flight and ended up with it embedded in their head, which meant they couldn’t lead anything as they were dead. This is why knights were always heavily favoured to win the honour.

his tradition has led to two different annual events in separate parts of the English Midlands.