Matches took place in several parts of Surrey; the last games were in Dorking until it was banned in 1897.

High Street: Taffer Boult's Band Shrove Tuesday Football (Dorking); 1885. Courtesy of Dorking Museum (D8-119)

High Street: Taffer Boult’s Band Shrove Tuesday Football (Dorking);
1885. Courtesy of Dorking Museum (D8-119)

The Procession

Dorking Shrove Tuesday Footballs. Courtesy of Dorking Museum (D8 134)

Dorking Shrove Tuesday Footballs.
Courtesy of Dorking Museum (D8 134)

The day began with a morning procession through the town led by a man carrying a pole with a cross-bar from the ends of which hung two – and later three – painted footballs, and a slogan wind and waters Dorkings glory. The procession included men in fancy dress, faces daubed with soot and ochre, a man dressed as a woman exchanging banter with the crowd, musicians (a drummer, whistle players and sometimes a fiddler) and, most importantly, collecting boxes for contributions meant to pay for damage to windows but often spent in the pubs afterwards.

The Match

Soon after midday, the shops were closed and shuttered, lamps covered with sacking. Many people took a holiday.

At 2pm, the first ball was kicked off from the top of the church passage: a privilege claimed by the Town Crier, John Sandford, from the 1860s until his death in 1895. The Eastenders played the Westenders trying to keep the ball in their own territory. The main session began at 5pm with a large gilded ball, by which time the crowd of players had usually grown to several hundred men, young and not so young, and of all classes.

Shrove Tuesday Football: Dorking, 1897. Courtesy of Dorking Museum (D8-119)

Shrove Tuesday Football: Dorking, 1897.
Courtesy of Dorking Museum (D8-119)

The play was very rough but generally good humoured. Actually kicking the ball was rare; more often it was hugged or carried. If the ball was carried into a pub, it was the tradition to take a break for a quick drink before the ball was thrown back into play from an upper window. Whichever side held the ball in their territory when the church clock struck 6pm was the winner for the year.

People tried to get the match banned from the 1850s, and although it had strong support from councillors and Dorking Urban District Council, large numbers of police broke up the game in 1897. Attempts were made to keep it alive for nearly ten years afterwards.

Useful Links

Dorking
Dorking Museum
19th Century Surrey

One Response to Dorking Shrove Tuesday Football

  1. Paul Armstrong says:

    About time we re started it. Ashbourne in Derbyshire plays this football every shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
    The British in Victorian times went out to destroy English culture – and what a good job {they] did, no national costume (banning the smock), destruction of “dialect” our way of speaking. ’bout time we woke up. Here’s to an English referendum on independence from the British oppressors.

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