Search

Times Past: The Christmas tradition of wrestling for a roasted boar’s head in Hornchurch

09:00 23 December 2012

Cllr Andrew Curtin

Cllr Andrew Curtin

Archant

»In 1827 the London-based writer and publisher William Hone described what he said was an ancient Hornchurch Christmas tradition, which had occurred in the village “from time immemorial”.

The tradition was the annual Christmas Day wrestling match for a roasted boar’s head. It happened on Mill Field by the Hornchurch Windmill near St Andrew’s Church and opposite Hornchurch Hall (which stood where the Robert Beard Youth Centre is today) on Christmas afternoon each year.

Hone described how the tenants of Hornchurch Hall supplied a roasted boar’s head “dressed, and garnished with bay leaves etc.” and “carried in procession into the Mill Field, adjoining the church-yard, where it is wrestled for; and it is afterwards feasted upon, at one of the public houses, by the rustic conqueror and his friends, with all the merriment peculiar to the season”.

Hone wrote of this tradition – described by the Essex Standard newspaper in 1880 as “the most noteworthy of the distinguishing local folk customs previously existing in various parts of this county” – in his Every Day Book and Table Book listing the nation’s traditions and customs.

Hone described his book as a miscellany of “old country sports and usages” that “associated the Peasantry of this land with its Nobles, in bonds which degraded neither”.

The tradition which Hone described in Hornchurch was recorded elsewhere in England in the Middle Ages and was associated with a rosy view of the past in the early 19th century.

A roasted boar’s head was the first dish brought to the table of the nobility on Christmas Day in Medieval England and, as a king among beasts, was symbolically associated with Christ who was a sovereign among men.

In the early 16th century a scholar noted a Christmas carol containing the words: “This boar’s head we bring with song, in worship of him thus sprung, of a virgin to redress all wrong.”

Poem

In a contemporary poem published by Hone, the tradition was linked to an idealised view of Christmas in Arthurian England. “The bill of fare (as you may well suppose) was suited to those plentiful old times... They served up salmon, venison and wild boars, by hundreds, and by dozens, and by scores.”

The Hornchurch tradition continued until 1868 and was written about in the Chelmsford Chronicle and Grantham Journal as well as by Hone and the Essex Standard.

0 comments

Latest News Stories

Yesterday, 15:32
Police dredging White Hart Lakes in Eastbrookend Country Park, off The Chase, Dagenham, where Neill's leg was discovered on April 1. The rest of his body was recovered in the following days

The owner of the flat where Neill Buchel was allegedly stamped and kicked to death got the idea of chopping up and disposing his body from Guy Ritchie gangster films.

Yesterday, 15:16
Havering Town Hall

The council has breached the Data Protection Act and is in contact with the information commissioner.

Yesterday, 17:04
Parklands' alpacas, from left, Benny, Sonny and Blaine

Children became acquainted with their latest furry friends as they welcomed the new additions to a school this week.

Most read news

WW100

Click on the banner above for full coverage of the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War.

News from your area

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Romford Recorder e-edition today E-edition
Family Notices 24
Our trusted business finder

The Press Association’s education correspondent discusses Labour’s tuition fee plans

Clarkson doesn’t think Top Gear is for “for people who wear pink ties”. We fear he may be limiting his audience.

A girl from south Manchester fell ill after taking a tablet thought to contain ecstasy