ASHBOURNE ROYAL SHROVETIDE
Originally, the town lay only to the north of the Henmore, with the tiny hamlet of Compton to the south. However, by the 13th century trade prospered in Compton as taxes could be avoided by trading on that side of the Henmore. Ashbourne itself being Crown Property had to pay dues to the King. Both are now joined together, though the old village street retains the name of Compton.
A further most important distinction remains in that those who live north of the Henmore Brook are referred to as the ‘Up’ards’, and those to the south as the ‘Down’ards’. This decides the sides for the famous Royal Shrovetide football games, which take place on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday every year. The goals are three miles apart and traditionally the game is played without rules, although one ancient rule is that you must not murder your opponent,
to which one or two others have been added.
Showing the ball to the crowd - 2004
The game starts at 2 pm at Shaw Croft, after the singing of the National Anthem. The ball is ‘turned up’, usually by some well known celebrity who throws the ball to the assembled crowd. In 1928, HRH the Prince of Wales turned up the ball and ever since then the title of the game has had the ‘Royal’ prefix. Seventy five years later, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was carried shoulder high through the streets of the town to start the game.
Almost certainly the game has been played since medieval times by rival villages. There are even claims that it has pagan origins when a human head was substituted for the ball. And although several attempts have been made to stop it, because of the trouble it has created, it still survives in Ashbourne. The game used to start in the market place, but was moved to try to avoid unnecessary damage from the roughhouse that follows.
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ROYAL SHROVETIDE FOOTBALL 2011
Games will take place on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, the 8/9 March 2011. The games start at the Shaw Croft Car Park at 2pm. If a goal is scored before 5pm another ball is turned up. Once the ball is goaled after 5pm play ends, otherwise it continues to 10pm.
The balls are specially made and are filled with cork shavings, they weigh just under 41 lbs and are brightly painted. The designs on the ball are associated with the turner up and the Crown. Anyone who goals the ball is allowed to keep it, if no one scores it is traditionally offered to the turner-up.
Francis Wright a benefactor to the town, but not universally popular, tried to put a stop to Shrovetide football. But, when in 1864 the police banned the game. George Brittlebank, a lawyer, who lived at Monument House threw the ball to the angry crowd, after it had been smuggled to him across the market place in a shopping basket carried by a local woman. He promised to defend, at no cost, anyone arrested playing the game. Play then began.
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The historic market town of Ashbourne, lies in an attractive valley divided by the Henmore Brook and is frequently referred to as the ‘Gateway to Dovedale’. But it is much more than that with its many fine buildings, good shopping facilities and attractive layout.
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