Cotswold Games

This is from Highways and Byways of Oxford and the Cotswolds:

“On the summit of Dover’s Hill is a grassy plateau, famous for 250 years as the site of the Cotswold Games. Games of one sort or another had probably long been customary in the district in connection with the Whitsun ale, but they were organised on a more elaborate scale on this spot by the public-spirited gentleman who has given his name to the hill. This was Robert Dover, a member of a Norfolk family , who began life as an attorney at Barton-on-the-Heath, a Warwickshire village some 8 or 9 miles to the south-east, and better known to fame as the local habitation of the Sly family, but gave up his profession early and settled at Stanway, where he built a house in which he lived until his death in 1641. Indignant at the Puritan attack upon the old English sports and pastimes, the cessation of which he declared only drove the country people to the pot0house, he “being full of activity and of a generous free and public spirit, did, with leave from King James I, select a place on Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire, where those Games should be acted. Endymion Porter Esq. A native of that County, [he was lord of the manor of Aston Subedge] and a Servant of that King, a Person also of a most generous spirit, did, to encourage Dover, give him some of the King’s old Cloaths, with a Hat and Feather and Ruff, purposely to grace him, and consequently the Solemnity.” In what is presumably the royal Hat and Feather, Mr Dover appears in the foreground of the frontispiece to a collection of poems in his honour issued in 1636, and entitled “Annalia Dvbrensia: Upon the yeerely Celebration of Mr Robert Dover’s Olympick Games upon Cotswold Hills”; the rest of the picture is filed up with representations of the various sports and feastings, and of the movable wooden castle from which guns were fired to signify the opening of the games. Another similar, but even more extraordinary plate of a rustic merrymaking is to be found in the 1613 edition of Drayton’s Polyolbion. Here is a flag flying, inscribed “Heigh for Costsold,” with a ring of men dancing round it, while others are making music with bagpipes and a pipe and tabor, and another group are doing justice to the good cheer of a well-spread board. Drayton’s lines, though hey refer rather to the local shearing feasts than to Dover’s festival; are worth quoting:

“But Muse, return to tell, how there the shepherd’s king

Whose flock hath chanc’d that year the earliest lamb to bring,

In his gay bauldric sits at his low grassy board,

with flawns, curds, clouted-cream, and country dainties stor’d:

and whilst the bag-pipe plays, each lusty jocund swain

Quaffs sillibubs in cans to all upon the plain,

And to their country-girls, whose nosegays they do war,

Some roundelays do sing: the rest the burthen bear.”

Dover’s meeting, as it came to be called, was.. attended by the nobility and gentry from 60 miles around, and continued to be held regularly “till the rascally Rebellion was begun by the Presbyterians, which gave a stop to their Proceedings, and spoiled all that was generous or ingenious elsewhere.”

However, the meeting was revived at the Restoration, and the envy of the hypocrites, if any, must have been suppressed. In the next century … there was some cause for scandal. Jerry Tugwell, in his unregenerate days, had many a time been at Dover’s meeting, and won an hat there at cudgel-playing, but he was now to learn from that ardent enthusiast, Mr Geoffry wildgoose, that all such amusements were nought but the “Devils’s strongholds.” the pair started froth on the missionary tour from their native village of Mickleton on a lovely May morning, and reached Dover’s Hill in time for Mr Wildgoose, mounted upon an  inverted hamper, to deliver his first harangue. For the sequel I must refer my readers to the pages of the romance in question – a satirical rap at the Methodist revival from the orthodox Anglican viewpoint. …

As for the meeting, it held its own, in spite of protest, till the middle of the last century. By this time it had come to be the resort of all the scum of the Black Country, as many as 30,000 people were known to have attended it, and it was said to have had a demoralising effect upon the whole neighbourhood. then came the railways, and the disorderly element in the meeting further strengthened by the gang of navvies employed in making the Mickleton tunnel. The abuse was more easily ended than mended: .. the last meeting was held in 1851 and the ground was soon after enclosed.

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