Part 1: Ye Olde Bloode Sport: Shin Kicking at Chipping Campden

Not many men live to dig their own grave, let alone climb out of it. But Ben Hopkins was planning to do just that in the summer of 1951.

The Festival of Britain had revitalised the nation, boosting morale at a time when there were still shortages of food and housing six years after World War Two.

In London, the organisers of the five-month extravaganza strained to look to the future, commissioning fantastical attractions called Skylon, the Dome of Discovery and the Outer Space Pavilion.

However, in the old Cotswold town of Chipping Campden, the locals planned to celebrate their Britishness by doing what came naturally: reliving the past.

The festival's timing happened to mark nearly a century since the abolition of a little-known event that linked England with the ancient Olympian Games and the modern Olympics.

England's very own "Cotswold Olimpicks" had been held since at least 1612 on Dover's Hill outside Campden and survived until 1852, when rowdiness gave the authorities an excuse to shut it down.

Ninety-nine years later, the people of Chipping Campden decided to revive their old-fashioned Olimpicks as their contribution to Britain's Festival.

Instead of standard track-and-field events, these Olimpicks would feature tug-o'-war, sack races, morris dancing, greasy-pole climbing and "throwing the sheaf"—hurling a hay bale with a pitchfork.

But it fell to Ben and a friend to re-enact the most infamous sport of them all: shin kicking, a brutal form of wrestling once common in England, Wales, and parts of America.

Contestants would square off, lock arms and hack at each other's shins until one of them was thrown to the ground.
Photo by Emma Wood
In the old days, shin kickers wore metal toecaps on their boots, leaving losers—and winners—with permanently dented shinbones.

Some were crippled for life, and a few even died from their injuries. As a result, the pastime itself died out by the early 1900s.
©J.R. Daeschner

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