Cotswold Games

Cotswold Games

:"“Olympicks” redirects here. For the international games, see Olympic Games.

The Cotswold Olimpick Games are an annual public celebration of games and sports held in the Cotswolds in the West Country of England. The games began sometime between 1604 and 1612 and have continued on and off to the present day. Different sources provide different starting dates for the games, but most sources refer to 1612.


poooops. The games were organized in 1604 during the reign of James I of England on Dover's Hill above the town of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. The games were originally organized by a local attorney Robert Dover as a protest against the growing Puritanism of the day. These sports were referred to by contemporary writers as "Mr. Robert Dovers Olimpick Games upon the Cotswold Hills". The games were held on Thursday and Friday of Whit-Week, or the week of Whitsuntide, which would normally fall around the middle of May to the middle of June. They continued for many years until about the time of Dover's death.

The games were quite a spectacle for the day. Robert Dover presided over the games on horseback, dressed ceremonially in a coat, hat, feather and ruff, that originally belonged to the king. Horses and men were abundantly decorated with yellow ribbons (Dover's colour), and he was duly honoured by all as king of their sports for a series of years. Tents were erected for the gentry, who came in numbers from all quarters of the surrounding counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Worcestershire and refreshments were supplied in abundance. Tables stood in the open air, or cloths were spread on the ground, for the common folk.

:"None ever hungry from these games come home,":"Or ever make plaint of viands or of room;":"He all the rank at night so brave dismisses,":"With ribands of his favour and with blisses.":—from "Annalia Dubrensia"

Mounted cannons were fired off to begin the events. Competitors were summoned to the hillside by the sound of a hunting horn, and there took part in various sports.

17th century fights, whether for sport or in real anger, sometimes resulted in maiming or even death. In a fight between Sir German Poole and a Mr. Hutchinson, Poole cut off three of Hutchinson's fingers before he had even drawn his sword. In revenge Hutchinson sliced off Poole's nose, picked it up, pocketed it and went off with it so that it could not be sewn on again. It was the mean attitude in taking away the slice of nose, not the fact that it was cut off in the first place, which made this particular contest the subject of gossip.

The prizes for these activities included not only silver trophies but also yellow favours which as many as 500 contestants could win. The games were very popular throughout England and attracted visitors from all strata of society. Some people reportedly travelled up to 60 miles to see the games.

The king himself had heartily approved and supported the games. Earlier, in his popular book of advice to his son, Basilikon Doron (1599) he said that in order to promote good feeling among the common people towards their king, "certain days in the year would be appointed, for delighting the people with public spectacles of all honest games, and exercise of arms".

Literary references

Poetry from "Annalia Dubrensia"---- "Coteswold, that barren was, and rough before,"
"Is Tempe now become—Coteswold no more."
"Pan may go Pipe in barren Malvern chase,"
"The fawns and satyrs seek some other place."
"Coteswold is now th’ epitome of mirth,"
"And joy, presaged erst, is come to birth."
"Olympus’s mount, that e’en to this day fills"
"The world with fame, shall to thy Coteswold Hills"
"Give place and honour. Hercules was first"
"Who those brave games begun; thou, better nunst,"
"Dost in our anniverse most nobly Strive"
"To do in one year what he did in five."

"On Coteswold Hills there meets"
"A greater troop of gallants than Rome’s streets"
"E’er saw in Pompey’s triumphs! beauties too,"
"More than Diana’s beavie of nymphes could show"
"On their great hunting days."

It has been suggested, but is most unlikely, that William Shakespeare may have made the journey to witness the games; one implausible suggestion is that the wrestling scene in "As You Like It" was inspired by them - implausible because the play was written in 1599, and the incident is in its source.

A book titled "Annalia Dubrensia" (Annals of Dover) was published in 1636 in honour of the games. The book was a collection of poems in praise of Dover and his achievements in promoting and managing the games. The contributors included well known poets: Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Randolph, and Thomas Heywood. They saw the games as revitalizing traditional English social life, and they countered Puritan opposition by stressing the "harmlessness" of the occasion. A woodcut (see picture) of Robert Dover and his castle, with the events in progress, formed the frontispiece to the book.

The English Civil War brought about the end of the games in 1652 and the area became the scene of very real battles between the Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. In July 1652 Robert Dover died at Barton-on-the-Heath at the age of seventy.


Interest in the games remained and they were revived some years later — dates uncertain — after the Restoration. By the middle of the 18th century the games were well established and once again quite popular. The games became known as Dover’s Meeting and included games such as backsword-fighting. The prizes varied from gold rings and belts to laced hats and shoes. The English poet William Somervile gave a lively account of the games in his “Hobbinol, or the Rural Games” in 1740. The poet and writer Richard Graves also wrote about the games in his picaresque novel "The Spiritual Quixote" in 1773. The writers dramatized the wrestling and cudgel-playing and the enthusiasm for the smock race by healthy young country wenches for a Holland shift displayed on a pole. The robust nature of the 18th century games troubled some local people such as the church Minister of Stow-on-the-Wold, but the games flourished, in 1797 being “attended by a vast concourse of people”POO.

Two 19th-century flyers to announce the "Meetings":

Dover’s Antient Meeting, 1812.

On Thursday in Whit-week, On that Highly-renowned and universally admired spot called Dover’s Hill, Near Chipping Campden. Glos. The sports will commence with a grand match of Backswords for a purse of guineas, To be played by 9 or 7 men on a side. Each side must appear in the ring by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Or 15s. each pair will be given for as many as will play. Wrestling for belts and others prizes. Also Jumping in bags and dancing. And a Jingling Match for 10s. 6d. As well as divers others of celebrated Cotswold and Olympic games, for which this annual meeting, has been famed for centuries.POO:T. Chamberlaine, Steward.:R. Andrews, Clerk.

Dover’s Meeting, 1821.

On Thursday in the Witsuntide Week. Upon that highly-celebrated spot called Dover’s Hill, Near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. The Sporta of this antient and distinguished meeting will commence with A match of Backswords by men for a purse of Twelve Guineas, To be played for as shall be agreed upon, and to begin play at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. To be succeeded by Wrestling for liberal prizes. Also Dancing, Jingling, Bowling, and Running in Sacks, With an endless variety of the renowned Olympic Games and Manly Diversions, which are too well known to require a description.POO

And on Friday the sports will commence with a Pony Race for a Handsome Prize, To be run for by Poneys not more than Twelve Hands High; the best of three Heats; not less than three to start; to start precisely at four o’clock in the afternoon. To be followed by Backsword Playing, Together with a multiplicity of Athletic Exercises and the noted Cotswold Sports, which have been peculiar to this meeting for centuries.POO

No person will be permitted to erect a Booth on the Hill, to sell any sort of beverage, without previously paying fifteen shillings to the Conductors of the Sports. A main of Cocks will be fought each morning at Mr. Thos. Smith’s, Hare and Hounds Inn, in Campden, between the Gentlemen of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, to begin at ten o’clock. Also good Ordinaries. Plays, Balls, and Concerts each day as usual. On Saturday a Wake will be held in Campden, with variety of amusements.:Chipping Campden, April 23rd, 1821.:William Chamberlain and Co., Conductors.

The great popularity of the games eventually led to their suspension when they began to attract great crowds of the "riff-raff of society" and the games became too rowdy for the local people to withstand. The final year of the games was at Whitsuntide in 1852.

Present day

In 1963 the Games were once again re-established and continue to the present day. The games are an annual celebration in the Cotswolds and attract thousands of visitors to Dover's Hill. The Robert Dover’s Games Society was founded in 1965 to promote the games. A 21st century "Robert Dover" appears, suitably attired on horseback, to open the games. A trumpeter heralds the appearance of hounds which sweep across the natural arena, and two bands display their skills. Local teams compete in rural events and tugs-of-war for shields and cups, while wrestlers show their abilities. After dusk a huge bonfire is lit and there is a fireworks display. A torchlight procession moves from Dover’s Hill to the square in Chipping Campden, where community singing, pageantry and dancing provide entertainment until the early hours of the following morning. Some of the locals, however, regard the occasion predominantly as an excuse for rowdy behaviour and the excessive consumption of alcohol. As demonstrated by a group of local youths, who go by the name of the Jolly Roger.

The 2006 Winner was Stephen Preston, better known as Stupid Steve.


*Chambers' Book of Days [ May 31]
* [ The Genealogy of the Cotswolds and Surrounds]
* [,,592-1164917,00.html "The Times Online:" "A Very English Olympics"]
* [ "Cotswold Olimpick Games"]

External links

* [ Olimpick Games website]
* [ Old shin sport alive and kicking] " at BBC News, 3 June 2005
* [ Videos Of Shin Kicking 2006]
* [ Directions to Chipping Campden for The Cotswold Olimpick Games]

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