Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake
The Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an annual event held on the Spring Bank Holiday at Cooper's Hill, near Gloucester in England. Participants race down the 200-yard-long hill after a round of Double Gloucester cheese is sent rolling down it. The event was traditionally held by and for the people who live in the local village of Brockworth, but now people from all over the world take part. The Guardian called it a "world-famous event", with winners coming from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Nepal.
From the top of the hill, a 7–9 pounds (3–4 kilograms) round of Double Gloucester cheese is sent rolling down the hill, which is a length of 200 yards. Competitors then start racing down the hill after the cheese. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. The competitors are aiming to catch the cheese; however, it has around a one-second head start and can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour (110 kilometres per hour), enough to knock over and injure a spectator. In the 2013 competition, a foam replica replaced the cheese for reasons of safety. The winner was given the prize of an actual cheese after the competition.
This ceremony originally took place each Whit Monday, before it later was moved to the Spring Bank Holiday. The first written evidence of cheese rolling is found from a message written to the Gloucester town crier in 1826; even then it was apparent the event was an old tradition, and is believed to be at least six hundred years old.
Two possible origins have been proposed for the ceremony. The first is said that it evolved from a requirement for maintaining grazing rights on the common. The second is pagan origins for the custom of rolling objects down the hill. It is thought that bundles of burning brushwood were rolled down the hill to represent the birth of the New Year after winter. Connected with this belief is the traditional scattering of buns, biscuits and sweets at the top of the hill by the Master of Ceremonies. This is said to be a fertility rite to encourage the fruits of harvest.
In 1982, a team of students from the University of Bristol filmed the 31 May event using film cameras. One camera was set on slow motion.
In 2009, it was cancelled due to concerns over health and safety. In 2010, a group of journalists and local residents threw a smaller version, in keeping with tradition, to keep grazing rights. In 2011, Candis Phillips and Sara Stevens bought and dressed four cheeses and so the revival of this famous old tradition continued.
"No-one's going to stop us doing it. They say it's not official, but we are all Brockworth people, and we're running cheese today, so it is official. We strongly believe in it."
The 2011 event took place without management, due to safety concerns over the number of people visiting the event, resulting in the 'Save the Cheese Roll' campaign. Despite the cancellation and lack of paramedics, around 500 people showed up in 2011 to hold some spontaneous races; no major injuries were reported.
The event is traditional and takes its name from the steep hill on which it occurs. Until recent years, it was managed in a quasi-official manner by nominated locals, but since 2010 the event has taken place spontaneously without any management.
The cheese-rolling event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cheese currently used in the event is 7–9-pound (3–4-kilogram) Double Gloucester, a hard cheese traditionally made in a circular shape. Each is protected for the rolling by a wooden casing round the side, and is decorated with ribbons at the start of the race. Formerly, three cheeses were presented by parishioners, and the cheeses were usually rolled by them. A collection is usually made now to purchase them, as well as sweets, and also to provide prize money.
Since 1988 the cheese has been supplied by local cheesemaker Diana Smart and her son Rod, from their Churcham farm, although Diana Smart has now retired. In May 2013 a police inspector warned the 86-year old Smart, that she could be held responsible for injuries. Chief Superintendent Nigel Avron of Gloucestershire Constabulary also made these comments: "If you are an organiser in some way or some capacity you could potentially be held liable for something that took place at that event". In recent years, organisers of the event, have felt compelled to use a lightweight foam version for safety reasons. In the second race (2013) Australian Caleb Stalder managed to catch the fake cheese and claim victory, despite being some way behind the leaders.
Due to the steepness and uneven surface of Cooper's Hill, there are usually a number of injuries each year. A first aid service is provided by the local St John Ambulance (Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud Divisions) at the bottom of the hill. Members of the local rugby club and Young Farmers volunteer their services by acting as 'catchers' for any participants who lose their balance and also are on hand to carry down any casualties requiring first aid who do not reach the bottom. A number of ambulance vehicles attend the event, since there is invariably at least one and often several injuries requiring hospital treatment.
Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling has been summarised by a previous participant as "twenty young men chasing a cheese off a cliff and tumbling 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital". This quotation was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper of 13 November 2008, in an amusingly titled article 'Return to Edam'. The same article reports one Scottish competitor prodding another in the ribs at the top of the hill, quizzing him if his "travel insurance cover[s] this"? The Australian author, Sam Vincent, "questions his sanity" as he is "crouched on the summit of a diabolical slope", alongside thirteen other competitors whilst they are "awaiting the call to start what is surely the world's most dangerous footrace".
The notoriety of cheese rolling is widespread and its somewhat de facto tally of annual injuries has been the subject of much coverage in news and television programmes. Alongside reputable broadcasters such as the BBC Television reporting, the global sports magazine TV shows Gillette World Sport and Trans World Sport have both mused at the activities and the ensuing injuries for many years.
|Year||Race 1||Race 2||Race 3|
|Race 4||Race 5|
|Notes / Reference|
|1986||Steve Gyde||Steve Gyde||?||Steven Brain||Steven Brain|
|1987||Steven Brain||Steve Gyde||?||Steven Brain||—|
|1988||Steve Gyde||Steve Gyde||?||Steven Brain||—|
|1990||Steven Brain||Steve Gyde||Jacqueline McGinn||Steven Brain||—|
|1991||Steve Gyde||Steve Gyde||?||Steve Gyde||—|
|1994||Craig Carter||Kevin Zinter||?||Steve Gyde||—|
|1995||Steven Brain||Darren Yates||?||Carl Farewell||—|
|1996||Travis Moulton||Tim Drnec||?||Chris Adams|
|1997||Steven Brain||Steven Brain||Tina Rimmer||Craig Carter||—|
|1998||Peter Astman||—||Amelia Hardwick||—||—||2 races abandoned for safety, due to 33 injuries the previous year|
|1999||Steven Brain||Steven Brain||Helen Thorpe||Steven Brain||—|
|2000||Steven Brain||Steven Brain||Kirsty Shepherd||Craig Brown||—|
|2001||—||—||—||—||—||event abandoned due to foot-and-mouth disease, however, a single cheese was still rolled down the hill to maintain tradition|
|2002||Craig Brown||Steven Brain||Kirsty Shepherd||Steven Brain||—||due to Queens Jubilee celebrations leading the Bank Holiday festivities, the Cheese Rolling was deferred a day, and took place on a Tuesday for the first time|
|2003||—||—||—||—||—||event abandoned due to volunteer safety team being diverted to Algeria following their earthquake; a solitary cheese was rolled by the committee a few days later to retain tradition|
|2004||Padam Shreer||Marc Ellis||Dionne Carter||Aaron Walden||—||race 1 winner was a British Army soldier from the Ghurkhas|
|2005||Jason Crowther||Chris Anderson||Dionne Carter||Aaron Walden||—||Images and references by BBC.|
|2006||Jason Crowther||Craig Fairley||Dionne Carter||Chris Anderson||Andrew Brewin||A fifth race added due to an increase in competitors|
|2007||Jason Crowther||Aaron Walden||Jemima Bullock||Alan Morris||Chris Anderson|
|2008||Chris Anderson||Peter Mackenzie-Shaw||Flo Early||Craig Fairley||Wade Sansom|
|2009||Chris Anderson||Scott Bevan||Michelle Kokiri-Gisbon||Chris Anderson||Josh Geitz|
|2010||Chris Anderson||Craig Fairley||Tanya Silverman||Chris Anderson||—|
|2011||Chris Anderson||Chris Anderson||Jo Guest||Chris Anderson||—|
|2012||Chris Anderson||Chris Anderson||Lucy Townsend||Craig Fairley||—|
|2013||Kenny Rackers||Keleb Stalder||Lucy Townsend||Ryan Fairley||Tomoaki Tanaka|
|2014||Joshua Shepherd||Ryan Fairley||Lucy Townsend||Sheldon Ronald||—|
|2015||Chris Anderson||Ryan Fairley||Keavy Morgan||Chris Anderson||—|
|2016||Chris Anderson||Chris Anderson||Flo Early||Ryan Fairley||—|
|2017||Chris Anderson||Chris Anderson||Keavy Morgan||Chris Anderson||Roni Aloe|
|2018||Chris Anderson||Christopher Parperis||Flo Early||Chris Anderson||—||Chris Anderson sets a new all-time record of 22 race wins|
|2019||Max McDougall||Ryan Fairley||Flo Early||Mark Kitt||Trent Unsworth||Flo Early sets a new all-time record of 4 race wins in the ladies race.|
|2020||—||—||—||—||—||2020 event cancelled due to COVID-19 with cheese still rolled to maintain tradition.|
|2021||—||—||—||—||—||2021 event cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions|
An annual cheese-rolling event has taken place in Chester since about 2002, to promote the town's food and drink festival. The rolling takes place on the flat down an obstacle course.
Cheese-rolling in popular culture
- 2005: A children's computer game from Neopets named "Cheeseroller", involves different varieties of outlandish cheeses, rolled down a 120-metre hill in under 60 seconds, negotiating obstacles on route. Points are awarded for grade of cheese difficulty and speed of descent.
- 2007: Cheese rolling appeared in the television series ER, Season 14 Episode 8, "Coming Home", where a motley bunch of cheese rolling enthusiasts (with accents of dubious accuracy) have a dispute, allowing Morris to demonstrate the Judgment of Solomon.
- 2008: Cheese rolling was prominently featured in the first episode of the UK television channel Five series: Rory & Paddy's Great British Adventure, broadcast on 13 August 2008, and was described as "the grandaddy of weird sports" by the titular Rory McGrath and Paddy McGuinness.
- 2011: Cheese rolling footage from SoGlos was used in Off the Air at the end of the series premier episode "Animals".
- 2014: The NPR news quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me featured cheese-rolling in a 'Not My Job' segment with skier Mikaela Shiffrin.
- 2018: The contest was the subject of the BBC One programme The Great Cheese Chase.
- 2019: Let's Roll is short film directed by Chris Thomas about a teenage girl Antonia (Amy Bowden) attempting to emulate her brother's successes in the cheese rolling, but having strong opposition from her mother (Zara Ramm). The film was screened at numerous international and BAFTA-qualifying film festivals including Norwich and Edinburgh.
- 2019: Royal Mail issue a collectable stamps edition of UK Weird and Wonderful Customs which includes Bog snorkelling at Llanwrtyd Wells, World Gurning Championship at Egremont, Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Burning the Clocks in Brighton, 'Obby 'Oss festival in Padstow, Samhain Celtic festival (Halloween) at Derry, Horn Dance at Abbots Bromley and Cheese-Rolling at Cooper's Hill.
- 2020: Netflix released a documentary named We are the Champions, which covers six bizarre events and competitions from across the world, starting with Cheese-Rolling at Cooper's Hill. The documentary follows Florence Early in her preparations for the 2019 event and her attempt to win the ladies race for the fourth time, which had never been achieved before in the event's history.
- 2020: Channel 4 reality show Gogglebox featured the Netflix documentary named We are the Champions, following Florence Early's historical achievement in the 2019 ladies cheese rolling race.
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