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.[1] 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.[2]

A view down Cooper's Hill, from the start point of the race to the finish (where the dog-walkers are). The face of the hill itself is concave, and hence cannot be seen from this angle. The bottom posts are signs from the local council requesting that, to avoid soil erosion, people do not walk on the face of the hill. The posts are removed for the annual event.

Format

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.[3] 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),[3] enough to knock over and injure a spectator. In the 2013 competition, a foam replica replaced the cheese for reasons of safety.[2] The winner was given the prize of an actual cheese after the competition.

The Cheese Rollers pub in the nearby village of Shurdington, about 3 miles (5 kilometres) from Cooper's Hill, takes its name from the event.

History

A race on 27 May 2013

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.[4][5]

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.[4][6] 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.[7] This is said to be a fertility rite to encourage the fruits of harvest.[6]

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 1993, fifteen people were injured, four seriously, chasing cheeses down the one-in-three hill.[6]

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."

Former winner Helen Thorpe in May 2011.[8]

The 2011 event took place without management, due to safety concerns over the number of people visiting the event,[9] resulting in the 'Save the Cheese Roll' campaign.[10] 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.[8]

The cheese-rolling event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[11][12]

Cheese

Undated photo of the master of ceremonies holding the cheese

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.[13] 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.[6]

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.[3][14][15] In May 2013 a police inspector warned the 86-year old Smart, that she could be held responsible for injuries.[3] 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".[3] 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.[16]

Injuries

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.[17] 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.[17]

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".[18] 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"?[18] 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".[18]

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.

Results

Results of the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling & Wake
YearRace 1Race 2Race 3
(Women's race)
Race 4Race 5
(from 2006)
Notes / Reference
1986Steve GydeSteve Gyde?Steven BrainSteven Brain[19]
1987Steven BrainSteve Gyde?Steven Brain[19]
1988Steve GydeSteve Gyde?Steven Brain[19]
1989Paul Andrews???
1990Steven BrainSteve GydeJacqueline McGinnSteven Brain[19]
1991Steve GydeSteve Gyde?Steve Gyde[19]
1994Craig CarterKevin Zinter?Steve Gyde[20]
1995Steven BrainDarren Yates?Carl Farewell[21][19]
1996Travis MoultonTim Drnec?Chris Adams
1997Steven BrainSteven BrainTina RimmerCraig Carter[20][22]
1998Peter AstmanAmelia Hardwick[23] 2 races abandoned for safety, due to 33 injuries the previous year
1999Steven BrainSteven BrainHelen ThorpeSteven Brain[24]
2000Steven BrainSteven BrainKirsty ShepherdCraig Brown[25]
2001[26] event abandoned due to foot-and-mouth disease, however, a single cheese was still rolled down the hill to maintain tradition
2002Craig BrownSteven BrainKirsty ShepherdSteven Brain[27] 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[28] 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 CarterAaron Walden[29][30] race 1 winner was a British Army soldier from the Ghurkhas
2005Jason CrowtherChris Anderson Dionne CarterAaron Walden[1][31] Images and references by BBC.
2006Jason CrowtherCraig Fairley Dionne CarterChris AndersonAndrew Brewin[32] A fifth race added due to an increase in competitors
2007 Jason Crowther Aaron Walden Jemima Bullock Alan Morris Chris Anderson [18][33]
2008 Chris Anderson Peter Mackenzie-Shaw Flo Early Craig Fairley Wade Sansom [34]
2009 Chris Anderson Scott Bevan Michelle Kokiri-Gisbon Chris Anderson Josh Geitz [35][36][17]
2010 Chris Anderson Craig Fairley Tanya Silverman Chris Anderson [37]
2011 Chris Anderson Chris Anderson Jo Guest Chris Anderson [38][39][8]
2012 Chris Anderson Chris Anderson Lucy Townsend Craig Fairley [40]
2013 Kenny Rackers Keleb Stalder Lucy Townsend Ryan Fairley Tomoaki Tanaka [16][41][2]
2014 Joshua Shepherd Ryan Fairley Lucy Townsend Sheldon Ronald [42]
2015 Chris Anderson Ryan Fairley Keavy Morgan Chris Anderson [43]
2016 Chris Anderson Chris Anderson Flo Early Ryan Fairley[44] [45][46]
2017 Chris Anderson Chris Anderson Keavy Morgan Chris Anderson Roni Aloe [47]
2018 Chris Anderson Christopher Parperis Flo Early Chris Anderson [48][49][50][47] Chris Anderson sets a new all-time record of 22 race wins
2019 Max McDougall[51] Ryan Fairley Flo Early Mark Kitt Trent Unsworth [52] 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.[11]
2021 2021 event cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions

Men's race

  • Chris Anderson 22, Steve Gyde 21, Steven Brain 18, Izzy (Islwyn) John 13, Ryan Fairley 5, Hugh Atkinson 5, Aaron Walden 3, Jason Crowther 3, Craig Fairley 4, Craig Carter 2, Craig Brown 2.[19]

Ladies' race

  • Flo Early 4 (2008, 2016, 2018, 2019), Rosemary Cooke 3 (1953, 1955, 1956), Amanda Turner 3 (1981, 1982, 1983), Dionne Carter 3 (2004, 2005, 2006), Lucy Townsend 3 (2012, 2013, 2014), Kirsty Shepherd 2 (2000, 2002), Keavy Morgan 2 (2015, 2017).[19]

Similar events

Cheese-rolling in Chester in 2008

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.[53]

  • 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.[54]
  • 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.[34]
  • 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.[55]
  • 2018: The contest was the subject of the BBC One programme The Great Cheese Chase.[56]
  • 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.[57][58]
  • 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.[59][60]
  • 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.[61]
  • 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.[62][63]

See also

  • Coopers Edge

References

  1. "Cheese Rolling". BBC Gloucestershire. 30 May 2005. Archived from the original on 3 March 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  2. "American flies in to win Gloucestershire cheese rolling contest". TheGuardian.com. The Guardian. 27 May 2013. Archived from the original on 24 July 2013.
  3. "Cheese-maker warned against supplying Gloucester cheese-rolling". www.BBC.co.uk. BBC News Online. 24 May 2013.
  4. "Cheese Rolling: A brief history". BBC. 13 November 1994. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  5. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys (1954). Yearbook of English Festivals. New York: H.W. Wilson Company. pp. 238–239.
  6. Anon. "Cheese Rolling on Coopers Hill, Exhibition", Gloucester City and Folk Museums, Gloucester, 14 July 2012.
  7. "Previous years/cheese-rolling.co.uk". 2007. Archived from the original on 17 October 2007.
  8. "Coopers Hill cheese-rolling fans hold unofficial race". www.BBC.co.uk. BBC News online. 31 May 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2011.
  9. "Gloucestershire cheese-rolling off due to safety fears". news.BBC.co.uk. BBC News. 12 March 2010. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  10. "Save the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling campaign launched". www.SoGlos.com. 13 January 2011. Archived from the original on 2011. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  11. "Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling cancelled for 2020 amid Coronavirus fears". soglos.com. 25 May 2020.
  12. "Double Gloucester". www.BritishCheese.com. British Cheese Board. 2013. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  13. "Smarts: Great Cheese Keeps Rolling - The Cheese Shed". www.thecheeseshed.com.
  14. "More Cheese Rolling facts and information". Cheese-Rolling.co.uk. Archived from the original on 31 May 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  15. "Gloucestershire cheese-rolling takes place despite warning". BBC News. 27 May 2013.
  16. "Cheese-chasing champion retires injured after fifth Gloucestershire win". The Telegraph. 2009.
  17. Quoted in "Return to edam". www.SMH.com.au. The Sydney Morning Herald. 13 November 2008. Archived from the original on 31 May 2013.
  18. "Cheese Rolling, Roll of Hounor/cheese-rolling.co.uk". 2007. Archived from the original on 17 October 2007.
  19. "Race results 1997 events/Cheese-Rolling.co.uk". 1997. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008.
  20. "Race results 1995 events". newspapers.com. 1995.
  21. "Cheese rolling festival takes dangerous turn". CNN. 1997.
  22. "Race results 1998 events/cheese-rolling.co.uk". 1998. Archived from the original on 22 June 2007.
  23. "Race results 1999 events/cheese-rolling.co.uk". 1999. Archived from the original on 22 June 2007.
  24. "Race results 2000 events/cheese-rolling.co.uk". 2000. Archived from the original on 22 June 2007.
  25. "Race results 2001 events/cheese-rolling.co.uk". 2001. Archived from the original on 22 June 2007.
  26. "Fallen cheese-roller (Craig Brown) calls it a day". bbc.co.uk. 2002.
  27. "Earthquake halts cheese rolling races 2003". bbc.co.uk. 2003.
  28. "Falling down hills: Ellis takes the big cheese". www.NZHerald.co.nz. The New Zealand Herald. 2 June 2004. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  29. "Chasing the Big Cheese 2004". bbc.co.uk. 2004.
  30. "Chasing the cheese in 2005". bbc.co.uk. 2005.
  31. "Cheese Rollercoaster -The world famous Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling returned with a bang for 2006". bbc.co.uk. 2006.
  32. "Cheese Rolling 2007". bbc.co.uk. 2007.
  33. "Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling 2008 review". soglos.com. 2008.
  34. "Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling 2009". archive.boston.com. 2009.
  35. "Cheese Rolling 2009". bbc.co.uk. 2009.
  36. "Hundreds defy cheese rolling ban". The Telegraph. 2010.
  37. "Coopers Hill cheese-rolling fans hold unofficial race 2011". bbc.co.uk. 2011.
  38. "2011 Chris Anderson, 23, from Brockworth, holds all three cheeses he won today". heart.co.uk. 2011.
  39. ""I don't even like cheese"". Mirror.co.uk. 2012.
  40. "American Wins Annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling Race". BBC America. 2013.
  41. "Gloucestershire cheese race winner finds himself in a pickle". theguardian.com. 2014.
  42. "Thousands watch Gloucestershire cheese rolling races". bbc.co.uk. 2015.
  43. "Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling 2016 - the tumbles". YouTube. 2016.
  44. "Cheese-Rolling results and pictures 2016/gloucestershirelive.co.uk". 2016. Archived from the original on 10 July 2018.
  45. "Champion chaser who hates cheese wins for the 17th time". Evening standard. 2016.
  46. "Gloucester cheese-rolling veteran breaks all-time record". www.BBC.co.uk. BBC News. 2018.
  47. "Gloucestershire cheese race winner is the all-time grate". theguardian.com. 2018.
  48. "Cheese Rolling 2018 - all the pictures from Cooper's Hill". gloucestershirelive.co.uk. 2018.
  49. "Cheese Rolling, Coopers Hill 2018 - all the pictures Photo 60 of 61". gloucestershirelive.co.uk. 2018.
  50. Gibbon, Tom; Richards, Madelaine (27 May 2019). "Cheese rolling 2019 as it happened from Cooper's Hill". GloucestershireLive.
  51. "Cheese rolling 2019 LIVE! Latest action from Cooper's Hill in Gloucestershire". gloucestershirelive.co.uk. 2019.
  52. "Cheese rolling in Chester". www.BBC.co.uk. BBC Liverpool. 15 March 2006.
  53. "Cheeseroller". Neopets. 2005.
  54. "Not My Job: skier Mikaela Shiffrin gets quizzed on downhill cheese races". www.NPR.org. 11 July 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  55. "The Great Cheese Chase - BBC One". BBC. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  56. "Let's Roll". Norwich Film Festival. 2019.
  57. "Let's Roll". Edinburgh International Film Festival. 2019.
  58. "Stamps: Cheese rolling, gurning and bog snorkelling on new UK stamps". bbc.co.uk. 9 July 2019.
  59. "Cheese Rolling at Cooper's Hill will feature on these great new stamps". gloucestershirelive.co.uk. 10 July 2019.
  60. "Netflix's New Docuseries 'We Are the Champions' Explores Outrageous Competitions". msn.com. 11 November 2020.
  61. "Gogglebox viewers left flabbergasted over cast's major cheese blunder". celebsbar.com. 28 November 2020.
  62. Greene, Steve (17 November 2020). "'We Are the Champions' Review: Netflix Doc Series Is a Lighthearted Celebration of Human Achievement". IndieWire. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
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