Chester-le-Street Heritage Group
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Shrove Tide Football
Shrove Tuesday (or Shrove Tide) Football used to be played the full length of Chester-le-Street’s Front Street for many years.
It was a fearsome competition between the “Upstreeters” and “Downstreeters”, and there are many old postcards still around today which depict various scenes of an event (some of which are shown here), which was very popular with the townsfolk and many other people would travel from outlying districts just to be spectators.
Although there are now only a few people who can still recall this annual meeting, their memories are often quite vivid of the day when “Battle” took place in our town.
Preparations began days before by boarding up vulnerable plate glass windows of the front street shops. This in itself may well have provided some welcome extra business for suppliers of timber and joiners. However, the shop owners probably detested the coming of Shrove Tuesday as a major inconvenience never-mind the extra costs incurred in protecting their enterprises.
The game would start at one-o-clock about halfway up the Front Street with the ball being thrown out from an upstairs window next to Lloyds Bank. The purpose was to get the ball to the top of the street or to the bottom by whatever means, as no holds were barred. The rules of the game appear to have been none existent, there was no restriction as to the size of the teams and there was often no set time for the game to be completed.
Incidentally, the ball was made by one Tommy Dalkin out of several strips of leather, but there is little evidence to indicate whether or not he actually took part himself. It would be a brave (or foolhardy) man who ventured anywhere near the turmoil of flaying feet, arms and legs, where the ball happened to be at any one time. Being hurt was to be expected in this game, and it is known that at least one boy died a few days later from his injuries after taking part in the match.
Eventually, the game was outlawed by the Police in 1932, as being a serious risk to players, bystanders and the inevitability of property being damaged.
There was an attempt to play the game the following year, but a large Police presence resulted in the ringleaders being arrested.
In 1891 the footbridge collapsed over the Cong Burn due to the excessive weight of spectators - see photo:
On 2nd April, 1891 at a meeting of the inhabitants of the Parish & Township of Chester-le-Street, it was resolved that the sum of £80 be spent on the erection of a new footbridge over the Cong Burn at the lower end of the town, to replace the one destroyed on Shrove Tuesday.
Throwing out the ball at Dalkin’s upstairs window.
The Crowds following the players through the town.
Damage to the Cong Burn Footbridge