by David Williams
The Cotswold Olimpick Games have been held on Dover's Hill, formally Kincombe Plain, near Chipping Campden since 1612. There was an interruption during the Civil War with the games being revived during the restoration. There was another break from 1852 until 1965 when the land came into private hands through the enclosure of common land. In 1965 the games were once again revived and have been held almost every year since.
The games were founded by Robert Dover who was a solicitor living at Saintbury near Chipping Campden. He had organised similar games while he was studying at Cambridge University. As with the modern games, there was sponsorship as Dover had the backing of James I who was the first patron of the games.
Events from the early days included running, jumping, throwing a sledgehammer, fighting with swords and cudgels, quarterstaff, wrestling, dancing, horse-racing, coursing with hounds, chess and cards. Most of the sports were played as a way of making sure that local men were ready to defend the realm.
The original games took place over two days, Thursday and Friday of Whitsun week. In recent years the games are held on the Friday following Spring Bank Holiday. The events which now take place are a little more gentile than those of yesteryear. In recent years they have included various running events, The Champion of the Hill, Tug O War, and Shin Kicking.
Tug of war was a very important event as Frederick Merriman from Chipping Campden won gold as part of a British team in the London Olympics of 1908. All three medals were won by British teams who represented different police forces. The winning team was representing the City of London Police. At the Cotswold Olimpicks it was mostly local teams from pubs which took part on the hill.
The English martial art of Shin Kicking was the most popular of the events with the winner being crowned world champion. The contestants dressed in coats reminiscent of shepherd's smocks and were allowed to stuff their trousers with straw for extra protection. The competitors hold each-others shoulders and try to bring the opponent to the ground by kicking his shins. These days the combatants have to wear soft shoes not the steel toe caps as were used in the past. They no longer have to harden their shins with hammers as in the olden days. Entrants were chosen on a first come first served basis apart from the champion who returned to fight again.
This years games were held on June 1st they had a longer day starting at 2pm to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the games and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. There was a Jacobean style village with side stalls, puppetry, and other entertainments in the afternoon before the games proper in the evening.
Chipping Campden itself was partaking fully in the games with their usual celebrations culminating in the Shuttlebrook Wake held the following day. This included a procession by the Shuttlebrook Queen and her attendants before the new queen was crowned. There was then a procession of floats and fancy dress followed by maypole dancing before the fair was declared open by the queen. Many of the locals put in a great amount of effort each year to make the games a success. Unlike the games in London, these games go on year after year and as Chairman Graham Greenall says “with friendly rivalry in true Olimpick spirit, they are a legacy in people not stadiums.”