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The Chapel Row Revel
Celebrations in Bucklebury Parish

The far-famed Chapel Row Revel, in Bucklebury parish, was held on the Monday after St. Anne's Day, 26th July, and was celebrated for the Backswording displays which took place on these occasions. Addison in the "Spectator" describes the sport as "a ring of cudgel players who broke one another's heads in order to make some impression on their mistresses' hearts," but more substantial prizes were given at Chapel Row. The Lords of the Manor of Bucklebury gave 5 guineas yearly, and subscriptions were raised in the neighbourhood for other prizes. These comprised a gold-laced hat value a guinea-and-a-half for old gamesters, and one value 25s. for young gamesters, a hat with a blue cockade, an inferior hat with a white cockade, and a still inferior hat without a cockade. The combatants fought on a raised platform of earth called the Butts, bareheaded, with the left hand fastened to the waist, so that they might not use it to ward off the blows. To hit an opponent in the face was against the rules, but to hit him on the top of the head was the grand point, and the greater of all to hit him there so as to produce blood. Blood to run one inch or no head. An umpire called vulgarly "umpsher" directed the proceedings. When the play became irregular or languid he suspended it for a time, crying "bout," and after a short pause it was resumed on his calling "play." On an appeal, if successful, he called "blood," if not, it was met with "no head," or "play on." The following are the names of some of the principal gamesters whose prowess was displayed at Chapel-Row: Blackford of Swindon, the most noted backsword player of his day, and who was known to break fourteen heads in succession; Harry Seeley, Simon Stone, Maurice Pope, a blacksmith of Liddington - the popular champion of the countryside, Isaac Bushel, and Giles of Purton, Mike Preston of Newbury, George Stacey, Samuel Ayres, Tom Black of Inkpen, Goodyear, a Hampshire man, and Uriah Wall, a Somerset champion. But perhaps the best remembered name associated with these displays is that of Corporal Shaw, the famous Lifeguardsman, who in his regimental exercises evinced so much strength ana vigour as to attract the attention of his officers. He stood six feet and half-an-inch; and weighed 15 stone. Sir Walter Scott in his description of the Battle of Waterloo refers to the gallant swordman's personal strength and valour in this memorable fight, and a comrade who was by his side the greater part of the day says: "He was fighting seven or eight hours dealing destruction to all around him, and at one time he was attacked by six of the French Imperial Guard, four of whom he killed, but at last was killed by a pistol fired by one of the remaining two." He had been wounded in the breast the day preceding the battle, but could not resist joining his comrades on the glorious 18th of June, when that fatal antagonist, whose blows no man can parry, stepped in with his "finishing hit," and laid low the sinewy arm and lion heart of the gallant soldier. We have stood over his grave in the old orchard of Hougoumont.

The revels were suppressed many years since on account of a man being killed in one of the encounters.

From an old booklet, author unknown.

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.