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Olney Pancake Race: The early years PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 March 2014 11:02

Tony Lamming, left, teases one of the Pancake racers in 2011 at the awards ceremony in Olney, England. Lamming has been on the Olney Pancake Committee for more than 30 years. L&T file photo/Larry Phillips


• Olney Pancake Race Committee

Well, yet another year has passed and the celebrations of Pancake Day are upon us once again.

At this time of the year, the preparations are well underway, and we in Olney are hoping that there will be a break in the weather that so far this year has seen us experience consistently wet and windy weather.

However whilst some of the fields around Olney are underwater, this is normal and helps protect the town from the rising waters of the river Ouse.

Unfortunately, others in Somerset in the southwest of the UK, the outer London areas and the valley of the River Thames are not so lucky – with many areas and homes engulfed in flood water.

We are looking forward to our friend Larry Phillips visiting again and by now you will probably be aware that Tony and Viv Evans will be visiting you for your celebrations this year.

We will miss both of them in Olney, as they have been heavily involved in aspects of the race for many years. They rightly deserve to experience the international element of the Pancake Race – something we all talk about, value greatly, but I think from personal experience, can only fully understand when you have visited the “opposition” either in Olney or Liberal.

It is right to value and promote this unique link, but of course, we know the race is much older than the period of the link between Olney and Liberal, and so I hope that you enjoy this little trip down memory lane – back beyond the days of our competition.

The Pancake Race is reputed to have started in medieval times and Graham Lenton (a) in his book “The Story of The Olney Pancake Race” relates an account of it being run during the Wars of the Roses.

Early accounts are scant and little is recorded – unlike today where photographs and videos abound and are online instantly – little is on permanent record until the1920s.

We do know that following the discovery of some information in the BBC archives (The only UK broadcasting company at the time), the race was revived after the second world war and this is recorded by Canon Ronald Collins in the newspaper of the time.

Doris Lenton, who came over to visit you a number of years ago was instrumental, with Canon Collins, in gathering a group of local women together to run in that race.

The race started at the water pump on the Market Place (now it starts on the High Street adjacent to the Market Place and these are runners from that first race.

Incidentally, someone once informed me that water from this pump was used to prime a new water pump in Liberal.

I wonder if anyone in Liberal can verify that story.

Of course, in reviving the race and because of the already wide national interest, the race had to have a set of rules and tossing of the pancakes was essential. Canon Collins instructed the participants on the art of tossing the pancake.

The other unique and “essential” element of the race was the kiss to the winner of the race, and I believe the first recorded kiss was that of the church sexton Jessie Barrett to his granddaughter Joan in 1921.

A national newspaper article of 1939 held at the Cowper and Newton Museum records that the winner’s pancake had to be eaten by the church bell-ringer who then gave the winner a kiss.

It was, of course, the publicity around the revival of the race after the Second World War that caught the eye of R.J. Leete in a magazine and the discussions between him and Canon Collins resulted in the international competition beginning in 1950 with Florence Callow winning the Olney race and the international competition with a time of 1 minute, 10.4 seconds.

So I look forward to the race in 2014 and the friendly rivalry rising to the fore again.

However forgive me if I reflect back to the second international race in 1951, were Olney beat Liberal again – despite the Olney runner being slowed down by a television camera mounted on a car ahead, filming the runners. Much panic ensued.

Good luck to all the runners in 2014 and, hopefully, there will be no such incidents to slow the Olney runners down this year, and I look forward to speaking with some of you and your winner in the video link up after the race.

(a) Graham Lenton The Story of the Olney Pancake Race Published GML Art 2003

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