These young girls run down the side street at the Market Place last Tuesday in Olney, England’s, Pancake Day pre-race activities. As in Liberal, parents, grandparents and friends cheer on their favorites during the races.
By LARRY PHILLIPS
• Leader & Times
Though Liberal spreads its Pancake Day festivities over four days and at points throughout the city, Olney, England’s, focal points are but two locations: The Market Place and St. Peter and St. Paul Church.
The Market Place is essentially the center of Olney, where most of the village’s shops are congregated and this goes back centuries.
Olney is first mentioned as Ollanege in 932. It was alive during the Roman and Saxon empires. There are even the remains of an old Roman road on the outskirts of Olney that had been covered with stone (the Romans have been credited by some as the first builders of “paved roads.”).
The town has a history as a lace-making center, and it has been called “Market Town” for centuries. People would make lace in their homes and sell it to lace merchants who had warehouses in the center of town, where it would then be shipped out to places around the country and internationally.
The Market Place is actually an open triangle with roads on three sides. Directly across the High Street road is the Bull Inn. The inn still has one of its original coachway doors where coaches with teams of horses would enter the grounds with the stable in the rear. People would stay in the inn overnight and leave the next day to either London or north to the mid-lands.
A post in front of the Bull Inn is where the city’s “Bus Stop” is located today. One wonders how many people through the centuries has stepped off a horse, an oxen, a carriage, a coach or a bus through 1,000-plus years at that ancient spot.
On Pancake Day, the Market Place comes alive with activity. Booths are set up on its perimeter. There’s the booth by one of the races main sponsors, Francis Jackson Homes. This is where all the lady runners pick up their aprons and T-shirts they wear during the actual race. There was a booth set up by the Pancake Day Committee, which raises funds by issuing raffle tickets for a table full of items. One pound gets you four tickets or chance to win something.
Another booth sells hot pancakes. They differ from U.S. pancakes in they are much thinner, similar to what are known as crepes. They like to squirt a little sweet lemon juice on them and then sprinkle sugar on them and fold them up. Then some powdered sugar is thrown on top.
They are very tasty. (At a luncheon after Shriving Services for the committee member and sponsors, the dessert is pancakes with a small dip of ice cream on the side. There was also a choice of lemon juice or maple syrup. I chose all of the above).
Prior to the women’s race, there was a clown entertaining the children with balloon animals and riding his unicycle around. A Scottish bag piper roamed the Market Place with his hauntingly beautiful sounds echoing off the old brick walls.
Then there were the children’s Pancake Day Races. Schools in the area bus kids into Olney just for the occasion, and each set of racers, boys and girls, are dressed in their school uniforms. Of course, they still have to don headwear and aprons in order to compete.
The prizes for the children – all of them – are chocolate candy bars. A large plastic tub is situated next to the finish line where all have a chance to grab handfuls of candy. One excited lad saw the tub and loudly exclaimed, “Oh my goodness!”
During the hours before the race, committee member Tony Lamming gets on the PA system and informs the crowd of what is going on around the Market Place. He discovered there was another couple from Liberal in attendance, Phil and Kimberly Roth. Phil is in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in Germany. They decided to visit Olney and experience Pancake Day from where it originated.
There was a couple from Illinois whose husband had lived in Meade until he was 6 or 7. There were also several people from other countries in Europe visiting Olney for the event – which has been in Olney’s long and storied history for only 566 years.