Gloucestershire says ‘Hard Cheese’ to health and safety!

If you’re not from Gloucestershire, you might not be familiar with the shenanigans that take place on Cooper’s Hill, in Brockworth. Each year in May, around 15,000 people gather to watch contenders from around the world roll cheese down the hill, in pursuit of the title of Cheese Rolling Champion. However, the dreaded ranks of Health and Safety have threatened this ancient festival – even getting the police involved…

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Get down to Brockworth on May 26th and you’ll hear the Master of Ceremonies utter the ancient war-cry:

“One to be ready!

Two to be steady!

Three to prepare!

And four to be off!”

At this point, the cheese-rolling contenders will chase a 7 – 8lb wheel of Double Gloucester cheese down Cooper’s Hill – which is a pretty steep incline, to say the least.

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The first written evidence of the cheese-rolling malarkey dates back to 1826, found on a note to the local town crier. However, it was pretty apparent from that missive that the event was already an ongoing tradition. It’s thought that the origins of this bizarre practice can be laid at the feet of the ancient pagans. Pre-Double Gloucester, it’s likely that pieces of  cake and biscuits were used as part of a fertility rite that was conducted in the hope of producing a good harvest.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and things have changed. When you’re chasing an 8lb wheel of cheese, which can achieve speeds of up to 70mph, surrounded by people and down a 1:3 hill, the likelihood for accidents would probably make even the most unscrupulous insurer wrinkle his nose. In 2010,there was no official medical cover for the event and it looks to be the same way this year. Perhaps the biggest disaster was the event held in 1993, when fifteen people were injured; four of them, seriously.

cheese

However, this didn’t kill the local support for the event; when the organisers tried to throw in security measures, crowd perimeters and charge an entrance fee, the response was unanimous: it was going ahead, anyway. Former cheese-rolling champ, Helen Thorpe said, in 2011: “No-one’s going to stop us doing it. They say it’s not official, but we’re all Brockworth people and we’re running the cheese today so it is official. We strongly believe in it.”

In 2013, Mrs Smart, a supplier of the gargantuan dairy wheels, was approached by the local constabulary and told that, if she provided cheese, she could be seen as a organiser and liable for any legal action resulting from accidents or damage. Her response was: “I’ve been asked to provide some cheese, so why not?”

And that’s how it stands: the event is going ahead, despite the health and safety brigade getting involved and in spite of the warnings from the long arm of the Law.

On May 26th 2014, it looks like the people of Brockworth are, once again, just going to roll with it.

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