In the UK there are many contests involving the humble biscuit ranging from building competitions to throwing events. However, in Barnsley the biscuits are just rolled for fun, so that in the words of the original organizer Rufus Moxon “the biscuit is conserved in its entirety and can still be consumed – what’s the point of breaking a perfectly good biscuit just for fun – what a waste of money that would be.”
The contest was started in 1934 and has been going strong since then even during the time of Margaret Thatcher. The contest takes place on the day of the first full moon after the sixth Sunday after Len Hutton’s birthday on June 23rd.
There are many different skills contests. The oldest is the rolling the biscuit through the cricket stumps competition, which takes place at the cricket club. Competitors stand in one popping crease and have to roll their biscuit down the pitch and make sure it passes between the stumps at the other end – each person has three biscuits and whoever succeeds in bisecting the stumps is through to the next round. Wilfrid Hirst has won this contest five times – his advice is as follows “It’s just like bowls – same delivery, same pace, except it’s a biscuit you’re bowling so you have to have more of a follow throw – and don’t bounce the thing as it will disintegrate on the pitch.” Contestants aren’t allowed to replace broken biscuits, which means that people who employ a “bouncing bomb” technique have never won the contest.
There is also a distance event at the local athletics track, which takes place along the home straight. Four people take part in each heat; at the sound of the starter’s gun they run to the starting line and release their biscuits. Each biscuit must be in contact with the track at all times after it has been released and must not go outside its lane otherwise it will be disqualified. There’s always a gap of one lane between each competitor to reduce the chances of interference by a waywardly thrown digestive. The “Usain Bolt” of the biscuit sprint is Sandra Perkins, who has won the event in five of the last seven years using digestives that she keeps in the freezer to make them harder. Sandra was a promising sprinter until she heard of the Biscuit Rolling and then her head was turned: “I could run’t hundred in 12 seconds, burra never were going to get much better; T’ Biscuit Rolling offered me immortality and a plaque in the cricket club en all.”
Nowhere in the rules does it say that the biscuit has to be round. Some people have tried using custard creams with rounded edges but the inherent weakness of a modified biscuit eventually causes a fatal disintegration at a critical moment.
The other distance event is the hill roll where people release their biscuit at the top of the hill and hope it rolls down the hill further than anyone else’s. The road is closed for the event and all parked cars are removed for the day. People do run after their biscuits and are allowed to remove obstacles from its path such as leaves, dogs, and traffic wardens who are scratching their heads wondering where all the cars have gone.
The other accuracy event takes place at the Golf Club, which is used for the entire day. Contestants ‘play’ the whole 18 holes individually walking from green to green with a counting judge. At each green there’s a pre-determined place where each contestant must roll their biscuit from. The aim is to get their biscuit in the hole in as few rolls as possible and the person with the lowest total of rolls over the 18 holes wins the prize of a set of golf clubs. The lowest total was 37 by Lawrie Percival in 1961 using a Jaffa Cake he called Palmer: “Palmer were a great jaffa; as soon as he came out of the packet I knew he were a champion – the jam content was low and the chocolate was spread thinly – an absolute joy to play with.”
This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions by Julian Worker