Feather Balancing from Rye – 2

Excerpt from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions. Is British humour your cup of tea? Britain has many well documented, yet strange traditions. This book describes 40 more traditions in a similar vein, all of which are less well known. Get ready for interesting characters, thought-provoking ideas, and strange events – all of which are fiction!

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The Confederation of Cinque Ports is a historic series of coastal towns in Kent and Sussex originally formed for military and trade purposes. This confederation comprises five ports: Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich and two so-called “Antient Towns,” Rye and Winchelsea. A royal charter of 1155 established the ports to provide 57 ships for 15 days’ service to the king annually.

Entrance to the Feather Balancing contest was confined to representatives of these five ports and two towns until 1973 when the contest went international. Originally there was only one category of feather, peacock, and one method of balancing, on the finger. The first winner was Simon de Vere, who balanced a feather on his finger for seven minutes 26 seconds. Once de Vere was pronounced the winner the contest was over. Organisers quickly realised that a contest should last longer than seven minutes and so came up with more categories for the 1674 contest.

The number of feather categories was increased to five: peacock, sparrow, crow, chicken, and goose. People could balance these feathers on their fingers or noses or could perform ‘ye tricks’. There was even a 100-yard race for people who were balancing a feather on their finger.

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