Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Wild wheelbarrow race returns after 30 years

Wild wheelbarrow race returns after 30 years

A HAIR-RAISING village tradition is to be revived after more than 30 years — but in a much tamer incarnation.

Scores of people used to take part in Binfield Heath’s annual wheelbarrow race from the Bottle and Glass pub to the White Hart at Shiplake Row, now Orwells restaurant, about a mile away.

They competed in relay pairs, with one entrant riding and the other pushing. Everybody would down a pint of beer at the start before charging down Common Lane towards Arch Hill and the village stores.

When they reached the halfway point at the New Inn, which has since closed, they would down another beer before swapping roles and making for the finish where a final pint awaited them.

Some raced in regular wheelbarrows while others made their own using simple wooden frames and decorated them to look like aeroplanes, tanks, racing cars and other vehicles. Many also wore elaborate fancy dress.

There were no road closures so villagers had to swerve around unsuspecting cars and buses. Police attended but stood watching and rarely intervened.

Lifelong villager Richard Winter first took part as a young man in the Seventies and returned annually until the event wound up in the Eighties.

He hopes to race in the revived version at the village fun day on June 9.

This time competitors will face two laps of the village recreation ground and only down two drinks, one at the start and another at the finish, with the option of a soft drink rather than beer. If it proves successful, organisers hope to hold it on the roads with the authorities’ permission next year.

Mr Winter, 72, says the old race would raise eyebrows today.

He said: “The fun really started at the New Inn because all hell would break loose. People would be throwing eggs, flour and all sorts of things at you in a massive free-for-all.

“One time we put scaffold pipes on our wheelbarrow and fired some rockets out of them which went right down to the end of the land. They ended up in the hedge on either side of two police officers.

“As you were going down the final hill you’d sometimes let the barrow go because it was hard to hold on to and one time the person I was pushing ended up hitting the front of an oncoming bus.

“The police were there but they’d be on our side and weren’t worried about what was happening, even when people were throwing these little ‘bomb’ fireworks at them.

“It was a very different time and you wouldn’t get away with that now.”

Mr Winter believes he is fit enough to give it another go, even though he now has a pacemaker.

He said: “I asked the doctor at the Royal Berkshire Hospital if they could give it a little tune-up before the day. I don’t know whether they think it’s safe for me but they don’t have much say in it!”

Fiona Rollason, who is helping to organise the race with villagers Guy Cleall and Lis Ransom, remembers the old one fondly but won’t be taking part as she will be running the tea stall.

Her husband Paul, the parish council chairman, will be competing.

She said: “We were keen to bring it back but clearly things have changed in terms of health and safety. It sounds dangerous in retrospect but I don’t remember anyone being killed.

“We hope to do it in the road next year but the amount of red tape you have to cross to close a road is
ridiculous.”

The organisers have provided these photographs of the race which appear to date from the early Eighties. Perhaps some readers recognise themselves or a family member?

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