After a Holy Communion service in Abingdon this week, talk over lunch turned to the town’s bun throwing ceremony, which was carried out on Saturday evening, four years since the last event, to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday.
It is a peculiar and long established ceremony, which Abingdon Museum says may have been first carried out to mark the occasion of the coronation of King George III in 1761, but also subsequently on such occasions as the end of the Crimean War – end of war surely a cause for a public celebration, even if not a fan of the royal family.
A quirky ceremony which features all the regular participants in the town’s communal life. The Town Band and Abingdon Traditional Morris Men were the warm up acts, followed by a civic procession led by a bowler hatted Civic Mace Bearer, through a crowd of several thousand people and the singing of the National Anthem, barely ever done in public any more. Then the almost unbearable suspense before the throwing of several thousand buns from the roof of County Hall.
At the church lunch, three days previously, talk was of what you actually do with the buns, if you are fortunate enough to catch one. About the last bun throwing in 2012, I learned that some people were actually eating the buns but that you are supposed to take them home, freeze dry them and varnish them, as mementoes of the occasion.
There'd also been discussion in my taxi and online this week, about the lack of publicity for this event, lauded on the town council's web site as "an iconic 400 year old tradition". For some weeks previously, there were signs on the outskirts of Abingdon, telling us "Town Centre Closed to All Vehicles" from 5pm that day, but without specifying which roads.
Then it emerged six days before that there had been an application to the district council for specific roads to be closed under the Town Police Clauses Act – in April, two months previously, though no sign of the statutory notices appeared posted on the affected streets, until the day before.
All of this looked as if the strategy was to make it as difficult as possible for outsiders to attend the event, by new and more extensive road closures than had been the case in 2012 and a lack of publicity on the town council's web site.
Instead of being an inward looking occasion, Bun Throwing could become the conclusion of an occasion when Abingdon welcomes the world to a fabulous all day community event, showcasing the best of what the town has to offer.
As it is, Bun Throwing is a glorious celebration of English quirkiness and eccentricity, full of civic pomp and circumstance. However, like the Abingdon town centre offer as a whole, it could be so much more, if only there was the leadership.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 15 June 2016