These are the days

‘We are West and they are East' is a refrain I have quite often heard on taxi journeys to and from East Hanney and West Hanney, not far from Abingdon, past Noah’s Ark, and off the A338 road to Wantage.

They are two Oxfordshire villages united in the same ecclesiastical parish, but with two separate civil parish councils, sharing a common border where School Road meets The Causeway.

A fare last week saw me sat in the convivial hubbub of the village pub in East Hanney, watching a keenly fought local derby and chatting with one of the team members participating in an end of season Aunt Sally match, for charity and in memory of two local villagers.

For many people living in Oxfordshire, especially those of us raised here, Aunt Sally is an intrinsic part of local culture.

Mr Hemmings’ Traditional Abingdon Morris dance on The White Horse’s AuntSally pitch

Mr Hemmings’ Traditional Abingdon Morris dance on The White Horse’s AuntSally pitch

It is a pub game peculiar to this part of the world and played here since at least the 17th century. An active Twitter presence these last eight years has taught me that there are also at least two pubs in Gloucestershire with participation in Aunt Sally leagues. It is so much taken for granted as a part of local life that it is easy to use the term, without proper explanation for those who might not be familiar with it. So it was when an American friend tweeted recently to ask what Aunt Sally was.

I said: “A game played locally, in pubs, you have six sticks, which you chuck at a doll, to knock it off an iron pole, set in the ground”. The doll must be knocked clean off the pole - as the strapline of the Abingdon and District Aunt Sally Association says: "You know it’s good when you hear the wood."

After the match was concluded, sausage and chips were served, the sausages coming from a farm in East Hanney, from whom I have bought products ever since I have worked as a taxi driver around Abingdon.

As the proprietor told me, their animals are reared in Hanney, slaughtered near Witney and products sold in their own farm shop just off the A338 as well as at Abingdon Farmers’ Market on the Market Place, on the third Friday of each month.

It does not get much more local than that.

While I waited to drive the Plough's Aunt Sally team home, to the neighbouring village of West Hanney, I had become so engrossed in conversation, that I forgot altogether to monitor the score, though learned later that the match had been won by the home team, the Black Horse.

Quaint and charming, it could not have been a more enjoyable evening. It was like a living embodiment of the 1968 Mary Hopkin song Those Were the Days, the opening line of which is: "Once upon a time there was a tavern."

Except perhaps, the Black Horse is the tavern and these are the days.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 26 September 2018

  1. Church of England, A Church Near You, West Hanney: St James the Great, as retrived 25 September 2018

  2. Ordnance Survey, Election Maps, West Hanney Civil Parish, as retrieved 25 September 2018

  3. Abingdon & District Aunt Sally Association, How to Play, as retrieved 25 September 2018

  4. Mary Hopkin, Those Were The Days, 1968, as retrieved 26 September 2018