Not only known, but loved

Abingdon is a town which is renowned for its quirky public events, love of civic pomp and circumstance and dedication to the past. Indeed, it is one of the claimants to the title of the oldest town in Britain, dependent on how that is measured. 

Chief among these events is the more than 250 years old tradition of Bun Throwing, where a long civic procession headed by a bowler hatted mace bearer leads a line of robed parish councillors through a packed Market Place, to an imposing setting outside County Hall. 

A video from the last Bun Throwing held in Abingdon in 2016, to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday

An announcement is made by a Town Crier dressed in a uniform based on something from the eighteenth century. During the time it then takes the assembled civic dignitaries to climb the stairs to the roof of County Hall, a palpable sense of tension descends on the crowd, followed by chanting and then even screaming, primeval in its intensity, when the first of five thousand buns descend from the roof. 

Nobody even really knows authoritatively how this tradition originated. It is lost in the mists of time, although the first recorded Bun Throwing took place for the coronation of King George III in 1761 and have mostly been held to mark significant royal events since then: jubilees, marriages, coronations and birthdays.    

There is something mildly incongruous about a group of parish councilors from a small town in England sat around in civic robes costing several hundred pounds each, discussing whether a particular royal is important enough to warrant a Bun Throwing in their honour. Although there is recent historical precedent, in that there was a Bun Throwing to mark the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1986.  

But this year’s Bun Throwing is not to mark a royal occasion at all, rather it is part of a series of events in the town to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.  

At least 1384 men from Abingdon served in that conflict and many of those who lost their lives are commemorated on the War Memorial which stands in The Square, next to two taxi ranks, one operating 24 hours and the other only at night. I see their names often, as I have passed by to and from work, these last nine years.  

We often hear the words “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old” given as part of what is known as the Exhortation in a Service of Remembrance, of which one will take place in this location, this weekend. 

These lines are from For the Fallen, by the poet Lawrence Binyon, a work of great literary beauty, which also contains the line “to the innermost heart of their own land they are known.”  But nonetheless beautiful are the hundreds of individual tributes which are left on this and other war memorials of Oxfordshire, which shows that the fallen are not only known, but loved still.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 07 November 2018

  1. Abingdon Town Council, Civic Life: Bun Throwing, retrieved 06 November 2018

  2. Abingdon (Borough) Roll of Service August 1914 - June 1919, as augmented 27 December 2005, retrieved 06 November 2018

  3. The Great War 1914 to 1918, Poetry, For the Fallen, Robert Laurence Binyon, published in The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914, retrieved 06 November 2018

  4. Royal British Legion, Village Branch, The Exhortation - its origins, 08 November 2013, as retrieved 06 November 2018

  5. Derry Journal, Ceremonial robes could cost up to £4k, 19 February 2016, as retrieved 06 November 2018