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A Pancake Race History


Pancake Race 2009


A short history of pancakes in Olney...

Olney's famous race is run every Shrove Tuesday, featuring women who have lived in the town for more than 6 months. It dates back to 1445 and it is believed all began with a townswoman late for the Shriving service at the Olney parish church.

The day is significant. Eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, is an ancient tradition. It is the day before Lent; the start of the traditional fast. By giving up dairy products, people marked Jesus' 40 days and nights in the wilderness. So on Shrove Tuesday, stores of dairy products were used up in the pancake mix.

Racing to church - The Olney Pancake Race

For our Olney woman, it was also important to attend the Shriving service before the start of Lent, a time to confess sins before Ash Wednesday. So the story goes, hearing the church bells ring out for the service, our townswoman fled her house fearful of being late. She ran the distance down the High Street to make it to the parish church - still clutching her frying pan and wearing an apron.

Now, the event is still commemorated hundreds of years later in the Olney pancake race. The Olney residents (women) compete in traditional apron, cap, and holding a fying pan with a real pancake. They must toss their pancake once at the start (ouside The Bull Inn) and once at the finish by the church.

The race starts at 11.55am. The Olney High Street is shut, and spectators line the route from the Market Place all the way to Olney's St.Peter and St.Paul church.

Transatlantic links

For the fastest Olney runner, there's a prize - but there are prizes too for the oldest participant and the one who raises the most for charity. The runners support many causes and sponsorship usually runs into a hundred pounds for both Olney charities and those supporting our links in Africa.

The town of Liberal in the USA runs a race over the same distance on the same day, and the best of Liberal compete with the best of Olney for the fastest time.

When the Pancake Race is over the runners, officials, townspeople and visitors, pour into the Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul for the great Shriving Service when several of the famous Olney Hymns are sung.
Competitors place their frying pans around the font and occupy seats reserved for them, and during the service, the presentation of the official prizes from Olney and Liberal USA takes place. There is also an official prize-giving in the evening.

See the next page for a receipe for pancakes. Check with the Olney Town Council for information about the event.