Cheese Rolling has become an annual May Day event in Stilton. Hundreds of villagers and visitors throng the wide main street to enjoy traditional Bank Holiday entertainments and watch the teams battling for the Stilton Cheese Rolling trophies.
The event is also our village festival, with Maypole dancing, live music,traditional fenland ‘Molly’ dancing and other entertainment. There are sideshows, fairground rides, stalls, a wide choice of food and drink, and a concert in the evening.
How did it all start?
It would be nice to be able to say that the event is “as old as the village” or that its origins have been lost in “the mists of time” but really no one knows how far back the tradition of rolling cheese goes.
By mid-20th Century, Stilton had become a rather quiet place having been by-passed by the A1. The inns and businesses had seen a big drop in their trade, so the enterprising landlord of one of the pubs decided to revive an ancient tradition. Or so he told everyone! He could be seen rolling a Stilton Cheese along the road outside his pub. People came to stand and watch and eventually joined in. And so the sport began – again.
It was originally run on Easter Monday and there was not a lot of uniformity to it to begin with. It seems a piece of wood in the shape of a Stilton cheese was produced, a starting line drawn up somewhere between the The Stilton Cheese Inn and The Talbot and the finish line was outside The Bell Inn. Brave teams of Stilton men would then vie to roll the cheese to its finish and, after the ensuing scramble, and many tussles and spills, the team that ended up steering the cheese to the finishing line would win!
Nowadays, the starting point is always outside The Bell Inn and The Angel and the finish is a line drawn at the cross roads between the bottom of Fen Street and Church Street. The contestants compete in teams of four, either all men, all women or mixed juniors. Each team member has to roll the cheese at least once during its flight. It’s a knockout competition with quarters, semis and a grand final.