A set of eight stamps entitled Curious Customs, issued on July 9, celebrates a selection of Britain’s most weird and wonderful annual festivals, sporting contests and community events.

Its child-like poster-style illustrations attempt to capture the eccentric spirit of these calendar fixtures, some of which are well-known and some not so well-known.

Many of these are medieval traditions which were revived during the Victorian period, as communities began to take renewed pride in their folk heritage. Others are relatively new creations, devised in the 20th century.

Designed by NB Studio, from illustrations by Jonny Hannah, the stamps were printed in litho by International Security Printers.

2nd class BURNING THE CLOCKS IN BRIGHTON

Created as recently as 1994 by a community arts charity, Burning the Clocks is a celebration of passing time which takes place on December 21, the shortest day of the year. Brighton residents parade with paper and willow lanterns decorated as clocks, before making them into a bonfire on the seafront.

2nd class ’OBBY ’OSS IN PADSTOW

Dressing up in equine costumes to celebrate May Day is a tradition that dates from medieval times, and there is documentary evidence of Padstow’s hobby horse festival from 1803. Two large black beasts swirl and sway through the gaily decorated streets, accompanied by musicians and dancers.

1st class WORLD GURNING CHAMPIONSHIPS IN EGREMONT

A modern variant of a traditional fairground game, gurning essentially involves contestants pulling funny or ugly faces, while framed by a large horse collar. The world championship is hosted by Egremont Crab Fair in Cumbria, which was founded in 1267 and takes place on the third Saturday in September.

1st class UP HELLY AA IN LERWICK

On the last Tuesday in January, the people of the Shetland Islands celebrate their Viking heritage with an event which has medieval influences but was introduced in Victorian times. A torchlit procession in elaborate costume culminates in the burning of a full-size replica of a Viking longship.

£1.55 CHEESE ROLLING IN COOPER’S HILL

Chasing a large cheese down a steep hill was once a widespread game at fairs and wakes, and is perpetuated every Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday in May) at Cooper’s Hill near Brockworth in Gloucestershire. The contestants have little hope of catching the cheese, but the first to reach the bottom of the hill wins a prize anyway.

£1.55 HALLOWEEN IN DERRY/LONDONDERRY

Celebrating Halloween (All Hallows’ Evening) on October 31 may have Celtic pagan roots, but became a Christian festival dedicated to remembering the dead. It has enjoyed a modern resurgence as a time for dressing up, playing pranks and telling horror stories, and in Derry it has been developed into a five-day carnival with music, dancing and parades.

£1.60 HORN DANCE IN ABBOTS BROMLEY

The Horn Dance involves dancers wearing reindeer antlers, and others representing Maid Marian, a bowman, a hobby horse and a fool, perambulating the parish of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire giving performances, in a tradition surviving from medieval times. It takes place on Wakes Monday, which is the first Monday after the first Sunday after September 4.

£1.60 BOG SNORKELLING IN LLANWRTYD WELLS

Bog snorkelling involves navigating your way across a water-filled trench in a peat bog wearing a snorkel and flippers, but without using conventional swimming strokes. The not-too-serious sport was inaugurated in Llanwrtyd Wells 1976 and proclaimed a world championship in 1986, held on the Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

The presentation pack, written by folklorist Steve Roud, features a wood-cut map of the UK illustrating each of the featured customs and a specially commissioned poem about them by Matt Harvey.

 

PRICES

Set of 8 stamps   £8.92

Presentation pack   £9.75

Stamp cards   £3.60

First day cover   £11.30

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   3/5

You might not have heard of some of these customs, yet they epitomise British eccentricity

QUALITY OF DESIGN   3/5

Many collectors will deride the designs. However, they are suitably playful, and more interesting than photographs

WOW FACTOR   2/5

These stamps will surely get noticed if they are used on everyday mail. But will they be?