The History of Mangold Hurling

The origins of Mangold Hurling are lost in the mists of time, but one thing we know for sure: the original Hurlers did not throw mangolds! The mangold-wurzel was developed in the 18th century, so early Hurlers must have used something else, for example:

    • Turnips
    • Potatoes
    • Stones
    • Small animals
    • Dinosaur eggs

By medieval times, hurling of various vegetables had become an accepted part of rural life, and certain aspects of modern-day Mangold Hurling were already established.  In the scene below we see the "willow boys" hacking branches from young willow trees to make the familiar measuring rods used in modern Mangold Hurling. Notice how much larger bees were in those days.  Or how much smaller everything else was.

Medieval mangolds

Mangold Hurling as we know it today became properly established in the 19th century, when it afforded the humble farm labourer a rare opportunity to engage in sport on an equal footing with his master. Each village had its team of Hurlers, and the game was played throughout the drained flood plains of south-west England known as the Somerset Levels.  Some historians think this may have given rise to the expression "a level playing field", but they are probably wrong.

Right: a drainage ditch or "Rhyne" on the Somerset Levels.  If a competitorís mangold lands in one of these during a competition his chances of winning are greatly diminished.

A Somerset rhyne

In the first part of the 20th century interest in Mangold Hurling reached its peak, with games taking place all over the British Isles and beyond. Such was the popularity of the sport that local growers were unable to meet the demand for mangolds. Additional supplies had to be imported from other parts of Europe. This trade flourished until the outbreak of the second world war, when all mangold production was commandeered by the War Office for military purposes.

Mangolds at Bristol Dock

Mangolds piled high on the dockside at Bristol, awaiting distribution by barge to far-flung corners of Britain.