Houghton Feast lives up to its name with roast ox celebration

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A tasty tradition made its return as scores of people queued up to enjoy Houghton Feast’s highlight.

The roast ox was served up today, just as it was in the 12th century to mark Michaelmas, the festival of the dedication of the parish church of St Michael’s and All Angels.

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast.
Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson first cut. Right, President Houghton-le-Spring Rotary Ashley Burland

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast. Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson first cut. Right, President Houghton-le-Spring Rotary Ashley Burland

The event also honours 16th century Rector Bernard Gilpin, who would feed the poor of the town.

Around 1,100 buns from Edinburgh Bakery were prepared in expectation of a rush of residents ready to enjoy sandwiches made up from the meat, which was prepared as a 22-strong team of Rotary Club members from the town took turns during a 24-hour stretch to oversee the roasting of the joints on the Rectory Field.

Whitfield Chemist and Vardy’s also pitched in to help ensure the event went smoothly, with the meat supplied by Piper’s in Hetton.

Ashley Burland, president of Houghton Rotary Club, said: “It’s a close community and this is a brilliant example going all the wayback to the 12th century and we’re keeping it going.

It’s a community effort and brings everyone together, so lots of people have been mucking in.

Mayor Alan Emerson

“We keep the price down, but any money that is made will be going to local charities.”

The Rotary brought back the tradition in 1967, giving it pride of place in the 10-day programme of celebrations.

Ron Young, co-organiser of the roasting and a past president of the club, added: “We’ve had members of the club come in to do shifts and it’s great for Houghton to have this here.

“This tradition is sacrosanct, it must always take place on or before October 10.”

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast.

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast.

Reverend Bryony Taylor, curate of St Michael’s and All Angels, said the timing of the festival is still in keeping with the Julian calendar used by the church in the past, before the Gregorian calender, which we now use, was then put in place from 1582.

She said: “Bernard Gilpin would raise a ox, or lamb or another animal from his land, and invite anyone in Houghton who was hungry to come down and eat.

“We’re doing this now to carry that on and we’re also doing the same thing through our Space4 project within the church.”

Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Alan Emerson, began to serve up the meat by cutting the first slice to the waiting crowd - but got a taste for himself later on.

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast.
Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast. Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson

He said: “What you see here is all about the community and this a tradition which goes back hundreds of years.

“It’s a community effort and brings everyone together, so lots of people have been mucking in.

“It’s great to see and another example of people working well for the benefit of others.”

The festival runs until Sunday, with the full programme of events available via http://www.houghtonlespring.org.uk/

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast. Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson first cut. Right, President Houghton-le-Spring Rotary Ashley Burland

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast. Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson first cut. Right, President Houghton-le-Spring Rotary Ashley Burland

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast.
Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson with first customer John Holland

The historic Roasting The Ox at Houghton Feast. Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Alan Emerson with first customer John Holland