IT’S an Easter tradition.
Men and women, of all ages, shapes and sizes, line up in a village near Huddersfield to race with sacks of coal on their backs.
It’s the World Coal Carrying Championships, a peculiarly Yorkshire tradition.
This year’s event is on Easter Monday and three Huddersfield University students are doing something different in a bid to pass their degree.
Instead of concentrating on writing essays and producing reports, the students have joined forces with the Gawthorpe World Coal Carrying Championship.
As part of their final year dissertation students Samantha Wood, Hayley Kendrick and Chris Winspear, are helping to organise and market the annual event.
The Gawthorpe World Coal Carrying Championship dates back to 1963 and has very strong Huddersfield links, with several previous winners coming from the town.
The bizarre tradition began when local coal merchant Reggie Sedgwick challenged another local man Lewis Hartley after he interrupted his pint. Reggie challenged Lewis to race him from the Royal Oak pub to the village Maypole in Gawthorpe with a 50kg bag of coal on his back.
However, before they could race, Fred Hirst secretary of the Maypole committee, suggested doing it on Easter Monday as there was nothing else going on.
The event quickly became established as a firm fixture on the community calendar and attracts visitors from across the country, to the small village just outside Ossett.
The event has been held for almost half a century and Huddersfield winners have dominated. Both male and female current world records are held by David Jones and Julia Knight, both from Meltham.
Meltham councillor Terry Lyons won the championship eight times between 1970 and 1980.
And a Huddersfield policeman, Phil Ounsley, has also been a victor.
This year’s races include three children’s race groups, aged five to eight starting at 11am, aged nine to 11 starting at 11.15am and aged 12 to 15 starting at 11.30am. The women’s race will start at 12pm and the men’s race at 12.45pm.
All racers must register in advance. Adult registration will be at the Royal Oak Pub at 9am and child registration will be at the Darby and Joan Club from 10am. For further information contact the Maypole committee on 07731 768056.
The event was almost scrapped last year after its main sponsor pulled out.
Phil Ounsley, above, a Huddersfield Police Inspector, also won the Scottish Coal Carrying Championship in Fife in 2006.
The female world record stands at 5 minutes and 5 seconds.
The male world record stands at 4 minutes and 6 seconds.
In South Yorkshire coal is pronounced “coil.”