Uppies and Downies is a version of “Hand Ba” Game that is played in Workington, West Cumbria. The modern tradition began some time in the latter half of the 19th century, with the match played annually at Easter and raises money for local charities.

The object of the game is to “hail the ball” (throw it up in the air three times) at the opposing team’s goal. The Downies’ goal is a capstan on the Prince of Wales’ dock, while the Uppies’ is the gates of Workington Hall Parklands.

There are no other rules of play and the game is basically a free for all, with break-away sprints by members of either team, with some similarities to that of rugby.

Some players from outside Workington take part, especially fellow West Cumbrians from the local towns of Whitehaven and Maryport, resulting in around a thousand players on each team

The Uppies and Downies ball is made from four pieces of leather. It’s around 20 inches in circumference and weighs about two and a half pounds. Only three hand-made balls are produced every year and each are dated.

The player who hails the ball gets to keep the ball and will take the ball into the Town center for people to get photos with for donations.

Uppies and Downies refer to the residents of the top (East) and bottom (West) of the town, which slopes down towards the sea. In the modern incarnation of the game, the Downies were originally residents of the marsh and quay, a working class area of the town demolished in the early 1980s and traditionally looked down at by the more affluent top of the town, where the local petty bourgeoisie lived.

Due to its unpredictability, the game can spill over into the town center. In the past, police have issued safety advice to visitors and local parents warning of getting caught up in the inevitable rough and physical encounter.

Image credits: Empire Gym, Marilyn Boyd, Martin Shreeve, Elvin Elvo Jarvis, Facebook