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24 September 2014

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You are in: Cambridgeshire > History > local history > A handy Bandy guide...

Bury Fen Bandy Club

Bury Fen Bandy Club: Norris Museum

A handy Bandy guide...

What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? Developed right here in the Fens, the winter sport of Bandy is one of the most popular games in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the US - and could be included in the next Winter Olympics!

It's not a sport we're familiar with here in the UK, but a Cambridgeshire man is responsible for 'Bandy fever', which grips much of northern Europe throughout its cold, harsh winter...

Skating in the Fens

Copyright: Norris Museum

The World Bandy Championships took place in Stockholm in January 2006, but the game was perfected in our county by James Tebbutt, a Bluntisham local, in 1891. Tebbutt was a member of the Bury Fen Bandy Club and was the first player to set out the game's rules and spread the popularity of the sport by taking it overseas.

Bob Burn-Murdoch, curator of The Norris Museum in St Ives, tells BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presenter Jeremy Sallis more about the history of Bandy:

“Very few people have heard of the sport because we don’t have the winter weather you need for it.  It’s an outdoor form of ice hockey so it can only be played when we get the hard winters – and we don’t get those now.”

To stage a game of Bandy, you'll need something the size of a football pitch.  It’s generally played on a flooded frozen field, rather than a specially made rink.

“It’s a much faster, more exciting game than indoor ice hockey," continues Bob, "and of course, it’s on a much larger scale.  Ice hockey is played with a cylindrical puck, but Bandy is played with a real ball, so it’s much bigger and faster, and because everyone’s on ice skates, it’s much faster than field hockey, too.” 

Like ice hockey, there are two goals, and the game is played with a curved stick, which is called the Bandy: “That’s where the game gets its name,” says Bob.

"The Bury Fen Bandy Club was a bit like the Lord’s Cricket Ground of the game in its day"

Bob Burn-Murdoch, Curator, Norris Museum

We may not be familiar with it, but Bandy is certainly not a new game. Records dating back to 1813 reveal that the village of Bury-on-Fen in Cambridgeshire had a Bandy team that were unbeaten for a hundred years.  And it's thought that Shakespeare was referring to the same game in Romeo and Juliet, when he wrote: "The Prince expressly hath forbidden Bandying in the Verona streets".

In its earliest incarnation the game had no set rules, and different versions were played by different groups, agreeing on the rules before they started each individual game.  It wasn't until Charles Tebbutt, of the Bury Fen Bandy Club, set out the official rules that the game of Bandy was properly recognised.

The Norris Museum in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, has a copy of the Bandy Code of Rules, developed in 1882.  As an example, Bob cites rule number 11 which states: If you drop your stick during a game of Bandy then any of your opponents is entitled to pick it up and throw it away.  “So it’s that type of game,” says Bob.  “Not quite as elegant and gentlemanly as ice hockey.

“A lot of the games would have been organised by the local gentry, but the workers would have been encouraged to take part in order to keep them out of the pub!  So all classes were involved in playing Bandy. There was a famous exhibition match at Windsor Castle in 1853 in the presence of Queen Victoria, with Prince Albert playing as one of the goalkeepers!”

Once the rules of the game were established, Charles Tebbutt decided it was time to introduce the rest of northern Europe to the sport, and the first international Bandy match took place in 1891 between England's Bury Fen Club and Haarlem in the Netherlands.  From there, Tebbutt took the game to Sweden, and the rest is history. 

Ice skating in the Fens

Copyright: Norris Museum

Today there are over 600 Bandy clubs in Sweden and it's played enthusiastically throughout the rest of Scandinavia, the Russian Federation, the USA and Canada - in fact, anywhere where the winter weather is harsh enough to provide a frozen landscape large enough to accommodate the players.  Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your point of view - our Fenland weather no longer allows for the game, but every player knows the history of the game, and the Cambridgeshire Fens are credited with being the true home of Bandy.

Meanwhile, Bob Burn-Murdoch is thrilled at the prospect of Bandy gaining even greater worldwide exposure. He's convinced that Bandy will be admitted to the Winter Olympics in the future.  Its popularity is growing, and in the Russian Federation it’s now said to draw more spectators than football.

Bandy will be trialled in the 2010 Winter Olympics and if it proves a success, it could become one of the regular sports from 2014.

“The rest of the world has taken 120 years to catch up with Bluntisham," says Bob. "But it’s finally done it!”

last updated: 01/04/2008 at 10:03
created: 21/02/2006

Have Your Say

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Fredrik Tönnies, Örebro, Sweden
I find the commentary good. But I don't understand how you can say that hockey is an elegant and gentlemanly sport and bandy not. The weathersituation here in Sweden has also changed, it's getting warmer and we can't depend on natural ice any longer. Most games are played on artificial ice. The first bandyhall has been built in Sweden to make better conditions for the players and spectators. I think it would be possible to play bandy in Cambridgeshire on artificial ice too. It would be nice if the sport was played in Englad again. Best regards

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