ONE of Oxfordshire’s most popular social events has been cancelled this year because of a lack of organisers.

The historic Great Shirt Race at Bampton, near Witney – organised by the Spajers (the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Junketing) – has delighted hundreds of people annually for seven decades.

But this year’s spectacle, due to take place on Saturday May 27, has been called off after three experienced organisers resigned from the committee.

Witney Gazette:

Originally, teams of two, both dressed in nightshirts, one sitting in a pram, wheelbarrow or other non-powered contraption, the other pushing, raced through the village streets.

READ ALSO: Scales of Justice - latest cases from Oxford Magistrates Court

In recent years, two races have been run, one for seniors and a joint one for juniors and intermediates.

A fancy dress parade and chariots have also been added, allowing participants to be even more inventive and attracting even larger crowds to cheer them on.

Last year, the Spajers made their highest ever profit to benefit more than 300 pensioners in Bampton and the neighbouring village of Lew.

Witney Gazette:

Don Rouse, one of the organisers still in post, said: “I have been privileged to be Master of Ceremonies at this race since 1970. Every year, the fun and intensity of this important event in Bampton’s social calendar have grown.

“The Spajers have always benefited from an army of volunteers and know that they would be there again. But shows in these days of health and safety regulations and restrictions need an army of officers with commitment and knowledge.”

Mr Rouse is hopeful that new volunteers can be recruited to stage the event next year.

Witney Gazette:

Some claim that the origins of the race can be traced back to the year 784 when Ethelred the Shirtless chased the burghers of Bampton through the streets in an unsuccessful attempt to clothe his nakedness.

Others say it dates from 1067 when William the Conqueror’s soldiers, stationed at Shifford, were hit by a beer drought and invented the race to pass time.

The modern version began in 1953 when village gas man John Quick, farmer Doug Read and fishmonger Paul Bovington dreamed up the idea of a pram race through the streets to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation.

Witney Gazette:

John Quick had another reason for organising the race – “to combat the dreaded influx of that new-fangled television that I’m bitterly agin”.

The event was revived at midday on June 2, 1953, Coronation Day, with villager Ernie Sheppard firing his 12-bore shotgun in the air to start the first race.

Competitors had to drink half a pint of beer (or squash for youngsters) and change places at six of the 11 pubs on the way.

The winners, the first through the front door of the Swan pub at the finish, were Harry Hampton and George Hunt, who won a four-and-a-half gallon barrel of ale for their efforts.

READ ALSO: This is why the M40 was closed in both directions

On that occasion, nurses from the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford were invited to collect money for the hospital.

Witney Gazette:

The race proved such a success that the organisers decided to make it an annual event and raise money for local pensioners.

The Spajers’ charity was launched and until this year, races had been held every year except 2020 and 2021 during the Covid epidemic.


Read more from this author

This story was written by Miranda Norris, she joined the team in 2021 and covers news across Oxfordshire as well as news from Witney.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Or find her on Twitter: @Mirandajnorris

Profile: Miranda Norris Journalists news from the Oxford Mail