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People taking part in a Dwile Flonking at the Lewes Arms, East Sussex
Dwile Flonking at the Lewes Arms, East Sussex. Image via the Lewes Arms Facebook page.

Customs uncovered: Dwile Flonking

Grab your driveller, dip your dwile, gather your girt, and let's go t'gither. Welcome to the oh-so dignified sport of dwile flonking.

The flonker stands at the centre of a serious snurd of girts. The jobanowl yells, “Here y’go t’gither!”, the girt links hands and begins dancing in a circle. The flonker dips his dwile-topped driveller into a bucket of beer, circles on the spot in the opposite direction, takes careful aim and flonks his dwile at one of the girters. He scores a direct wanton and takes all three points, unlike the flonker before him who missed completely, resulting in a swadge. That fellow isn’t doing too well now, having had to drink the contents of an ale-filled gazunder while the non-girting girters intoned the time-honoured chant, “pot, pot, pot” and quickly passed the dwile the length of their line.

Does any of this make sense? Well, yes, if you’re up on the rules of dwile flonking (sometimes written as dwyle flunking), but probably not if – like us – you’re new to what may be the world’s most ridiculous drinking game most unusual sport.

And a sport it is, too. While it may not be high on the Sky Sports agenda, there are records of dwile flonking taking place at the Cotwsold Olimpick Games, which has been running since the early 1600s (although it only makes an occasional appearance, and not really until the last 50 years). That it should be designated an official Olympic sport goes without question. The campaign starts here. (Actually, it doesn’t. The Blythe Valley Dwile Flonkers Association attempted entry into the 1968 Mexico Olympics but were not accepted.)

In this article you’ll find…

What is dwile flonking?

Where does it come from?

The oldest reference we can find for dwile flonking is in an edition of the Sunday Mirror, January 22nd, 1967, where it is noted as, “a game they play in Suffolk at harvest time”. Indeed, BBC research suggests that it was included in the Beccles Festival of Sport (Suffolk), 1966, but that not a lot could be gleaned from the participants. “No one can remember the score,” the report states, “although team members recalled feeling ‘pretty fragile’ the following morning.”

“No one can remember the score, although team members recalled feeling ‘pretty fragile’ the following morning.”

This tale was backed up by an article in the Eastern Daily Press, published in December, 1998. Journalist, Cheryl Currie, reported that a pensioner named George High was searching for his gazunder (chamber pot), “a highly-prized trophy in the bizarre world of dwile flonking”. This lost reward had been presented to winners of the hotly-contested Beccles and Bungay competitions in the 60s and 70s. George High and friends were members of the original girt that brought the sport back into the area. When asked if they’d simply invented it for a bit of fun, High replied, “I know people think it was all a ruse, but dwile flonking is a genuine 400-year-old game. Arthur Davey, from Bungay, myself and some friends were drinking in a pub in the Saints area near Bungay when we overheard some old men talking about this game their fathers used to play. We’d all had a few drinks, the idea tickled our fancy, so we went home and devised a method of reviving it. The rest is history.”

Amazingly, George High and friends were subsequently invited onto a TV show presented by Eamon Andrews, “and we began getting letters from Europe, Australia, Hong Kong and America begging for flonking rule books.”

It seems that it spread closer to home quickly, too. A brief flick through the British Newspaper Archive confirms that dwile flonking soon became popular around East Anglia, and spread rapidly to other regions. 137 articles mentioned the sport across the country between 1967 and 1999, with 16 references in Birmingham publications, seven in the Herts and Essex Observer, seven in and around Coventry, six in Faversham, and lots of single notices further afield. One could observe dwile flonking as far north as Northumberland (the are four references in the Newcastle Journal, including one in which a girt of dwile flonkers hijacked a beer tanker), and as far south as Kent (where the Faversham News reported keep-fit flonking, as well as “a flonk to the death”, which was, thankfully, not as merciless as it sounds.)

If we’re to go on newspaper reports alone, it does seem that dwile flonking found a home in East Anglia (48 articles across Norfolk and Suffolk), closely followed by Warwickshire (23 articles*).

When did it start?

If George High was to be believed, dwile flonking began 400 years ago. However, George didn’t give any evidence of this other than overhearing old men in the pub talking about their fathers, who were unlikely to have been 400 years old. It’s also worth noting that the British Newspaper Archive only has records of dwile flonking from 1967 onwards, the first within a year of George High’s Beccles event. Prior to that, zero references occur, which either means that the newspaper industry collectively developed an interest in this sport at a very specific point in the mid-60s, it didn’t warrant reporting on beforehand, or it simply didn’t exist.

Childrens Games by Pieter Bruegel with the supposed dwile flonking ringed in white.

The above painting by Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1560), is often pointed to as further evidence of the medieval origins of dwile flonking. We believe the flonking is taking place in the area we’ve ringed in white. We’ll leave it to your discretion to decide whether the man with the stick is, indeed, holding a dwile on a driveller, and isn’t just a bloke with a thing on a stick.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter when dwile flonking actually began. The fact that it is still a scheduled event in various counties to this day, and has been for a good number of decades, suggests that it has become a living tradition. As long as there are girts and flonkers, we see no reason for it to disappear. Long may the flonking continue.

What do the words mean?

Here’s a brief glossary for dwile flonking. Use it wisely, otherwise nobody will know what you’re talking about.

  • Driveller: a 60cm-90cm pole made from yew or hazel on which the dwile is picked up and flicked.
  • Dwile: a knitted floor cloth dipped in (usually) stale beer.
  • Flonker: the person holding the driveller, aiming the dwile at a member of the opposing girt
  • Gazunder: a chamber pot (a deriviation of the words “goes under”, describing where the chamber pot was kept (“it goes under the bed”), from which the flonker drinks ale when he suffers a swadge.
  • Girt: the team dancing (or ‘girting’) in a circle around the flonker.
  • Jobanowl: a referee (preferably a “dull-witted person”).
  • Morther (or mawther): a body hit with the dwile, scoring two points.
  • Ripper: a leg hit with the dwile, scoring one point.
  • Snurd: an innings in which a team takes a turn at girting.
  • Swadge: when the flonker hurls the dwile and misses, resulting in the sport’s most severe drinking penalty.
  • Wanton: a direct hit to the head with the dwile, scoring three points.

Where can I see dwile flonking near me?

Head back to where it all began (arguably) and attend the annual dwile flonking events in Beccles. The Locks Inn Community Pub is the place to be, where girts from Beccles and Bungay compete for the Stuart Sneddon Trophy. The next competition takes place on May 21st, 2022.

The Lewes Arms, East Sussex, continue to maintain the noble tradition of dwile flonking (see the picture at the top of this page), although they prefer to spell it ‘dwyle flunking’. They’re also the proud patrons of the World Pea Throwing Championships. Why can’t more pubs be like The Lewes Arms? The next flonk will take place at 2pm on April 3rd, 2022.

Dwile flonking can also be seen at the Folkeast Festival, taking place this year between August 19-21, Glemham Hall, Suffolk.

What are the rules of dwile flonking?

The Friends of the Lewes Arms claim that “the rules of the game are impenetrable and the result is always contested.” That being said, George High claimed that he’d received requests for the rule book from all over the world back in 1966, so someone must’ve written it down. Broadly speaking, the rules for dwile flonking are as follows.

  1. Select a “dull-witted person” as a jobanowl.
  2. The two girts toss a sugar beet to decide which goes first.
  3. Place a bucket of stale beer at the centre of the flonking area. The first flonker drops a dwile into the bucket and fishes it out on the end of their driveller. They must now mentally prepare themselves for the flonking.
  4. The opposing girt links hands in a large circle around the flonker.
  5. The jobanowl yells “Here y’go t’gither!”, and the girt begins girting in one direction, while the flonker moves around the bucket in the opposite direction.
  6. The jobanowl can turn the girting in the opposite direction whenever they like, often by blowing a whistle.
  7. In some parts of the flonking tradition, the flonker can randomly flonk his dwile at will. In other jurisdictions, the jobanowl can stop the dance without warning, at which point the flonker lets fly. The flonker’s aim is to hit a member of the opposing girt with their flacid dwile, hoping for a wanton, a morther, or a ripper.
  8. A wanton is a direct hit to the head, scoring three points. A morther (or mawther) is a body hit, scoring two points, and a ripper is a leg hit, scoring one point.
  9. Should the flonker miss entirely, this is called a swadge. A swadge results in zero points, and a drinking penalty: the opposing girt lines up shoulder to shoulder and passes the dwile from one end of the line to the other. During the time it takes for the dwile to travel the length of the line, the swadged flonker must down an ale-filled gazunder. If this is completed successfully, the snurd may resume. If the flonker fails, a new snurd begins.
  10. The jobanowl may also deduct points at their discretion if they feel that a member of either girt is too sober, or if they feel somebody is not taking the game seriously enough.
  11. The winning girt is often, but not always, presented with a pewter gazunder, commonly engraved with previous victors (this being a serious sport, after all).

Huge thanks to Jackie Oates for alerting us to the world of dwile flonking. If you have an interesting local tradition or custom that you’d like us to cover, get in touch via our contacts page.

* If we add dwile flonking to the Atherstone Ball Game, Warwickshire starts to make a name for itself as the county most given to peculiar traditions.