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Ox Roasting at Houghton Feast, Houghton-le-Spring

The Houghton-le-Spring Ox Roasting booklet and DVD

Read about the ox roasting in this limited edition commemorative booklet or watch a behind the scenes documentary on this DVD.

'Ox Roasting: A Beef History' is narrated by Ron Young, one of the Houghton Feast ox roasters for over 30 years.

Copies available at: | From this site

Ox roasting in the 1970s


It is often said that Bernard Gilpin, Rector of Houghton 1557 to 1583, was the originator of the Feast or that the Feast originated as a celebration of his safe return to Houghton after his arrest for heresy when the country was under the rule of Mary I.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2011.

Houghton Feast, the ancient festival of Houghton-le-Spring, most probably has its origins in the 1200s, when it originated as Michaelmas, the dedication service to the Parish Church of St Michael & All Angels. Gilpin did, however, have an important role in the history of the festival when he would welcome and feed his parishioners and their families each Sunday from Michaelmas to Easter, and it is thought that he would regularly give a bullock or hog for roasting to feed the Parish’s poor.

Bernard Gilpin
Jack Kinmond, 1967
Bill Curry, 1967
Ron Young, 2004
Bernard Gilpin
Jack Kinmond
Bill Curry
Ron Young

In 1967 the Rotary Club of Houghton-le-Spring agreed on behalf of the newly formed Houghton Feast Steering Committee to revive the ox roasting tradition. Houghton butchers Jack Kinmond and Bill Curry were in charge of the event. Councillor John Mawston, then Chair of Houghton Urban District Council, cut the first slice and it was served up to Rector Oswald Noel Gwilliam.

The first ox sandiwch

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2011.

The event, which takes place on Feast Monday, is still organised by members of the Rotary Club and involves a great deal of hard work by its members. Ox roasting co-ordinator, Ron Young, oversees the organisation of the event.

The first ox roasting, 1967
The ox roasting in the 1970s
A drawing of the ox roasting spit
The first ox in 1967
Preparations in the 1970s
The Ox Spit

On Feast Sunday the equipment is brought to the tent on rectory field fairground and connected to a gas supply. The heavy ox, which weighs several hundred pounds, is then delivered and wrapped in several layers of aluminium foil. The six gas burners are lit and members of the Rotary Club keep a constant vigil on the cooking meat for almost 24 hours.

Mayor Bill Stephenson in the Ox Tent, 2005

On Feast Monday, bread buns and gravy are brought from the local Edinburgh Bakery, ready for the sale of ox sandwiches. The event is very popular and the queue is known to stretch to the bottom of the fairground. Around 1500 sandwiches are sold, the proceeds of which go to local charities.

Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2011.

The first slice of ox in 2002
The first slice of ox at Houghton Feast 2003
The Queen of Eventide in the ox roasting tent, 2007
The first slice, 2002
First sandwich 2003
Queen of Eventide 2007

Only once has the event not happened when the ox roasting spit disappeared in 1996. New equipment was constructed in 1997 and the hungry crowds were fed again.

Plans for the Houghton Feast ox spit

I think you will agree that Houghton Feast Monday would not be the same without a hot, tasty ox sandwich to warm one’s stomach on a cold October night at the Fair!


Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

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Paul Lanagan wishes to place on record his thanks to the following:

My sincere thanks go to Mr Ron Young, for unwavering support since 2000 on all projects Feast-like. Thank you to my great-grandmother, Rose Davison, for the 1967 photograph. A big thank you to John Mawston JP ISM, Houghton Rotary, John Price and to all who posed for photographs in the ox roasting tent.



[ YOU ARE HERE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Houghton Feast > Ox Roasting ]
[ RELATED PAGE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Houghton Feast > Ox Roast: Carvers ]
[ RELATED PAGE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Bernard Gilpin ]


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The Gilpin family crest as found on Bernard Gilpin's altar tomb

PAGE UPDATED: 03/04/2012