Professional Pipe Smoking September 4, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
The strange sports series continues. So far we have enjoyed naked running, clowns playing cricket, homicidal basketball and, of course, purring. This time we are in a weird little corner of the South Pennines in northern England. In this particularly nineteenth-century village the highlight of Wakes week – working man’s summer holiday – was the women’s race, where young women got together and ran over a course way. The interst seems to have been in the fact that the women had to lift their skirts as they ran. However, to Beach’s tastes much more interesting was the race between the old women. There clearly you could not ask the little loves to run. But you could sit them in a chair and ask them to smoke tobacco. No cigarettes though, they all had pipes.
After the trail hunt had been run there was a smoking contest for old women. They sat in a row on a raised stand in front of the inn and each was given the same weight of tobacco. When they had filled their pipes the order was given to light them and in a moment they were all puffing away till they were nearly lost in cloud of smoke. Among the crowd in front of the stand there would be many relations and friends of the smokers continually giving encouraging shouts:
‘Poo [pull] harder, Matty! Turn some reech eaut woman!’
‘Go on Betty, owd girl! Blow it eaut! Let ‘em have it’
‘Hello! What’s op wi Nanny o’ Tim’s? Hoo’s sick [she’s sick].’
The inn was full of people all through the night, singing and dancing, and next day the roads were noisy with stragglers who were bravely trying to make their legs carry them home.
A strange Pennine version then of the famous pie-eating scene from Stand by Me. Oh to have been there when the old ladies lit up… Beach hasn’t had much time to look into this but it seems that this may have been a a northern tradition. Here is a video where four aged men smoke each other out in 1969, this time. It would be interesting to know how far back it went and when it finally fell out of favour. Can’t imagine them putting this in a family newspaper in the censorious 1990s. Any knowledge of early or late pipe-smoking competitions then please write to Beach: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
4 Sept 2013: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books is a head of the crowd on this one, particularly interesting piece at the end about soldiers and smoking. Smoking competitions were widely reported in the popular press, mostly around the first two decades of the 20th century and usually in a serious rather than satirical vein. Here are some examples. This first article is too long to transcribe quickly and makes a plea for slow smoking, while mentioning competitions. Old-Fashioned Smoker Bans the Speedy “Puffer” A Long Smoke In a pipe smoking competition at Islington, a suburb of London, the other night the world’s record for a continuous smoke was broken by a Highgate gardener named Catling, who kept an old brierwood pipe lighted for one hour and fifty-three minutes, says a London cable dispatch to the New York Sun. Each of the numerous competitors took his own pipe and was supplied with one-eighth of an ounce of tobacco. At the word “go” matches were struck, and forty seconds was allowed for lighting the pipe, after which no relighting was allowed. The winner of the second prize kept his pipe going for one hour and fifty minutes and the third man for one hour and thirty-five minutes. The Evening Statesman [Walla Walla, WA] 28 November 1906: p. 7 Correct Smoking There is more tobacco per head consumed in Belgium than in any other country in the world. It is therefore fitting, perhaps, that one of the favorite pastimes of the menfolk should be smoking competitions at which valuable prizes are awarded to the man who can make his pipeful of tobacco last the longest. The Brugsche Bookers Club is the premier smokers’ club of Belgium, and it was there that I witnessed one of the famous competitions. The true art of smoking according to the standard set by Belgium, consists in reducing the combustion to a minimum, and yet never allowing the pipe to go out while a particle of tobacco remains in the bowl. The object is not to smoke quickly or much—we are not locomotives bent upon producing force, but men on the quest of solace and enjoyment. Wide World Magazine. [If you can find The Wide World Magazine for January of 1909, there is an article on “A Belgian Smoking Competition,” with “illustrations from photographs.”] The Donaldsonville [LA] Chief 23 January 1909: p. 2 Expert Smokers The feat of the London workman in keeping a pipe alight for two hours and five minutes, reminds a correspondent of the London Morning Post that these pipe-smoking competitions have long been held in Belgium. He says: “The prizes to be won are not inconsiderable, and I once took part in a competition in which the winner received 500 francs. ‘All the competitors were given a certain quantity of tobacco, a long church-warden pipe, and a box of matches. Then at a given signal they all lit up and smoked away. I forgot the time the winner made his pipe last, but it was well over two hours. Mine, alas, went out in something over half an hour. “The winner was a very old Flemish peasant of patriarchal appearance, and his victory was well earned, for he smoked in solemn silence the whole time, only diverting himself by copious drafts from his chopin of beer, which was frequently replenished during the course of the contest. ” Pullman [WA] Herald 14 October 1921: p. 8 MADE SMOKING A HARDSHIP Foolish Competitions That Should Have Disgusted Genuine Lovers of the Seductive Weed. At a smoking competition held recently at Brighton, England, the winner kept an eighth of an ounce of tobacco alight for 103 minutes. There was a severer test at Oxford in 1723 on a scaffold over against the theater. Thomas Hearne described the scene: “The conditions were that anyone (man or woman) that could smoak out three ounces of tobacco first without drinking or going off the state should have twelve shillings. Many tired, and it was thought that a journeyman taylour would have been victor, he smoaking faster than, and being many pipes before the rest; but at last he was so sick that ‘twas thought he would have died, and an old man, that had been a soldier, and smoaked gently, came off a conqueror, smoaking the three ounces quite out.” In Derbyshire there was a club where the qualification for membership was the ability to smoke up a pound of shag tobacco at one sitting. A china pot served as pipe, and the candidate smoked through the spout. The Hays [KS] Free Press 15 January 1916: p. 8 Smoking Competition At a “smoking club” in Thailflagen/Thailfingen(South Germany) a competition was held, the object of which was to smoke a cigar as long as possible without letting it go out. The prize-winner smoked his cigar 74 ½ minutes, while none of the other competitors’ records was over one hour. The Coalville [UT] Times 4 December 1903: p. 4 And this subversive, white-feather smoking competition. Gen. Sir William Knox inveighs against the cigarette habit among soldiers. He says that during the South American war thousands of soldiers were away from their units and could not be found. Hundreds must have been willfully away. Cursed with nerves, they were unable to face the music even for a day. He adds that he knows of more than one “regrettable incident” as surrenders were euphemistically termed, that were due to loss of nerve on the part of officers, due to cigarette smoking. He tells how a medical examination of a certain unit resulted in 20 per cent being rejected for service in India owing to heart weakness. At a general surprise visit, some time later, less than 1 per cent. failed to pass. It was then found that with the view of evading foreign service old stagers had organized smoking competitions to bring on smoker’s heart. The sun [New York, NY] 2 May 1909: p. 3. Thanks Chris!!!
10 Sept 2013: ML writes now: I was up at Liverpool University from 1965 to 1968 and Ogden’s, the Liverpool pipe tobacco company, used to organise an annual pipe-smokimg competition in the Students’ Union. I took part and we were each given a clay churchwarden, a fill of tobacco and a match. The winner of course was the one who kept his pipe alight the longest, producing smoke on demand. Carter writes. It still happens: (1) and (2) I used to work with a guy who won one of the UPC regional competitions. He was a bit odd. And though not a smoking competion, something related from Dennis. I read with interest your recent post on pipe smoking. For some reason it released an old memory that might add to your cornucopia of knowledgeable postings. My dad was a graduate of the class of 1939 of the Naval Academy. His first ship was the cruiser, Quincy. This was rather pleasing, as dad came from Massachusetts, and he thought this a fine beginning. Now the USN was totally dry since the tea-totaling Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels in 1914. The Quincy no longer had an officer’s mess with alcohol, but a cigar mess. As I remember it, the cigar mess was a sort of co-op. You put money into the mess funds, and the mess secretary would order cigars, tobacco, cigarettes, based on what the members indicated they would use. Since there was no ship’s store, like modern vessels have, carrying snacks and candy, the cigar mess also kept a selection of sweets, chocolate, and cookies as well. When you took out a box of cigars, or some chocolate bars, this was entered into the mess log. At the end of the month, there was a reconciliation and each member had to even up his account. This is all rather ironic, because when the navy expanded rapidly at the start of the Second World War, people were transferred suddenly to distant duty stations. On Quincy, the mess secretary was suddenly ordered to immediately transfer to a ship or base on the west coast. He left the mess records in quite a high degree of disarray. Then my father was also transferred. With the confusion of the records, his account was not settled. As he did not smoke at the time (the Battle of the Atlantic changed that), he was owed some money. This was never quite reconciled, when the Quincy was transferred to the Pacific, and ultimately sunk at Savo Island. The account was never cleared, but considering the alternative, he felt it worked out best in the long run. Thanks ML, Carter and Dennis!