A great Corby tradition: The only town in England where pubgoers are allowed to bring their own bottle of booze on New Year's Day

The origins of the unique custom are steeped in mystery

Friday, 31st December 2021, 9:12 am
Pubs and clubs across Corby take part in the annual tradition (inset: Getty Images)

While people in other towns are sleeping off their Hogmanay hangovers, the fun-loving people of Corby get right back on it to start the new year in style.

And it's the town's unique custom of allowing people to bring their own bottle of sprits into the pub on New Year's Day that helps tempt people out of their houses and back into Corby's pubs and clubs.

The rules of engagement are clear: each person can bring a single 70cl bottle of any type of spirit into the pub. No soft drinks, beer or wine allowed: they must be purchased from the bar.

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Most pubs across the town take part and, such is the popularity of the tradition, the majority are sell-out ticket-only events.

This year, ticket touts even began advertising fake tickets online for The Raven's NYD event.

There are many theories behind the reason why Corby is the only town in the country to practise the unusual custom. But does anyone really know how the convention evolved into what it is today?

John Pender, known as Percy to his pals, has lived in Corby for more than 70 years. His tale begins in the 1970s when The Cardigan Arms in the Old Village was run by a popular publican called Mac.

Corby's huge Scottish diaspora had already ensured that customs from north of the border were interweaved into the town's culture.

One of these customs was first footing, which is said to ensure good luck for the forthcoming year. It dictates that the first foot across the door after midnight on Hogmanay should be a dark-haired male, who brings with him pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and a wee dram of whiskey.

John said: "It started in the Cardigan as an extension of first footing.

"Most people would be going round with a bottle in their pocket anyway, so being the canny landlord that he was, Mac brought the tradition 'in house'.

It was also the only day of the year when Mac allowed regulars to buy him a drink, but the rule was that they had to buy one for themselves first.

John also recalled one memorable time that a group of local Irish lads brought in a Poitin (otherwise known as Irish Moonshine) so strong that it took the varnish off the tables.

Some think that the tradition stems back to a Scottish tradition of landlords allowing punters to give their friends a 'tot' on New Year's day.

Cliff Morton, who runs The Clansman on the Danesholme Estate, said he believed the origins to be in the first footing, but that nobody had ever really been sure how this developed into the present day practise.

The 47-year-old said: "It's been going on as far back as I can remember.

"The tradition was to take a bottle to the pub and toast the new year with your friends.

"It used to be just the first-footing but then everyone started bringing a bottle.

"At The Clansman we've got a disco and karaoke. It's ticket-only because it just allows us to keep an eye on the numbers and prioritise the regulars.

"Everyone in Corby goes out on New Year's Day.

"I remember going back 20 years now trying to get a taxi at 11.30pm on New Year's Even to get home for the bells at midnight. It was a nightmare. I think people just want to avoid having to do that and so New Year's Day has become the done thing.

"There are some who push it a bit and finish their bottle then go out and get another from the garage but mostly it's fine.

"In 1995 I was running the Shoulder of Mutton in Weldon and I just said to all the regulars that they could bring a bottle if they wanted for Landlord's Day.

"The guy running the other pub in Weldon, Jack Carmichael, couldn't believe it. His pub was empty so he just said 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em and that was that."

Historian Gary McDonagh, a teacher at Lodge Park Academy, said: "As a young lad working behind the bar of the Irish Centre, families brought tablecloths and food - picnic style!

"It was customary to offer a drink to all and sundry if you were offering back."

Lesley Lapsley who runs the Shire Horse with her husband Andrew said: "It's a Scottish tradition but to be honest they don't even do it in Scotland anymore, it's just Corby.

"It's linked to first footing and it's something that all the pubs do now.

"We're doing a ticketed event and it's all sold out. It's easier to do it that way now because so many people want to come.

"It's been a difficult couple of years with Covid. We've definitely been quieter over Christmas so it will be nice to have a full pub."

Most pubs open from noon to about 6pm although some are opening later this year because of the popularity of the event.

Pubs and clubs taking part this year include The Cardigan Arms, The Clansman, Knight's Lodge, The Grampian Club, The Irish Centre, The Raven, The Evs, The Kingfisher, The Phoenix, The Shire Horse, Posh Paddy's and Corby Town Clubhouse. Most are ticketed events and are sold out.