For at least two hundred years on Good Friday, the people of Dunstable and neighbouring villages would gather at the top of the Downs, then chase oranges thrown down the hills, attempting to catch them. There is some great footage from 1938 of this on britishpathe.com.
The origins of this event are unknown, but it is believed to have started in the mid-to-late 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, newspaper records show that it was an annual event attended by hundreds of people, known at the time as “pelting oranges”. At this time it was common for bands, fairground-type rides and stalls to set up at the bottom of the pit, to further entertain the revellers. At the turn of the 20th century there were issues with rowdy elements within the crowds, in one particular instance over-running a coconut shy, eventually resulting in banning of such amusements in 1914. However, the event would continue, with increasing visitors from further afield such as London, as transportation improved.
WWII was to bring the first break from this tradition, as by 1941 the fruit was in short supply owing to rationing. Post-war the Dunstable Chamber of Trade attempted to bring back the event, but by 1968 it was decided rest it, due to Health and Safety regulations and a lack of support from local traders. Apart from isolated attempts to revive the event, such as in 1985, and despite fond memories from older locals, these factors plus the build-up of scrub on the slopes make it impractical to hold the event today.