Tag Archives: Easter

Custom survived: Good Friday Holcombe Hill Egg rolling, Lancashire

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The last custom I attended before we dived into national lockdown in 2020 was the annual Good Friday at Rivington Pike, those it seemed fitting that the first post Lockdown Easter custom I should attend is the other noted Lancashire Good Friday custom at Holcombe Hill, near Ramsbottom, Lancashire.

Rolling off

The Holcombe Hill Good Friday custom is noted in virtually all folk customs books but usually as an aside in a list of egg rolling locations; which is not particularly useful as it is often coupled with Bunker’s Hill, Derbyshire, which I am pretty sure is no longer extant. And whilst other egg rolling customs get some detailed accounts made, these days usually online, Holcombe’s custom appears to have been so under the radar, that before the pandemic hit, I doubted it actually happened. Or certainly that it did not happen in the same vigour as that of Rivington. However clearly I was wrong and it was the pandemic that indicated that it was very popular when this appeared in the 2021 Manchester Evening News:

“For the second year in a row, a popular children’s tradition is set to be cancelled.

Egg rolling at Holcombe Hill is an unusual event that takes place at Easter each year and has a history dating back centuries.

If you live in the area you will almost definitely have heard of it and might have been among the crowds of onlookers gathered to watch and cheers as youngsters roll painted boiled eggs down the hillside…..

Despite this long history, authorities have advised that no egg rolling take place at Holcombe Hill this year as large crowds ‘would make social distancing impossible’.

The car park on Lumb Carr Road will be locked over the Easter weekend to dissuade people from driving to the hill.

Coun Andrea Simpson, Bury council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “After a year of lockdown, we’re all desperate to get out there and enjoy the countryside, and get our lives back to normal…..Thousands of people mixing together at Easter carries a very real risk of causing infection to spread and making people very ill.”

Bar this there is little else recording it bar a mention in 1908 of someone selling sweets at the top in the Bury News and perhaps the original focus of the custom the Church service first recorded in print in 1949 as far as I can gather.  Sadly in many well-known customs people feel it is unnecessary to write anything about them…until now!

Rolling on

So I decided to attend in 2022 and experience the custom. With such rather informal affairs it is always difficult to know what time to attend. If the church custom still happened at the foot of the hill it would have been good to attend, but finding details of this was more difficult and it would appear to be bit early…so I aimed for midday.

Arriving there on a sunny Good Friday thankfully it was clear that there were already many on the summit of Holcombe Hill by the large number of cars crammed along the streets of the small village in its shadow. After finding a parking place, I noticed the large numbers of families with the children clutching egg boxes…meaning only one thing…egg rolling.

At the base of the hill one could see the small figures of people at the top appearing like spikes on dinosaur either side of the dark shadow of the Peel Monument on top. Indeed, there was a steady stream of people of all ages ascending the summit which felt at times more like a mountain than a hill! On the way, there were bits of egg shell. Did they land here or did they not make it?

I spoke to a number of people as they ascended the hill and asked them why they did it. One commented that ‘it was a family tradition’ and another said ‘I remembered going to the summit with his father and grandfather’ I asked did you go with eggs and one could not remember and the other said ‘why yes of course’. I also asked why they did it and another stated that ‘it was just a ritual a way of burning off a big lunch’ another said it was to ‘remember to the Calvary!’

At the top there was a large number of people, mainly eating their lunch, and then like a steady stream, going down to the edge of the hill with their eggs. I peered into a couple of egg boxes to see some neatly painted eggs; indeed some looked stained in the traditional fashion. I joined the families to see how they were rolling them and the answer was they werent! The hill unlike every other site for egg rolling had no good slope. Much of the hill was covered with thick heath and bracken. Instead the children went to the edge of the cliff, one ledge looked pretty precarious and there the aim being to get they either as far as possible, as smashed as possible or both and beneath a large rocky outcrop -the main aim of their projectiles, was splatted with eggs and shells like a giant omelette attempt! It seemed that this was the usual practice for the children confirmed by one of the older men with his grandchildren…and as such I was surprised it had not been recorded before!

 

Custom demised: Good Friday on St Martha’s Hill, Surrey

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File:St.Martha's Church, St.Martha's Hill, Surrey - geograph.org.uk - 1704082.jpg

St Martha’s Church on St Martha’s Hill Peter Trimming / St.Martha’s Church, St.Martha’s Hill, Surrey

High above Guildford is St Martha’s Hill where a curious Good Friday existed as a report in the Times in 1870 of a curious lost custom:

“Thither from all the country side youths and maidens, old folks and children, betake themselves, and gathered together on one of the most beautiful spots in Surrey, in full sight of an old Norman Church which crowns the green summit of the hill, beguile the time with music and dancing.”

The author notes:

“Whatever the origin of this pilgrimage to St. Martha’s, it is apparently one that commends itself to the taste of the present generation, and is not likely to die out with the lapse of years, but to increase in popular estimation as long as the green hill lasts to attract the worshippers of natural beauty, or to furnish the mere votaries of pleasure with the excuse and the opportunity for a pleasant holiday”

Walter Johnson in his 1908 Folk-memory: Or, The Continuity of British Archaeology suggests a link with the custom with some local archaeological remains:

 “are some curious earth-rings, which may represent the remains of a maze. In olden times, the youths and maidens met there on Good Friday, and indulged in music and boisterous dancing.” 

A view the author repeated in his In Byways in British Archaeology (1912): 

“there are some curious earth-rings situated to the south of the church, haIf-hidden by heather, and I have elsewhere suggested that these represent part of a maze, within which the sports were once held.” 

However, this is mere supposition as is the belief that the custom itself was of age. Matthew Alexander in his More Surrey Tales believes that it was not established time out of memory but begun in the 1809s. 

The County, Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser on April 14th 1868 reports that there was a:

“the usual gathering of the lower orders on Good Friday at Tyting Farm” 

This suggestion that the Hill was not perhaps the main focus on activity as they gathered at Bent piece near Tyting Farm in what could be described as a rural fete with fruit vendors, hockey, shying orange peel and ‘kissing in the ring’ The main appeal however was a kind of massed dancing which in 1870 attracted a blind fiddler and has been described as akin to the Helston Furry dance with little evidence! The paper complained that it should, as not to offend religious sensitivities, move to Easter Monday. Indeed in 1871 an evangelical preacher ranted at the party being ‘giddy and gay’ and was subsequently pelted with orange peel! However, this rather confused custom which appeared dancing the custom did die out around the turn of the twentieth century. Of course the custom resembled in many ways the annual Good Friday climbing of hills around Lancashire which is still current however no mention of egg rolling 

Custom survived: Making Simnel Cakes for Mothering Sunday

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Recently I have noticed that well-known bakery Greggs had been selling Simnel cakes around March time in memory of the tradition of making Simnel Cake which if the number of recipes on the internet is anything to go by is still a commonly made cake. Here is a clip of well-known Mary Berry making one!

The association with Mothering Sunday has been so great that it became alternatively known as Simnel Sunday. 

Nathan Bailey in his 1721 Dictionary states that:

“Simnel is probably derived from the Latin Simila, fine flour, and means a sort of cake, or bun, made of fine flour, spice, &c.”

Frequent mention is made of the Simnel in the household allowances of Henry the First.

“Cancellarius v solidos in die et i Siminellum dominicum, et ii salum, et i sextarium de vino claro, et i sext. de vino expensabili, et unum grossum cereum, et xl frusta Candell.”–_Libr. Nigr. Scaccarii,”

Why a cake should be firstly established with a religious custom is unclear but some have argued that it derived from a type of bread given out on the Sunday service. Indeed a bread called “simnel bread” is mentioned by Jehoshaphat Aspin, in his Pictures of Manners, &c., of England quoting from a statue book of the 51st of Henry III:

“A farthing symnel_ (a sort of small cake, twice baked, and also called a cracknel) should weigh two ounces less than the wastel_(a kind of cake made with honey, or with meal and oil).”

At some point probably to make it more commercially viable it manifested itself into cakes with the image of Jesus to know the traditional 12 apostles and Jesus made of balls of marzipan!

Edward Baines in his 1836 History of Lancashire records that:

“At Bury, in Lancashire, from time beyond memory, thousands of persons come from all parts, and eat “simnels” on Simnel Sunday.”

However the custom nearly fell afoul of the church:

“Formerly, nearly every shop was open, quite in defiance of the law respecting the closing during “service,” but of late, through the improved state of public opinion, the disorderly scenes to which the custom gave rise have been partially amended. Efforts have been repeatedly made to put a stop to the practice altogether, but in vain. The clergy, headed by the rector, and the ministers of all denominations (save the Romanists) have drawn up protests and printed appeals against this desecration, but, as just stated, with scarcely any visible effect. It is not a little singular that the practice of assembling in one town, upon one day–the middle Sunday in Lent, to eat simnel cake, is a practice confined to Bury. Much labour has been expended to trace the origin of this custom, but without success.”

Herrick in his Hesperides has the following:

“TO DIANEME. “A CEREMONIE IN GLOCESTER.    “I’ll to thee a Simnell bring, ’Gainst thou go’st a _mothering;  So that, when she blesseth thee, Half that blessing thou’lt give me.”

Hone’s Book of Days gives the origin of the name

“There is a story current in Shropshire, which is more picturesque. Long ago there lived an honest old couple, boasting the names of Simon and Nelly, but their surnames are not known. It was their custom at Easter to gather their children about them, and thus meet together once a year under the old homestead. The fasting season of Lent was just ending, but they had still left some of the unleavened dough which had been from time to time converted into bread during the forty days. Nelly was a careful woman, and it grieved her to waste anything, so she suggested that they should use the remains of the lenten dough, for the basis of a cake to regale the assembled family. Simon readily agreed to the proposal, and further reminded his partner that there were still some remains of their Christmas plum-pudding hoarded up in the cupboard, and that this might form the interior, and be an agreeable surprise to the young people when they had made their way through the less tasty crust. So far all things went on harmoniously; but when the cake was made, a subject of violent discord arose, Sim insisting that it should be boiled, while Nell no less obstinately contended that it should be baked. The dispute ran from words to blows, for Nell not choosing to let her province in the household be thus interfered with, jumped up, and threw the stool she was sitting on at Sim, who, on his part, seized a besom, and applied it with right good will to the head and shoulders of his spouse. She now seized the broom, and the battle became so warm, that it might have had a very serious result, had not Nell proposed as a compromise that the cake should be boiled first and afterwards baked. This Sim acceded to, for he had no wish for further acquaintance with the heavy end of the broom. Accordingly, the big pot was set on the fire, and the stool broken up and thrown on to boil it, whilst the besom and broom furnished fuel for the oven. Some eggs, which had been broken in the scuffle, were used to coat the outside of the pudding when boiled, which gave it the shining gloss it possesses as a cake. This new and remarkable production in the art of confectionery became known by the name of the cake of Simon and Nelly, but soon only the first half of each name was alone preserved and joined together, and it has ever since been known as the cake of Sim-Nel or Simnel.”

Well upon cooking my Simnel cake I took pains to boil the fruit and then add it to the mix bake it slowly..and then with the marzipan on carefully place it under the grill..and very nice it was too. My mother was very pleased with it as I arrived surprising her on Mother’s Day.

Custom revived: St Alban’s Bun, Hertfordshire

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Recently I was in a well-known supermarket and referred to hot cross buns as how it was odd that unlike mince pieces they are sold all year round now and they look puzzled at me. Why they asked? I said because they were something you’d only eat around Easter time. Oh they said. That got me thinking it would be worth exploring it

Bun in the oven

Herts Advertiser of 1862 April 26, 1862 reports it as follows:

“It is said that in a copy of ‘Ye Booke of Saint Albans’ it was reported that; “In the year of Our Lord 1361 Thomas Rocliffe, a monk attached to the refectory at St Albans Monastery, caused a quantity of small sweet spiced cakes, marked with a cross, to be made; then he directed them to be given away to persons who applied at the door of the refectory on Good Friday in addition to the customary basin of sack (wine). These cakes so pleased the palates of the people who were the recipients that they became talked about, and various were the attempts to imitate the cakes of Father Rocliffe all over the country, but the recipe of which was kept within the walls of the Abbey.” The time honoured custom has therefore been observed over the centuries, and will undoubtedly continue into posterity, bearing with it the religious remembrance it is intended to convey.”

When these buns stopped being made is unclear but one would imagine that their Christian imagery fell afoul of the Reformation and the puritanical thoughts. However, the hot cross bun did survive and has remains popular today.

Have cake and eat it

It looks like my view on why it was available all year around rang in accordance with the Dean of St Albans who wanted to reclaim the hot cross bun for Good Friday according to the Telegraph in 2009. The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral, stated:

“Recently we’ve lost touch with the significance of the bun, and its link to Holy Week and the Cross. These days it’s possible to buy Hot Cross Buns throughout the year. Whilst any reminder of the importance of Easter is welcomed, we’ve come to the conclusion that the Alban Bun might be a way of reaffirming the significance of the bun as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection.”

As a result they looked into reviving their very own St Alban’s bun. A local mill was contacted, Redbourne Mill, and the recipe selected, which kept close to original one and was described as being “denser, and more cakey”. As they were hand made, their shape were not uniform and rather than use pastry the cross is made by knife.

So thus the Alban bun was revived and since then every Lent culminating with Good Friday of course you have been able to visit the Abbott’s kitchen and re-taste this revival. I myself had planned to turn up on Good Friday to taste the said revived bun but something prevented me…I cannot remember what….and I just made some myself instead!

Custom Survived: William Hubbard Graveside Easter Singing, Market Harborough, Leicestershire

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An Easter Custom. — On each recurring Easter Eve, in pursuance of a custom which has continued for more than a century (and which, as a fund was left for the purpose, will continue for centuries to come), the church choir of Market Harborough visit the ‘God’s Acre’ of St. Mary’s, and sing at midnight the beautiful Easter hymn over the grave of Mr. Hubbard, the founder of the chantry of that name.”

The History of Market- Harborough in Leicestershire and its vicinity by William Harrod (1808)

On the outskirts of Market Harborough is a ghostly shell of a church twixt between an industrial site, the railway station and the urban sprawl. Surrounded by a few graves it is a mysterious place. There are many such derelict churches open to the elements slowly decaying, unvisited all bar the curious- this one is an exception though for despite being a ruin once year on the evening before Easter Sunday this desolate place is warmed by the sounds of heavenly voices in a custom which has been done for over 200 years.

Willed to sing

The originator of this unique bequest was William Hubbard, a gardener and more importantly churchwarden. When he died in 1786, aged 63 his will stipulated:

“at the decease of his wife to the Singers of Harborough for the time being for ever the sum of One Guinea yearly on condition of their finding over his grave every Easter eve the EASTER HYMN the said guinea to be paid out of the rent of a house now in the tenure of Mr Clark painter &c In cafe the singers should neglect complying with the donor’s desire the said legacy is to be applied to purchasing shoes for widows.”

Sadly those local widows have shoeless because without fail the congregation of the more substantial St. Dionysius church dutifully come here every Easter Saturday to sing since 1807, presumably the death date of his widow. That guinea has gone a long way! I am not sure whether it pays for anything now but in 1957 a rent charge was still being taken.

Sing when you’re winning!

When I first came to experience this custom, it was a balmy Easter Saturday in 1996, 7th of April. The churchyard was quiet, mysterious and unloved. I located the grey slate gravestone of William Hubbard and waited.

Soon a small choir appeared. Arched around the grave the vicar, curate and choir made a fine sight in themselves but when the hymns were sung it was magical.

1996

2016 – Spot the difference!

Obviously it is a short service. It started with Chorus novae Jerusalem

“Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, your sweetest notes employ, the Paschal victory to hymn in strains of holy joy. For Judah’s Lion bursts his chains, crushing the serpent’s head; and cries aloud through death’s domains to wake the imprisoned dead. Devouring depths of hell their prey at his command restore; his ransomed hosts pursue their way where Jesus goes before. Triumphant in his glory now to him all power is given; to him in one communion bow all saints in earth and heaven. While we, his soldiers, praise our King, his mercy we implore, within his palace bright to bring and keep us evermore. All glory to the Father be, all glory to the Son, all glory, Holy Ghost, to thee, while endless ages run.”

Then a reading is given in 2016, the Gospel for Easter was Matthew 27 a very adapt piece about Jesus’s burial:

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The Guard at the Tomb: The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.”

The Easter Hymn was sung

“Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! our triumphant holy day, Alleluia! who did once upon the cross, Alleluia! suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia! Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia! unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia! who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia! sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia! But the pains which he endured, Alleluia! our salvation have procured, Alleluia! now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia! where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!”

Then an Easter Collect and Prayer finishing with a sung grace

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Eighteen years later passing this way I came to again experience it. However, my sources were incorrect and I’d missed it by an hour! Finally, again in 2016 I came again, on a most appalling Easter evening. Dark clouds were building up and the wind howled through the ghost of the church. After a while I was beginning to think my sources had been incorrect, had the weather put them off…no soon more and more people arrived. The first thing I noticed is how much the congregation had grown since 1996; despite the awful weather it was clear that this custom was still a popular one…and even the dreadful rain was not going to stop the custom. In 1984, so Brian Shuel in his Traditional Customs of Britain was informed by the vicar:

“in really nasty weather, such as the previous year when it was snowing, they have been known to do it themselves”

It did not stop them, nor did it in 1876 as a local newspaper reports:

“Easter Eve – The old custom to sing the Easter hymn over Mr. Hubbard’s grave, in St. Mary’s burial ground, was carried out again on Saturday last, at 8.30, by the church choir. To get to the grave yard this year there was something very unusual. The waters, from the rapid melting of the snow which had fallen on the two preceding days, were out, near the Toll-gate and Gas works, but this obstruction was bravely encountered by about thirty of the choir, besides a few others. Many more who intended to go, declined, when they got to the end of the walk, not liking to got through the flood, and returned again to the town. One gentleman was kindly carried over the flood by a young man named Toomes. This little incident amused the choir boys and one of them was overheard to whisper, ‘I wish he’d drop him.’ We understand this is the 70th year that the above custom has been carried out.”

The only shame was that the weather had prevented the congregation wearing their traditional choral attire. Yet in a way it made the custom seem even more bizarre.

Before the Reformation, sung songs and prayers were common from chapels to great Cathedrals, but although these Chantry chapels survive the bequests have long gone, siphoned off to support schools such as Thomas Burton’s in Loughborough or incorporated into general funds. What is of course unusual with Hubbard is that this is a post-Reformation one. Little did he also know that he think that when he made the bequest that the church would fall into disuse and ruin. Yet this is part of the curious nature of the custom, despite the church and the possible temptation of removing the grave to somewhere more convenient the custom continues.

All in all, Hubbard’s bequest is without doubt one of the countries, a beautiful uplifting tribute to a man long forgotten but still remembered!

Custom demised: Fig Sunday

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Palm Sunday known locally as Fig Sunday was a minor hamlet festival. Sprays of soft gold and silver willow catkins called ‘palm’ in that part of the country, were brought indoors to decorate the houses and worn as buttonholes for churchgoing. The children of the house loved fetching in the palm …..better still they loved the old custom of eating figs on Palm Sunday. Some of the more expert cooks among the women would use these to make fig puddings for dinner.’

Flora Thompson Lark Rise to Candleford

Fig Sunday was an alternative name for Palm Sunday and it appears to have been observed as a custom across the country. It is noted that at one point it was observed in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Northampton and North Wales. In Hertfordshire it is recorded in the village of Kempton:

“It has long been the custom for the people to eat figs – keep warsel! – and make merry with their friends on Palm Sunday. More figs are sold in the shops on the few days previous to the festival than in all the year beside.”

In Buckinghamshire it is noted that:

“At Edlesborough, Buckinghamshire, the children procure figs and nearly every house has a fig- pudding.”

In Dunstable, Bedfordshire:

“For some days beforehand the shop windows of the neighbouring town are full of figs and on Palm Sunday crowds go to the top of Dunstable Downs, one of the highest points of the neighbourhood, and eat figs.”  

In the 1912 Byways in British Archaeology by Walter Johnson he observes that a:

 “Ceremony was carried out on Palm Sunday by the villagers of Avebury, Wiltshire, who mounted the famous Silbury Hill, there to eat fig cakes and drink sugar and water. The water was procured from the spring below, known as the Swallow Head.”

Image result for fig sunday silbury

The author observes that real figs were often replaced by raisins as they were in the west of England and Wessex.

Why figs?

“when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.”

The Gospel of St Mark

Image result for fig sunday

Palm Sunday is so called from the custom of eating figs on that day but why them? The main claim is that on Christ’s entrance to city on Palm Sunday he cursed a fig tree for not having any fruit, a barren tree, being hungry he then cursed it. Another claim is that the practice arose from the Bible story of Zaccheus, who climbed up into a fig-tree to see Jesus.

Sadly although a few food bloggers might promote fig pudding making on the day, Fig Sunday as a community custom has long ceased.

Custom demised: Caister’s Palm Sunday Gap Whip

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gad whip2

In a glass frame in the church is a curious relic – the Gad Whip. An account in the Book of Days notes:

“Until it was discontinued in 1847, a singular ceremony took place annually in this church, by the performance of which certain lands in the parish of Broughton, near Brigg, were held. On Palm Sunday, a person from Broughton brought a large whip, called a gad whip, the stock of which was made of wood, tapered towards the top. He came to the north porch about the commencement of the first lesson, and cracked his whip at the door three times; after which, with ceremony, he wrapped the throng round the stock of the whip, and bound the whole together with whip cord, tying up with it some twigs of mountain ash; he then tied to the top of the whip-stock a small leather purse, containing two shillings, (originally 24 silver pennies) and took the whole upon his shoulder into the Hundon choir, or chapel, where he stood in front of the reading desk until the commencement of the second lesson; he then waved the purse over the head of the clergyman, knelt down upon a cushion, and continued in that posture, with the purse suspended over the clergyman’s head, till the end of the lesson, when he retired into the choir. After the service was concluded, he carried the whip and purse to the manor house of Hundon, where they were left.”

An odd procedure and one which had a few complainants.

Banning the custom

It is reported in the May 24th 1836 copy of the Hertford Mercury and Reformer that:

“A petition by Sir Culling Eardley-Smith of Bedwell Park, Hertfordshire, was put before the House of Lords Temporal and Spiritual , to get the practice in Caistor stopped on the grounds that it was a superstitious practice… Sir Culling had even applied to the Bishop of Lincoln to get it stopped but he had not done so. Sir Culling wanted the Lords to investigate the Bishop of Lincoln for this scandal.”

However, this petition was unsuccessful and it did not cease until 1847 when the land which paid for the custom was sold. A common source for the stopping of customs.

The origins of the custom

“generally supposed to be a penance for murder by the Lord of the manor, the Lord would have paid a penalty to the Lord of a neighbouring manor had it really been murder.”

Despite the article’s noting that the custom derived from the penance for murder, that seems unlikely. One possible origin is seen in the purse and its thirty silver pieces – does this refer to the betrayal of Judas? However, the whip is problematic if so..More likely is that considering the date that it is associated with the custom of the Procession of the Ass, a custom which has been revived across the country. The whip was probably used to move the Ass symbolically or actually! The name is further evidence being derived from the term goad for driving horses.

 

Custom revived: Middleton Pace eggers and Egg rolling

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“It’s an important Manchester United match on…there won’t be any Pace Egging”

Was one paraphrased reply when enquiring about Pace Egging on Easter Monday from the Mossley team. Fortunately, the Middleton team were not some encumbered by a need to watch the footy..after all they could get snatches of it in the pubs.

Pace Egging Play 2013 (199)

 

What egg-xactly does it mean?

The English can be confusing. Any search for the words Pace Egg will reveal two slightly contradictory uses of the phrase – a play and a decorated egg, the precursor of the chocolate egg, which is rolled down the hills.  This usage is noticeable in Lancashire.

The name Pace derives from Pasche which is derived from the Hebrew Passover which is when traditionally the Crucifixion is associated with. The term probably survived in the Lancashire region, like the burning Judas custom because of the large number of recusant Catholics and Irish catholic immigrants.

How did this confusion arise I think Poulson (1977) in her North Country Traditions gives us the clue:

“Children used to call door to door, sometimes selected houses in the district where they lived and stated that they were pace-egging. The householder would then offer an egg as a gift.”

What probably happened is that the play arose independently and largely became debased in areas where the children took it over as they did not practice and so it continued as a house visiting custom probably based around singing as their entertainment form. As it was Easter time, people would give eggs which they knew would be used as either food, rolled down the hills or both. Hence the name being used for both.

Pace Egging Play 2013 (252)

The Middleton Pace Eggers have avoided this confusion by doing both! For after the play which finishes at the highest point of the town and the group move to a slopping field beside the church. So if you want to get two Easter traditions in following the Middleton Pace Eggers is a must

Egging you on?

There is evidence of Pace Egging in the area in the 18th century. As Joan Poulson (1977) North Country Traditions notes:

“a seventy-six year old Manchester man told me in 1974 that it was regular custom for school children to go Pace-Egging on Good Friday before 1910 and that afterwards it may have persisted for a year or two in some locations. The nineteen-four-teen/eighteen war certainly put an end to it.”

This group is one of the oldest of the revivals, 50 years in 2017. Unusually it is one which owes their existence to well known folk comedian Mike Harding who compiled the script from various plays such as those at Bury. Being a writer, Mike added some artistic license to the play and elaborated on some of the characters and made them more prominent such as the section with the Quack Doctor and St. George. Fortunately it is the doctor who has played the role since the 1967 that keeps the playing going on.

Pace yourself!

Like most other folk plays…one could see this as glorified pump crawl, although how the team can remember their lines after so many pints at the end is always a mystery!!

My first encounter was on the streets of Middleton a small town on the outskirts of Manchester, having just left their first pub – the Dusty Miller. They were a rag bag group of curiously dressed people – recognisable were a King with a crown, a black faced Turkish Knight, St. George the most obvious, as well as a whole pantheon of bizarrely dressed people including a horse on that pub crawl with a difference.

Entering the first pub, a Wetherspoons, I could not resist the temptation cracking that horse at the bar joke. The group knew there script well and certainly put passion and power into it…pity that no one thought of turning off the music blearing over them in the pub! A well…a sort break for some beer and up the hill to a more traditional spit and saw dust establishment. The crowd may have been smaller, but there was no music and they seemed quite appreciative and laughed in all the right bits!  There is something quite addictive in following these plays…the script is the same but you feed off the ab-libs and often as the drink takes over the mistakes.

Eggstrordinary story

The story is a familiar one! A story of conflict, death and resurrection – a more appropriate theme for Easter than at other times. The characters are the King of England and his son St. George, his antagonistic partner the Turkish Champion and Bold Slasher, the doctor, Beelzebub and Derry Doubt. Familiar characters and then the team have two unusual characters a ‘female’ clown called Miss Kitty Fair and impressive black horse called Dobbin. The basic plot concerns St George fighting the Turk. At first defeated (to the accompaniment of boos), St George is brought back to life by the mysterious Doctor and finally defeats his adversary

Curiously, the play starts with all the characters in a circle and they sing a song introducing themselves. Round one – Captain Slasher fights the Turkish Knight. The former wounded! Round two – St George fights the Turkish Knight (after some egging on from the King). The former dies! Everyone is distraught! In comes the Doctor with his unruly horse…and he ‘cures’ St. George. Round three – St George fights the Turkish Knight! Death to the Turkish Knight. Owd Beelzebub and Derry Doubt sweep up for some money (charity not beer!)

Small and almost children take on the Turkish Knight and almost win!

Last stage of the tour is the Ring O’Bells. Here we encountered what I consider one the scourge of events….the professional photographer. Don’t get me wrong,  I like to get a good shot, but sometimes I do think that these people arrogantly think the show is set up for them, just swan in at the end and demand photos. I know we all need publicity but I do think that such people can look down at the event for the sake of copy. Rant over! Having said this the custom is well supported by the press the Middleton Guardian reporting:

“Nowadays most of us are older and the joints are rather stiffer, so the prospect of carrying out a schedule like that doesn’t bear thinking about. Most memorable perhaps is the wonderful feeling as the team walk up through Jubilee Park and approach the final pub, The Ring O’ Bells. Although the crowd can vary, often dependent on the weather, on a good day, we can be welcomed by an appreciative crowd, waiting expectantly outside the pub, and the warmth of the welcome makes the whole thing worthwhile.”

At the Ring O’Bells we were greeted with bright but chilly weather and the team set the play outside. What is delightful is that the group are keep to accept volunteers, mainly children in their play. Here they solicited others for any children to join  in to slay the Turkish Knight…this was feverishly taken up by one boy who despite making a valiant effort was dispatched but kept coming back to life. Another appeared to also not read the brief and was determined to kill the Turkish Knight aiming for some more delicate places on the way. Without doubt the last performance was the best and all the team with the children who helped out got together for a group photo.

Then it was off for some egg rolling. This was clearly very well known in the area for a large congregation of children clutching eggs had appeared at this point. This rolling was a simple but nevertheless effective. The King blew his horn and the eggs were rolled and some went some great distances…sweets being given as prizes…once the rollers had climbed the steep hill up that is.

A King but no soldiers for the eggs!

A King but no soldiers for the eggs!

This I would say is the most important part of the custom and one which other similar customs could take points from…children are actively involved. One would hope that by doing so, especially encouraging participation in the play, the play’s survival is assured..perhaps such teams should invest in Junior  tours although it would have to be a tour of soft play centres…mind you there are plenty of them!

Find out when its on

Calendar Customs … http://calendarcustoms.com/articles/pace-egg-plays/

Copyright Pixyledpublication

Custom revived: Cusworth Hall and Fountains Abbey Egg Rolling

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Is everywhere! I don’t know whether it is the consequence of the internet spreading the nature of the custom across the country or whether the internet has made me more aware of its occurrence elsewhere, but egg rolling was everywhere this year. From Calverley Park in Tunbridge Wells to One Tree Hill, in Essex (both with very suitable hills to do it) to a humble hill in Wanstead and down a flat road in Nottinghamshire, and in various schools apparently…everyone was rolling eggs.

Eggs-plain.

Well traditionally egg rolling is said to commemorate the rolling away of the tomb from the Christ’s tomb remembering the Resurrection. Of course this would have a double significance as the egg itself represents rebirth and has continued albeit as a chocolate one in virtually every household in Britain at Easter. Folklorists have suggested that the rolling event however has a deeper pre-Christian significance and may represent the solar patterns moving from spring to winter

Eggs-strordinary

Presently despite what some books and websites state, there appear to be only two English sites where rolling is done ‘traditionally’ with regular crowds: Avenham Park Preston and Holcombe Hill, Ramsbottom. There other two long term revivals one very well known, the other less so.

Rolling into the 20th century

Fountain’s Abbey near Ripon is perhaps the most famous revival.  It is said that the custom was revived in 1954, when someone connected with the site remembered it being undertaken there in the early parts of the 20th century.

Egg-citing

Turning up at the site despite an egg hunt stuck in various odd locations: trees, walls and by an old well, there did not appear to be no-one awaiting an egg roll. Then I noticed an area of the hillside and some organisers checking their handiwork. Soon a loud hailer was called and people begun to arrive. You could see the excitement on the faces of the children feverishly grasping their baskets of coloured eggs. Close inspection revealed there to be a wide range in quality from simple unadorned (but hopefully hard boiled) to those boiled in colouring to those both painted and draw to resemble cartoon characters – Perhaps more a result of the enthusiasm of the parents than the child perhaps I thought. Different age groups assembled and at the bottom of the slope the adjudicator to judge the fastest egg and give out the sweet prize. The cutest people those just about able to walk…let alone through. As the group lined up, a countdown begun and the first roll begun…sometimes these younger participants had to be held back to prevent this becoming a egg rolling-cum-cheese rolling event.

There was no such problem at the other notable revival indeed following the egg was actively encouraged with hilarious results. Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster, has been rolling since the 1970s and was a conscious effort to ensure the survival of a local custom by the council who own and run the estate; although it was unclear where the hill here was the exact site it was done.

I shouldn’t include Cusworth Hall, because it is unusually is done on the Thursday before Easter and this year that was in March, but when I visited last it was in April. Despite this welcome, for custom followers (as it allows one to attend more than one rolling event), change of day, it did not lack rollers and the event consisted of two sessions; one 11 am and one at 2 pm. I didn’t make the earlier event as I was involved in another ceremony which I may report at a later date.

Hundreds of people, mainly mothers and their children congregated at the hall, where at first they did a timed Easter egg hunt and then progressed around to the front of the hall where the hill flowed steeply towards a lake below.

Again it was divided into age groups, with some very eager teenagers, some which considering they were in their late teens appeared exceedingly enthusiastic. Then the ready-steady-go was called and the eggs were projected at great speed down this rather steep hill. Watching from below they appeared like bouncing balls hitting hard and leaping into the air like bombs; and remarkably unbroken. Get out the way…this could be dangerous! Certainly what was slightly more hazardous was the cavalcade of children building up greater and greater speeds looking like at any point terminal velocity would be achieved and some appeared even eager to catch up with their egg although physically impossible considering the speed some very rolling. The satisfaction of many of the children’s faces when they uncovered their egg unscathed and some distance down the slope was very apparent…although fortunately none actually reached the water.

Of the two sites, I preferred the Cusworth Hall one, firstly access was free (of course there is a charge for non- National Trust or English heritage members to Fountains, although well worth a visit if you have not been there!) and the steepness of the hill meant that the speed at which the eggs rolled, bounced and somersaulted down the hill was something to be seen quickly followed by some very eager children….roll on next year.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

Custom survived: Mary Mallatratt’s Dole

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Good Friday is traditionally a time for giving doles and a number are noted around the country. One tradition which is still maintained, although little known, and not even recorded in any countrywide volume on customs, is Mary Mallatratt’s Dole.

A sad memorial

The dole was established in 1894 in Mary’s will, and is said that dole established to remember Mary’s child who died as an infant of brain damage aged 7 months in 1876, although this is not explicitly stated. Certainly the Mansfield and North Notts Advertiser (1931) stated that even before Mary’s death it was customary to give free buns out at Easter to children at the Blue Boar Inn, so clearly Mary wanted to see this custom being perpetuated in perpetuity. After the death of her son, Mary became increasingly involved with the affairs of the meeting house and so after her death it was not surprising that she gave monies for school books for the Meeting House, money for a stained glass window and the bequest of £100 to the trustees of the Meeting house to provide buns annually.  It appears to have survived an attempt to amalgamation with similar charities and the two world wars when it ceased to be given out and is consists of ‘hot cross buns’ given to children as they go about their business on Good Friday.

The Buns await

A Bun fight!

As Alan Mallatratt (2003) notes in his article for the Nottinghamshire Historian on the custom (he himself being a descendent) each year the distribution grew in size. The largest distribution being in 1912 when a local coal strike happened and 2000 buns were distributed! (And it still was not enough!) The Mansfield reporter noted:

“The magic of the Good Friday Bun drew a crowd of over a couple of thousand of Mansfield’s poor children to the Old Meeting House on Friday morning. For the past 14 or 15 years in accordance with a bequest it has been the custom to distribute buns in the grounds of this place of worship, the number usually being given usually 1200. This year in consequence of the coal strike, some additional funds were obtained from private sources, and the number of buns increased to 2000. The distribution is a popular annual event and on the Friday morning children began to gather as early as seven o’clock, three hours before the specified time in Rooth Street. By 10 o’clock a long queue of youngsters from babies of 2 and 3 years of age in the arms of big brothers and sisters, to boys and girls of 10 and 12 years old, stretched the whole length of the street and overflowed into Rosemary Street. It was a miserable morning-the first one known to be wet in the distribution-but the children stood patiently in the long line and at 10 o’clock when the big doors opened, two thousand shrill voices cheered. Police officers let them in by batches and the little ones filed past the table, each received a bun from either Mr. J.H. White, Mr. Birks or Mr. Roper or one of the several ladies who took part in the distribution. So great was the number of applicants that the supply ran short, and about 200 were disappointed.”

So popular was the custom that it created its own tradition. For local tradition records to earn a bun you had to complete a circuit –out of the gates of Stockwell gate, right to Rosemary Street, along and right into Rooth Street, through the meeting house main gates and into the hall.

Some children partakeA curious resident

Have a tea-cake and eat it!

Unlike similar charities, the Mallatratt Trustees missed the opportunity during the last war to commute the buns for cash and although the original gift no longer covers the expense the Chapel Trustees subsidise the distribution, it does continue. Times have changed and the size of the distribution is not as daunting. The Guardian Journal in 1973 noted that only 73 turned up to collect 200 buns (which appeared to the children to be a good ratio no doubt) which was down on the previous year and the author of the piece suggested this was due to demolition of housing in the area. It notes that:

“First in line was 13 year old Christopher Simpson, Richard Street, Mansfield who arrived at 8.50 am 10 minutes before the gates opened. In the past children where queuing up as early as 7.30 to get the buns.”         

In 1994 they were joined by the decedents of the Mallatratts, and to celebrate the 100 anniversary of the distribution an exhibition on the history of the custom was established, and perhaps indicating how cultural views have changed Rev Michael Joyce:

 “Now days it’s pretty hard work trying to get children to accept them”

Despite the decline, the Old Meeting house still distributes their dole, but no one lines up for it now. The distribution time has changed to now 10.30 am and rarely is it distributed in the Meeting House itself unless the weather dictates it.  It is now presented on a trolley outside. For many years it was rolled down to the high street, Stockwell Gate, below but in 2013 it was taken across the street to outside ASDA.

The size of the dole has also changed from 200 to three dozen. Even since my first visit in the early 2000s, the focus has changed slightly. Then I watched the members of the Unitarian church attempt to give out their dole, much to the bemusement and sometimes mistrust of the local children and scepticism of parents perhaps. Now, they had out their buns still free of charge to all takers, although children are still their aim, but subsequently the distribution disappears quicker. Of course I made sure I had the last one! Hopefully since it is now recorded on their website more interest in the custom may be generated and individuals like me may attend to see the continuation of this curious and little known custom.

– images copyright Pixyled Publications