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.
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
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.
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