“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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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/