Thursday, 23 August 2012

Thursday Tour of NW England - A Quaint and Quirky Custom

Last week I wrote about one tradition in my home town of Preston. Today, with Q as my letter of the week, I’ll tell you about another ‘quaint and quirky’ tradition in the town, as it’s one I took part in as a child – egg-rolling.
The tradition of rolling decorated eggs down a grassy slope goes back hundreds of years. Evidently, in pre-Christian times, the Saxons had a spring goddess called Eostre, whose feast day was held in March. The rebirth of the land in the spring was symbolised by the egg. When England became Christian, a lot of pagan traditions were incorporated into Christian festivals. Thus, the celebration of the death and resurrection was named Easter, and rolling eggs became symbolic of the rolling away of the stone from the tomb.
In Preston, egg-rolling has taken place on Easter Monday (ever since Victorian times) at Avenham Park, near the town centre. The grassy area in the middle of the park is a natural amphitheatre, with a long slope down towards the River Ribble. Hundreds of children brought their hard-boiled eggs to roll down the slope. Some wore homemade ‘Easter bonnets’ too, but I don’t recall ever making or wearing one.
When my mother was a child, she said her egg was wrapped in an onion skin and boiled, which gave it a mottled yellowy-brown colour. I seem to remember we tried that once, but must have done something wrong as the egg was hardly coloured at all! Instead, I used to paint my egg (with watercolour paints – felt-tipped pens didn’t exist then!).  Sometimes I painted it in stripes or squares, other times I drew squiggly, criss-crossed lines in different colours.
Once the egg had been rolled down the grassy slope (and I’d chased down down after it, usually several times), I could peel the shell and eat the egg. My mum always told me to crush the egg shell. Otherwise (according to an old Lancashire tradition), the witches would steal the shell and use it as a boat!
If, as sometimes happened, it was raining on Easter Monday, I still had to roll my egg – but across the carpet in the living room until it cracked against the metal fender of the hearth. Not quite the same somehow! Nowadays, children roll chocolate eggs down the slope – again, not the same as the ‘real’ thing.
Here’s a link to a video of last year’s egg-rolling at the park.


  1. I think the custom is fairly universal in the North of England, although we never did it in my home town of Heckmondwike. Nor did we have Easter bonnets. What I do remember is that everyone got new clothes at Whitsuntide and we all paraded through the streets. In Manchester they did this at Easter, not Whitsuntide.

  2. Maybe it all depended on whether you had a grassy slope nearby, Jenny?
    In Preston, Easter was the time for new clothes, but I don't recall any Easter or Whit parades there. Manchester, of course, has always had its Whit Walks.

  3. Yes I remember the Whitsuntide new clothes and also the splendid Whit walks which have all but died a death in Manchester. There are lots of Easter traditions.
    I agree, chocolate eggs are just not the same, Paula.

  4. We did that every Easter day in our part of Scotland too, Paula! I loved the egg rolling and must remember to tell my granddaughter when she's old enough.

  5. What a fun custom! If I had a hard boiled egg, I'd go rolling right now.

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