by Ross Parish
The following is an extract of some of the Nottinghamshire Easter customs from A Nottinghamshire calendar – forth coming book on the customs and ceremonies of Nottinghamshire.
As the shops are awash with chocolate Easter eggs, hot cross buns and plastic chicks it is interesting to note that some of these traditions have a long history in the county. For example Briscoe (1876) in his Nottinghamshire facts and fictions, notes states that the traditional cry for these could be heard in Nottingham:
“Hot cross buns, One a penny, two a penny, Hot cross buns!” If you have no daughters, Give ‘em to your sons”.
J Potter Briscoe also adds:
“if you have been prevailed upon to give an order to one or more of your juvenile neighbours to be roused from the warm blankets by a ran-tanning at your doors by the youngsters bringing your round every-day buns with the addition of two slashes of the baker’s knife, forming a cross, not the three.”
The most unique but little known custom of Mary Mallatratt’s Dole in Mansfield continues to distribute free hot cross buns as it has since 1894 after a bequest of £100. The story and history of the dole deserves a longer article but information on it can be gathered from the links below. Not surprisingly considering the religious nature of the day, such doles are not unique and a number are recorded in the county. Many were established on Good Friday. Many gave a bread instead of hot cross buns, which makes Mallatrat’s dole unique. For example Mrs Johnson’s dole, Ordsall of one shilling of bread, 14s of small loaves given to Warsop poor, Forster’s Charity at Eakring, which have widows 6d loafs and very poor person a 1d loaf, 30s bread in Lowdham’s Poor Money, Upton’s Tinlay’s Charity gave 4d in six loaves on Good Friday after the service. Some like Edwinstowe’s Christopher Sudbury’s Charity gave money others such as a charity in Welbeck gave 3 shillings and 4 d to Anstey’s poor in a bushel of wheat. In Hucknall, the ‘Widow’s Groat’ was given to 15 poor widows by the minister and churchwardens, from the annual rent of 15s from a piece of land called ‘Crown Piece’. This practice was still continued until at least 1909. Easter Sunday was also a day for doles and charities. Rolleston Charity, Attenborough, left 35 shillings pa for bread. Fellinham’s and Spofforth’s Charity at Southwell gave £100 and £50 respectively to provide bread for the poor from Easter to Christmas. Clifton cum Glapwell’s ‘Poor Money’ left £2 8s per annum to be distributed to widows and Thurgarton gave 5 10s.According to Kidson (1905) at Retford, a 1723 dole consisted of £40 to be:
“annually disposed among ye honest poor people of ye town at ye discretion of my aforesaid trustees and yr successors”.
After the long prohibitive period of Lent, Eastertide was associated with a degree of letting steam off. Especially if as a local saying would say:
“If it be fine on Easter morning it will be fine at the following harvest time.”
A genteel form of this is probably behind the Good Friday customs of collecting violets in Lambley and visit to Shepherd’s Race, the later recorded by Abigail Gauthern stating that in March 29th 1793 reads:
“Good Friday after service Anne, Frank and Betty went to Shepherd’s Race. It is soon to be ploughed up and totally destroyed.”
It suggests that this site in St Ann’s Nottingham may have been a regular place to visit on this day and may be related to visits done on Easter Monday by the corporation. It suggests that this site in St Ann’s Nottingham may have been a regular place to visit on this day and may be related to visits done on Easter Monday. This was undertaken by the Mayor and his civic party. Briscoe (1876) notes:
“By a custom time beyond memory writes Bearing ‘the mayor and aldermen of the town and their wives have be used on Monday in Easter week, morning prayers ended, to march from the town to the well, having the town waits to play before them, and attended by all the clothing and their liveries, together with the officers of ‘die town, and many other burgesses and gentlemen, such as wish well to the woodward, this meeting being at first instituted, and since continued.’”
The procession is said to have been discontinued around the time of the Civil War but a memory of it may have survived in Gauthern’s visit or perhaps more likely it was a pleasant place to go on a holiday. In neighbouring counties of Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, egg rolling was and is undertaken on Good Friday. As far as I can ascertain egg rolling has no recorded traditional places in the county, but it has occurred in recent years such as Broadgate Park and the Forest Recreation ground Nottingham, Papplewick Pumping House, Papplewick and more frequently at Watnall by nursery children there and Robert Miles Junior School in Bingham, there has also been egg throwing undertaken at Wollaton. However, there does not appear to have been an established custom in the county. Easter Egg hunts, are of a modern age, but an early example is recorded in the 1950s at Oxton Hall:
“I can remember one particular Easter we had a party at the hall and they hid Easter eggs all in the garden and all over the place, amongst the shrubs..whatever you found you kept”.
Easter Bonnet parades are perhaps the most genteel form of breaking the Lenten fast and have a religious connotation being associated with rebirth. According to a range of cuttings in Nottingham County Library to be a popular in Nottingham being held at the St Ann’s Well Road and the Blue Bell in 1961. A photo giving no location shows a bonnet parade in 1905 suggesting a longer tradition for this custom than might be expected. Certainly the schools of the county continue this tradition. From the most gentile to perhaps the most violent and perhaps the most interesting and little known Easter custom in the county, a form of ‘street’ or ‘mob football’ similar to that which still survives at Ashbourne Derbyshire and Hallaton Leicestershire. Sadly, little is recorded of it by Kelly’s directory (1844) notes that:
“The feast or Eakring Ball Play is held on Easter Tuesday, and has no doubt derived its name from its being anciently a great meeting for a trial of skill in the game of football, which was formerly such a favourite amusement in this county.”
I have been unable to find more concerning the custom and when it fell out of favour. Certainly, the football game was at odds with the devout observation of the feast. This was emphasised by John Henry Browne who became the village vicar in 1792 who affixed a notice:
“This is to give notice that no bodey must play at fotbale nor mabels nor any other game of that kind on sundae for if they do they must be presented the next visitation”
Whether this directly described the ball game is unclear as details are scant other than the VCH noting that it often resulted in the kicking of shins as well as balls! An advertisement in 1801 in the Nottingham Journal records at the time of the Napoleonic war notes:
“Feast postponed. Notice to public in consequence of the present scarcity and high price of every necessicity in life the inhabitants of the town of Eakring, in the county of Nottinghamshire, have come to the unanimous Resolution not to held the feast at Easter next as usual but postpone the same till Easter 1802 Eakring Feb 12 1801”
Once all that exercise was done with you may have sat down as many do today for a meal, usually lamb. One delicacy was Tansy Pudding and a local recipe has survived. This was remembered in the rhyme locally as:
“On Easter Sunday be the pudding seen, To which the Tansy lends its sober.”
Today you may still have your Easter Sunday lunch, perhaps followed by Simnel Cake, a seasonal food which has apparently moved from Mothering Sunday to the day…and sit down and watch some TV! A modern custom undertaken by many in Nottinghamshire no doubt!
More on Nottinghamshire calendar customs