by Ross Parish
Shrove Tuesday, marks the coming of Lent. The day today more often called by its secular name of pancake day. This as I am sure readers are aware was due to the fact that eggs had to be used up for lent. To tell the parishioners this a special bell toll was rung. The ringing of the pancake bell is recorded in a number of locations in the county. This as Lindley (1907) in History of Sutton-in-Ashfield notes that in the Shriving Bell used to be rung on Shrove-Tuesday to call people to confession or more correctly shriven, as of course the name shrove derives from. He notes that by 1837 in Sutton in Ashfield it was a signal for putting the pancakes into the frying pan. In Walesby, when the clerk rang the bell at 11 am. Other places were pancake bells were rung, usually in the middle of the day were Retford, East Bridgford. A pancake bell is still rung at St. Leodargius’s Church, Old Basford and I was told that this was still rung until recently by a 90 year old man. Newark too rings a pancake bell. In Sutton-in –Ashfield, it was rung by the oldest apprentice in the town. However in Woodborough, is one of the few places where the Pancake bell is still rung at 11.am it was traditionally undertaken by the village’s youngest apprentice. For many years it was enclosed in a tower attached to the vicar but today it is in the church. In Woodborough, the ringing of the bell is the sign for a pancake race run undertaken at Roe Lane. However, whether the long tradition of the bell ringing is indication of the race is unclear. Races are recorded in a number of places across the county: such as the Corner House, since 2002 and St Ann’s Nottingham, and Redgate School in Mansfield which was even attended by the town’s Mayor and Newark which have been ran since 1963. In Walesby, the first pancake made was always given to the hens. At East Bridgford, a hill called Pancake hill was used for local festivities. At Woodborough Hotel staff took part in Newark’s first pancake race day in 1963 and now it is a regular feature and clearly not as old as the bell ringing.
Also in Newark, where in the Market place a strange custom is noted:
“In that curious miscellany of popular antiquities, Hone’s Every Day Book, mention is made of a custom which existed on the anniversary of King Charles’ execution, also on Shrove Tuesday. On those days the Market Place presented the appearance of a regular market, but the stalls only contained oranges, which might be raffled for, or, if preferred, purchased.”
This is reported in the Norwell scrapbook which records that it last took place in 1886 when a local policeman quietly told them it was illegal! The account goes on to describe the equipment and method. The balls were made of either wood or glass and had a flattened surface numbered 1 to 26. The ball was dropped down a structure called the chimney, a square shaped tube of wood about 9 inches high with 21/2 inches insides. The ball was rolled on to a flat raised 12 inch square and slightly raised. As the ball came to rest the number uppermost was noted, the highest the winner.
Orange rolling would appear to have occurred in a number of isolated Nottinghamshire locations suggesting a more widespread tradition It was done at Ruddington’s Sharp Hill, along an ancient cart track from Wilford Hill to Rackman’s Bridge, according to an article in the Weekly Guardian 25/2/1939, when they reported it had lately fallen out of usage. It is said that oranges were rolled down turfed slope and that oranges failing to reach the desired point they were pounced upon by the eager contestants and devoured. The orange that rolled the furthest was the winner and:
“The winner at its proud owner peeled and ate it without assistance or molestation.”
At East Markham, a gift of an orange was given to school children who would ascend Orange Hill to roll it, but when this custom died out is unclear. At Upton-by-Southwell, children rolled them down Micklebarrow. At Lowdham School, the students got a holiday and the Reverend B. Michaelson gave each scholar an orange (157 of them) and divided 1400 marbles amongst them to play with. Whether the orange was used for rolling is unclear.
As it was a half day holiday it was also the time of year when children brought out their whips and tops, hoops, and other toys after the winter.Hills were popular sites for Shrovetide games: Gaddick’s Hill Egmanton as a ‘rollicking place’ and East Leake’s Mill Hill, Bothamsall, East Bridgford and Car Colston, and at Hilltop, Eastwood (Bennett, 2000) there was mass skipping. At East Bridgford possibly part of a Shroving, were alms were given for remembrance of the dead, custom was recorded:
“Children there were presented with a traditional bun and newly minted penny for Shrove Tuesday by the revd V. K. Johnson and his wife..”
Today the rich spread of shrove Tuesday customs in Nottinghamshire is sadly restricted to making them and sometimes racing them!
An extract from forthcoming Customs and ceremonies of Nottinghamshire
Copyright Pixyled Publications.