The annual Preston egg rolling event returned this year, continuing the Easter tradition that dates back over a century. On Easter Monday, families gathered in Avenham and Miller parks to roll eggs down the hill and enjoy the variety of workshops and performances available.
History of egg-rolling in Lancashire
The egg-rolling has been an annual tradition celebrated in Preston for over 150 years – but was it always celebrated the same way as it is today?
Origins of the event in England can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Originally, children would roll eggs down a hill and see whose could go the furthest without breaking. It is theorised that this practice was inspired by the story of Easter, with the eggs representing the angel rolling away the rock of Jesus’s empty tomb.
In Lancashire, the tradition was that any remaining egg shells be broken at the end of the day to avoid being used as boats by witches.
Traditionally, the eggs rolled down the hill were ‘pace-eggs.’ Pace-eggs are eggs boiled in onion skin to give a golden tint to their shells. In more recent years, these have been replaced with painted hard-boiled eggs, or simply chocolate ones, although the chocolate eggs seemed to be a more popular choice this year. The event has been well documented across the country for over a hundred years.
Pace-eggs comes from the tradition of the ‘Pace Egging Play’, a pantomime like street performance depicting St George battling an enemy. The Pace Egging Play is a tradition with roots in the counties of Cumbria and Lancashire and was a way for locals to earn money, although the cast and play differed between villages. The play is still performed in parts of the North West today such as Middleton, Bury, Alston, and Broughton-in-Furness.
In 1929, a correspondent from the Liverpool Echo wrote: “Nearly 50,000 people gathered in Avenham Park, Preston, for the centuries old egg rolling festival. Children raced their hard-boiled eggs, dyed in every conceivable colour, against each other down the spacious slopes, while their elders looked on or engaged in games on the sward of the valley. The whole scene was most animated.”
The event has taken place every year, only being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid regulations. As an alternative, people were encouraged to roll their eggs down their stairs or create adventure courses in their gardens or local open spaces.
This year was the second time the event has taken place since the 2020 lockdown.
The egg-rolling itself kicked off at 11am sharp and a huge crowd of families stood atop the hill in Avenham Park in preparation for their children to roll (and occasionally throw!) their chocolate eggs down the hill.
The egg-rolling took place every hour on the hour between 11am-4pm – it seemed to be the most popular event and scores of children appeared to thoroughly enjoy it. There wasn’t a winner or anything, but all done for good fun for the children.
Bringing the community together is considered a major part of the egg rolling and many of those present on Monday considered this event to be deeply meaningful to the community.
Kate Eggleston-Wirtz (an artist from the company ‘Eggwirtz’) said: “It is an annual event deeply rooted in tradition that brings people together to celebrate the coming of spring.”
Community and diversity
There was a huge array of other events for families to take part in as well, and despite rainy weather, many turned out to celebrate the day and get involved in the activities available.
Salsa Northwest are a dance group that teaches salsa lessons as well as taking part in events in communities. At the egg rolling, the group were offering guided lessons in African drumming. Next door to the African drumming stall was ‘The Stage’ where families could do some line dancing, also provided by Salsa Northwest.
“We know from our experience, and we’ve been doing it for a long time, that drumming brings families and kids. They love it.”Phil Kaila (director of Salsa Northwest)
Whilst egg rolling is associated with tradition British culture, Kaila considered this event to be an opportunity to show the diversity of Preston:
“From my point of view I think it’s a good thing that we’ve been included. For people from ethnic minorities, it’s really good because egg rolling is very much a part of British culture. We don’t know much about it ourselves, but getting involved and taking part – I think that’s a really good thing for us to get that kind of experience.”
In Miller Park, there was a celebration of South Asian culture through the different art workshops available, provided by Preston City Mela. They had a total of five marquees set up with a variety of activities people could learn about and take part including henna, Warli painting, ebru marbling, silk printing, calligraphy, and kite making.
Despite the rain, Preston City Mela were also able to deliver several performances including Bollywood dance routines and an array of music.
“It’s a brilliant thing to be involved in. Our perspective is around maintaining that heritage and that art, but then also sharing that art from and giving people new experiences and giving insight into the cultural perspective.”Gulab Singh (executive producer of Preston City Mela)
In addition to the above, some other activities at the event included being able to make masks, bonnets and other Easter crafts, a competition for the best Easter bonnet, a giant balloon show, pop-up puppet shows, and a theatrical show about books. There were also some bouncy castles and rides for kids, as well as plenty of food market stalls to enjoy.
Eggleston-Wirtz who, alongside her colleague, Julia Swarbrick, was co-delivering arts and craft activities commented: “Our stall was very busy for several hours despite the rain … I enjoyed being part of the event – a lovely atmosphere.”
Preston’s egg-rolling event is well worth visiting for families wanting a free and fun activity-filled day out that celebrates community and diversity.