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Pace Egging & Traditions

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Pace-Egging Song. Illustration for Christmas Carols selected and edited by L Edna Walter illustrated by J H Hartley (A&C Black, c 1920).

The custom of egg begging on Easter was widespread not only in Piedmont (cf), but also in the British Isles, where the beggars sang in the villages to receive food (eggs, but also spiced beer or money) and often performed in a mummers’ play -a dramatic representation more like a pantomime. British beggars were in disguise and characters such as Lord Nelson or St. George were recurring.
Today with “Pace Egg” we mean the dramatic representations recovered from the folk tradition with the theme of rebirth: they still take place in England in Lancashire, Cheshire and in Yorkshire.

Here’s how the ceremony took place in Midgley (West Yorkshire)
The black-faced male is traditionally known as the “Old Tosspot”. Other characters include the “Lady Gay”, the “Soldier Brave” and the “Noble Youth”. The Old Tosspot carried a long straw tail that had been stuffed full of pins. He would swing it wildly about, acting as though he were drunk, and wait for some poor unsuspecting fool to try and catch hold of the tail or be tapped by it, all in good humour, but also to encourage people to toss things into his basket. When the Pace-eggers received sufficient eggs or money in the basket, the group would temporarily stop and present a short play and dance. Usually an additional reward for the presentation would be given to the group by a member of the public, such as a glass of beer if performing outside a public house. Once the play was completed and everyone was satisfied, the group would proceed through the area until the entire village had been travelled. Normally the Pace-eggers would attract quite a large group of followers by the end of their promenade as each presentation was sure to be different and build upon the last (from here)

Pace Egging Song

A Pace Egging song has been handed down to the present day: beggars went to the countryside to sing at night accompanied by some musical instrument, but above all they went there in disguise. This heroes’ calling-in song “is based on a version that Lucy Broadwood received from Heysham, Lancs.” (A. L. Lloyd, notes The Watersons, ‘Frost and Fire’)

The McCalmas

And more recently Kate Rusby in her enhancement of the traditional-ritual songs of Yorkshire has proposed a Pace Egging Song that takes up the text already sung by the Watersons in their album “Frost and Fire”, 1965 (stanzas I, II W, III W, IV KR )

Kate Rusby – Life in a Paper 2016

Here’s one two three jolly lads
all in one mind (line)
We have come a pace (1) egging
and we hope you’ll prove kind
And we hope you’ll prove kind
with your eggs and strong beer
And we’ll come no more nigh you
until the next year
The first that comes in
is Lord Nelson, you’ll see
With a bunch of blue ribbons
to tie round his knee
And a star on his breast (chest)
like silver does shine
I hope he remembers
it’s pace egging time
II (2)
Well the next that comes in
it is Lord Collingwood (3)
And he’s fought with Lord Nelson 
till he shed his blood
And he’s come from the sea
old England to view
He’s come a pace egging
with the whole of his crew
And the last (4) that comes in
is old Tosspot (5), you’ll see
He’s a valiant old man
and in every degree
He’s a valiant old man
and he wears a pigtail (6)
And all his delight is
a-drinking mulled ale
Come ladies and gentlemen,
sit by the fire
Put your hands in your pockets
and give us our desire
Put your hands in your pockets
and treat us all right
If you give nought(7), we’ll take nought
farewell and goodnight
1) pace=  from Middle English “paschal”, corruptions of pasche, the Latin-based medieval word for Easter, here confused with pax=’peace’ (from here)
2) Kate Rusby/ the Watersons
The next that comes in is our Jolly Jack Tar
He sailed with Lord Nelson all through the last war
He’s arrived from the sea, old England to view
And he’s come a pace egging with our jovial crew
3) Lord Collingwood: British admiral, famous for taking part alongside Lord Nelson in numerous battles during the Napoleonic wars.
Kate Rusby sings
And he’s come a pace egging with our jovial crew.
Well the next that comes in it is Lord Collingwood
And he fought with Lord Nelson ‘til he shed his blood
He fought with Lord Nelson through sorrow and woe
And I hope you’ll reward him before you do go.
4)  Another character from the Waterson family collection is the old miser Brownbags
The next that comes in is old miser Brownbags
For fear of her money she wears her old rags
She’s gold and she’s silver all laid up in store
And she’s come a pace egging in hopes to get more
Kate Rusby sings
Then in comes old miser with all his brown bags
For fear of his money he wears his old rags
So see what you do and mind that all’s right
If we get none we’ll take note farewell and goodbye.
5) literally “old drunkard” is the equivalent of a foolish person
6) pigtail= hair braided in one or two long tails
7) here the typical verse of curses is missing

Beg Your Leave

From the live repertoire of Steeleye Span and the Albion Band: the song comes from Overton Village, Sunderland Point, Lancashire,  sung by the pace-eggers (locally known as “jolly-boys”).

Steeleye Span


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