|“It is surprising how certain customs appear to attach themselves to certain places without rhyme or reason. One of the most peculiar of these is that of egg-rolling, which is indulged in at Preston on Easter Monday. Egg-rolling in the abstract may be as old as people choose to make it, but as a custom to be indulged in by a whole town it is of comparatively modern date. People rolled hard-boiled dyed eggs on Avenham Park at Preston fifty years ago, but at that time there was plenty of room for those who did it. Where there were tens then, there are not hundreds but thousands now, given a fine day.” |
The lines above are the first ones of an article that was published on Friday April 7th 1899 in the Cotton Factory Times. The place mentioned, Preston, is in Lancashire, Britain, just over 30 miles north of Manchester. For nearly two hundred years people have been rolling eggs at Preston and Easter Monday is the day when the whole town and lots of visitors from nearby gather on the slopes of Avenham and Miller Parks to watch children rolling dyed hard-boiled eggs. Originally these would have been “pace-eggs”, that is eggs wrapped in onion skin which, when boiled, would get a golden molted hue. Over the years pace-eggs were replaced by coloured eggs but also chocolate ones and even oranges. There were years when the oranges actually outnumbered the eggs. At the end of the day most of the eggs and oranges would be eaten and the egg shells would be destroyed lest local witches would steal them and use them as boats (they seem to have very small witches in Lancashire) ! Although some sources mention that this tradition was first started in 1867, when Avenham Park had not been completed yet, I found a short article from 1835 which already mentions egg-rolling at Preston, although not at Avenham Park. It seems clear from the following lines that this Easter Monday pastime was already not new then :
|EASTER MONDAY. – Monday last was a day of merry-making for the young folks here, some hundreds of whom assembled, under the superintendance of the Sunday school teachers and others, in the Friarage field, to enjoy the pastime of egg-rolling.|
The event is hardly mentioned in the press, however, until 1874. From that date onwards, egg-rolling is reported every year in the local newspapers and one can’t help noticing that despite the weather not always being favourable, the tradition was well kept and attendance grew over the years (from 6,000-8,000 in the 1870s to an estimated 20,000-30,000 in the early 1900s). Even wars could not stop the customary gathering. Easter Monday egg-rolling went on in the first and second world wars, but the numbers of attendees obviously dwindled. The image below is a postcard from 1917 showing Avenham Park on an ordinary day. The most interesting part of the card is actually the back, where egg-rolling is mentioned. Here is what Tina, the sender, wrote to her friend Elsie, the addressee:
On this park every Easter Monday thousands of children with their parents go rolling eggs and oranges (the last few years it has not been so livey with so few men and eggs and oranges so dear). The river Dibble runs at the side and there are dozens of little pleasure boats. The big building on the hill is the Park Hotel.
Illustration 01 – 1916-17 postcard showing Avenham Park. The text on the back of the card clearly shows attendance dropped during the first world war.
The next picture, with the text accompanying it, was taken from the 1898 volume of the Strand Magazine – where the Sherlock Holmes stories were originally published – and is the earliest photographic image I have found so far of the event (I haven’t been looking for very long).
Illustration 02 – Illustration and article from the 1898 volume of the Strand Magazine.
Not very long ago, when I knew nothing about Preston and its long-standing egg-rolling tradition, my colleague Rebecca drew my attention to a stereo card by an amateur that was being auctioned on eBay and which clearly showed Avenham Park on one Easter Monday. I bought it out of curiosity and started reading about the whole egg-rolling thing. There is nothing on the card indicating what year the photograph was taken but from the clothes the people in the image are wearing I would say it dates from the first years of the twentieth century, just a bit later than the one from the Strand Magazine.
Illustration 03 – Stereo card by an amateur photographer showing Avenham Park on Easter Monday.
I am sure there are more stereos of the event and wish I could find some, even more recent ones like Stereo Realist slides (maybe this short article will make a few surface) but here is a last image, a photographic postcard published some time after 1910, when George V was king of Britain, showing the crowd at Avenham Park on an unspecified Easter Monday.
Illustration 04 – Photographic postcards from the 1910s showing a very crowded Avenham Park on an Easter Monday.
For a video of the egg-rolling event in Preston in 1901, please see this from the BFI:
In 1929, from the British Pathé archive:
And finally, a more recent video of the event, from 2012:
I wrote earlier that wars could not stop the tradition of egg-rolling at Preston, but, alas, Covid did. For the past two years the event had to be cancelled.
Fortunately, things should get back to normal this year. So, if you are around Preston on Easter Monday 2022, make sure you go to Avenham or Miller Park and have a look. A link with details about this year’s event can be found here ! Please, don’t forget to bring along some hard-boiled or chocolate eggs … and a stereo camera.
 Cotton Factory Times, Friday April 7th 1899, p.1 of 8
 Lancaster Gazette, Saturday April 25th 1835, p. 3 of 4
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