It is impossible for Bury Pace Eggers to acknowlege the debt they owe to Alan Seymour as without his original idea and research the team would never have been formed. Nevertheless, in this section it is hoped to describe the ideas and research that Alan put in to the creation of the side and the re-creation of this strange and wonderful event.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
This block is dedicated (as is Alan's book Pace Egging in Bury and Beyond ISBN 0 9523336 0 0 ) to the memory of his mother who often told him to " stop pace egging about" and to the memory of Rauleigh Baxter,Beelzibub 1972-1983 who Alan describes as one of the finest pace eggers that he sun ever shone on.
The germ of the idea of re-forming a pace egging team came to Alan in the late 1960's with the general revival of interest in traditional song and dance from the glorious county of Lancashire. One outcome of this was a Lancashire themed road show which featured dialect, songs, solo clog dancing,Lancashire clog-morris dancing by a team of lads from Moston Brook High school and a mumming play performed by a group calling themselves the Bury Mummers, made up of members of Bury Folk-Song Club. Some of the men who took part in these occasional performances were to become founder-members of Bury Pace-Eggers and some were to perform for the next 30 years.
Whilst Alan could find many references to pace-egging but very few texts. Eventually he discovered a book entitled lancashire Bred by J. Barlow Brooks, who had been born in Unsworth before moving to the Ainsworth road area of Radcliffe, which told of the authors going out pace-egging aroung his neighbourhood. This book contained a complete text of the play which was subsequently adopted and used by Bury Pace-eggers.. the play was quite short, something which proved invaluable to Alan and Bury Pace-Eggers as, most early performances being in public houses, Alan considered the eight minute duration of the play long enough to stop the conversation and keep a good man from his beer.
Letters written to local newspapes brought information from former pace-eggers which gave Alan details of both custom and song plus the discovery that some of the original teams had doubled up on parts, each player playing several roles,something which had the added bonus of increasing the players share of the takings. In the first year of Bury Pace-Eggers performances the team had to adopt this principle as the text called for seven players plus a concertina playing musician and a collector and the original tean could only provide six men. Here, St George played the concertina whilst The Fool did the clog dance and every player colected. The first team had a majority of building trade workers - plasterer, electrician, plumber joiner - plus a truck dirver and a man who worked in a laboratory who was an obvious candidate for The Doctor.
After a few practices the team were ready and turned out for the first time on 22nd march 1970, the Saturday before Good Friday. During that first weekend and the evenings of the following week, Bury pace-Eggers gave thirty seven performances which culminated in a visit to Holcombe Hill near ramsbotton to entertain the crowds that traditionally gathere there on Good Friday. On this occasion it snowed and from five performances Bury pace-Eggers collected a mere three pounds nine shillings ( £3.45p),it was then remembered that it was traditionallt bad luck to turn out after noon on Good Friday and Bury Pace-eggers have not been up Holcombe hill on that day since.
Exactly Where did The Pace Egg Play Come From ?
The age of the pace Egg play is unknown as historically the play having been passed on orally. Even now, new players are not given a text to learn but would normally join as a collector then having heard the play a few times nbormally take on a minor role such as Jonny Jack or Beelzibub. Whilst the part of Big Head does not have many lines to learn, the performance of a clog dance requires an element of skill not normally posessed by a new member (though we always live in hope of finding a new skilled dancer. ). About two hundred years ago , chapboks containing the text of the play began to be published, the earliest known in Lancashire date from aroung 1840. Directly or indirectly, this is how many teams learned the words.
The play was widespread in the area of Manchester as printers such as Abel Heywood and son ( Seymour p6) published " The Peace Egg or St George an Easter Play" in the late nineteenth century. The last known chapbook with the same title was printed by the firm of Edwards and Bryning in Rochdale in 1959. These books could often be obtained from local newsagents for a few pennies who would also selltin swords and coloured sashes to identify the characters, red for St George-blue for Slasher and so on. These sashes were worn diagonally across the chest over the normal clothes of the player. Just how widespread this practice of selling sashes and swords remains unknown , but there is little doubt that these "instant pace-egger outfits" and the chapbooks containing the texts were to a large degree responsible for the popularity of the custom in the Rochdale area at least . Yet some pace-eggers in Rochdale had a character called "Dirty Bet" who does not appear in the chapbooks and featured songs only found locally, some teams evem had there own versions of these , evidence would seem to suggest that the custom was in practice before the chapboks were available.
It is believed that St George and certain other characters were introduced after the publiation of the book The Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom by Richard Johnson in 1596,although there is little evedence to support this view. It is certain that ceremonial drama har origins going back much further than this, but exactly what form it took is unknown. Only by studying alternative cultures throughout the world and by piecing together the various fragments obtained do we obtain a clearer picture and realise that this celebration of life was universal, fight, death and resurrection being common factors.