A traditional Pace Egg play is performed in Heptonstall’s Weavers Square on Good Fridays, attracting hundreds of visitors to the village.
The origins are uncertain, but some version of the plays have undoubtedly been performed over many hundreds of years. In the play St George takes on contenders such as Bold Slasher, the Black Prince of Paradine and Hector.
The costumes — in particular the strange headgear comprising a towering edifice garlanded with flowers, peculiar to the Calder Valley — are as much a part of the fun as the action, where violent sword fights predominate but, as ever, good triumphs over evil.
The actors, including founding member Dave Burnop (the Doctor), Andy Carter (the Black Prince), Stuart Hought (St George), Dean Gash (Tosspot), Rowan Carter (Hector) and Neil Hope-Collins (Master of Ceremonies) explain more about the play in the video above by local film-maker Paul Cooke. Other cast members include Sydney Roper (King of Egypt) and Jimmy Green (Bold Slasher).
Photo of Heptonstall School boys around 1965-66. It was taken at the top off Hepton Drive at the junction of with Longfield and Southfield. Players are from left to right. Jeramy Dodd Toss Pot, David Burnop The Black Prince, Chris Dodd or Steven Stansfield, St George, Steven Smith, The Doctor and Paul McMahon, Bold Slasher
David Burnop, who plays The Doctor, performed it as a child and revived the current Heptonstall version in 1979 after it hadn’t been performed in a decade.
He said: “It was a thing that at one time any boy would have done, often to get a little money to go to the local fair which is reflected at the end of our play which refers to ‘taking our bonnie lass to Todmorden Fair.’ It was a bit like doing a Penny for the Guy.”
He thinks it’s not unlike May Pole dancing traditionally done by village girls but says its origins have been lost: “The Pace Egg play has disappeared and been restored so many times. There’s nothing really recorded before the 1500s. Before that it’s all folklore history theory, the theory being it wasn’t originally a play but a good luck ceremony for the new season. If we go back to a more pagan or Celtic time when people saw the Sun as God —if the Sun doesn’t come up the next day we are all in serious trouble —it was logical to pray to the Sun and it could be seen as a rebirth ceremony, a good luck ceremony.”
Read more on the BBC website.
See the 2010 play here:
Picture courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/smallblu/