For hundreds of years the Peace Egg or Pace Egg play was a common part of the Easter festivities in Lancashire with bands of disguised mummers going from house to house presenting their play.
Gradually what was once an adult tradition became one enacted by children often gaining more in donations than their parents could earn in the wool and cotton industries.
Below is an contemporary observation of one of these performances by the Lancashire dialect writer John Trafford Clegg (Th’ Owd Weighver)
IT’S a good while sin’ aw went a pace-eggin mysel, neaw, but aw’m olez intherested i’ t’ Good Friday performances o’ th’ owd play. Who wrote that stirrin thragedy, aw wondher? It’s bin honded deawn moore bi word o’ meauth nor printin, aw think, as far as Rachda gwoes, shuzheaw; for yo’ll have a job to find two books alike, or ony book where it’s set deawn same as t’ lads play it.
There’s good points abeaut t’ thing. Every acthor gets summat to do an’ say: there’s no supers, abeaut, an’ nobry maudlin reaund th’ stage to put time on. Then, every mon tells his name an’ business when he first comes in; a first-rate plan, savin a dyel o’ bother an’ study for onybody ‘at stons hearkenin. There’s no women i’ t’ road, noather, nobbut Dirty Bet, an’ hoo doesn’t ceaunt; so t’ chaps con get forrad wi their wark in a business-like style, an’ feight away beaut onybody meddlin wi em. Th’ action never stops, for every scene’s a feight in it, an’ th’ excitement keeps grooin whol Bet comes in wi her besom to sweep up for a finish.
An’ what grand characthers they are! St. George, crowin o’er everybody, olez winnin his battles, swaggerin o’er what he has done an’ what he’s beaun to do; th’ king ov Egypt an’ his son, wi their oriental Smobridge manners; their champion, Hecthor, wi moore talk nor feight in him; t’ docthor, full o’ long words, lies, an’ impidence; th’ owd Foo, an’ Beelzebub, a bigger foo again; an’ above o, Bowd Slasher. That’s t’ chap! Noane runnin o’er wi empty brag, like St. George, olez ready for his wark, full o’ gam, cured ov his weaunds in a twinkle, noane spiteful when he’s licked, an’ gooin off abeaut his business when he’s nowt to do i’ th’ play. Slasher were olez my favouryte, an’ iv aw’d ever bin owt i’ th’ actin line, that ‘d ha bin th’ part for me.
He comes on sthrong an’ cool,
“I am a valiant soldier, and Slasher is my name,
With sword and Imckler by my side I hope to win the game.”
Then, when St. George threatens to breighk his yead, Slasher says,
“My head is made of iron,
And my body’s made of steel,
My hands and feet of knuckle-bone —
I challenge thee to feel!”
That speech olez made mi blood run cowd, an’ wondher heawever t’ chap had bin pieced together, for aw never thought o’ deaubtin his word. Then there’s a grand deein scene, an’ comin to life again— a rare oppenin for good actin; an’ when t’ docthor’s brought him reaund he sthretches eaut his glittherin swort, made ov unpolished iron lattin, sets his e’en, an’ co’s eaut,
” O hark! I hear the silver trumpet sound,
That summons us from off this bloody ground!
Down yonder is the way;
Farewell, St. George, we can no longer stay.”
An’ away Slasher bowts, comin no moore whol t’ last act, when he turns up again to mention ‘at his yead’s iron, his body steel, an’ so on.
Nobbut professional pace-eggers con undherston what labbour an’ brain-wark there is abeaut gettin one o’ these performances up. Sworts han to be made for a start, for they’re mostly oathcr lost or brokken between one year an’ t’ next. Then there’s a dyel o’ rehearsals to put in, particlar for St. George an’ Slasher, as they’n sich big parts, an’ it’s no yezzy job neawadays to find a quiet nook to practise in. Mostly t’ wark has to be done at a heause-end, or i’ t’ middle uv a sthreet, where everybody con watch th’ show for nowt, makin o th’ neighbours grumble. It’s common enough for a woman to come runnin to her dur, stop St. George i’ one ov his braggin speeches, an’ sheaut,
“Na then, theere! Iv yo aren’t o off in a snift aw’ll cob a bucket o’ wayther on yo!”
It’s laughable to see heaw th’ bowd champions ‘ll slutther off then, wi their sworts undher their arms; but they seldom getten fur nor t’ next gaslamp afore they’re at it again.
Aw seed a very good performance in th’ oppen market o’ Friday mornin; fit for ony stage. There were a full company o’ star artistes, properties an’ dhresses on t’ usal grand scale (a borrowed skirt, long-brush steighl, an’ egg-basket for Dirty Bet; a hawpoth o’ silver nails for St. George’s clogs; rosettes, sashes, an’ a yard o’ ribbin apiece o reaund), wi th’ unpainted market scenery thrown in for nowt. It were a slutchy snowy mornin, but th’ performers had shapped to get a dhry spot bi shiftin a stall or two.
St. George wortchcd i’ th’ same shade as me, so he coome tip to have a word when he seed me lookin.
“Good mornin, Billy,” aw said.
“Same to yo, an’ mony on ’em,” Billy says. “Are yo fur stoppin it eaut?”
“That depends on th’ actin,” aw towd him. “What mak o’ performers are yo?”
“Good uns!” Billy said. “Aw want yo to watch us, becose we’re thryin a fresh gam on. Aw’m weary o’ th’ owd road o’ sayin this piece — o upo’ one keigh, same as a clockin hen or a skrikin pulley — so aw’ve bin thryin to teighch this lot to put some moore life into it, an’ talk nathural like.”
“That’s a good idea, Billy.”
“Yo’ll say so when we getten agate. Aw’ve persuaded th’ King ov Egypt an’ his son to blacken their faces, too. They’n mostly nowt but a bit o’ black ribbin to show ‘at they’re niggers; but that’s noane good enough for us, so we’n gien ’em two cwots o’ brunt cork apiece.”
“That’s reet. Aw didn’t know tha were sich a thoughtful stage manager as o that.”
“Oh yigh! Iv we’re beaun to start actin let’s do it reet, that’s what aw say. Yo’ll see noane o’ that marchin across th’ ring an’ knockin sworts together whol we’re talkin, noather. Slasher fot o th’ skin off mi knockles t’other neet wi that thrick, so aw stopped it. There’s no sense i’ that mak.”
“Noane at o,” aw said. “Come, aw mun see th’ play, aw yer.”
“Ah, do!” he says, turnin to goo, everybody starin to see me talkin so intimate wi sich a greight champion. “Aw want somebdy to cricketise us a bit. Some o’ t’ lads is rayther numb, but aw’ve bin dhrillin ’em upo’ Cronkeyshay this three week, so they should do summat.”
Aw made one ov a lot o’ folk ringed reaund, gettin a full view an’ good yerin; steeped in a rich, satisfyin smell fro th’ fish shops an’ thripe stonnins.
They looked a very breet set o’ lads, an’ shapped as iv they myent business. Th’ King ov Egypt an’ his son had faces shinin as iv they’d bin blackleaded. Slasher had a bit ov a cowd in his yead, an’ had to keep wipin his sleeve on his nose neaw an’ again. Hecthor looked a fine figure ov a sodier, but were a thrifle bow- legged, an’ t’ Foo beseemed his part up an’ deawn. They o geet ready to begin.
BEELZEBUB (aside to DIRTY BET). — Aw’m as dhry as soot, Jimmy; howd mi stick whol aw get a bottle o’ lemonade up Twod Lone.
DIRTY BET. — Don’t be so long, think on. We cawn’t sing “Right fol layrol laddy” beaut thee.
BEELZEBUB. — O reet.
ST. GEORGE. — Where arta for, Sam? We’re beaun to start.
BEELZEBUB. — Goo on. Aw’ll be back i’ time.
ST. GEORGE. — Tha’ll get no brass iv tha’rt off.
BEELZEBUB. — Gullook! (Pushes through t’ creawd).
CHAP LOOKIN ON. — Come, lads! Are yo for shappin to-day, or not
FOO. — Reawm, reawm, brave gallants ——
BUTCHER’S LAD (i’th’ creawd).— Gallants! He, he!
FOO (aside). — Shur up! (aloud)—Give us reawm to sport.
For in this spot we myen to howd a court,
An’ here repeat to yo eaur merry rhyme.
For remember, good folk, it’s Aysther time.
We are the merry acthors what con show yo pleasant play,
So here steps in San George to clear the way.
(Enther ST. GEORGE.)
ST. GEORGE. — I am Sant George, who fro owd England sprung,
Mi famous name through o this world hath rung;
Mony a bloody deed an’ wondher aw’ve made known.
An’ made th’ owd tyrants thremble on their throne.
A giant nearly sthruck me dyead,
But by mi valyour aw chopped off his yead;
Aw’ve seechcd this here world o reaund an’ reaund,
But nobry nowt like me aw never fund.
GENTLEMAN. — Found, my boy, found! You spoil the rhyme.
ST. GEORGE. — Are yo playin this, or me?
DIRTY BET. — Hear, hear! Cob thi cap at him.
SLASHER (sleevin his nose). — Aw am a valyunt sodier, bowd Slasher is mi name,
Wi sword an’ buckle bi mi side aw hope to win this game;
For to feight wi me aw see tha’rt noane able,
So wi this here glittherin sword aw’ll soon thee disable.
ST. GEORGE. — Disable, saysta I it lies not i’ thi peawer.
For wi this glittherin sword an’ spear aw soon will thee deveaur;
Stand off, bowd Slasher I let no moore be said,
For if I dhraw mi sword aw’m sure to breighk thi yead.
SLASHER. — Heaw con ta breighk mi yead?
Mi yead’s made ov iron.
Mi body’s made o’ steel.
Mi honds an’ feet o’ knucklin bwon —
Aw chanellge to make thee feel.
ST. GEORGE (aside to Slasher). — Challenge, Joe.
SLASHER. — Shut up, cliverdick! (Wipes his sleeve.)
(Fencin-match — SLASHER dhrops — ST. GEORGE bowts — Enther FOO).
FOO. — A docthor, a docthor! Ten peaund for a docthor!
(DOCTHOR steps in).
DOCTHOR. — Here aw am.
FOO. — Are yo a docthor?
DOCTHOR. — Yess, that yo con plainly see, bi mi art an’ activity.
FOO. — Heaw mich to cure this dyead mon?
DOCTHOR. — Ten peaund is mi fee, but iv tha’rt honest aw’ll tak five off thee.
FOO (Aside). — Tha’ll be middlin fawsc iv tha gets ony. (Aloud)
Heaw fur han yo thravell’t?
DOCTHOR. — Through Italy, Sickaly, Hee Germany, France, an’ Spain; an’ so aw’ve returned to cure owd Englan again.
FOO. — What con yo cure?
DOCTHOR. — Itch, pitch, palsy, an’ geaut; or iv a man’s nineteen imps in his skull aw con let twenty ov ’em eaut. Here, Jack, have a sup fro my bottle an’ let it run deawn thy throttle. Iv theau be not quite slain, rise, Jack, an’ fight again.
SLASHER (gettin up).—Oh, mi back! (Wipes.)
FOO. — What’s to do wi thi back?
SLASHER. — Mi back’s weaunded,
An’ mi heart’s confeaunded;
Aw’ve bin knocked eaut o’ seven wits into seven score;
Nowt like it were ne’er sin i’ owd Englan never afore.
(Enther ST. GEORGE.)
SLASHER. — Sang George, aw yer yon silver thrumpet seaund!
Deawn yon is the way pointin (wipes);
Farewell, Sang George, we con no longer stay.
KING OF EGYPT (aside to Slasher). — Tha shouldn’t say pointin, leatheryead! It myens tha should stick thi finger eaut, so. (Points toard Know’ Hill.)
SLASHER. — It’s deawn i’th’ book shuzheaw; so will that do for thee? (Poo’s his book eaut an’ finds it for him.)
KING. — Eh, tha foo! Slasher. — Just thee wait whol we’n done!
(Wipes his nose an’ slutthers off wi t’ DOCTHOR an’ FOO.)
ST. GEORGE. — I am Sant George, that noble champion bowd,
Wi this here good swort I’ve won ten theausan peaund i’ gowd;
(Crack o’ laughin o reaund.)
‘Twere I what fowt the fiery dhragon an’ fot him unto slaughther.
An’ by them means won th’ owd King of Egypt’s daughther.
(Enther PRINCE PARADINE.)
PRINCE. — I am black Prince Paradine, born ov greight reneawn,
Soon will I fot Sain George’s courage deawn.
ST. GEORGE. — Stand off, tha black Morocky dog,
Or bi my sword tha’ll die;
I’ll piece thi body full ov holes,
An’ make o thi buttons fly.
BUTCHER’S LAD. — It met happen cut a bit o’ suet iv tha leet it smell at a grindlestone.
PRINCE. — Poo eaut thi sword an’ play,
Poo eaut thi brass an’ pay;
For aw’m beaun to have a reckoninpence
Afore aw’ll goo away!
GENTLEMAN — Recompense, boy.
PRINCE (turnin on him wi witherin dignity). — We cawn’t o be schoomaisthers. Aw’ll oather wrostle or run thee for eightpence.
(Cobs his sword deawn an’ shaps for box in.)
DIRTY BET. — Give o’er, Ben! Behave thisel.
PRINCE (sulky). — Aw’m noane com’n here to be talked to bi him. Aw con do mi own clerkin. Who’s he?
(Th’ champions feight af titer some moore talk, an’ th’ PRINCE is kil’t. Enther KING OF EGYPT.)
KING. — Aw’m th’ owd King ov Egypt, as plainly doath appear —
GENTLEMAN. — How so? You look quite as much like the King of Abyssinia, or an Indian fakir.
CHAP NEAR HIM. — He looks moore like a doffer, a lump.
KING. — Lemme a-be! Aw’m th’ owd King ov Egypt —
BEELZEBUB (eautside). — Here, hutch up! Let’s come through, some on yo.
FAT CHAP. — Tha’ll come noane through me. Goo reaund, an’ stop that shovin, or aw’ll lond thee one.
KING. — Make a less din i’ that nook! Aw’m th’ owd King ov Egypt—
BEELZEBUB. — Reighch mi stick o’er, Jimmy; we’ll see whether aw’m comin in or not. (Pushes his road through.) That’s betther! Ger on wi thi aclin, Snowbo.
KING. — Aw’ll gie thee Snowbo in abeaut hawve a minute.
Aw’m th’ owd King ov Egypt —
PARADINE (on his back, dyead). — Heaw mony times yet? Ger on wi thee?
KING. — Well, what done they keep agate on me for?
Aw’ve com’n a seechin mi long-lost son an’ heir.
ST. GEORGE. — He’s kil’t.
KING. — Who did him slay, who did him kill,
An’ on this greaund his precious blood did spill?
ST. GEORGE. — I did him slay, etc.
KING. — Oh, Hecthor I Hecthor I help me wi speed,
I’ o mi life aw ne’er stood moore i’ need.
HECTHOR. — Yes, yes, mi lige, aw will obey,
An’ wi this here swort hope to win the day;
Iv this is him stonnin theere
’At kil’t yor long-lost son an’ heer.
Whether he’s sprung fro ryal flood,
Aw’ll make him run like Noah’s blood,
ST. GEORGE. — Bowd Hecthor I dunnot be so wot,
For here tha knows naught who tha’s got;
I’ll inch thee, an’ cut smo as flies,
Send thee o’er th’ say to make mince pies —
Mince pies wot an’ mince pies cowd,
I’ll send thee to Black Sam afore tha’rt three days owd!
HECTHOR. — Heaw con tha inch me, cut me smo as flies, Send me o’er th’ say, etc.
(Enther SLASHER, nosin his sleeve.)
SLASHER.— Howd, Sang George! Stay thi valyour bowd!
Mi yead’s made ov iron,
Mi body’s made o’ steel.
Mi honds an’ feet o’ knucklin-bwon —
Aw chanellge to make thee feel!
TH’ OWD WEIGHVER (just behind him). — It’s challenge, Joe. Tha’s bin towd afore.
SLASHER (turnin an’ wipin). — Yo’n naught to do wi it, as aw know on.
HECTHOR (to Paradine). — Tha’rt lyin fair i’ t’ road, Paregoric; we’n no reawm to feight. Rowl o’er once.
(PARADINE rowls — ST. GEORGE an’ HECTHOR set to.)
HECTHOR. — Howd on a bit! Tha’s knocked mi sword croot.
BUTCHER’S LAD. — It’ll match thi legs then. Tha’ll ne’er be weaunded i’ bwoth knees at once.
ANOTHER LAD. — He wain’t that! They’ll ha no need to buy callipers where that mon wortches.
HECTHOR. — Somebry’s beaun to get punced afore so long!
BUTCHER’S LAD. — Ah! tha’ll do some puncin wi thoose feet. Heighve one leg up an’ tha’ll wort o’er on t’other.
HECTHOR (gettin mad). — Aw’ll talk to thee fur on, slink beef! Tha’rt noane woth stewin.
(Sthraightens his sword., gets it knocked croot again, an’ worts o’er weaunded.)
HECTHOR. — Aw’m a bowd an’ valyunt knight, Hecthor is mi name,
Mony a bloody battle aw’ve fowt an’ olez won the same;
Fro Sank George’s hond aw geet this here bloody weaund —
Howd on! Aw yer yon silver thrumpet seaund— –
CHAP I’ TH’ CREAWD. — Tha lies, too.
HECTHOR. — Deawn yon is the way (pointin wvest wi his arm, an’ northerly wi his croot sword),
Farewell, Sank George! aw connot longer stay.
CHAP. — Nobry wants thee to do. Tha shaps some wooden!
HECTHOR. — Oh ah! Heaw con a chap act wi o this here gam gooin on? Tha wouldn’t like it thysel, aw’ll bet!
BEELZEBUB. — Here steps in owd Beelzebub,
An’ o’er mi shooldher aw carry a club.
An’ in one bond a fryin pon,
An’ aw think mysel a jolly owd mon.
Right fol layrol, etc.
Then, as Dirty Bet (ornamented wi four finger marks o’ one cheek an’ a sooty sthripe fro chin-end to foryead) were seltin up a dismal ycawl reckon’t to be singin, aw thought it hee time to be shappin for off. Aw left St. George swaggerin reaund wur consaited nor ever, Paradine’s corpse sittin up on th’ battle fielt talkin to th’ owd king, an’ bowd Slasher stonnin near dhrawin his sleeve across his nose.