The Pace-Egg Plays of the Calder Valley
Article type: Book Reviews
London, FLS Books, 2004, 70pp., A6, Price £6.99 + £0.84 p&p
Here is another 'must have' book on the subject of mumming plays, from the prolific pen of Eddie Cass. This eagerly awaited publication supplements Cass's earlier book The Lancashire Pace-Egg Play, so Cass now provides the reader with an informed overview of Pace-Egging in the whole of the North West of England.
After a brief general introduction on mumming, the author revisits a theme from his earlier books and sets out to debunk the theories surrounding the possible 'pagan origins' of these plays. He argues:
"the purpose of the plays seems to have been what the social historian would describe as 'legitimised wealth transfer transaction'; it was not socially acceptable for respected members of the working class to beg, but it was acceptable to mount some kind of performance for reward in cash or kind." (pp.6-7)
The first chapter covers the period prior the revival of the Midgley play in the 1930s and identifies some thirteen locations in the Calder Valley where the play was performed. I will admit to some initial disappointment that the author did not provide more information about these plays but realise now that he has concentrated instead, on the plays that not only have the longest history of performance, but are still being performed today.
Chapters two and three concentrate on the Midgley Pace-Egg play, the significance of two men - Henry Harwood and Frank Marsden - in its revival, and, in the case of Harwood, his influence over its continuity. Cass chronicles the play's history from the performance by adults for the 1931 radio broadcast, through its transfer to Midgley School and finally to Calder High School.
The play now draws sizeable crowds on Good Friday and enjoys both local and national support, yet there have been times when, but for good luck and happy coincidence, the play might have died out. One such time was in the 1950s, when if it were not for a chance comment from a Midgley boy to one of his teachers, Barber Gledhill, the play might have disappeared.
Gledhill proved to be the right man in the right place at the right time. With the help and encouragement of the headmaster of Midgley School, he established the performances of the play at Calder High. I think that Cass's interviews with him provide a fascinating insight into that period of the play's history.
Although Gledhill left the school a few years later, the play has continued to be performed by the pupils of Calder High and the remainder of this chapter discusses the changes and various influences that have affected the play from then to the present-day.
The final chapter deals with two other Pace Egg plays from the Calder Valley. Firstly, he covers the Brighouse Children's Theatre who performed a play until 1993 and who by coincidence have reformed again to perform this year.
Secondly, he discusses Heptonstall Pace Egg play. Pace Egging in Heptonstall can be traced back to the early part of the 20th and possibly late 19th century. Here, the author examines how the play has changed through its various revivals until it reached the major local tourist attraction it is today.
The book gives two full texts, Midgley and Heptonstall and 14 carefully chosen illustrations.
Eddie Cass (2001) The Lancashire Pace-Egg Play: A Social History
London, FLS Publications, , ISBN 0-903515-22-9