How did the Georgians socialize at Easter?

With Easter almost here, we would like to wish everyone a Happy Easter and share with you some snippets about the way Georgians spent their Easter with some extracts from the newspapers of the day – partying being the most obvious!

We begin with a letter of complaint, clearly from someone who didn’t appreciate many of the celebrations that took place during the year and felt it appropriate to vent his/her annoyance to the editor of the Whitehall Evening Post, we’re only focusing on a snippet from it about Easter though…

Whitehall Evening Post (1770), August 2, 1783 – August 5, 1783

Some things customary refer simply to the idea of feasting, according to the season and occasion. Of these, perhaps, are lambs-wool on Christmas eve; furmety on Mothering Sunday; Braggot (which is a mixture of ale, sugar and spices) at the festival of Easter … lamb at Easter to the Paschal Lamb. This, perhaps, may be the case also with respect to pancakes on Shrove Tuesday; unless that shall be supposed to allude to ‘the egg at Easter’ an emblem of the rising up out of the grave; in the same manner as the chick, entombed as it were in the egg, is in due time brought to life. So also the flowers, with which many churches are ornamented on Easter-day, are most probably intended as emblems of the resurrection having just risen from the earth during the severity of winter, they seem to have been buried.

A custom, which ought to be abolished as improper and indecent, prevails in many places of lifting, as it is called, on Easter Monday and Tuesday. Is this a memorial of Christ being raised from the grave? There is, at least some appearance of it; as there seems to be trace of the decent of the Holy Ghost on the heads of the Apostles in what passes at Whitsuntide fair in some parts of Lancashire; where one person hold a stick over the head of another, whilst a third, unperceived, strikes the stick, and thus gives a smart blow to the first. But this, probably is only local.

The Hampshire Chronicle, Sunday, March 31, 1788

Of the multitude of customs and ceremonies which formerly commanded attention at this season, but very few are preserved; it is however, universally considered as a time appropriate to recreation and innocent festivity. Amongst the common people it is even now a custom in the North to rise early, in order to see the sun dance. We suppose this o have arisen from some metaphorical expression in the sacred writings. Boys carry a vessel of water into the fields, that the sun may seem to dance from the tremulous motion of the water.

Paper eggs, properly pasche eggs, are stained of different colors and covered with gold leaf, and given to young children in the North of England as a fairing. This is a relic of Popish superstition; an egg being considered a type of the resurrection. This custom prevails in Russia; a long account may be seen in Hackluyt’s voyages. Dr. Chandler also in his travels in Asia Minor says ‘they made us presents of coloured eggs and cakes of Easter bread’.

Durand says, that on Easter Tuesday wives used to beat their husbands, on the day following husbands beat their wives.

Thomas Girtin (1775ー1802) Durham Cathedral and Castle(c.1800)
Thomas Girtin (1775ー1802) Durham Cathedral and Castle(c.1800)

In the city of Durham the following custom is still preserved: On one day the men take off the women’s shoes, which are only to be redeemed by a small present. On another day the women take off the men’s in a like manner.

Tansy
Tansy

In Yorkshire tansy puddings and cakes are made, which custom Seldon, in his ‘Table Talk‘, has referenced to the bitter herbs which the Jews greatly use at this season.

At Newcastle, on Easter Monday a great match is always played at hand ball for a great tansy cake.

Many other incidents might be enumerated, most of which are obsolete, and many generally forgotten; we sincerely however regret, that the memory of anything should be lost, which, by introducing innocent merriment, strengthens the sweet bond of social life.

The Hampshire Chronicle, Monday, April 28, 1794

Westminster Abbey and Bridge from Horseferry, Lambeth, British School; Government Art Collection
Westminster Abbey and Bridge from Horseferry, Lambeth, British School; Government Art Collection

Greenwich

The belles and beaux, from the fineness of the weather, exceeded far, very far, any number that ever were seen at that favourite spot. From six to eight o’clock, on their return to London, it was one continued throng of holiday people of all ranks and descriptions, from Greenwich park to Westminster bridge. There was no resisting the torrent; and many an honest young woman who was so yesterday morning, will have fatal cause to repent, before this day twelvemonth, the frolic of tumbling down the hill in the park – drunkenness, riots, battles and thefts, as usual, dignified the proceedings. Not less than one hundred thousand persons were present.

Londoners Gypsying (The Family Holiday Party, in Epping Forest, near London) by Charles Robert Leslie, 1820; The Geffrye, Museum of the Home
Londoners Gypsying (The Family Holiday Party, in Epping Forest, near London) by Charles Robert Leslie, 1820; The Geffrye, Museum of the Home

Epping Forest

At ten in the morning, at least ten thousand equestrians and pedestrians were upon the forest: every species of vehicle from the hand cart and buggy to the light waggon and splendid chariot was there. At one, the stag, bedecked with ribbons was turned out on Fairmaid Bottom – and then the fun began, with running, riding, crossing, jostling, tumbling, hooting, shouting, screaming and howling; which formed the scene that may be seen, but cannot possibly be described, and that indeed never before was exhibited but in a nation of madmen. At four, the stag was at bay in a thicket, near the Royal Oak and was taken and put in a cart and with continual shouts was brought to the starting house in order to afford fresh sport in future.

Easter Monday, or, The cockney hunt Rowlandson 1807 Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Easter Monday, or, The cockney hunt Rowlandson 1807 Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

 

Featured Image

The Easter Hunt at Epping Forest by Henry William Bunbury, Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection

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12 thoughts on “How did the Georgians socialize at Easter?

    1. All Things Georgian

      Yes Regan, we’re sure they did. That went without say, we were looking at the non-religious side of their lives 🙂

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      1. Since we socialize at church, too, it occurred to me that on Easter Sunday, much of their socializing might revolve around church or dinner after. But I have never researched that holiday in Georgian England. Thanks for the interesting tidbits!

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      2. All Things Georgian

        Much socializing would have taken place around churches, but those Georgians clearly weren’t ones to miss out on other activities, we found more snippets than we expected, especially as it began with us simply looking at Easter eggs 🙂

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  1. nmayer2015

    Though things had eased up a bit by the regency period, communicants were supposed to go to church on Christmas, Easter and Whitsunday and could be fined if they didn’t. In some places the ones checking tried to catch Roman Catholics and fine them for not going to the parish church.
    Some of the “vulgar” activities were the results of high spirits because of Spring and because the workers didn’t have many days away from work. The holydays were times they could have fun.

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      1. There are places in England where it was traditional to hold Whitsun and Easter races, horse races these are – certainly at Beccles and Bungay on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, which went back to at least the 15th century. They were less formal than the races in established places like Newmarket, and were more about owner/riders like the early days of horse racing, and attracted much betting. People would come from 40 or 50 miles to the Beccles races. I uncovered it when I was doing local research in the early 1500s but I haven’t looked in detail later, other than knowing that the Beccles races were well known.
        Would it be unkind to suggest that seeking Catholics not obeying the law was also an Easter ‘sport’?

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