Three of Yorkshire’s most weird and wonderful Easter traditions

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Easter-themed events will shortly be happening all around Yorkshire, but there are a few time-old traditional events related to Easter which occur every year in the region, and which are somewhat unusual in their nature.

1. The World Coal Carrying Championships, Ossett, West Yorkshire

Planting the Penny Hedge, Whitby, 1907

Planting the Penny Hedge, Whitby, 1907

Every Easter Monday, the village of Gawthorpe in Ossett, West Yorkshire, hold the annual World Coal Carrying Championships. This event has been held for many years, first taking place in 1963 and harking back to Yorkshire’s coal mining industry.

This event sees men and women race the streets of Gawthorpe carrying huge sacks of Coal in an attempt to be the first one to cross the finish line. The Men’s Veterans Race race takes place first, followed by a women’s race and then two main men’s races, with men carrying 50kg of coal and women carrying 20kg.

The best time is taken across the three men’s races, which is a concept introduced in 2013 due to the sheer amount of people taking part in the event.

The event will return again on Easter Monday this year, taking place on April 2. Adult races will start from the Royal Oak public house, Owl Lane, Ossett and continue for a distance of 1012 metres, where the finish line will be positioned at the Maypole Green at the heart of Gawthorpe village. Each person’s individual time is recorded when their sack of coal hits the green.

Coal Carrying Championships, Ossett, 31st March 1970

Coal Carrying Championships, Ossett, 31st March 1970

There are also Children’s Fun Run races which start from the Darby and Joan, located on Gawthorpe’s High Street, and the distance is set at 150 meters.

Race coaches are also allowed, but the rules stipulate that after runners pass the Boot and Shoe public house, located in the village, coaches must no longer help and are not allowed to pass this location.

This event is a long-standing Easter tradition which is a tribute to the coal mining efforts of Yorkshire’s past. It’s fun, yet at times quite competitive, but an Easter tradition in which the whole family can get involved.

For further information on this year’s event click here.

2. The Pace Egg Play, Heptonstall, Calder Valley, West Yorkshire

The Pace Egg Plays are medieval mystery plays which are long-standing Easter traditions in rural English culture. This was once an Easter tradition all over England, but it is now only practised in a few select areas, particularly Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

West Yorkshire’s most renowned Pace Egg Play is that which takes place every Good Friday in Heptonstall.

This involves a traditional Mumming Play, which is a folk play performed by a troupe of amateur actors, usually known as mummers or guisers. This year’s event will be performed in Weavers Square and hopes to again see hundreds of visitors to the village.

This year’s play, on March 30, will see St George battling against characters such as Bold Slasher and Hector, with costumes featuring strange headgear which comprises of a tower of flowers peculiar to the Calder Valley area, which is where the play will take place.

For further information on this year’s event click here.

3. Planting the Penny Hedge, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Although this traditional event does not take place on Easter weekend, its roots are still embedded in Easter culture and traditions.

Every year on the eve of Ascension Day, the date of which was in fact decided by the Synod of Whitby in the year 664, the Ceremony of the Horngarth or Planting of the Penny Hedge occurs.

Exactly 40 days after Easter, this event takes place in Whitby’s upper harbour, located on the east bank of the River Esk, and is supervised by the Bailiff of the Manor of Fyling.

The hedge itself is made up of 9 upright hazel stakes which are driven into the mud with an ancient mallet. Nine pliant branches, also known as ‘yethers’ or pliant branches are used for intertwining, and the hedge is secured at each end with ‘strout-stowers’.

This event takes place on the eve of Ascension Day, as this ensures that the tide is always low at the time of planting, and Ascension Day itself is an event related to Easter.

The legend dates back to 1159, when the Abbot of Whitby imposed a penance on three local hunters and their descendants for the rest of time, after they killed a monk at Eskdale.

Before the monk died, he said he would forgive the men and spare their lives if they and their descendants would forever carry out a penance.

Every year, on the eve of Ascension Day, they had to construct a short hedge from stakes woven together and this had to withstand three tides. The one main rule was that a knife "of a penny price" had to be used in the construction of this hedge, hence it being a ‘penny hedge’ which is still planted every year, showing the continuation of this tradition.

For further information on this year’s event click here.