Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a feast day preceding Lent as part of the build up to Easter. In Anglo-Saxon times people were called to confession and were “shriven” (forgiven of their sins), hence Shrove. A bell would be rung to call people to confession; in Scarborough the bell that was used was the curfew bell on St Thomas’s Hospital in what is now North Street. Eventually this bell was called the Pancake Bell and was rung at twelve noon; supposedly to let the housewives know when to start cooking the pancakes (pancakes were traditionally eaten to use up all the sweet treats that were to be given up for Lent). In 1861 the Hospital was knocked down and the bell was removed to the Rotunda Museum where the tradition continued until 1979 when the bell was replaced with a ships bell, due to a crack in the original bell. In 1996 a replica bell was placed on a wall at North Street/Newborough junction, close to where the original bell had been sounded, and rung annually by the Mayor or Town Cryer.
In the 1800’s (and possibly long before) servants and labourers were given a half day off for Lent; in Scarborough they would gather on the beach and play a game of mob football whilst many would look on. The children would also play games on the beach which included skipping, and many stalls were set up selling toys and trinkets creating a festive atmosphere. Shrove Tuesday was known locally as ‘Ball Day’ a name which persisted until it was replaced by ‘Skipping Day’ in the early 1900’s. The half day holiday is part of a tradition which is dying out, but could still be seen in Scarborough in the 1970’s as many apprentices had the half day, whilst some shops and banks honoured it through to the 1980’s and it can still be seen at most local schools who give the children the afternoon off. Strangely the first official recording of ‘Skipping Day’ is not until 1903 when it is believed that the local fishermen would supply the children with their old fishing ropes that were getting thrown away. In 1915 the workers from two Scarborough breweries, Nesfield’s and Scarborough & Whitby, challenged each other to a charity football match on the beach (similar to the charity Boxing Day match between the Fishermen and Firemen which started in 1893 and is still played annually), with money raised going to the Workpeople’s Hospital Fund. It was a great success and was played again the following year; however with WW1 drawing many of the young men away it was abandoned until 1920 when it was resumed annually and in 1922 an annual tug of war was added as part of the festivities. Nesfield’s were taken over by Moores’ & Robson’s who in 1935 pulled out of the match, their place being filled by a team from the Corporation’s Electric Department. Sadly the matches and tug of war were stopped for WW2 and never resumed but Skipping Day still carries on. In more recent years there has been pancake races run on Aberdeen Walk, open to local businesses, organisation and individual teams, these are usually attended by the Mayor and Town Cryer. Another tradition which has crept into the ‘Skipping Day’ calendar and has been running for a number of years now is the Scarborough Sea Cadets, on East Sandgate, supplying fresh cooked pancakes at a modest price.
Thanks go to Les Shannon for this article and photos.