Getting back to the old Easter traditions in Sunderland

MARCHING ON: The Sunday School Good Friday Easter Service at Sunderland Civic Centre in March 1989.

MARCHING ON: The Sunday School Good Friday Easter Service at Sunderland Civic Centre in March 1989.

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WEARSIDE historians are offering a sweet treat this Easter – the chance to celebrate the season in traditional style.

An Easter Egg-Stravaganza will be held at the Donnison School on Saturday – featuring egg hunts, egg decorating, bonnet competitions, old-fashioned handicrafts and home-made cakes.

GOOD FRIDAY: Tunstall Hill Cross and Easter Service in April 1987.

GOOD FRIDAY: Tunstall Hill Cross and Easter Service in April 1987.

“Many of our Easter traditions have been lost over the decades, so we thought it would be nice bring some back,” said Janette Hilton, project leader of Living History North East.

“Generations of Sunderland folk have taken part in Easter Egg hunts and Bonnet Parades, and they are just as fun now as they were in the past. It should be a great family day out.”

Wearsiders in their thousands once flocked to Fawcett Street for an open air service on Good Friday - a tradition which enjoyed a 200-year history, until being scrapped in 2010.

The annual egg-rolling competition at Penshaw, as well as the ever-popular service at Tunstall Hill still continue - but gone are the days of celebrating in the streets at Easter.

BONNET LASSES: Members of Easington Lane Tea Dance Club taking part in an Easter Bonnet competition in April  1985.

BONNET LASSES: Members of Easington Lane Tea Dance Club taking part in an Easter Bonnet competition in April 1985.

“It was always the tradition in the 1940s and 50s for Sunday School scholars to march to Fawcett Street for the service - each dressed in something new for Easter,” said Janette.

“No-one wanted it to rain, as it might drench a new coat or blazer, but whatever the weather they marched anyway. Thousands would gather each year to take part on the service.”

Other by-gone Easter customs included egg rolling contests at Tunstall Hill - which was popular from Victorian times, but put on hold during egg rationing in World War Two.

“Pasche, or paste eggs, were traditionally “begged” by youngsters from their neighbours on Easter Eve. These eggs were then boiled and tinted with herbs or onion skins,” said Janette.

EGG-CITING: Youngsters at Sunderland District General are all smiles after receiving gifts of Easter eggs in March 1974.

EGG-CITING: Youngsters at Sunderland District General are all smiles after receiving gifts of Easter eggs in March 1974.

“Jarping contests took place with the eggs on Easter Monday. They would be rolled, tossed or knocked together. The egg which withstood the toughest test was considered lucky.”

Another Wearside Easter tradition involved rising before dawn on Easter Sunday morning to watch the “sun dance” from a lofty vantage point. Mowbray Park hill was a popular spot.

New clothes were traditionally worn at Easter too - as it was said that if people refused to wear their new Sunday Best then ‘rooks or crakes’ would spoil one’s clothes altogether.

The distribution of Dame Dorothy Williamson’s ‘dole money’ at Easter still continues today, but the custom of Heaving Day - held each Easter Monday - has long since died out.

“Tradition had it that Sunderland women would join hands to form a seat and then heave a man up and down,” said Janette.

“After a few of these lifts, the ‘victim’ would apparently be given a hearty kiss on his final descent. The roles would be reversed the next day, with a woman being ‘heaved’ and kissed.”

A chance to take part in a few of these traditions - including bonnet making and egg decoration - will be on offer during the Egg-Stravganza on Saturday, which runs from 11am.

Traditional Easter food, including cakes and scones, will be served in the centre’s vintage tearoom - and an Easter Egg hunt is to be held in the grounds; weather permitting.

“It will be a day of fun and games for all the family, with all proceeds going towards keeping the Donnison School running and our local history accessible,” added Janette.

lThe Easter Egg-Stravaganza will be held at the Donnison School, in Church Walk, East End, from 11am to 2pm on April 4. For further information contact 565 4835.

THE archives at the Donnison School contain memories of Easter through the decades – including this note from Tom Hopper about Easter outings in bygone days.

“A favourite Easter outing was when lots of people, young and old, would go to the quayside to hire a rowing boat for a day on the River,” he recalled.

“We could row up as far as Biddick. We would soon reach Hylton Woods, a lovely area – and also a favourite camping place for Boy Scouts or anyone who liked camping.

“There was a little stream from which we made our tea; it was good clean water. At another spot approaching Coxgreen we could land and walk up to Penshaw Monument.”

Tom and his pals would choose a peaceful riverside spot, or nearby field, in which to picnic – making sure there was “plenty of room” for games and entertainment.

“We always managed to have either a wind up gramophone or a melodian, now called an accordion, even a mouth organ,” he said.

“Time soon passed and the return journey was much harder when rowing back. We all arrived very tired at Pan Bank landing steps – where the ladies disembarked.

“Us chaps went on to the Low Quay Riverside, where the owner of the boat we hired was waiting. All at the end of this perfect day had a great time.”

l Taken from LHNE’s Memories book, which is on sale at £10.