Holcombe Village on Lancashire’s Pennine moors has been the site of traditional spring celebrations for longer than anyone can remember. It is believed that pre Christian elements are merged with the Good Friday festivities to create a unique event held each year on the slopes of Holcombe Hill. The hill is a well known local landmark with the Peel Monument at its summit.
My earliest memory of Easter is as a child of perhaps four years old in the early 1960’s. My brother and I wearing matching maroon blazers with cream piping, our parents and grandparents dressed in their Sunday best, driving to Holcombe Brook, a small nearby village where the roads from Bury and Bolton meet. Although we didn’t know it at the time, owning a car in 1960 was a pretty rare thing, especially in the austere north of England.
We parked the car and began the mile or so walk up Lumb Carr Road towards Holcombe Village stopping at regular intervals to look at the stalls which lined the road. They sold all types of sweets, toys and novelties. We got a toffee apple each. To avoid the crowds we turned up the road leading to the old Aitken Sanatorium where the Tuberculosis patients went to die. This leads to Holcombe Old Road which is an unpaved lane running parallel to the much busier Lumb Carr road. The local scout troop had a stand selling hot black peas which are served piping hot in a cup with vinegar. Easter in the Pennines is still pretty wintry so the warmth was wonderful to tiny hands and the taste was just delicious.
Eventually we arrived at the moor bottom where the fair was in full swing with children taking part in the traditional egg rolling where brightly painted boiled eggs are rolled down the hill. Nobody knows why this is done, possibly it is a remnant of an ancient spring fertility rite. There was a Punch and Judy show which for reasons I can not explain always scared me. Its pretty violent and loud and the shrieking voices of the performers would send me hiding behind mothers skirts. There was a troupe of morris dancers performing the traditional display. Everywhere you turned there was something going on.
Around noon there was an interdenominational service before the cross. Well it was interdenominational unless you were a Catholic in which case you weren’t invited. In those days being a Catholic meant waiting in a side street during the Whitsuntide Walks in May until all the Protestants had passed then having your own parade about a mile behind. Of course all this meant nothing to me then and today things are much improved although we still burn a Catholic every November the Fifth but only in effigy. Church services do not hold much appeal to a four year old and I remember my brother who was three years older getting a discreet smack around the ear for laughing at a chubby kid in a ridiculous straw hat with ribbons on it. Ribbons! Well he probably thought the same about our maroon and cream blazers.
Our parents went for a late lunch and left us in the care of our grandparents who were content to sit on the grass and let us explore the fair. Of course we had to keep going back for sixpences. For some reason everything cost sixpence or maybe we were just too excited to wait for the change. We bought a hand made pewter figure of a knight each. These were crusaders complete with linen surcoat with the red cross of the order and a polished sword the point of which rested between the mailed feet and both of the knights hands were clasped over the hilt. These must have cost more than sixpence! I had mine for years although at some point we parted company. I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Eventually the afternoon grew colder and darker and it was time to leave. We carried our knights back down the hill to the car and played with them all the way home. I have been back to the Good Friday fair many times since but it has never been as magical as that first time. The fair today is a shadow of its former self with a few tacky stalls and bored looking ice cream vendors.
The local scout troop still sell the black peas though.