On Shrove Tuesday, in Scarborough, the South Bay foreshore is crowded with people for the skipping festival.
As long ago as 1853, townspeople gathered here to celebrate ‘Ball Day’ annually on Shrove Tuesday. It was one of the few public holidays when apprentices and servants could be sure of having at least half a day to enjoy themselves.
Until the turn of the century it was known as Ball Day. It was recorded in 1903 that ‘a few bairns were skipping near the lifeboat’ but by 1927 in a national publicity campaign it was acclaimed as ‘Scarborough’s Skipping Festival’.
At the end of the last century the South Foreshore on Shrove Tuesday was like a fairground. Stalls were arranged on the sea front, which offered gingerbread, liquorice, coconuts, and similar delicacies, to all who wanted to buy.
A contemporary account relates that:
"Baskets and balls of various qualities and colours were prominent too and battledores and shuttlecocks were bought even by men and women. On this day grown up folks can skip and play without being thought childish. Everyone becomes something different from their usual selves on Shrove Tuesday’."
In those days, of course, there were no real traffic problems. The Foreshore Road between the Spa and Eastborough is now closed to traffic during the afternoon of Shrove Tuesday. The fact remains that from mid-day onwards there are likely to be thousands of ‘young’ people of all ages enjoying themselves along the seafront.
The other custom, which is still retained at Scarborough, is the ringing of the Pancake Bell. Over a century ago the bell used to hang in St Thomas’ Hospital, which was then on a site in North Street.
It was used as a curfew signal at 6am and 6pm, before the days of the BBC time signals. On Shrove Tuesday, however, it was rung at noon as a signal to housewives to start frying the traditional pancakes.
With the demolition of the hospital the bell was removed to the Rotunda Museum in 1861 where it continued to be rung for the next 50 years. When age made it unsafe, a ship’s bell, presented to the Rotunda in 1979 to mark its 150th anniversary, was substituted. A new replica Pancake Bell was installed at 86 Newborough above what used to be the Next clothes shop in 1996.
The new Pancake Bell was provided by Scarborough Borough Council with the assistance of Tate and Lyle Sugars, Morrisons Stores and electricity supply nominees.
The only break in the tradition occurred during the war years of 1939-45 when bell ringing was prohibited. Now, it is always rung by the Mayor or the Deputy Mayor of the Borough of Scarborough.