Egg Shackling ** New - See bottom of page for individual years **
Egg Shackling: The eggs are placed in a garden sieve and shaken. As each egg cracks it is removed, until only one egg remains uncracked. The owner of this egg is the winner.
Throughout human history, eggs have been associated with birth and rebirth, and even with the creation of the universe. One example was Greek orphism, where the primordial god, Phanes, was hatched from the ‘world egg’, a primordial mix of Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Inevitability). Although this does raise the question of where the egg came from, Hinduism also draws connections between the egg and creation, and the Egyptian sun-god, Ra, was believed to have been hatched from a cosmic egg.
However, it is to the season of Lent that we must look for the origin of egg shackling, with its connection to the making and eating of pancakes on the last day before the fast begins in the run-up to Easter. The season of denial holds importance for all Christians, and although most no longer ban the eating of eggs, for some of the Orthodox tradition the regime is still particularly strict, abstaining not only from meat and fish, but also from the other animal products of eggs and dairy. This is only ended on Easter Sunday, when overindulgence of the paschal lamb has been known to result in severe gastric problems after 46 days of veganism.
The eating of pancakes was part of the feasting that took place immediately before lent, but the actual derivation of egg shackling remains a mystery, although it has been suggested that it is a survival of part the Saturnalia which preceded Lent throughout medieval England. The earliest written record we have is from Langport. The Rev Ross, in his History of Langport, tells of an old custom when scholars were given a half holiday on Shrove Tuesday if they produced an egg shackling verse in the morning. One of the verses quoted was by the later famous economist Walter Bagehot in 1840. His verse, written at the age of 14. reads:
“Shrove Tuesday is a happy day
For all the boys to go and play
By ancient custom good
We shackled eggs and broke them too
Each face with sparkling eyes then smiled
In hope of proving Fortune’s child
And when the victor’s name was known
Around his brow we placed his crown
And far abroad we spread his fame
With long loud shouts his Joy proclaim.”
In Stoke St Gregory, 1941, the eggs of the senior group were shackled by the new headmaster, Mr. F. W. Tarr, and those of the junior group Mrs. Tarr. The winners were - Juniors: Michael Champion, Sheila Tralley, Anne Chedzov, Evelyn Rooke; Seniors: N. Chedzoy, R. Hector. C. Loveridge and J. Garland. In 1946, the headmaster, F C Smith, revived the custom after a break due to the war. His daughter, Judith Smith, aged 5, Cyril Miller, Sheila David, Brenda Moore, Jeffery Miller were the winners. The winter of 1946/47 had been a bad one and eggs were in limited supply, so only 48 were entered in the following year’s competition. The 1947 winners were: Shirley Kemble, Judith Smith, Diana Greenslade, Cynthia Hearle. Consolation prizes went to Anne Lawrence, Kathleen Staple, Audrey Cridge. The 1948 winners were - Seniors: Angeline Grenville, Pamela Merritt, Michael Peach; Juniors: Percy Fear, David House, Alec Hopkins. In 1950 Winners were - Seniors: John Pearce, Brian David, Bryan Boobyer; Juniors: Kenneth Coate, Sylvia Moore, Pamela Parker.
On Wednesday 20th October 1948, the BBC broadcast the recording of a visit to Stoke by Bernard Fishwick, as part of the radio series ‘Village on the Air’. There were talks by C J House, of Meare Green about farming; Gilbert Musgrave on the willow industry, and Sid Staple on basket making. After a visit to H S Chedzoy in the Village Stores, the recording moved to the school where the headmaster, Mr Burrows, gave a talk on egg shackling. It was reported that Hazel Cox’s voice was heard, saying that as well as her name on her egg that year she had drawn a ‘Mr Chad’ with the caption “Wot No Cracks!”
On 21st Feb 1950 the Daily Mirror and the Evening World took photos and the BBC sent an observer who gave an account in the programme ‘The Week in the West’. Since then the event has often attracted media interest, but on 25th Februry 1954, the headmaster received a request from BBC Bristol to televise the egg shackling. He agreed and invited the Managers, Divisional Education Officer and Cheif Education Officer to attend. On 1st March, Mr Prosser, BBC technician, visited the school and regretfully informed the head that making the ‘telefilm’ would not be practicable.
Is this what Hazel's Egg might have looked like?
Winners in 1952 were - Seniors: J Keirle, D Champion, M Merritt; Juniors: P Keirle, M Chedzoy, J Keirle. In 1953 it was - Juniors: Gillian Brewer, William Brina, Martin Ryland, Michael Chedzoy; Seniors: Morris Chedzoy, David House, Celia Yard, Pat Donovan. 1954 Winners were - Juniors: H Warr, C House, V Palmer, W Brina; Seniors: B Lawrence, G House, D Broadway, J Austwick. In 1956 - Seniors: Sylvia Moore, Pamela Keirle, Elizabeth Fear, Michael Dane; Juniors: Colin Loveridge, Roger Garland, Valerie Palmer, Philip Broom. Best verses were by Janet Parsons, John Broadway. Michael Chedzoy, Julian Keirle. In 1957 Prize-winners were: Richard Lawrence, Roger Garland, Doreen Morse. In 1958 it was David Keirle, Roger Kemble and Jennifer Pine. 1959 winners were: Janet Williams, Colin Loveridge, Roger Garland.
A newspaper report of c1966 shows that the additional competition for the best verse had not died out, although the literary aspiration might not have been up to that of Walter Bagehot in 1840. Nine year old Geoffery David had won the crown, with runner up being Nicholas Squire. Kevin Bown was in third place. The three best verses were judged to be by Trevor Boon, Gordon Chedzoy and Michael Patten.
Oh! Little egg please don’t crack
As you roll around the track
For if you do they’ll laugh at me
And a pancake you will be.
Eggs, eggs, here we go
Into the sieve and round we go
Some will crack and some will stay
But I hope mine goes all the way
Little egg so nice and brown
I hope you will not let me down
If you crack I shall be sad
But in a pancake I’ll be glad
And then came the ‘Blackburn Years’, with perhaps the most popular Shackler of all time . . .
Anyone who has any egg shackling stories they woud like to share, or any photos they don’t mind being included on the history web site, please get in touch with Dave, Stoke House, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a short clip of Stoke’s Egg Shackling HERE
And a longer piece from Shepton Beauchamp, the only other school (along with its sister school at Ilton) to carry on the tradition HERE
1948 Egg Shackling: click HERE
1976? Egg Shackling: click HERE
1989? Egg Shackling: click HERE
1990 Egg Shackling: click HERE
1991 Egg Shackling: click HERE
1992 Egg Shackling: click HERE
1993 Egg Shackling: click HERE
2000 Egg Shackling: click HERE
2002 Egg Shackling: click HERE
The photos on these pages have photographs, some with the names of the children identified. Most do not so please get in touch if you can fill in some ID. Also it would be good to have copies of original photos where we might only have news clippings. Contact Dave Evans on email@example.com, or on Next Door or Facebook - Stoke St Gregory Villagers. Thank you to all who have helped so far . . .