Scarborough Skipping Day, North YorkshireThe North Yorkshire resort of Scarborough has a tradition established since at least 1903, and possibly before, of a mass long-rope skipping event on Shrove Tuesday. Other seaside towns have records of such events, and it is suggested that its origins lie in the local fishermen sorting their ropes and nets at this time of year, and giving those not fit for fishing to children.
Scarborough 's event though is a little different, in that most others known about were Good Friday happenings, and in Scarborough the skipping seems to be a continuation of another custom known as Ball Day. On Ball Day the promenade was lined with stalls selling children's toys such as tops, balls, and skipping ropes, but they were purchased by and for adults as well. Since at least 1853 a dignitary or celebrity has rung a special bell at noon on Shrove Tuesday, supposedly to signal to housewives that they should begin pancake making when the tradition began. These days the bell is rung by the mayor or deputy mayor, to signal the start of the skipping. Some schools participate, and hundreds of adults including those in their seventies take part. When the event is at its height there can be thousands involved.
Inevitably some have come up with theories about ancient rites, crop magic and similar, but it is far more likely that Scarborough's Skipping Day on the South Foreshore is a celebration of pleasure linked to the fact that in days gone by Shrove Tuesday was a holiday or half-holiday for servants and workers, when they could enjoy fresh air and freedom if only for an afternoon. The area used for skipping is closed to traffic for the event these days, and the town wishes for decent weather (not always a given on the North Sea Coast in February and March), but even in poor weather some hardier souls will keep the tradition up
More British Folk Customs?