Until 1939 every year for over one hundred years, families would gather on Parker’s Piece to skip together in celebration of Spring. Taking place on Good Friday the practice has its roots in more ancient rituals of jumping that symbolised leaping into the future in the hope of better times to come.
The tradition can be found historically across the UK customised according to the local supply of rope – in fishing towns skipping often took place along the beach using fishing lines whereas in agricultural villages skippers used hop stems stripped of their leaves. On Parker’s Piece it was washing lines that were the favoured rope. It was commonly the case that the ropes were turned traditionally by the men with the women jumping, although children often joined in too. Pictures from the 1900s certainly show everyone at it!
Early records of skipping on Good Friday link the practice to ancient earthworks and in particular barrows – earthen burial mounds around which these games were played. While there are no records of this being the case in Cambridge it is interesting to note that the flatness of Parker’s Piece is a feature of relatively recent history and it has a much more undulating past including its own mound.
The earliest record of skipping on Parker’s Piece is from 1838 and compared to other towns it continued as a tradition until quite late, coming to an end with the outbreak of World War II. Prior to this it was an annual occurrence with residents descending on the Piece from morning and skipping till the early evening sustained by the refreshments of traders supplying lemonade and spiced buns.