Bell Ringers Revival Of A Sandbach Pancake Tradition

By Sandbach Town Council

Sandbach has a unique tradition when it comes to Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday.

Sandbach Town CouncilSandbach Town Council and St Mary’s Church Bell ringers are going to revive an old tradition on Saturday the 8th of March as part of the Farmers Market when along with the Pancake Tossing Competition, a Custom unique to the town will take place on the square and in the church bell tower when the Pancake Bell will be rung at 10.55am.

A number of fresh Pancakes will then be taken by local Brownies up to the bell tower of St Mary’s where the bell ringers will be served this delightful meal as part of an ancient tradition.
On arrival at the bell tower and when they have been taken up the stairs to where the ropes are pulled the Pancake bell will then be rung again to signify the arrival of the pancakes.

The Pancake Bell was used all over the country to signify the start of shrove Tuesday but what is unique about Sandbach is that a Local Lady from one of the Shops in the town would take up some Pancakes to the Sexton in the Bell Tower for him to eat.
Sandbach no longer has the Pancake Bell but a clapper in the church from when the bells were recast has the words “Pancake bell” on it and so we can assume a bell was set aside for the tradition.

Sandbach Church TowerThe old Sandbach custom died along with the Sexton, Arthur Allcock who stopped the tradition.
We currently do not know why Arthur Allcock ended the tradition but many churches stopped ringing the bell in the Mid-Twentieth Century when the idea for the pancake bell was made redundant by more readily available clocks in the house.

The tradition goes back to Medieval times and is part of the religious festival of Lent which starts on the day following Shrove Tuesday, it either took place at 11am or as in most towns at 12noon when the ringing of the Pancake bell signalled the shops to close down and for the start of a Little Carnival as part of an official holiday as well as a day off for apprentices.

The bell is called the “Pancake bell”, “Fritter Bell” or “Pan-Burn Bell”, depending on the area and was a continuation of the tolling of the bell to call people to church in the medieval custom of “Shriving” (Confession, absolution).

The bell was also used to signal the wives and daughters to start making the Pancakes for their family as they would soon be home for their lunchtime meal and during this time it was supposed to me a light meal usually something to finish off all the eggs in the house as part of the lent traditions.

pancakesLent involves the eating of small amounts of simple food for 40 days up until Easter and thus the pancake has become part of that tradition.
Since the 16th Century it was also a holiday for apprentices who were full of boisterous high spirits and were released from their duties by the ringing of the Pancake Bell at 11am.
In York the apprentices had the right to enter the Minster to ring the bell for this purpose and it is said they would try and ring the bell as soon as possible to get a longer day off work and would bribe the Sexton to let them in as early as they could to start their day off as early as possible.

Many churches gave up the tradition at the start to Mid-twentieth Century as more watches became available and there was less reliance on the Parish Bell to inform them of various events.
The traditional holiday was also abandoned in favour of events later in the year.
However the tradition of ringing the Pancake Bell is still practiced in various towns including Scarborough where the bell is not part of the church but on the side of one of the shops in the town and after the Town crier introduces the event it is the Mayor who rings the Pancake Bell.

If you would like to see the Sandbach tradition take place it will be between 10.45am and 11.05am as part of the morning “Pancake Tossing Competition” at the Farmers market on the 8th March between 9am and 1.30pm.
Pancakes will also be available on the Market Square along with a Pancake Tossing Competition at 11am which is free to enter.

Pancake Competition results.
Competitors had to toss their pancake as many times as possible within 30 seconds.
Only pancakes that totally flipped over were counted as a toss and each entrant had an official “counter” to ensure complete accuracy in the count.

Carole Kinsella, Tawny Owl from 3rd Sandbach Brownies, who helped organise the contest explained:
“The competition leaders changed a number of times during the hour that the challenge took place.
Erin Quinn aged 11, took an early lead in the 11-16 years age group, but was out performed by past winner Jo Gregory.
Erin returned to beat Jo by one toss with a total of 46 and claim her prize. Millie Dodd, last year’s champion in the Under 11 category, kept her crown with an amazing score of 56.Erin’s father Mike had been watching the competition unfold from the sidelines. When he finally took part her swept the board in the adults category and won with a score of 51.”