For over one hundred years up to 1939, families would gather yearly on Parker’s Piece to skip together in celebration of Spring. This practice, taking place on the Christian Good Friday, 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 adapted 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 washing lines were the favoured rope. Traditionally, the ropes were turned by the men with the women jumping, although children often joined in too. By the 1900s men, women and children skipped alike.
Early records of skipping on Good Friday link the practice to ancient earthworks and in particular to 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 a mound that surrounded the piece which was particularly prominent on the Regent Street side.
The earliest record of skipping on Parker’s Piece is from 1838 and compared to other towns it maintained the tradition until quite late, coming to an end only with the outbreak of World War II. Prior to this, Good Friday Skipping was an annual occurrence with residents descending on the piece from morning till the early evening. Traders would supply lemonade and spiced buns, sustaining those leaping and wishing for a better future.