Lifting and Heaving: A 19th century Easter custom

Easter is a time where we typically gift one another chocolate rabbits, embark on intrepid Easter egg hunts – and some celebrate the religious significance of the occasion.

But for all the Easter traditions that have been passed down to us over the centuries, there are a few that have fallen by the wayside.

The custom of ‘lifting’ and ‘heaving’ is referenced in several sources in the University of Leicester’s Special Collections in the David Wilson Library as being an Easter tradition in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Common in Lancashire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire and other parts of England, the practice involved groups of people gathering together in the street and physically lifting those they came across into the air, expecting a financial reward in return.

Minor variations of the practice existed – in some parts of the country a person would be laid out horizontally, while in others they would be placed in a sitting position on the bearers’ hands. When inside, people would often be lifted on a chair – and in all cases the ceremony is considered incomplete without three distinct elevations made.

In Warwickshire, Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday were known as ‘heaving-day’ because on the Monday it was the tradition for men to ‘heave and kiss the women’ and on the Tuesday for the women to do the same to men.

The custom has now died out, although during the last few years there has been an attempted revival in Greenwich, where the Blackheath Morris Men have taken it upon themselves to start lifting and heaving once more.

You can read a feature about the tradition of lifting and heaving written by Dr Simon Dixon from the University of Leicester’s Special Collections: Click Here

University of Leicester


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