Prestwich Carnival in the 1950s

A former resident recalls an important local tradition …

Prestwich Carnival in the 1950s.

Peter Worsley

Prestwich Carnival took months if not years to plan and the kingpin was Dora Richards, a friend of my mother who was one of her many helpers. How on earth they found the time to do it I simply do not know. One of my mother’s jobs was to create skirts for certain small girls, one in particular, and my brother and I took delight in trying to peep through the window as the hapless individual was standing on the table in her knickers while my Mum adjusted this and that.

The Majorettes

Dora organized the whole procession and crowning of the carnival queen, supported by various local primary schools that did the maypole dancing. The girls’ secondary modern school, Hope Park, did the country dancing. All in all it was a very colourful affair and after the crowning ceremony came the Morris dancing, not the traditional mummers but troupes of young majorettes from all over Lancashire and Cheshire, and Yorkshire too for all I know, each of whom arrived in a bus, often a double decker some of which were owned by the bigger organizations.

For many hours until well into the evening, Prestwich Park tennis courts resounded to the sounds of Blaze Away and rousing Sousa marches such as Washington Post, while groups of small and not-so small uniformed girls proudly paraded up and down in line and time (this was an almost entirely girls affair). Each was led by a drum majorette and while most simply marched and counter-marched at least one troupe did breathtaking acrobatics and invariably won prizes and rosettes for their efforts. It was all very serious stuff and I wonder if anything like that still happens today, I suspect not on the same scale.

All the fun of the fair.

The afternoon and evening benefited from a small funfair with swing boats and various stalls where you could win a goldfish or teddy bear by throwing darts, knocking tin cans off a shelf or by popping a table tennis ping-pong ball into a glass bowl while the stall-holder was not looking and claiming you had thrown it. My family won many goldfish over the years which we kept in an old sink in the backyard. Most survived until a severe frost one night froze the water and all the fish in it. Whoops!

Dancing round the Maypole.

My first encounter with Prestwich Carnival must have been while I was about 8 years old, taking part in the maypole dancing. We rehearsed every Friday afternoon in school time, presumably with a small indoor maypole anchored in the centre of the hall. We always began with the “Barber’s Pole” with boys skipping one way with their red ribbons and the girls the other with their white ones, at least I think that is right although I cannot be certain. The net result was something akin to a barber’s pole daintily (or not so daintily) wound around the maypole before we merrily reversed the procedure to achieve the status quo. Next came the “Spider’s Web” – one, two, three, hop, under – one, two, three hop, over – and so on, with boys and girls hopping past each other all miming their words as they met face to face, and all done to the tune of Strawberry Fair. It sounds hilarious now but I can assure the reader that anyone making a mistake and going “under” when they should have gone “over” was not at all popular because it meant the whole thing being unwound to find where the mistake had been made.

We finished off with the “Plait” where the length of ribbon got smaller and smaller before we all skipped away to the applause of the crowd leaving someone else to unplait the mass of red and white. I never thought about this before, presumably the class teachers got the job. In between times the critical audience surveyed the scene and decided which school had achieved the neatest plait. I believe the four schools were usually Park View, Butterstile Lane, St. Margaret’s and Higher Lane, Whitefield.

The crown bearer.

After at least two or three years of hopping and tripping the light fantastic, and regular rehearsals held in the Hope Park School playground on a light summer’s evening (did it ever rain?), I graduated to the more senior ranks and became the official crown bearer wearing a velvet suit, white collar and ruffs, and a tricorn hat – big stuff. I was at Bury Grammar School by now and I suspect my mother’s friendship and influence had something to do with it.

Prior to the crowning ceremony and dancing, a big procession headed by the Prestwich Silver Band wound its snake-like way through Prestwich. The earl marshal (an older boy from Stand Grammar School who delighted in telling rude jokes), plus the crown and sceptre bearers travelled in an open-topped car behind the queen. It was not quite a ticker-tape welcome but better than walking round as a maypole dancer dying to go to the loo. Some poor girl once could not wait and left her damp calling card on Whittaker Lane. Brother Paul later became the sceptre bearer.

End of my Carnival days.

Maybe one of us would have eventually become the earl marshal but Mum died too soon and although Dora’s husband tried hard to get my Dad away from his undoubted grief by taking him out occasionally, Prestwich Carnival never featured prominently again in the Worsley family. Processions and all the carnival floats continued but I always thought it a cheek in later years that the top prizes went to permanent floats sent by such corporate companies as Guinness, maybe it was a special category but I always felt they were not the real thing which was the special preserve of the then equivalent of the local Lions, Rotary Club and so on.

Anyone In ?

In Mum’s day we often volunteered the use of our domestic toilet for the majorettes and their helpers who parked all down Rectory Lane. Prestwich really was a friendly place and I never remember our house being locked, certainly none of us children ever had a key. Friends simply came and went, although they usually announced their arrival by knocking or shout
ing “Anyone in?”

c1955 Prestwich Carnival 02

Prestwich Carnival Procession 1955.
Courtesy of Peter Davies.

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28 Replies to “Prestwich Carnival in the 1950s”

  1. ruth

    i just “happened” to find this article as i was checking up on “how far i walked back and forth to school each day” when a teen. (here in the USA the kids are bused to school! i had my kids walk)! you mention your mother as being named DORA.
    now of course dora being a popular name back then perhaps it is not the same DORA that was in my class. i have a school photo that taken in (i believe) my last year at Hope Park School. I believe i remember which one might be dora.
    i was born in 1939. so if your mom was born in 1939 it could well be dora from my class. if your mom ever told you about a “naughty” girl in class; always cracking jokes! that was I. best ruth barrie

    • Rex Moores

      I went to Higher Lane School from 1945 to 1950 I have lived in the U.S.A since 1971 played football for Prestwich Hays, Prestwich Hospital, live on Milton Road Prestwich for years near Heaton Park. return to Manchester most years on vacation,I do remember one name in School Tim is Family had a Barbers shop near Besses on Manchester Road Hope to find any of my friends out there God Bless From Rex

      • bob sharples

        Hi Rex
        I lived at besses oth barn, I remember Tim and Edward Galloway, they were barbers as was their farther.

        • Brian Moulton


          Sure you must be the same (Rob Sharples) from Connaught Avenue at Besses. Good to see you on here.

          Besses Junction was a real hub of activity in the 50’s/60’s Bee Hive and Junction Hotel pubs. Vinnie Coops chemist, Ismays chippy, Mrs Cleggs grocery store, Scholes grocery stores, Birtwistles butchers, Sparrow Park, Jean’s florist. I can picture many of the others, although can’t bring some of the names to mind. There was a confectioners on the same block as Scholes whose oven bottom muffins were the best I have ever tasted. I seem to remember you coming to our house to listen to my mum’s tales of life round Half Acre, Cuckoo Lane, Guest Road, Besses Mission.
          Just wish I had got those tales down in writing, because she could really tell some good stories.

          • Brian Moulton


            This has started the memory machine off. I remember you and I trying to get a different girl for every night of the week (“Meet you in the Mayfair !”).
            We managed to get one each for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then got found out and never managed the rest of the week.

            Earlier escapades, Saturday matinee at The Palace, All the lads coming out with their Macintoshes fastened with only the top button to replicate Zorro’s cloak. After the film Ivanhoe was shown, all the dustbin lids vanished only to return as shields with crosses painted on them.

            Might have been poor but we enjoyed ourselves and had more imagination and invention in those days.

    • Peter Worsley

      I didn’t know my article had gone online so apologies for not replying before.
      My mum, Florence Worsley, was born in 1915 and I guess Dora Richards was about the same age. My sister went to Hope Park but would not have crossed with you. Sorry!
      Peter Worsley

      • Lynda Weatherhead

        Came across this account by serendipity! Used to love the maypole dancing and was at Butterstile Lane Primary.Think I remember you and your brother Paul from when I was at BGS.
        Dora Richards did so much in the community, including all her work with PADOS.
        That had never occurred to me either – who had the task of unwinding the ribbons?!

        • William Roger Hall

          Are you Lynda Weatherhead of Richard II fame Dec1963 at BGS? In 1960 I remember LVI boys had dancing lessons with IV form girls – you? Did you every become an actress? Can be contacted via BOSA.

  2. Gillian Russell

    ‘Auntie ‘ Dora Richards lived off Sandy Lane in Prestwich. I attended her dancing classes every week as I lived in Agecroft Road East. Her Mother (I think her name was Mrs Wrigley) coached children who were sitting the exam for the grammar schools. I went to her house and attended her classes. I passed my scholarship and went to Stand Grammar School for Girls. As I got older ‘Auntie’ Dora, as she liked us to call her tought me ballet, I remember she never asked us to do anything that she couldn’t do , often hitching up her skirt to show us the moves. I remember telling my mother that ‘Auntie Dora wears very pretty underwear’ and my mother declaring tartly, that it was a wonder she didn’t get ‘chin cough’ wearing the things that I describedd. She had lovely black hair and a really sweet personality. Her son David was in my class a Park View School. Happy days!

    • Peter Worsley

      I didn’t know my article had gone online so apologies for not replying before. How old was David Richards – which is another way of guessing your age! I was at Park View until 1955 when I went to Bury GS.
      Peter Worsley

      • David Mayhew

        Just reading an article by Peter Worsley in the Prestwich Whitefield guide re Park View School. Peter and I were in the same class. He is welcome to contact me by email. Hoping you can pass this on.

  3. david richards

    Just to say its really nice to see my mother so fondly remembered. I was quite surprised to see the comment from Gillian Russell about Dora’s son David being in her class at Park View school. I think it must be the then Gillian Broster I remember being in my class -part of a group of girls I alsoremember later at the Sedgley Park youth club in the methodist church on Wednesdays – including Jo Rowley and Elaine Pickstone. I seem to remember you were all heralds in the carnival at least one year. Oh the long lost days of youth!

    • Gillian Ruseell

      Hi David, have tried and tried to send a post, lets hope this time I am lucky. Yes, I was called Gillian Broster and lived in Agecroft Road East. I remember you wll at Park View. In my early teens my closest friends were Elaine Pickston and Jo Rowley. We were heralds in the Carnival and the year before that we were minuet dancers complete with white powdered wigs. I have a photo of us in those costumes but am not very good at getting them on to the page, but I will try to get someone to help me. Elaine now lives in Palm Springs and has appeared in lots of films, remember, she was a very pretty girl. She is due to come over here in the summer agin to visit with Amanda Smith, another friend. I have sadly lost touch with Jo but Amanda is trying to contact her and I will then meet up with her. Ah yes, the youth club at Sedgely Park – and the Milk bar!! We used to walk over the golf links to get there!Happy days for sure.

    • Peter Worsley

      I am now 71 and therefore we didn’t meet up at Park View. I had also forgotten I had replied to this thread a couple of years ago!
      Your mum was a legend and your dad tried to help my despondent dad after my mother died aged 42. Sadly, the whole remarriage thing blew sky high within five years and split my extended and linear family right down the middle. Things were very different then and, in the absence of official help, I am certain both your mum and dad did what they could for us.
      How your mum ever found time to do what she did I cannot imagine!
      Peter Worsley

  4. John Wallwork

    Does anybody out there have any have any footage or photographs of the motorcycle grass track racing in St Mary’s park during the late 1950’s ?..I still have two trophies from when my late father (F,J.Wallwork) won the event in 1957 & 1958. When as a ten year old I used to ride a minature grass track bike round the track during the interval..I have tried several times to find mention of this annual event but have never had any luck.. Thanks John Wallwork..

  5. Gillian Ruseell

    Does anyone here have any photographs of the Sand Quarry which started at the end of Agecroft Road East and there was a path going across is which let us to come out at the bus stop opposite Hope Park School. We used to walk across it every day, firt of all going to Park View School and then to catch the bus to Stand Grammar School. It was a spooky place, just huge piles of sand and some abandoned workings just inside the Agecroft Road East entrance. These had filled with water and we used to get frog spawn from there. It spread out sideways to Hilton Lane, on the right, to Butterstile lane on the left. If we wanted to go to Butterstile lane we went past a huge sandhill which, I think backed on to the reservoir. There was talk of opencast coal mining at one time but nothing ever came of it. Then Butt Hill Estate was built on it but I cant remember when Mid/late 60s or 70s. We had moved to the Church Inn in 1957 and I never saw the quarry again. Does anyone else remember it?

  6. Peter Worsley

    Well I’m jiggered! I had no idea my autobiographical jottings had found their way on to the internet but I am pleased they did. I remember the sand quarry and frogspawn!
    How old are you David Richards? I also went to Park View but I don’t think we met.
    If Sedgley Park youth club was at the Methodist church then it is (or was) turned into a carpet emporium! Prestwich Crusaders used to meet there for some years.
    Prestwich Carnival was brilliant and I am glad it is now remembered in print.

    • david richards

      Hi there Peter and Gillian,
      Sorry for long delay in responding, but I’ve now found a couple of old photos that I’ve sent as a PDF to this site and hope will be included on it. Gillian, Elaine Pickston and Jo Rowley are all on the minuet dancers’ photo and I’m presuming you Peter are perhaps a back view on the main photo of the ‘crowning ceremony’.
      I’m not sure which year these were – and may be two different years – but probably 54/55.
      For the record I’m now 76 and living in London – still happily married to third wife after
      thirty plus years, and don’t get back to Prestwich much since my mother(Dora) died in 1995

  7. Carole Wilson


  8. Peter Worsley

    The more I think about Prestwich Carnival during the 1950s, the more impressed I become. The organisers must have prayed for good weather because I don’t ever remember it raining. One year there was even a Scottish bagpipe band who must have played on the platform after the crowning ceremony because I remember looking up at their smelly hairy legs and sporrans and, before you ask, I think they must have been wearing something under their kilts.
    I also remember what must have been a fashion show with, I think, a marquee near the children’s play area where the female models changed. How do I know? Because I, and a few chums, peeked through the tent brailings! I guess the funfair was also on at the same time as the Carnival and was situated near Bury New Road between the two gates, the bigger one of which was only ever opened on special occasions.
    Does anyone else remember the England ladies football team, playing in St. Mary’s Park to raise money for the widow of Tommy McVey, a Heys Old Boys FC (later Prestwich Heys) footballer who was killed when he slid head first into a concrete wall surrounding the pitch?
    I would love to see old pictures of the Carnival and will attempt to look out a couple I have at home.
    St. Mary’s Park became a pale shadow of its former self with its immaculate tennis courts and bowling greens. I remember the second one being built, with two gardeners who spent everyday mowing and generally keeping things in order. What a sad thing it is to see a high wire fence surroundings the greens today. I gather the old wooden pavilion was burnt down by vandals. Sacrilege!
    Enough of my current ramblings but would love to hear from anyone who can stir my memory further!
    Peter Worsley

  9. Paul Dellow

    Does anyone out there remember me? I lived on Butterstile lane~1950 onward..I’m now76.
    Friends I recall from the mid 50s to circa 1962 would fill an A4 sheet but listed are some of them…
    MikeBolland,Peter Lomas,John Law, Rowena Bowden, Cathy Sheard, Pauline Hopkinson, Jackie Daber,Jo Rowley, Dave &Barry Smith,June Plaskett, Brenda & Rose Nolan, Kay Perkins, Joan Crowther, Sue Hopper, Rita Sambrook, Martin Rosemarin, Jennifer Halliwell, Pauline Raven, Elaine Howarth, Terry Maffia, Tony Bate, .. the In-crowd at the Milk Bar and Sedgley Park YC. Here’s hoping
    Paul Dellow.

    • admin

      Paul Dellow writes …I attended OLOG on Faifax Road from 1952 later at Willow Road , ‘The Huts’ as they were known. Teachers I recall were Mr Makin,(John Vincent Makin), terrific guy! Mrs McConn, The atom bomb, Miss Quinn, SisterGabriel,Head teacher.. a nun made of pure steel and Sister Annunciator, if that’s spelt correctly. Mr McCreach a PE teacher who could only be described as having a CRUEL streak. School dinners ,good one day pretty awful the next Some of my class mates to name a few.. Gerard Gardener, Joan Barlow , Ann Herbert , Andrea Cooper, Susan McKenzie, Leo Laherty,John McCleary, Mike Shiers, Terry Johnson, Andy Povall,et al.
      I left Willow Road in December 1956 along with Bernard Higginson just the two of us .They were indeed happy days even if we wern’t taught a great deal.
      Mr Makin took the boys down to St Mary’s playing field every week for a hour of playing cricket something I was fairly good at,.. bravo to him he didn’t need to do it. From memory I cannot recall the girls takin part in any sporting activity… Istand to be corrected on that point.
      We had a annual sports day held on the football pitch above the huts only the winners got medals.. Ihad a terrific victory in the 200 yards just beating the ultra quick Gerald Dwyer.. didn’ try that again!
      Congratulations once again to’pop Makin for allowing sport to become part of our education.
      Paul Dellow

    • Peter Worsley

      I have just been browsing and although I attended Park View Primary School, not Butterstile Lane, I remember Cathryn Sheard! She later married, had three daughters and lived near Warrington. She contacted me via via Friends Reunited and we corresponded for a time but things went cold and I never heard back from my last message a few years ago.
      If it is the same Joan Crowther as Cathryn’s close friend, then she suddenly vanished from the scene as an older teenager.
      In my unpublished autobiography I wrote a chapter on Prestwich and another on Park View School but the contents about the latter clearly did not please a modern head teacher there, probably because much of it, although absolutely true, is now deemed politically incorrect! Shame!

  10. Paul Dellow

    Hi again,The Plaza cinema on Bury New Road…the ‘bug hut’ as it was called.Very cheap and cheerful lots of short black and white films and a projector which seemed to break down at regular intervals during the mid to late 50s….then into the grocers shop at the corner of Church Lane and Bury New Road for a penny’s worth of broken biscuits .wha a delight!.
    Once we reached 18 we went down to the Church Inn for half an hour of talk about this and that…never having more than a pint of beer. Those were the days as the saying goes.Paul Dellow.

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