Prestwich Carnival in the 1950s
Prestwich Carnival in the 1950s.
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.
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?”
Prestwich Carnival Procession 1955.
Courtesy of Peter Davies.
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