In one reference to Whitsuntide, the holiday was described as the birthday of the Christian Church. Whitsuntide is the week following Whitsunday and the eighth week following Easter. It is celebrated in commemoration of the descent of the Holy Ghost on the apostles on the day of the Pentecost. Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter, begins the week and is believed to derive its name, White Sunday, from the practice of wearing white robes for christenings on that day.
above: Whitsun in Ross Place - picture donated by Vivianne Wainwright
The earliest known "Walks" can be traced to Manchester around 1800. Walking Days or Whit Walks as they became known sprang out of the Sunday School movement first pioneered in 1784. The idea behind this movement was to free the children:
Who worked under wretched conditions during the week in the manufacturies... were on Sunday allowed to run wild and free from all restraint.
To celebrate the
anniversary of the Sunday School movement in Manchester
the founders decided to assemble the children in St
Anne's Square and parade through the Market Square to
attend church. Although these parades became later
associated with the Whit holidays and walks, the main
features of the walks, the parading of the churches,
still remained an intrinsic part of the tradition in
Manchester well into the 1950s.
(Courtesy of Lynda Lynch) - scanned by Ant
In "Manchester - A Short History of Its Development," W. H. Shercliff has an account of the centenary processions which took place in 1901:
Of the "Walks" in Warrington Vanessa Toulmin said:
In her novel "Shirley" Charlotte Bronté gives a vivid description of the Whit Walks in Yorkshire. She describes them as "a joyous scene and a scene to do good." In Saddleworth each church or chapel walked in the morning and in the afternoon there were band concerts, cricket matches and children's games.
Actually it all seems rather tame compared to this account of Whitsun by Blount in 1679: "the custom is, that on Monday after Whitsun week, there is a fat live lamb provided, and the maids of the town, having their thumbs tied behind them, run after it, and she that with her mouth takes and hold the lamb is declared 'Lady of the Lamb'... attended with music and a Morisco dance of men, and another of women, where the rest of the day is spent in dancing, mirth and merry glee."
Well I don't remember any sheep chasing in Longsight during Whitsun but it was one of the most important dates on the social calendar. If you look through the photograph collections of ordinary folk from the 50's you notice something right away - almost all the pictures were taken either on holiday, of which there were few, or on Whit Sunday. I think the reason is obvious, because on our street that was when you got a new outfit of clothes. Whit Sunday meant going around showing off your new suit or dress, watching parades and, more often than not, an afternoon in Platt Fields. We have very few family pictures but those we have were taken of us and our neighbours in their best bib and tucker outside our houses or up against a tree in Platt Fields.
I remember going to Whit walks all day as a kid. We had local walks in Longsight with bands and church banners and Rose Queens and girls in white dresses.
circa: 1953 (Courtesy of Lynda Lynch) - scanned by Ant
Beryl Bullock - Rose Queen (Courtesy of Bill Bullock)
circa 1957 (Courtesy of Lynda Lynch) - scanned by Ant
Rose Queen (Courtesy of Lynda Lynch) - scanned by Ant
The local walks were just the tip of the iceberg because in the center of Manchester there were huge processions of all the Protestant churches and church schools. I remember going on different occassions to see the Catholic procession and the Ukrainian processions. I always liked those processions best because in addition to the bands and the banners they had groups of men carrying biers that held statues from their churches.
Of course, kids will be kids and one thing about Whit Sunday we all looked forward to was the fact that all the neighbours gave you a treat of money for looking so posh in your new outfit. A pocketful of copper and "frepneybits" and silver was the high point of the day. Much like Halloween in North America the kids kept circulating around the street to make sure they hadn't missed someone. For some reason we saw more silver three penny pieces on Whit Sunday than any other time of the year. We also saw more Kodak Brownies on Whit Sunday too, with parents skenning into the little window on the top, turning it sideways to go for a wide angle shot, holding their hand infront of the eyepiece to cut the glare.
Often in the afternoon we went up to "Kirky" Lane to catch the 53 bus for the ride to Platt Fields. Platt Fields meant footie on the grass, maybe a game of cricket, a row round the lake and without question an ice cream, which I usually managed to drip on my new suit or even worse on my suede shoes. If rowing was a bit too strenuous there was a bigger powered boat you could take as a passenger for a cruise around the lake. Then there was the sort of petting zoo at the back of the lake. As I remember it was mostly rabbits and goats and guinea pigs.
Lynda Lynch was a frequent participant in these walks and remembers them this way:
Earl Street Mission