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.

Children © Viv Wainwright

above: Whitsun in Ross Place - picture donated by Vivianne Wainwright

According to Dr. Vanessa Toulmin of Sheffield University, the practice of "walking" during Whit Week can be traced back to Manchester. In the web site on the Warrington Walking Fair, she says:

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:

The scene in Albert Square this morning was one of exceptional beauty. At eight o'clock the space in the square was so arranged by the marshalls that the place of each school was indicated by a flag flying the Union Jack. ... Then for the next half-hour the different schools arrived in quick succession, and the music of a dozen bands proceeded from all corners of the square. ... There was a free mingling of colours, the cassocks and hoods of the clergy contrasting sharply with the costumes worn by the scholars. ...The Chetham boys wearing the quaint garments of the school order formed a prominent feature. Nathaniel Drumville ... unfurled his white flag to act as a baton and to the beating of his time nearly 30,000 young voices sang the Old Hundredth. The schools marched out of the square, the order being determined by the date of consecration of their respective churches. At every point on the route were gathered large crowds of sightseers.

Of the "Walks" in Warrington Vanessa Toulmin said:

The Walks would consist of the different church schools walking in procession throughout the town and starting early on the Friday morning. From 1857 they were joined by the local Roman Catholics and by 1908 all the different religious denominations in the town would have taken part in the walk. However, it was not until 1920 that all followed the same route. Prior to then the Church of England procession was the only parade that met in Bank Park and marched past the Town Hall. Despite various attempts over the years for the churches to walk together it was not until 1995 after the IRA bomb had exploded in Warrington, that this was finally achieved.

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."

St Richard's - Sutcliffe Ave circa. 1951 photograph donated by Shelagh Street  
Stockport Road with the Halisbury Street Mission in 1953. The lady on the outside is Mrs Jackson of 105 Earl Street. The photograph was donated by Pamela (Greenhalgh) Pugh. 

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.

Whit Parade © Lynda Lynch

circa: 1953 (Courtesy of Lynda Lynch) - scanned by Ant

Beryl Bullock - Rose Queen (Courtesy of Bill Bullock)

Whit 1957 © Lynda Lynch

circa 1957 (Courtesy of Lynda Lynch) - scanned by Ant

Rose Queen © Lynda Lynch

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: 

"Every Sunday it was a case of wearing your Sunday clothes, not playing in the street and attending Sunday School. Earl Street being the nearest one, was where I was made to go every week. Even more so in the 1950s, girls did what they were told, and boys did as they wished. This weekly occurrence culminated in the Whit Walks something which in these days have virtually ceased to exist."

Earl Street Mission

Mission map © David

"My mother made all my Whit Walk dresses and those of my friends too. It seemed a strange ritual, as obviously money was short, yet we had our long dresses, gloves, shoes, socks and also a new "day" outfit. This was to be our new "Sunday Best". The clothes you wore to do your Sunday visiting.

On Whit Sunday the people of the parish met and with banners aloft, dressed in our finery, we held the hands of our friends or a basket of flowers and walked through the locallity no matter what the weather. People clapped, cameras clicked and we all felt either embarrased or the "bees knees". Mothers, fathers, grannies, granddads, brothers, sisters and cousins, we all walked to celebrate Whit Sunday. Somewhere along the lines was the service but I really don't know if that was before or after the walk.

The Rose Queen and Attendants must feature here too. They were elected, goodness knows by whom, the congregation perhaps. Well my day did come, and was I proud. My mother made all the attendants' dresses and that must have been some task. The Rose Queen's attendants were called Rosebuds."

The images below are shown with the Permission of Lynda Lynch



Hallsbury Street Baptist Mission in Longsight
All pictures contributed by Vivianne Wainwright

Lorraine, Vivianne and Kenneth Saxon on the corner of Ross Place and Wesley Street

Vivianne and Kenneth 1953 in the Sand Park after the walk - with Dad's cornet as a prop

Brother Kenneth circa 1956

Circa: 1951 - Vivianne (Saxon) Wainwright in the veil


The image below is shown with the permission of Bill Bullock


The images below were donated by Graham Anderson