Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Fond memories of Dewsbury Feast Week

Last week I wrote about Dewsbury Feast Week but because of lack of space I could only skim the surface of what this special week really meant to local people. So, this week I will continue the story and include some of my personal memories of those days long ago.

By Jane Chippindale
Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 10:35 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 3:05 pm

Margaret Watson writes: Sadly, only people of my generation will remember the joys of this special week in our lives when all mills closed down and the fair came to town.

I was born on the Saturday of Dewsbury Feast Week in 1941, and it wasn’t until I got older that I realised what a special time this was for everyone.

The most important event was the arrival of the feast with its merry-go-rounds, side shows, candy floss, brandy snap and toffee apples.

This picture captures what Crow Nest Park was really like in the old days when the bandstand was still there and people went in their thousands during Dewsbury Feast Week.

Not forgetting the bag of “chats” in their greaseproof shaped cones, we bought on the way out, the taste of which I’ve never forgotten.

Everyone seemed so happy, no wonder I thought the whole town was joining with me in my birthday celebrations.

We didn’t buy presents in our house but all my relatives gave me pennies and threepenny bits, which meant I had more to spend at the feast than my friends.

I’d set off that happy day with my pockets jangling and my heart beating fast in anticipation of the thrills awaiting me and my friends.

We lived in Springfield at the time which wasn’t far from the feast ground, situated on land behind where Sainsbury’s supermarket now stands.

But long before we got there, we could hear the music blaring out from the various merry-go-rounds at high velocity.

My dad used to say the people running the feast used to go round the local pubs on Friday night asking for help in putting the machines up.

Few refused because it meant a couple of bob which they could spend during feast week – probably at the feast.

This was the only time of the year – apart from Christmas – when everyone had time off work and still got their wages.

There was such a joyous feeling in the air and the atmosphere was electric, especially for children like me whose parents couldn’t afford to take them on holiday.

On entering the feast ground we could see the giant Columbia swinging high into the clouds and hear the screams of its occupants, which were a mixture of fear and delight.

There was also the Shamrock, the Waltzer, dodgem cars, the Ghost Train, and the Roller Coaster, to name just a few.

Children were far too young to enjoy the thrills of such giant machines, so instead we made our way to the penny arcades to try our luck at winning something.

I never did win but I remember the joy of walking round licking my toffee apple and looking wide-eyed at all the bright sideshows.

Soon all my money was gone and I’d make my weary way home.

But I was not down-hearted long because there was always Crow Nest Park the following day and that didn’t cost a penny.

For there was a bandstand in the park and always something going off because the old Dewsbury Council made sure there was entertainment on every day of Dewsbury Feast Week.

Many people were employed in the park in those days, not only tending the lawns and plants, but arranging free entertainment.

Proof of this can be found in old Reporter files which show the diary of events for that week, and it makes you realise just how well-looked after local people were.

During one week alone there were five concerts in the park, including one by Black Dyke Band.

There were also six Punch and Judy shows, a wrestling and boxing exhibition, three children’s dancing displays and three demonstrations by the local fire brigade.

There were also three dance bands entertaining on different evenings and there was also dancing to gramophone records.

In those days thousands of people would visit the park at the weekends and many would visit the greenhouses and see the exotic plants.

It was fascinating to see bunches of bananas and pineapples growing in the greenhouses, especially during the war when such fruits were unavailable.

In 1940 the bananas, grown by the head gardener, Peter Cardwell, were sold at a Red Cross charity event in Dewsbury Town Hall.

Incredibly, each banana was sold for 13/10d, an amount which at that time would have been equivalent to half a week’s wages.

It goes without saying that those buying them were pretty well-off, probably mill owners and industrialists who wanted to be seen supporting this worthy war effort.

A full programme of events entitled “Dewsbury Holidays at Home” was published in the Reporter.

Looking through it, you could see immediately why no-one complained in those days that they had nothing to do and nowhere to go.

Children were also well catered for because there was always the paddling pool and swings, and the lake on which to sail your model boats.

There was also the wonderful Park Cafe where we went for those mouth watering ice-creams on hot sunny days.

And, there was also much to see in the Park Museum to entertain and educate us, but sadly, like the Park Cafe, this closed down some years ago.

When I think of all the concerts, exhibitions, processions and dancing which went on in those days, I can clearly see that the needs of local people were being well met.

And on top of this there were also five cinemas in the town centre, as well as the Empire Theatre and lots of dance halls in various places.

You couldn’t move for public houses, most of which have since closed down, and we don’t have one cinema left.

Neither do we have a theatre or dance halls, and certainly no dancing in the park.

Oh why has the world to change?

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Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Dewsbury Feast Week