Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Dewsbury Feast Week

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The main holiday for everyone in Dewsbury used to be what was called “Dewsbury Feast Week” which occurred on the Saturday nearest July 25, which would have been this week.

Margaret Watson writes: All the local mills and factories shut down during the holiday week and those who could afford it went away for a few days to the seaside.

Those who couldn’t afford to go away found lots of entertainment at home, either in Crow Nest Park or at the feast, which in those days was held on spare ground at the very end of Longcauseway.

It always rained during feast week and when the downpours started you would hear everyone moaning – “Typical Dewsbury Feast weather!”

DEWSBURY FEAST GROUND: This picture was taken many years before I was born but it shows just how packed it used to get during Dewsbury Feast Week. For many it was the highlight of the year.DEWSBURY FEAST GROUND: This picture was taken many years before I was born but it shows just how packed it used to get during Dewsbury Feast Week. For many it was the highlight of the year.
DEWSBURY FEAST GROUND: This picture was taken many years before I was born but it shows just how packed it used to get during Dewsbury Feast Week. For many it was the highlight of the year.

But there was one summer in 1955 when it never rained and the sun never stopped shining.

The temperature in Dewsbury soared well into the 80s and even the lowest temperatures were still in the high 70s.

So unusual was this kind of weather for Dewsbury Feast that it made front page news in the Reporter.

The story read: “After years of disappointing weather, Dewsbury Feast this year struck one of the finest periods possible.

“In the heat and sunshine of Saturday, thousands left industry behind and sought fresh places in which to enjoy the sun in a less smoky atmosphere.”

But 1955 was a bumper year for a number of other reasons, including the fact there was full employment in the town, bigger wage packets and better holiday pay for the workers.

In those days working people saved for their holidays through holiday funds set up at their place of work and they paid into them weekly.

In 1955, personal holiday savings drawn out of local banks and building societies were much higher than in previous years, probably because of higher wages.

Dewsbury and West Riding Building Society reported they had paid out more than £15,000 to firms representing workers’ holiday earnings.

At Wormalds and Walker, Thornhill Lees, more than £10,000 was withdrawn from the holiday funds of workers; at James France and Co, £1,700, and Joseph Newsome and Sons Ltd, £2,500.

The mills and factories closed down for two weeks and so did many of the local public departments, including Dewsbury Cleansing Department, which meant no bins were emptied for two weeks.

An advert in the Dewsbury Reporter by the town clerk warned householders and shopkeepers to place the minimum amount of refuse in bins and ashpits.

One member of the public, Marjorie Field, of Battye Street, decided to sweep the entire street herself when she saw litter building up.

She then went on to start an anti-litter campaign resulting in more litter bins being placed in the town.

Not all the shops in Dewsbury closed during Feast Week, some held big bargain sales to encourage customers who had stayed at home to buy in for the winter.

Harvey’s clothes shop in the Kingsway Arcade, which looked after the clothing requirements of the wealthier ladies of Dewsbury, had a sale of its finest fur coats, even though the temperature outside was in the mid-80s.

Its advert stated boldly “Good wives deserve a fur coat – wise husbands buy them one!”

Another shop which decided to stay open was Jack Ridley’s shoe factory next to the Playhouse Cinema, now Wilko’s.

He placed an advert in the Reporter in which he reminded lady customers that any type of shoe could now be made into a “peep” toe for the summer.

Dewsbury Feast was also the time when local factories decided to advertise for young girls leaving school to join them.

Jas Smith and Sons, dry cleaners, Ravensthorpe, were paying £2.18s 0d a week to 15-year-old girls, rising to £4.5s 0d when they were 18.

But many young girls leaving school that year went for jobs in the mill because of the good pay and they didn’t have to wait until they were 18 to be getting it.

At Mark Day’s Mill, Savile Town, girls at 15 started on £2.14s, and after eight weeks training could be earning as much as £6 a week.

People who stayed at home were never bored because there was so much going on in the town, not only at the fairground, but also at Crow Nest Park.

And, for the more cultured, there was an exhibition that feast week of Old Masters on show in the Art Gallery.

The exhibition was of 51 paintings, mainly by Flemish and Dutch artists of the 17th century, the most striking of all was the famous Virgin and Child by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, a Flemish artist who became court painter to King Charles I.

This fine collection was exhibited by the National Loan Trust whose object was to foster public interest in paintings, and admission was free.

Other world famous names in the collection were: Rubens, Van de Velde and Abrahim Mignon, whose painting Fruit and Insect was described at the time as one of the most realistic impressions of still-life in the world of art.

There was an almost constant stream of people eager not to miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance of seeing such a fine collection.

It is incredible to believe that an exhibition of this kind was being held here in Dewsbury in an art gallery situated in Dewsbury Museum.

There were many things going on in Dewsbury during that summer of 1955 which many local people will still remember and smile about, I’m sure.

One of the most significant for local teenagers like myself, was the opening of the new Bon Bon coffee bar situated in the old Dewsbury Bus Station, now the Princess of Wales precinct.

It was described as the premier milk bar in Dewsbury and I had my first cup of frothy coffee there.

Oh happy days!