Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: No more Whitsuntide currant buns!

The First World War got in the way of tradition

By Jane Chippindale
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 2:16 pm

Margaret Watson writes: Forgive me for writing yet again about Whitsuntide processions but they were once an important part of our lives and we shouldn’t forget them.

There was a time when customs and traditions, particularly Christian ones, were an important part of our lives and we fought to keep them, religious or otherwise.

During the First World War the tradition of serving currant buns to children after their Whit Walk was threatened.

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WHIT WALK: Thousands of people crowded the streets of Ravensthorpe to watch these little children of Ravensthorpe Wesleyan Methodist Church taking part in a Royal ‘mock’ wedding, held on Whit Monday some time in the 1930s

These buns were an important part of the Whitsuntide Feast as well as a centuries old tradition in this district.

An approach was made to the “food controller” whom the Government had appointed at that time to ration certain foodstuffs.

Dewsbury Co-op, main suppliers of currant buns, tried their utmost to retain this old tradition.

In 1915, Mr Joseph Knight, secretary of the Dewsbury Pioneers Industrial Society Ltd, wrote to the “food controller”, who had the final say in what was rationed and what was not.

He explained to him the tradition of supplying Sunday schools with currant buns at Whitsuntide and asked if the custom could continue despite certain food shortages.

The answer was swift and to the point and read: “In view of the necessity of conserving our national supply of food, the Controller considers all such entertainments as those to which you refer should be discontinued.”

This sad news was of such great significance to local people that the headline in the Reporter that week was – “No Co-op Whitsuntide buns.”

It seemed the welfare of the country during war time came before the consumption of currant buns at Whitsuntide.

No-one argued because if going without currant buns was going to help win the war, so be it.

The Whit Walks – minus the currant buns – still went ahead throughout the war and thousands continued to take part.

The Catholic and Anglican churches always had the biggest processions and were taken very seriously.

They were not the joyous affairs of the ones organised by local chapels who wanted the children to have fun.

They often arranged “mock” royal weddings as part of the Whitsuntide festivities, and afterwards held games followed by a slap-up tea.

This happened when Ravensthorpe Wesleyan Methodist Church held their Whit Walk in 1937.

One lady who remembered it was Annie Bedford, of Chickenley, who I interviewed in 1997.

It was after the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York, later to be King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who were the parents of our present Queen.

There was also another “mock” wedding when the Princess Royal, sister of the then Duke of York, married Lord Lascelles.

Annie remembered how thousands turned out in Ravensthorpe to watch these spectacular walks.

“The older children used to parade through the village whilst the younger ones sat in two wagons with sides to make sure they didn’t fall off,” she recalled.

“We spent the week before the parade going to the Wesleyan Sunday school each day to make white paper roses. I was to be a maid of honour.

“Then on Whit Monday at half past eight in the morning we all turned up dressed in our best clothes.”

The entourage was headed by the Ravensthorpe Subscription Band with the banner of the Sunday school prominently displayed.

“All the girls around them, including me, wore white dresses and a veil on their head, and carried white paper roses,” she recalled.

“Fourteen boys dressed in uniform provided the guard of honour, and behind the Royal party were two other beautifully-coloured wagons.

”We paraded from the Wesleyan Church all the way to Fir Cottage and there were very large crowds all along the way.

”We sang our Whitsuntide hymns at several houses on the route, accompanied by a string band.

“On Fir Parade, we all dismounted and then walked back to Holroyd Park where we had photos taken and had tea.”

Listening to Annie, it seemed the Wesleyan Methodists really knew how to put on an event which they knew the children would love.

I once asked an old friend, the late Bill Beattie, to tell me about his experiences of Whitsuntide.

He recalled how every Whit Monday, local farmer, Leonard Broadhead, would bring his horse and cart and reverse it down the side of the chapel.

“It was left there for all the gentlemen to decorate ready for the procession around the village,” said Bill.

“The piano was placed on the cart first and then the benches for the primary and Sunday school pupils, attached to which were brightly coloured sheets and paper decorations.

“In the afternoon, all the chapel members and Sunday school children gathered together and were placed on the cart along with the pianist and Mr Cruden, who played the violin.

“We would set off around the village with members of the youth group and chapel following behind.

“Every so often we would stop and sing a hymn before finally arriving back at the chapel where the women had prepared our teas of potted meat sandwiches, jam tarts and jelly and custard.

“Afterwards the men and youth group carried all the benches for a quarter of a mile to Leonard Broadhead’s field.

“Once there, we took part in the usual games of sack races and egg and spoon races, and afterwards the men would take on the youth group in a game of cricket.

“Whit Sunday was also an important day because we visited our relatives to be given the obligatory copper or two for our new clothes.”

Happy memories of happy days which I hope to keep recounting even though our Whitsuntide traditions are no longer kept.

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