SOON we will be celebrating what in the Christian calendar is referred to as “The Feast of Pentecost” – a religious festival most people today know little about.
If you give them its more commonly known name of “Whitsuntide”, there are many who still may not know what you’re talking about.
Of course, people of my generation will know all about Whitsuntide and remember what it once meant to them, but their children won’t.
It seems today that the term “Whitsuntide” has been wiped off the British calendar, and been replaced by the words “Bank Holiday”.
Yet, how many will realise when they’re enjoying their national day’s holiday that it comes to them, just as Christmas and Easter does, courtesy of the Christian church.
And while they’re thinking of this, perhaps they would like to contemplate the meaning of the word holiday, which, of course, means holy day.
Few people go to church these days and therefore the significance of holy days will surely just pass them by.
But there are many in Dewsbury who still remember what Whitsuntide used to be like in the old days.
Whether you went to church or not, it was the day when children were given a new outfit of clothes which they were allowed to go round the neighbourhood showing them off and get a few coppers in the process.
There was nothing shameful about children going from door to door to tell the occupants – “I’ve come to show you my Whitsuntide clothes”.
It was expected at Whitsuntide that children would show off their new clothes and that their neighbours would be happy to give them a few pennies to go and buy sweets at the corner shop.
Even the poorest of families would save all year round to make sure their children got a new outfit to wear on Whit Sunday.
Whitsuntide was also the time of year when local churches of all persuasions, took to the streets to promote their faith.
Almost every church, both high and low, organised a procession through the streets, and thousands would turn out to see them.
In my day the Catholics and Anglicans, seemed to have the biggest and best processions with brass bands leading the way. But if you go back to Victorian times, the most impressive processions were those organised by the Free churches who swelled their numbers by combining their Whit walks.
One such procession in Dewsbury in 1859 had well over 2,500 people taking part, and there were thousands lining the streets to watch them.
Before setting off , this large gathering assembled in the public hall situated at the bottom of Halifax Road, opposite Mark Oldroyd’s mill.
A simple address was given by the Reverend J Shillto, after which the children formed in procession and departed in continuous file to the Market Place where they began singing hymns.
The churches taking part that day, included Westtown Primitive Methodists, Ebenezer Congregationalists (now Longcauseway Church), New Wakefield Primitive Methodists, Springfield Congregationalists, Hanging Heaton New Connexions (now Ebenezer Methodists), Chapel Fold Baptists and Salem New Connexions.
After the singing of hymns, the New Connexion Sunday Schools went to fields near the Leeds Road cutting where they played a variety of games.
The Springfield scholars retired to their school for refreshments, and the scholars from other churches dispersed to their schools and regaled themselves with the usual fare of tea and buns.
The processions which later attracted the greatest interest were those organised by the local Catholic churches.
St Paulinus Church, Westtown, and St Joseph’s Church, Batley Carr, often held their processions on the same day, Whit Monday, and always at the same time.
They would meet up at the top of Daisy Hill and then proceed together to the town centre with brass bands playing and banners flying in the breeze.
Every detail of these magnificent processions had been organised by the nuns who taught at the two church schools mentioned, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion.
These processions were so spectacular that local photographers often took pictures of them which were then made into postcards and sold widely.
So important were they that newspapers sent their journalists out to report on them. One journalist described this particular procession as being a scene of unsurpassed beauty, a great witness of the faith which local Catholics held so dear.
These two churches no longer hold processions, and I doubt if there are any other churches in the town who still continue this tradition, except perhaps Dewsbury Gospel Church, which knows all about Whitsuntide and the Feast of Pentecost.
And, I’m pleased to say that St Mary’s RC Church, in neighbouring Batley. keeps one procession going, their annual torchlight procession held in October to honour the Blessed Virgin.
Every year thousands of people are attracted to the town to watch this spectacular event, including people of all faiths, and it is truly a wonderful sight.
It is sad to think that here in Dewsbury our children, no matter what religion, or even those of no religion at all, may never experience such festivals again.
The photograph above, kindly loaned some years ago by Pat Varley was taken in Ravensthorpe in 1954, and shows a Whitsuntide Walk by members of St Saviour’s Church.
The procession was not as large as the ones mentioned above but it still attracted huge crowds of spectators from the village who lined Huddersfield Road to watch it.
It shows the Sunday School Queen, June Clark, with her attendants, Carol Dilnot, Pamela Vickers, Jennifer Swithenbank, Valda Cass and Pat Clark.
Anyone with memories or photographs of similar processions theywould like to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.