HISTORY OF HOLMFIRTH PARADE 2021
A grant from National Lottery Heritage Fund enabled Holmfirth Arts Festival to work with local people to research and create the History of Holmfirth Parade, and for volunteers to attend the West Yorkshire Archive Service to conduct archival research into the Holme Valley's long standing social heritage of parades and pageants.
Holmfirth Arts Festival worked with Edgelands Arts to create the parade with people from the Holme Valley community. The Parade had 10 sections covering the hill farmers, medieval hunting grounds, the flood of 1844, the industrial revolution, Luddites and weavers, the English Civil War, WW1, Bamforth's Moving Pictures, Last of the Summer Wine and Holmfirth's green future. The parade culminated in an historical promenade performance at Sands Recreation Ground, directed by Bev Adams, and including the premiere of a new song for Holmfirth, written by Charlie Wells, performed by the Holme Valley Singers.
250 people participated in parade making activities in schools and community groups prior to the parade and 250 people in families and of all ages and abilities took part in the parade which was seen by an audience of 2000 people. Children and young people took part in school groups and in their community groups, and families from lower socio-economic backgrounds participated in free drop in activities in the Market Hall. Participating groups under-represented in heritage included young people from the Scouts and Reach Performing Arts - young people of African and African Caribbean heritage. Adults from minority ethnic communities through Callaloo Carnival Arts and disability groups Callaloo Carnival Arts and Square Peg Activities also took part.
“Absolute heart warming joy to be part of Holmfirth parade on Sunday. People, smiles, laughter, creativity, generosity, kindness, pulling together, giving it a go Thank you @EdgelandsArts @HolmfirthARTS and everyone who made, paraded, watched, cheered & supported"
" Great parade with the excellent storytelling at the end."
Heritage Research - Parades and Pageant in the Holme Valley
It is recorded that there have been processions, parades and festivals in Holmfirth and the Holme valley for several centuries. These have included feasts, rush-bearings, ganging days, Whitsuntide walks and Sings. Some of these events have been religious in nature and promoted sobriety and moral uprightness but others were secular affairs, often quite bawdy. However, the origins of even secular festivals often had some earlier religious connection.
Several sources refer to a love of singing and music by local people which is reflected in the nature of events such as the various Sings, involving mass outdoor singing. Numerous local brass bands, whose origins were about the time of the end of the Napoleonic wars, also played their part in many of the outdoor festivities. An additional impetus behind events such as the Sings and Hospital Day processions was to raise money, particularly for local health provision and hospital building.
During the 20th century many of these organised festivals ceased: the reasons for this include that there was greater mobility of the local population who started to travel further afield during their free time; many chapel choirs no longer existed; Spring Bank Holiday replaced the previous Whitsuntide Bank Holiday; with the foundation of the NHS in 1948 there was no longer the same need to raise funds locally for health care. However, some celebrations, such as Hepworth Feast, still continue today and other festivals have arisen and given the people of the Holme Valley the opportunity to gather together. These more recent events include the Festival of Folk, Holmfirth Arts Festival and the Tour de France in 2014, which was an occasion of enjoyment and celebration for the hundreds of people that lined the route. According to The Huddersfield Examiner (9.6.19) in the 1970s and 1980s there was an annual torchlight procession of many local groups, hundreds of people lined the route and money collected went to local charities.
Rush-bearing and Ganging days: rush bearing was a predecessor of harvest festivals and continued until the 19th century. A decorated procession, often accompanied by musicians, travelled to church at harvest time to lay rushes in the pews to cover the mud floor. Ganging days occurred in the 17th Century whereby people went ‘ganging’ for the blessing of the crops. (1)
Feasts: According to Dr H.J. Moorhouse (2), writing in 1861, the earliest fair in Holmfirth was in October 1725 and the first Holmfirth Feast was held on Sunday May 22nd in the following year. A Mr Hobson recorded in his diary that he travelled to the Holmfirth Feast from Dodworth Green. The Holmfirth Feasts are described as lively affairs with performances by travelling players, cockfighting and bull-baiting. Eileen Williams (3), writing in 1975, suggests that such Feast days were connected to old church ceremonies which may in turn have been connected to the custom of Beating the Bounds, whereby a walk took place around the boundaries or parish limits of a town or village. Oral tradition has it that Hepworth Feast, which still takes place annually, has origins in the end of the Great Plague of 1655 - 1666. This continues to be held on the last Monday in June, local children are given the day off school and take part in a procession headed by a brass band to neighbouring villages and back to Hepworth. The children and band members are then given a tea and later there is a village Sing, running races and evening entertainment. Many local people still remember Honley Feast, which appears to have been a particular bawdy affair with origins dating back several centuries. This was traditionally held on the first Sunday following the 19th of September (a date said to be linked to the Festival of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Calendar). Although it had religious origins it developed into an occasion of popular merrymaking. According to The Huddersfield Examiner (3.1.16) the Honley Feast dated back to the 1800s and was a week long holiday with a fun fair and circus attracting thousands of people from all over. The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (27.09.1881) records that during the Honley Feast that year there was a special event, the formal turning on of the Huddersfield Corporation water supply to Honley. Netherthong also has a strong tradition of festivals which had both religious and secular aspects. In the 1800s Sunday Schools of the Wesleyan Church, the Zion Methodist Church and the All Saints Parish Church would gather together in Towngate and led by a brass or silver band they would form a processions round the village prior to going back to their respective churches for a meal, meeting up later to play games and sports and listen to music. The first joint feast was in 1921 and with the closure of the Wesleyan Chapel and the Zion Church, All Saint’s Church kept the tradition going and it became known as the Village Feast, also referred to as the School Feast, the Sing and School Feast and the Netherthong Feast and Walk. This in turn was replaced by the Netherthong Carnival. (4) Sings: the first Sing took place in Holmfirth in 1882. According to Angela Griffiths (5) the tradition of Sings is peculiar to Yorkshire and the area between Huddersfield, Wakefield and Barnsley specifically. The first Sing was held in Lockwood in 1873 and it is thought that this and other Sings arose out of a love of singing that was innate in the local people. Unlike Whitsuntide Walks, where everyone sang hymns in their church or chapel groups, the Sings had a lack of banners and all denominations stood and sang together. Sing Sunday was often held at the same time as the village feast and it was a time of great rejoicing, open-house and meeting with friends. One of the purposes of local Sings was to raise money, particularly for local hospitals and health provision. There were exceptions, between 1899 and1903 money was raised to help fund a new platform at Holmfirth station. With the inauguration of the NHS the Holmfirth Committee thought that one of the main functions of the Sing would be at an end so decided to put all their energies into a competitive music festival for children, held from 1946. The Holmfirth Sing ceased in 1992 due to lack of support from the public. The tradition was briefly revived in 2018 as part of the Holmfirth Arts Festival.
Whitsuntide Walks: these were also known as Whit Walks and they most often occurred on Whit Monday and in the north of England, with different Whit traditions such as Morris dancing in the south of England. Whit Sunday was the seventh Sunday after Easter, the time of Pentecost, when Christians celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s apostles, his first followers. Girls often had new white dresses for the Whit walk parades, linked to the Christian origins of the tradition. Brass bands, church and chapel choirs and banners were a feature of Whit walks. Most local villages and individual churches and chapels had Whit walks until the 1960s and1970s. Whit Monday (the day after Whit Sunday) was officially recognised as a bank holiday in the UK in 1871 and it remained so until 1978 when the moveable Whit Bank Holiday was replaced by the fixed Spring Bank Holiday in late May, losing the connection to Whitsuntide. This was one of the reasons for the demise of Whit Walks. On one notable Whit Monday in 1944, 29th May, after a hot and sunny afternoon, flash flooding following a severe thunderstorm caused the death of three people in the Holme Valley.
Special Occasion processions: Eileen Williams (6) states that upon the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846 there were wild celebrations with the people of Jackson Bridge making an enormous pudding for the public, very similar to the first Denby Dale pie. Photographic evidence shows processions were held in the Holmfirth area at the end of the Boer war in 1902, to mark the Coronation of King George V and his wife Mary in 1911, to celebrate Peace in 1919 and for other events of national significance. In August 1927 there was a large gathering for the visit of HRH Princess Margaret and Viscount Lascelles to Holmfirth. The couple laid a foundation stone of the Children’s Ward of Holmfirth Hospital and a wreath at the war memorial.
This brief description is not an exhaustive study of past celebrations in the Holme valley. However, from the information above it can be seen that the Holmfirth Arts Festival is a continuation of a tradition of people gathering together and celebrating which dates back centuries.
(1) Eileen Williams, Holmfirth from forest to township (1975)
(2) Dr HJ Moorhouse, The History and Topography of the Parish of Kirkburton and of the Graveship of Holme (1861)
(3) Eileen Williams, Holmfirth from forest to township (1975)
(4) History of Netherthong website
(5) Angela Griffiths, Yorkshire Sings, a Musical and Social Phenomenon, Huddersfield local History Society Journal 11 (Winter 2000/2001)
(6) Eileen Williams, Holmfirth from forest to township (1975)
Research collated by Deborah Wyles and Penny Peters