Churchtown & District Children’s Whitsuntide Festival has existed in many forms over the years, but it has always been a Whitsuntide event, and always been about fun and community.
A Spring festival was first organised by the local branch of The Oddfellows – a friendly society aimed to provide help in their communities. The earliest evidence of the Children’s Festival is an article in the Preston Guardian, now the Farmers Guardian. The article from 6th June 1868, notes that the Festival had been active for “more than 30 years”. In the Preston Guardian of the 30th May 1896 the Festival is referred to as Churchtown Club Day. Eventually the Oddfellows faded out, but the children still kept the day. Because of this, the focus became on a children’s festival as it still is today.
In the 1896 article, the words Churchtown and District are used; this is important as the Parish includes Kirkland, Catterall, Claughton and Nateby. The Festival Queen was traditionally chosen from each of these areas. Traditionally the Festival was held on Whit Monday, but moved to Whit Tuesday in the early 1900s. It was held on this day until 1967 when it was moved to its present day, on the Saturday of Whitsuntide.
In the 1920s the Butler-Cole family built the Memorial Hall to honour the men who died in World War I. The Memorial Hall and field were given to be used by the people of Kirkland and Catterall. At this time it was customary during the procession for the local girls to dress in new white dresses and matching hats. They would then knock on the doors of the elderly in the village, to show them their new dresses, and each girl would receive a penny.
In 1932 a Queen was introduced as part of the Festival. She was voted for by the school children of the time. Peggy Barton, of Brick Row, Catterall was the first Queen. Another addition at this time was Morris Dancers – both boys and girls – dressed in brown and cream costumes. The procession would leave the school, walk through the village and on to the church. After this the procession moved on to Kirkland Hall, now owned by Miss Barton. The Crowning Ceremony would take place on the lawn at the Hall. Local gentry had been invited by Miss Barton to add their support to the occasion. After the crowning, the procession went to the Memorial Hall for lunch. Each child who walked received an orange, and 3d to spend on the hobby horses.
World War II caused a break in the Festival. Afterwards things continued very much as before, though Fancy Dress and Floats were introduced. In 1969 Miss Barton of Kirkland Hall died and changes became inevitable. The Crowning Ceremony was moved from the Hall to the Village Cross – with the exception of one queen who was crowned in St Helen’s Church. Later in the 1970s it moved to the Memorial Hall, where it has remained since.Until 1995 there were two processions in the day – in the morning and afternoon. This changed to a single procession in the early afternoon.
In 2003 a group of local men founded the Boddington Belles Morris Dancers. Despite being formed to fill a gap in the procession, the troupe have thrived and become enormously popular. They now appear at other village galas, and are a credit to the spirit of the Festival.
Although subtle changes have always been made, we still try to maintain the old traditions. We have a procession through the village to church. There a short service is held. Then we return back to the Memorial Hall for the Crowning Ceremony. This is followed by lunch, sports, games and entertainment. The day finishes with a Children’s Disco in the evening.
The Festival has been funded in the same way for over a century – door-to-door collections, donations, fund-raising events and collection tins. The Festival is a non-profit making event and costs around £4000 to stage. The Festival is organised and run by a small but dedicated team of volunteers committed to its future. We are always looking for new members and helpers – to come forward to help organise of the event, or just to offer an hour or two of help on the day. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch!