Childhood memories: Whit Week Walks in Pendlebury

Here, our Salford reporter Chris Vickers brings back memories of Whit Walks, a special and significant occasion in Greater Manchester that always demanded the best set of clothing and the rarely touched china from out of the display cabinet. 

Mum made my sister Pat and I attend Sunday school every week, almost literally dragging me along Duffield Road, the Height, to a hall that was an outpost of St John’s Church, the imposing stand-alone church on Bolton Road in Salford.

The Sunday school experience was not a happy one. We were dressed in our Sunday best and congregated in the yard… with sullen kids silently milling around until the doors were eventually opened, and we filtered into the dark, dingy, foreboding hall.

Once inside, there was a formal, stiff and starchy lesson to be absorbed. I cannot recall a single teacher or a happy Sunday school experience. Even the books had dark covers. One can only assume that redemption would be achieved through induced solemnity!

The biggest religious occasion for the family was, without doubt, the Whit Walks. This was where the churches gathered and marched under their banners to the boundaries of their parishes, with Boys Brigades providing music and drums beating.

At the head of each church was usually a man with a mace which he twirled around and theatrically threw into the air from time to time before catching it and renewing the twirling.

Bated breaths were held as the maces flew through the air. Excitement grew as another church turned up with a proud, colourful banner until there was a vast profusion of church leaders in full regalia, parents and onlookers and masses of children, dressed for the occasion in our best clothes, scrubbed up and with shoes polished.

The lads wore blazers and shorts, white shirts and ties. The girls wore pastel dresses, usually with veils or flowers in their hair, and all the girls carried posies. My sister particularly recalls buying the flowers every year at Whites Florists on the Height and remembers the Whit Walks to this day whenever she enters a florist and sniffs the perfumed air.

We were told to keep walking, not dawdle, and look straight ahead and nobody wanted to be the one who disgraced themselves on this tumultuous day. Once the walks were completed mum and dad invited the family back to our house: aunties Joyce and Margaret (great fun!), uncles’ Roy and Eddie and Granny Vickers.

The day was so significant that the green patterned Royal Tudor Ware china was liberated from the display cabinet in the front room (the only other time this happened was Christmas) and ham sandwiches, jelly and blancmange and tea was consumed in celebration.

The usage of the china was intimidating especially for my sister as she was roped in for pot drying duties after everyone had left, I was too young to be trusted, and she was petrified of one of the wet precious china pieces slipping through her hands and smashing.

Had that happened it would certainly have put a downer on the day.

If you have memories of Whit Walks or any other childhood memories that you’d like to share with our readers then please send them over to [email protected]

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