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Betty Smalley


Whitsuntide celebrations, 1940s to 1960s

Black and white photograph of a Whit Walk procession.
Holy Trinity Whit Walk, possibly in the 1930s Image courtesy of Christ Church

Whit Sunday is the seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating Pentecost. Back in the late 1940s when I was a child, it was a really important time when all the churches came together as the centre of community life. Here in Sheffield we children always had new clothes, worn on Whit Sunday itself. After the Sunday, these were put away 'for best'. Part of the tradition was that the Sunday School children went out round the pubs singing hymns to raise funds for the church. I always thought that rather strange for children to be going into pubs but maybe people gave us more money after a drink.

Whit Monday was the fun day with a big parade organised by all the Nonconformist churches in each area. It was a very busy and happy occasion, everyone joined in.

In the 1960s I was a Sunday School teacher at Trinity Firvale Methodist church. As an adult I was part of the organising group for the day. We always started early. I made breakfast for all the young men who marked out spaces for each church to occupy in Firth Park. Then we all went down to the church to prepare for the walk. We gathered at a meeting point along the parade route and waited for the group from Wicker Congregational church to appear before joining them. Each church had their own banner, a marching band and a Sunday School queen at the head of the procession. The Boys and Girls Brigade bands were resplendent in their uniforms. Everyone else followed behind. In the heyday of the parade, people packed the route to watch, sometimes as many as six deep! It was a great place to meet people you hadn't seen for years.

At the park we sang hymns and said prayers. Then, after a quick lunch at home, we rushed back for children's games and a football match between boys and girls. In the afternoon we held a Sunday school tea with potted meat, jelly and other treats. There were always more children there than came to Sunday School! The final event at the end of the day was a social evening at our church with a bit of dancing and music...and then home by 10pm. Phew!

Written by Burngreave resident and community activist Betty Smalley, November 2006.