Getting into the holiday spirit!
Posted by Gazette on April 22, 2018, 10:51 pm
Cookson Country: Janis Blower: 20 May 1994: |
IT is appropriate that, this weekend, we will be marking National Seaside Day all over the country.
For once upon a time this was one of THE big holiday occasions of the year - the beginning of Whit Week.
Today it has been overtaken by the later Spring Bank Holiday which has no real place in tradition.
Whit Sunday, of course, is the seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost.
In the Middle Ages it was marked by the giving of Pentecostals, or Whitsun Farthings, which were offerings made to parish priests. It was also the
traditional day for baptisms and the wearing of white clothes, hence the name 'White Sunday'.
In fact older Cookson Country readers, commenting on the tradition of children having new clothes for Easter, have told me they were more likely to have been bought a new outfit for Whit instead.
It was certainly an occasion for much merry-making. There is a record of Whit being celebrated in Shields in 1869, when the town sported a very "gay and holiday" appearance, with flags and banners strung across the streets between houses and shops.
Crowds thronged to the Bents - at that time open, grassy ground buttressed by sand dunes - for picnics or to walk.
For many years Whit signalled the traditional beginning of the holiday season and, for our Victorian grandfathers, of the bathing season.
In mid-Victorian times this meant segregated bathing for those who were fastidious enough to wish it.
Actually, it's fascinating to look at how this was achieved, for shortly before one Whit weekend in the 1870s, South Shields Council was to be found laying down strict parameters for these areas.
The idea was classic: they were simply marked out by painted boards on the sands, 120 yards south of the pier to denote the area for gentlemen not
using bathing machines, 120 yards further on again for gentlemen who were using bathing machines; and another 120 yards beyond that for ladies using/not using etc.
The remainder of the beach south to Trow, was for general bathing, presumably for those less self-conscious about being seen in their bathing
kyeks, if you'll pardon the vernacular!
It's worth noting, by the way, that this delineation of territory brought a protest from a 'Materfamilias' in the town who objected to women like herself, with children, having to walk 240 yards further than the men along the beach to enjoy their summer dips.
Given its religious context Whit was also a significant occasion for churches in the town and, especially, for the Sunday Schools.
It's now that we turn to the accompanying photograph which has been generously lent by reader Nichol Wilson, of College Road in Hebburn.
It shows members of the High Lane Row Primitive Methodist Chapel Sunday School in Hebburn in about the late 1930s.
It was taken to mark the anniversary of the Sunday School which traditionally fell on Whit Sunday and was a big occasion, when the scholars and their teachers would parade around the streets of the town, inviting people to the anniversary services.
Confirming my earlier note on the subject, Nichol tells me: "The children were always well turned out, with a new suit for Tommy and a new dress
“The chapel would be packed to the door. It was indeed a great day in the life of the church.
“But then the Sunday School was the corner stone of Methodism in its heyday. The chapels were regularly packed out on a Sunday afternoon with children.
"It's interesting, too, that an evangelical preacher, Thomas Main, set up a Sunday School in the old CWS hall in Black Road in Hebburn which, for a long time, was known as Mains' Chapel.
"Today, Sunday School is in decline, which is tragic."
I don't know that anyone could begin to name all the young faces here, or the older ones for that matter.
But I'm told that the chap by the organ was Joe Franks with, on the right, his brother Albert who was well known in the area as the colliery cobbler.