Doris Darbyshire

Walking Day

The scent of roses fills the air, as summer breezes play,
Reminding me of long ago, and St. James’s ‘Walking Day.’

Happy children carrying flowers, of many kinds they chose,
The one which stirs my memory most, the fragrance of the rose.

Some carried beautiful bouquets, and walked ‘Under the Banner,’
But most of us walked in the ranks, in regimental manner.

With teachers watchful in our midst, their eyes in constant search,
The Superintendant free to join, ‘The Pillars of the Church.’

The Vicar and the Curate, the Wardens and Lay Readers,
The Sidesmen and the Verger, and the congregation leaders.

The Organist and the Choirmaster, with boys and adult singers,
The Headmasters and Governors, and (off-duty) bell ringers.

First came the band in martial strain, our steps to guide and rule,
As we bore ‘Witness for the Faith’ of St. James’s Sunday School.

Next came tiny boys and girls, clutching flowers wild,
Led by those who sought to teach, every little child.

The little girls wore dresses white, which were not always new,
But washed and ironed and ‘Got Up Fine’ with ribbons pink and blue.

Some little boys wore ‘Sailor Suits,’ and some wore shirts and tie,
And on their feet were boots and shoes, their clogs had been laid by.

Each class in turn then followed on, marching to the tune,
Some had flowers and some had none, some just a single bloom.

Then came teenage girls, who walked, with such a jaunty air,
For weeks they’d talked of nothing else, but the dresses they would wear

And who’s to say t’was vanity, they’d been taught to look their best,
On this the day they showed the world, by Jesus they’d been blessed.

Teenage boys were close behind, they walked with bashful gait,
E’en some of them had Button Holes, in jackets ‘Up to Date.’

Then followed the ‘Young Womens Class,’ who, with their childhood passed
Were very smart and wore high heels, the taller to be classed.

The Young Men’s Class, was in full strength, no longer boys but men,
They still attended ‘Sunday School,’ as was the custom then.

In gaps between the classes, the banners carried high,
Read out the Christian Message, to all whom we passed by.

And when the music of the band would in the distance fade,
They marched onto the rhythm of the ‘Churches Lad’s Brigade.’

Later in the ‘Post War’ years we had the scouts and guides,
Their enthusiastic trainers marching smartly by their sides.

St. James Church Procession would further wind its course,
With THE Stalwart Mothers Union, turning out in force.

Some mothers young, but some were old, and some were very old,
They’d spent a lifetime working, their religion to uphold.

The Procession still was incomplete, we had another section,
The Sunday School Of Worsley Mesnes, in organised perfection.

They joined us with their Banners, every child a joy to see,
And the ranks that followed, just like ours, proclaimed their Loyalty.

Together we would make our way to St. James’s Vicarage,
There on the lawns we’d sing our thanks, for Christian Heritage.

And after the Procession, from the Cricket Ground,
The voices of the choir, and congregation would resound.

I’d look up at the towering Mills of Eckersleys and Browns,
Then to the tower of the Church which Poolstock village crowns.

Reflecting on the families, who, mighty in their day,
Had built the school, and then the church, for us to learn and pray.

I’d see the blackened chimneys, Did they send a message down?
From the ‘Long-age’ mill workers, who had toiled to earn their crown.

Did they whose plaques the chapel held, and the workers unrenowed,
In spirit join us as we prayed, upon the cricket ground.

Sometimes we had to shelter, from the summer showers,
Then we would crowd into the church, adults, children, and the flowers.

This, my most poignant memory, the rain its grace bestows,
Therein, a Heavenly Perfume, predominent the Rose.

I’ve yet another memory of a special Walking Day,
When to walk ‘Under the Banner’ our mother said we may.

By attendance we’d earned places, though the ranks she much preferred,
My sister and myself, were for the banner then, prepared.

We wore dresses of white needlework, Mauve ribbons threaded through,
My sister held a ‘Steering Ribbon,’ which was of Royal Blue.

T’was the only time my flowers had cost my mother dear,
A bouquet of ‘Purple Iris,’ for the King had died that year.


Notes on this poem

Written in 1986. King Edward VII died in 1910.

Non-English visitors to this website may wish to visit Wikipedia to become familiar with the tradition of Walking Day in north west England.

Walking Day was and still is an annual tradition in Wigan. Here’s a recent note from a Wigan-area cousin on the subject:

Walking days still exist. I used to do walking days when I was little. There are banners and ropes. Most kids would stand along a rope (held at either side of the street). To walk holding a ribbon on a banner was a ‘step up.’ You had a little bag and people would give you money as you walked (don’t know why that happened – it probably doesn’t any more.) The ones that I know of are done by village rather than church. All the churches walk together.

Photos of St. James Church Walking Day on WiganWorld, although for the most part taken long after Doris finished school, portray the types of scenes Doris is writing about. The little girls holding their flowers seemed to particularly attract the lenses of photographers!

Please see the notes to The Congregational Tea Party on The Mothers’ Union.

The Sunday school of Worsley Mesnes, which according to Doris joined in the St. James Walking Day, was presumably affiliated with St. James Church as there was no Church of England in Worsley Mesnes (the neighbourhood adjoining Poolstock to the south and west).

St. James Church, where Doris’s walks concluded, was bordered by two textile mills: Poolstock Mill; and Worsley Mesnes Mill. These can be seen on the 1896 Ordinance Survey Map of Poolstock. It is probably these mills that triggered Doris’s reflections on the mill owners and workers mentioned towards the end of her verse. The Eckersley and Brown families mentioned were industrialists who built the Poolstock and Swan Meadows textile mills. The Eckersleys developed the Poolstock residential area in the 1850s.

There is no longer any trace of a cricket ground in the vicinity of St. James Church.