The Staffordshire town of Leek nestling on the edge of the Peak District looks like a place which should preserve some old and curious traditions. One of these is Leek Club Day. A custom, despite being largely little known outside of the town, it is not mentioned in any customs books I am aware of, is worthy of standing up there with similar events
A Leek of Faith
The day begins with all the local churches and organisations such as Cubs, Scouts, Guides and Brownies assembling in the Market Square. Here hymns were sung and prayers given…then it was off. The procession snakes around the town pronouncing their faith and a colourful visage is created. Each church and organisation rallies beneath their banner which are held high proudly as they processed. The custom is simply a walking exercise – hence the name Walking Day – and was one of a number of similar customs, often around Whitsun time. Indeed like the Whit Walks famed from Chesterfield to Manchester, many children attend in their first Holy Communion dresses and hence once it was called Cap Sunday around the early 1800s because girls wore white caps. These caps appear to have disappeared.
The first thing that you experience is the sound of the bagpipes and occasional glimpse on the horizon. Then drums. Then as the procession nears the bright colours of the church banners – St Matthew’s Meerbrook, Waterhouses Sunday School, All Saints, St Luke’s and St Paul’s, Youth of Leek, Community of St Mary, Trinity Church, Edward the Confessor’s Parish Church, St John the Evangelist, St Edward’s Mission Church and so.
Each of these banners were held high by proud members and pulled along by ropes attached to some of the attendees. I was particularly interested to see what appeared to be Maypoles with their ribbons attached and decked in flowers being carried aloft.
Nearly each church, group or club, was ushered in by its own band – brass, wind and percussion – sometimes provided by the scouts or guides although they themselves formed a large contingency carrying their rolled standards. One of the best, unsurprisingly perhaps, was the Salvation Army who produced stirring music for their march. A sea of sound, a soundwave, passes you and then fades in time for the next one…and so it continues for about 20 minutes.
The formality of earlier years has perhaps waned, some children were dressed up, mainly those in the Scouting and allied organisations, but few adults. However, I noticed that the wearing of roses was undertaken by one group.
In this day and age when individuals can be afraid to be proud of their beliefs it is good to see that Leek’s club day being still embraced by the churches around the town as a great celebration. It still appears to be going strong over 100 years later and despite what one correspondent to the BBC website said in the 1980s:
“I have been in Club Day and I liked it. It makes your legs tired though, but the party is good.”