Monthly Archives: July 2015

Custom survived: Leek Club Day



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.


Culture club

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.”       

Custom contrived: Pride



I am planning to be controversial here! What decided what we call a custom? I wonder why folklorists happily describe the Leek Club parade as a custom and not say Pride, or once Gay Pride…yet Pagan Pride, a modern custom clearly based upon it is happily recorded in sites such as Calendar Customs…it is after all underlined by the same idea, a need to recognise the importance of the group and make everyone aware of it…the same reason behind the Club Walks as well of course. Furthermore it is a commemoration of an event another common custom theme. The dictionary definition supports the view:

“a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.”

So I would reason that Pride (by the way no longer Gay Pride apparently as it includes such a range of sexualities and genders that that name is largely redundant) has a rightly place in a calendar of customs as it has many similarities – it is commemorates, it recognises…and like many customs it is colourful….very colourful in fact! Plus you might add that one of the themes, transvestism has already been largely covered by this blog!

So in a year which has seen some big legal changes in marriage equalities it worth considering this parade, which has gone from militant march to a crazy colourful carnival which has spread beyond its London confines to the provincial town of Manchester, Derby, Nottingham and beyond.


Pride in the name of love

The first Pride was undertaken in 1972 on the 1st July. This date was chosen as the nearest Saturday to the date of the 1969 Stonewall Riots of Greenwich Village New York. This was a different time of course, in the wake of the more liberated swinging sixties…only in 1967 had the country seen legal changes and as Peter Tatchell, long-time activist notes:

We got mixed reactions from the public – some hostility but predominantly curiosity and bewilderment. Most had never knowingly seen a gay person, let alone hundreds of queers marching to demand human rights.”

Yet despite these reservations 2000 people attended the march continued, year after year. Through the 1980s when the Government introduced Section 28, when it became more militant…and on to the 1990s it was augmented by a large festival like party full of music.


This is the most interesting thing about it, how Pride has changed over that relatively short time. Some may lament the change from Political to Party and the development of the Pink Pound with it! So it is clear that the Pride has turned from a march to a parade to carnival. Gone it appears have many of the political problems that created it perhaps – Section 28, equal rights, the need for acceptance, even the dread of AIDs once the all-conquering ‘Gay Plague’ as the media termed it, has become manageable. So gone have many of the militant banners and in its place more a celebration.

Pride no prejudice

One of the first things you notice are the hawkers – they appear to be a regular feature of many a custom these days – whether it is flashing lights at Guy Fawkes,  Flower garlands at Hastings Jack in the Green and here Rainbow flags, whistles and garlands…I do wonder whether these people turn up at Neo-Nazi rallies and what they bring!? After much honking and whistling and a cheer when the Fire brigade came by…the parade formed.


Amongst the parade is the ultimate juxtaposition of characters: some rather amusing drag acts, vicars, police and football fans. The flying of the rainbow flags, blowing of whistles and the sound of pounding drums. The parade is clearly there to be seen! People line the route and fly their flag, laugh, smile and cheer it on – how things have changed from the 1970s!

Indeed as the parade passes the obvious thing that should strike the observer is that amongst the drag acts, colour and flag waving, is the obvious ordinary nature of the people…after all there is no real difference and if that’s the message we get that can surely be a good thing.

Custom demised: Mace Monday at Newbury


“Why, dant’e know the old zouls keep all holidays, and eat pancakes Shrove Tuesday, bacon and beans Mace Monday, and rize to zee the zin dance Easter Day ?”

Palmer’s Devonshire Dialogue 1837

So records a curious lost Berkshire custom. The custom was associated with the election of a Mock Mayor at Newbury, called the Justice of Bartlemas despite being elected over a month before that date! The event as is usual with Mock Mayors (see Mock Mayor of Woodstock) the event was associated with a public house – the Bull and Dog. Brand’s Popular Antiquities (1853) informs us that:

“THE first Monday after St. Anne’s Day, July 26, a feast is held at Newbury, in Berkshire, the principal dishes being bacon and beans.”

Hone’s Everyday Book (1827) states that after this feast:

“In the course of the day, a procession takes place; a cabbage is stuck on a pole, and carried instead of a mace, accompanied by similar substitutes for other emblems of civic dignity, and there is of course plenty of rough music. A ‘justice’ is chosen at the same time, some other offices are filled up, and the day ends by all concerned getting comfortably ‘how come ye so.”

How come ye so equated to drunk! Sadly all this frivolity died out around the 1890s but if it was better known I am sure many would be keen to see a revival!