Many towns in the North of England and Scotland held an annual Children's Gala Day, with a parade to the park followed by sports, games, dances and exhibitions. A brass band would often head the parade. (In the accompanying picture, which is actually taken from a Miners' Picnic parade in 1955, the author's father Ellis Williams is in the front row of the band playing the E flat bass.) Each school would march its pupils to join the ever-growing parade to the park gates, where every child would be presented with half-a-crown, a present from the workers of the town, collected by subscription. In earlier days, children were presented with fruit at the gates, a welcome gift in poorly-nourished days.
This rare footage of a Children's Gala parade comes from Dunfermline in 1952.
The following account from Ashington's local paper describes the Gala that is featured in the story A Merry Dance. An interesting footnote is that the MP mentioned respectfully in the article, Will Owen, was disgraced in the 1970s and had to resign his seat. He was branded as a Soviet spy when it was discovered that he had been in the pay of the Czech intelligence service for two decades.
From the Ashington Advertiser Friday 26 June 1959
(reproduced by permission)
Children enjoy 59th Gala at Ashington
The 59th Annual Ashington Children’s Gala was held last Saturday in the Hirst Welfare Sports Ground. Over 6,600 local children took part and the cash gift of 2/6 was distributed at the entrances, cash being the modern equivalent of the memorable penny, bun, apple, orange and sweets.
Children from Ashington’s seven schools marched to the sports ground headed by Lynemouth and Newbiggin Colliery Band, Woodhorn Colliery Band, North Seaton Colliery Band, Ellington Colliery Band and the Salvation Army Band.
In the ground, Woodhorn Band played selections before the commencement of the children’s programme, when the various schools gave an exhibition of dancing, a recorder band recital, and a massed singing demonstration.
While most parents watched their children competing in the various sports, others examined the exhibition of arts and crafts, by the schoolchildren, which was displayed in Hirst Welfare Gymnasium. The exhibits in the display were of a very high standard, several of them earning high praise from the visiting public. At the close of the exhibition, the cookery exhibits were auctioned.
Among the many well known personalities who attended the Gala was Mr. Will Owen, M.P. who marched down to the Welfare Ground with St. Aidan’s schoolchildren, visited the exhibition and then walked round the field watching children competing and chatting to the parents.
The weather was fine, but a blustery wind blew in from the sea, creating flurries of dust which did nothing to dampen the high spirits of the children of Ashington as they were determined to enjoy themselves on this, their particular day.