THERE was a time when everyone in Dewsbury had to take their holidays during the same week – at the end of July when all the mills and factories closed down.
They called it Dewsbury Feast Week and if my memory serves me right it always started on the Saturday nearest July 25.
This was when a travelling fair of huge proportions came to town, and in my time it was situated on land near to where Sainsbury’s now stands.
But before then it was held on a piece of spare ground, possibly a field, in Union Street, near to where the Magistrates Court was built.
In those early days, working men and women in Dewsbury were only given two days holiday a year and these were known as Dewsbury Feast Monday and Tuesday.
These were the days when the Feast came into its own, attracting thousands of visitors, many coming from all over the district.
The history books don’t tell us when the first Feast came to Dewsbury but I know from Reporter files that it was certainly going 150 years ago, and I suspect many years before.
The Feast was always a big attraction, and over the years grew in size and moved to various locations.
It is interesting to look through old newspaper files and read about how important Dewsbury Feast was to ordinary working men and women and their children.
We can see this in the articles written by the journalists of the day who give us a glimpse of the kind of entertainment the fair gave.
The Feast coming to Dewsbury was a time of great excitement, and the shopkeepers also entered into the spirit of things by giving their premises a spring clean.
The following article taken from the Reporter of 1861 gives some idea of how the town prepared for the annual Feast and the pleasure it gave to thousands of hard working men and women.
This is what the journalist wrote:
“Strolling through Dewsbury this week it is plain to see there have been big preparations for the feast.
“Signs and shop fronts have been re-painted, windows cleaned, and altogether our streets have undergone a renovation.
“The butchers tell us there has been an immense slaughter of beasts, and greengrocers speak of the rage for cucumbers, onions and red cabbage.
“Visitors have flocked in from all sides and found hospitable accommodation among their friends.
“In the evening, the field near to the West Riding Bank presented a busy aspect, and there came from thence a storm of sound as melodious as a Chinese chorus of gongs.
“There were three photographic stalls, the owners of which had been doing a roaring trade, and those who were thirsty were able to purchase the Patent American Iced Cream.
“Dr Link the ‘Linkum Fidelus’ of the Feast was not wanting. He preached or swore, as the occasion required, and in the most artful way invited the crowd to come and view the wonders of art.
“There was also the ‘Palace of the Soul’, and for the magical sum of one penny you could peep inside.
“Near at hand was Hunter’s ‘Museum of Nature and Art’, which was really worth going to see, and Mr Templeton, an old stager, was there to cater for the lovers of ‘Blood and Murder and Blue Flame’.
“There too is the ‘Garibaldi Pea Camp’ and the ‘Temple of Magic Mirth and Mystery’ belonging to professor Hellawell.
“Other attractions were: Slater’s “Cheap Jack Store, bazaars and flying boxes.
In my day the Feast was situated on land near to where Sainsbury’s supermarket now stands and I can still remember the thrill of it all. It was completely different from the ones we see today.
I was lucky in that my birthday fell on July 2h and always coincided with Dewsbury Feast Week and therefore I had more pennies to spend there than my friends.
Visiting the Feast was the most exciting time of my life and it was there where I tasted my first candy floss, toffee apple and brandy snap, not to mention those delicious bags of ‘chats’ we used to buy on our way home.
I remember the helter skelter, the cake walk, the dodgems and the shamrock and columbia which I never dare go on, and I only went on the ghost train once – never again.
These times will never come back again but it is lovely to recapture them now and again.