Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.
We had few occasions to celebrate and one of them was the annual Chapel and Sermons. This was like an anniversary service, designed to highlight the year, to bring people together and bring in some much needed money.
Every child had to have new clothes and Mother would sew for us for weeks in order to give us a smart turn out. For some reason she never bought hats for us, but instead invested in a ‘shape’. This was really the foundation of a hat and as it’s name implies, pre-shaped. She would cover this with material to match the dresses she had made, and then use ribbon and flowers to trim it. I remember one hat which had a ribbon round the crown and ended in long flowing streamers at the back. On these Mother had sewn, with infinite patience, tiny bouquets of spring flowers. My hair was long then and I had suffered tortures overnight by having it screwed up in curl rags to shape ringlets. The result was worth it, and I felt like a queen as I tossed my hair, and the ribbons floated behind me! All hats were firmly secured with elastic that went under the chin – the newer the elastic, the more it hurt!
The morning service consisted of a procession around Kerridge, stopping at various points to sing hymns. Mother followed us round if the weather showed any uncertainty. Those pretty hats and dresses were not going to be ruined by a sudden shower of rain!
In the afternoon, friends and relations would go to the Chapel to share (and Compare) the flowers and singing which were always a feature of the service. There was fierce (though unmentioned) rivalry between the local churches and chapels over their ‘Sermons’ and each was determined to outdo the other. Extra people, men and women, were recruited to the choir ranks to help with the special music. Whether they could sing in tune mattered not and the people who sang at Kerridge Sermons could well be singing in another church choir the next week. The choir stalls were full to overflowing with eager choristers. In their unaccustomed Sunday suits – always made of heavy material – and stiff collars, it must have been agony for the men who, for the most part, worked outdoors and wore free and easy clothes. However, this service demanded that they wore their ‘best’ and wear it they did. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers, stocks, lilac, carnations and many more. The time for the anthem came and, as the organist played the opening chords, the choir rose to their feet with music in outstretched arms. Success was measured by volume rather than tone, and they gave it all they’d got. It may or may not have been in tune, but they’d filled the Chapel with music – of a sort. As they sat down, with one accord as though rehearsed, each man brought out his gleaming white handkerchief and mopped his brow, for, coupled with the hot afternoon, extra exertion and tightly fitting jackets, they were all sweating profusely. In a mysterious way, this added to their feeling of having done well.
There was much back slapping and congratulations afterwards, and reminiscing over notes they’d nearly missed, but all felt that the afternoon’s work had been good and had given much satisfaction all round.
I must mention two items of dress at this point. It was customary for all little boys to be clad in dresses up to around four or five years old. I have never found out why this custom had come into being, but I do remember one little boy in particular. Harold Whitehurst – and he wore a red woollen dress with attendant petticoats. With the normal boy’s haircut, such a sight would look incongruous today, but it was of the times. It was a great ceremony when he was ‘britched’ for the first time, in short trousers of course, and somehow one was only aware of his sex then. All boys wore short pants until they left school and again, it was great step in their lives when they wore their first long trousers. As though they’d left boyhood behind and become a man.
Girls always wore pinafores over their dresses. They were quite pretty with a square yolk stitched onto a gathered skirt. The pinafore was the same length as the dress, which was floor length, and there were gathered frills over the shoulders. The whole thing buttoned at the neck. It was a practical garment. but designed to protect a dress and the material and frills made it a pretty addition.
© 1985 Enid Simpson