Leeds nostalgia: Year there were two Children’s Days

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Some really quite remarkable pictures of Childrens’ Day in Leeds have been sent in by Times Past reader Sheila Hughes, after the Yorkshire Evening Post ran an article on the historic event.

The pictures capture the very essence of what the annual celebration, which ran from 1922-1963, was all about. They were taken in 1949, the only year in which two Childrens’ Days were held.

Sheila Stone (nee Hughes), 79, from Durkar, Wakefield, said: “It was 1949, we were all 15 years of age. I was a Children’s Day maid of honour when (then) Princess Elizabeth was guest of honour on July 27 of that year. That was the year there were two Children’s Days. There was the usual one on July 2 and, when it was announced Princess Elizabeth was to visit the city, it was decided to stage it again on July 27.

“It was such a fabulous day not just for the children but for everyone involved. Crowds used to be in their thousands. All of Hill 60 at Roundhay Park was just packed with people watching all the events.”

Sheila, who has one son and three grandchildren, was a pupil at Cross Flatts School, Beeston, where she also lived for 72 years before moving to Wakefield.

She added: “It had such a good atmosphere, it was real shame when it ended because it just made everyone so happy. Children looked forward to it every year and the teachers from all the schools used to put so much effort in to make it all work.”

Children’s Day came about after members of the Leeds Poor Children’s Holiday Camp Association suggested it as a novel way of raising funds. It was the brainchild of Archie Gordon, the headteacher of Lower Wortley Council School. He proposed a mass carnival, followed by sporting events, fancy dress and gymnastics - it was hoped such an event would encourage more children to take part in sports and other outdoor activities. It began in 1922 and was typically held on the first Saturday of July

In spite of its success, it came to an end in 1963 following a series of wet summers which saw numbers drop dramatically.

One other person who was present on July 27, 1949 was the Children’s Day Queen, Joananne Fox(nee Thompson), who spoke to Times Past in July 2012 about her experience, when she said: “When I met her ll those years ago, I presented her with a posy of flowers.

“I remember being chosen as Queen of Children’s Day but I was 14 and didn’t give it much thought at the time – I was chosen from my school in Osmondthorpe and later we all went to the Civic Hall.

“I had to welcome the Queen, then I went up to present her with a bouquet and curtsied. She didn’t actually say anything but she seemed lovely.

“In fact, I gota shock from the Duke of Edinburgh because, as I was about to leave, he stood up and proceeded to bow to me.”

A new exhibition at Abbey House Museum, opposite Kirkstall Abbey, will open in March.

It will have pictures, stories and a Children’s Day crown, which was presented to the city in 1986.

The exhibition, which has been produced in partnership with Bramley Elderly Action, the Bramley Reminiscence Group and the Bramley History Society, will be the first display in the new Community Gallery at Abbey House Museum.

A scrap book made by Pamela White, Queen of Leeds Children’s Day 1963, will be on display. There will also be a photograph album from Leeds Children’s Day 1952 and a painting of Dorothy Beatrice May Smith, Queen of Leeds Children’s Day 1930.

Kitty Ross, curator of Leeds History and Social History at Leeds Museums and Galleries, said: “We hope that this display will stir up memories for those who took part in Leeds Children’s Day events.”

Send your Children’s Day memories to laura.bowyer@ypn.co.uk.

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