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The Brenda Parker Section

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Maypole Dancing

When I was at the West Hallam Church of England (Voluntary aided) junior mixed and infant schools, it was a long held tradition for the junior girls to dance around the maypole at the Church garden party each summer.
The headmistress, Miss Clark, taught us the traditional English country dances and the boys learned the art of Morris dancing. We were lucky to have our own maypole, which was black and shiny and there were coloured ribbons hanging from the top.

We danced to traditional music played on the school's wind up gramophone and practised in the infants' school hall, which is now the Village Hall.


This is the maypole we used to dance around at the Church garden parties in1940s/50s. Miss Clarke is squatting down by the old wind up gramophone. It had a black case with a shiny silver coloured bell that used to screw on. Miss Clarke would wind the handle vigorously before we started dancing to make sure the music did not peter out.


The maypole dancers wore red, white and blue sashes.
1919 was the last year that the carnival was held on May Day.

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago.

Maypole Dancing At West Hallam

Our maypole was black and stood very tall
With two sturdy crosspieces so it wouldn’t fall.
The top had two circles that went round and round
From which hung bright ribbons right down to the ground

At our school, the pole beside the screen, stood
A large folding structure made mostly of wood.
Pushed back for assembly, it made a big hall
Then folded for class time, were two rooms for all.

For most of the year, the maypole stood still,
But as winter departed, we set to at will
To clean and polish that pole so tall
Then it was carried to the old Infant’s hall.

The heavy wind up gramophone in black shiny case
Was carried by sturdy boys at a good cracking pace.
In the hall we did exercise and learned country dance
Some folk were dainty but others did prance.

The boys learned Morris dancing as in days of old
With hankies a-flying and clashing of poles.
“Ey miss,‘e’s ‘it me” was often the shout
As poles met with limbs with a horrible clout.

Around the maypole the girls were to dance.
Much to be learned, nothing left to chance.
In a circle the girls stood, two by two
We curtsied and bowed prettily, all on cue.

We learned how to chain, first right hand then left
We skipped very daintily with feet oh so deft.
We learned the steps, we learned the moves
At last we were ready the maypole to use.

Sturdy boys were chosen to hold the pole steady.
We stood round in pairs to show we were ready.
“Come lasses and lads” was the music they played
And we skipped to the pole and a circle was made.

We bowed to the pole, we curtseyed so neat
We each took a ribbon and prepared our feet.
In and out we went, as the music was played,
Tradition was followed by each dancing maid.

The ribbons were woven and the pattern made tight
The maypole was wrapped in colours so bright.
Single plaits, double plaits and a big spider’s web
Were made oh so prettily, it must be said.

We practised so hard and enjoyed ourselves too.
Summer was nearing, the Church garden fete too,
Where we’d dance out in public and feel very bold
As the folk of West Hallam watched as in days of old.

Brenda J Parker February 2010

West Hallam Well Dressing

by Brenda Hunt  1978

Well Dressing

This is our first attempt at a Well Dressing.  Seven of us visited the Etwall Well Dressers in May as they were preparing their frames and we learned many “tricks of the trade” from them.

Since then, an old door has been cut to shape and a frame made.  Nails have been hammered into the door to support the clay after it had been “puddled” (A process evolving treading water, salt and clay together in a tin bath).

The frame was soaked for a week and the wet clay pressed in and flattened.

The design of St Wilfrid was pricked through the paper pattern to the clay and the outline followed with alder cones.  This is known as “black knobbing”.

By the beginning of the week, the nonperishable materials were added and later the blossoms and flower petals.

We chose the figure of St Wilfrid, the patron saint of the Church and show him beside a background of cliffs and sea, as he was associated with Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire.

Our thanks go to the Etwall Well Dressers for their advice and for donating the spar and coal, Mr H Stevens for the door and for the loan of a tin bath for puddling, to Mr G Baker for fitting good lighting for us to work by, to Mr H Sims for clearing room for us to work in his garage and to everybody who helped by donating flowers.

The West Hallam Well Dressers
Brenda Hunt,  Margaret Bates,  Pauline Fearn,  Phyllis Harris, Thorvel Hunt,  Ivy Hickson,  Petra Fearn,
Sandra Hickson, Sharon Hickson, Elsie Smith, Jenny Walker, Alistair Hunt, Jonathon and Simon Walker


How did Well dressing in West Hallam first start?
It’s thanks to the Flower Club for this ancient art
In ‘74, before the Flower Festival began
in St Wilfrid’s Church, we all had a plan.

Widening floral knowledge was our desire
So we visited Etwall in May to acquire
All the tricks of the trade of this Derbyshire craft
From the well dressers there who really did graft.

In their expert hands we were willingly taught
How they did this and that, how things were sought
The history, the language and useful techniques
That would be very useful in the following weeks.

All things natural, not manmade or fake
Is the order of the day, well dressings to make.
Everything from nature, flower, seed or shell
Wool in raw state, leaves and pebbles as well

Back home once again, we had no time to shirk
We had to decide a theme for our work. 
The festival at Church was based on folks who
had connections with the village. We knew who’d do.

St Wilfrid was our own patron saint
A unanimous decision with no complaint
So we set to work on a pretty design
Wilfrid in front, Whitby Abbey behind.

An old coalhouse door was used for a frame
Studded with nails - oh it was such a game.
For a week the frame soaked in a pond nearby
How cold and dripping it was that July

We collected the clay from the building site near
We had to dig it ourselves, that very first year.
Hard work it was and how tired we grew.
How well dressers of old toiled, we very soon knew.

In an old tin bath we got salt and and water
In wellies, puddled clay, both mother and daughter.
At last the mixture was as fine as could be
And trowelled in the frame to make a good key

Black knobs were gathered from alders close by
By water the trees grow and we soon did espy
Cones a-plenty to outline our design
We soon filled our baskets with specimens fine.

The pattern was pricked then onto the clay
And black knobbing done without much delay.
Blossoming was done with leafy sprigs green
Our picture took shape and soon could be seen

Then soon did begin the prettiest work ever
Petal after petal was added in our endeavour.
Creating our own work of art, our first try
At this ancient craft and we were on a high.

At last it was over, our long work was done
Working with petals had been so much fun.
We were dirty and tired and ready for sleep
But oh it was worth it, a good memory to keep.

There was pride in our hearts. How hard we had worked
And said shucks to cynics who had earlier smirked,
Said “it can’t be done and it’s not work for you.”
We’d proved them all wrong. We’d seen it through.

From modest beginnings, grew a much larger thing
But it must be remembered how it all did begin.
The Flower Club were first in West Hallam to start
The craft of well dressing with thanks in their heart.

God’s gift of water does affect one and all
Without it we’d suffer and would very soon fall.
Well Dressings are Derbyshire’s very own way
Of giving thanks to God for saving the day.

Brenda J Parker (formerly Hunt)
Founder member of both the West Hallam Flower Club and the Well Dressings in West Hallam

West Hallam Flower Club

‘Twas in the summer of ’72,
The Church was decorated in every hue
With flowers and plants, all colours bright.
It really was a beautiful sight,
They transformed every surface and wall,
A sight to behold, enjoyed by all.
Flower festivals happened then, every two years,
Folk went away feeling very much cheered.

Hard work it was, it had to be done,
But the flower ladies together had so much fun.
“Well, wouldn’t it be nice” thought they,
“To meet much more often in this pleasant way?”
38 ladies attended the very first meeting
in early September. That took some beating.
“38?” thought they. “How do we cope?”
Twice monthly meetings was their only hope.
Half after lunch, the rest after tea on alternate
Thursdays was the answer you see.

The Institute 1, built by FWN 2
Was the chosen venue to accommodate them then.
But the Institute was old and in a bad state,
And soon was demolished, it’s sad to relate.
Scargill School was their only hope,
But higher rent there made if difficult to cope.

The costs rose higher and the subs did too.
Members stopped coming, What could they do?
Determined to continue, a much smaller group now
Met in each others homes and managed somehow.
Many activities have happened o’er the years,
Lots of laughter and happiness, sometimes some tears
Once a month flower arranging and often much more,
Shows, exhibitions, visits, it’s never a chore

We learn how to Well dress and brought the art home
Taught others about it and now it’s become
An annual event full of flowers and fun
Hard work by many just has to be done.
Many founder members are no longer there
And the few left now have silvery hair
But the spirit remains and gladly they say
They still love their flowers to this very day.

Flower Club

Well Dressing by the Flower Club 2015

Brenda J Parker February 2010

1 The Institute stood at the Village end of St Wilfrid’s Road and had public meeting rooms.
2 FWN = Francis Newdigate, Lord of the Manor, who built many of the buildings around the Village, many of which bear his initials.

West Hallam Infant and Junior Mixed (Voluntary Aided) School Hymn.
By Brenda Parker

This was sung during my years in the Infants and Junior schools in the 1940s and 50s.

It was usually sung at the end of term, at Prize Giving, on Empire Day etc.

All the children in the school had a green book issued by Derbyshire Education Committee entitled "The Daily Service" containing prayers and hymns for schools. It was used daily for our morning assembly. We had all carefully written out the words of the school song in our best writing on the blank pages at the back of the book. I still have my copy as it was given to me when I left the school.

We build our school on Thee O Lord,
To Thee we bring our common need.
The loving heart, the helpful word,
The tender thought, the kindly deed.
With these we pray Thy Spirit may
Enrich and bless our school always.

We work together in Thy sight,
We live together in Thy love;
Guide Thou our faltering steps aright
And lift our thoughts to Heaven above.
Dear Lord, we pray Thy Spirit may
Be present in our school always.

Hold Thou each hand, to keep it just.
Tough Thou our lips and make them pure.
If Thou art with us, Lord, we must
Be faithful friends and comrades sure.
Dear Lord we pray Thy Spirit may
Be present at our school always.

We change but Thou are still the same.
The same good Master, Teacher, Friend.
We change; but Lord we bear Thy name
To journey with it to the end;
And so we pray Thy Spirit may
Be present in our school always.

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