Neston Female Friendly Society, 125th Anniversary, 1939
Ladies Club Day 1939 was the 125th anniversary of the Society and the last walk before the onset of the Second World War. The annual walk was not resumed until after the war was drawing to a close in 1945.
1939 was the second year in which the juvenile section had walked in the procession and the youngest member was Joyce Cotterell, aged 4. The oldest member walking in the procession was Louisa Thomas wife of gardener Evan Thomas although there was another member, Mrs M. Davies of Brimstage who was older but not present at the walk.
It was Arthur Tilley’s first year as Secretary following the resignation of George Metcalfe who had resigned because he was moving out of the area to Nantwich. (See Neston Female Friendly Society – Secretaries)
The event was reported in the local newspapers, including this lengthy article which appeared in the Chester Chronicle on Saturday, 3rd June 1939.
Chester Chronicle, Saturday 3rd June,1939
MEN TAKE A BACK SEAT..
NESTON LADIES’ 125th “WALK”
TRADITIONAL VILLAGE FLORAL FESTIVAL
It is not often that the male sex take a back seat, but at Neston there is one day in the year—the annual festival of the Neston Female Friendly Society which is entirely devoted to ladies, and, as most of the men will agree, they make the most of it. This famous Ladies’ Day had its 125th celebration on Thursday, when over 100 children and about 60 adults went in procession through the main streets carrying white staffs adorned with flowers of all colours. For this event visitors came from all parts of the country; most of them had been former residents at Neston or had relatives there.
The narrow streets were thronged with people even an hour before the procession was due to begin; children wearing bonnets to shield them from the bright sun stood excitedly in small groups on the pavement; there were mothers and fathers with babies in their arms; nearly everyone was wearing a posy of some sort; and whole families, even including the dog, gathered at the windows and doors of their houses to catch a glimpse of the walkers as they passed. Some of the older ones were perhaps thinking of the “ladies’ days” of their youth when, resplendent in new gown and bonnet, they, too, walked proudly bearing a staff of flowers. For weeks, the festival had been the main topic of interest in the town, and an amusing story is told of a working woman and her two daughters. The mother asked the children to choose new dresses, for it is an old tradition that all the ladies wear their “Sunday best” on this great day. The elder of the two said, however, that she did not want a new rig-out as she would be wearing her shorts!
Whether she wore her shorts on the day is doubtful, for at one time the rules of the Society not only defined the dress that the members were to wear on the occasion of the festival, but also in everyday life. Founded in 1814 for the purpose of raising funds by voluntary subscription to support sick, lame, and infirm members, the Society incorporated many quaint regulations. The qualification for membership consisted of being a female, of not being affected by distemper or a of sickly constitution, or being above the age of 50! Another old rule still adhered to was disqualification on the charge of dishonesty. The oldest living member is Mrs. M. Davies, Brimstage, who joined in 1869 but was unable to take part in the procession. The oldest member in the procession was Mrs. Evan Thomas, aged 70, Neston; the youngest in the children’s section which walked for the first time last year was four-years-old Joyce Cotterell. The children qualify for membership when they reach the age of sixteen. One courageous lady. Miss Oxton, Neston, who has been a member for 53 years, was wheeled in a bathchair in the procession. She happily remarked that she was the most comfortable of all!
HERE THEY COME!
There was an excited murmur as strains of the Neston Silver Band were heard in the distance, the music growing louder as the procession, starting from the Church of England Schools, came towards the Cross and down the main street to the church. The glimpse one had of it revealed the gleaming silver instruments and the smart navy and red uniforms of the band, and then a great canopy of multicoloured flowers formed by the decorated staffs which the members carried. As the procession passed one could see the children, looking delightful in their dresses of satin and silk, some in white, others in pink, yellow, and even bright scarlet. How proudly they peeped beneath their new straw hats, and what a wonderful moment it was for them ! The adults were headed by the patroness. Mrs. W. L. Troughton, wife of a former Vicar of Neston, the Vicar (the Rev. F. L. M. Bennett), the Rev. W. L. Terrett (Presbyterian minister), the Rev. Russell Edwards (curate), Mrs. H. F. Russell and Mrs. C. Forsyth (hon. stewardesses); Mr. A. Tilley, a member of Neston U.D.C. and the Society’s only male officer, who succeeded Mr. George Metcalfe as secretary; Messrs. M. B. Richardson and J. L. Barbour (trustees). Dr. Gunn (representing the Medical Officer). Mrs Selby (wife of Dr. Selby), Mesdames Ouldred, Goulding, and the Misses Oxton and Bushell (benefit stewardesses), Mrs. A K. Bulley, Mrs. W. Jackson, Mrs. Barbour. Mrs. Gunn, Mrs. F. L. M. Bennett, and others. Carried high above their heads was the staff of the Society which was adorned with red, white and blue flowers and the huge banner inscribed with symbolic clasped hands and the words “Bear ye one another’s burdens”.
The scent of the flowers and the wonderful display of colour —pink and blue lupins, deep red geraniums, yellow and blue irises, roses, and rhododendrons, to name but a few of the blooms —made an unforgettable scene in the church. The service began with the singing of the National Anthem and the first hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell”. The Lesson was read by the Rev. W. L. Terrett, the Presbyterian minister, and prayers were offered by the Vicar, followed by the singing of “Oh God, our Help in ages past,” The Vicar then gave an interesting address to the congregation. _ A lot had happened in the world, he said, since the last ladies’ day, and what affected the world affected Neston. In September 1938, there had been a grave crisis and strange to say there had been a crisis in the very year in which the Society started, exactly 125 years ago. It seemed then that another European war was inevitable. Napoleon escaped the next year from Elba, and it all ended in Waterloo. In those days it took news long time to reach places like Neston. but nowadays things were different. We knew through our wireless sets what had happened at the other end of the world a few hours afterwards. They had in their houses something that they had not got this time last year. They had their gas-masks, and some of them were taking part in A.R.P. and other national services.
“That does not sound very cheerful speech for an occasion like this,” the Vicar continued, “ but I have a reason for reminding you about it. We pray that we may never use those gas-masks, but how much are you praying about it? There were lots Prayers offered during the time of the crisis in the Autumn, and that would have been an excellent thing if it had lasted. What is wanted is regular faithful prayer.” Urging the congregation to pray for peace, the Vicar said that if they believed in Christ they must surely pray; for the leaders of the nations needed their prayers. He then referred to the ringing of the noonday bell at Neston Church, and declared that as early 1715 there had been a ringing of those bells for the victory at Preston and the defeat of the Old Pretender. Those bells had rung for victory and war. Now each day at noon they were rung as a call to prayer for the peace of the world, and it would be a grand thing if everybody in Neston would say a prayer at that time regularly day by day.
The service concluded with the singing of “Praise my Lord, the King of Heaven.” The organist was Mr. A. B. Coleman, Chester. The members then walked by another route to the Cross, passing on their way Neston’s centenarian, Mrs. Hancock, who watched the procession from her home in Church-road, and received, to her great delight, a special salute. At the Cross, God save the King was played, and then the happy cavalcade marched up the hill to the Institute which was gay with multicoloured flags and bunting. Staffs were laid aside and children and grown-ups sat down at the long trestle tables to enjoy a hearty tea.
Afterwards, Mr. Richardson proposed and Mrs. Troughton seconded a vote of thanks to the Vicar for conducting the service, and presiding over tea. The Rev. F. L. M. Bennett, in reply, stated that the membership the Society was now 92, and next year he hoped it would be 100. There were over 100 members the Juvenile Section. He then referred to the great work of Mr. Metcalffe, the former secretary, and expressed gratitude on behalf of the Society for what he had done. They were also grateful to the Management Committee, and to the auditor for all the trouble they had gone to. A sadder note he said, was struck by the fact that they had lost an old and valued member, Mrs. Annie Archer. She had been connected with the Society for 42 years, and he would like to express his sympathy with her family in the double loss they had sustained this year. He hoped that the Ladies’ Club would go on for another 125 years. (Applause.)
Mrs. Smith proposed a vote of thanks to the doctors for the generous work they had done for the Society. After tea the day was only half over for the older ones, for there was still the fun of the fair in Raby-road, and a dance in the Institute in the evening. The sounds of merriment echoed well into the night and they listened to them Mr. Tilley and his stalwart band of workers must have felt amply rewarded for their months of preparation and devoted work.
[Image copyright Trinity Mirror, article accessed online via The British Newspaper Archive, http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ NB this is a subscription based service but articles may be access via Find My Past which is available for use, free of charge, in most Cheshire libraries]