Maypole dancing in the Vicarage garden following a Flower Festival probably in the 1930s.
There was great excitement at St Chad’s Home for Waifs and Strays in 1894 when a large hamper of flowers arrived from Aysgarth (see below). The bouquets had been presented by children at the Flower Service at St Andrew’s Church. A year earlier the Vicar, the Rev Fenwick Stow, reported that 300 children had attended the service. It seems incredible now that there were so many children in Aysgarth parish.
The children came from their small village schools (there were five at that time – at Aysgarth, Carperby, West Burton, Cross Lanes and Bishopdale) not just for the Flower Services but also for the teas and sports at the Vicarage (now Stow House) afterwards. They, with their families and friends, obviously had a great time and as well as bringing a lot of joy into the lives of the girls at St Chads in Headingley, Leeds, as can be seen from this letter published in the August 1894 edition of the Aysgarth Parish Magazine:
Please’m Matron says, will you come down and see the flowers? Oh! they are so lovely, and such lots of ‘em.
I gladly obeyed the summons and went down, and this is what I saw – A large table on which were several buckets filled with flowers of every hue – surrounded by eager faces, some hands-filled with flowery treasures, while those who had not yet secured any looked with longing eyes at the great bunches still unappropriated; but soon there was not a child without a flower, and it was amusing to see what each chose, and to hear the chatter – one little mite rejoicing in a huge peony which she had pinned on her pinafore, and remarking to anybody who would listen to her ‘Oh, my! isn’t it a beauty?’
‘Forget-me-nots,’ says a voice, and there is a rush for the happy finder. ‘Look at my button-hole’ from the irrepressible wearer of the peony – and acting upon the idea thus suggested, the Matron says, “Now, I will give a prize to the girl who makes the prettiest button-hole.’
Great is the excitement and the rush for flowers, and when any one has found a special treasure, one is reminded of the happy chicken in the poultry-yard who has secured a dainty tit-bit, only to be pursued by his envying companions and with neither time nor chance to enjoy the prize. But here there is enough for all, and soon the excitement settles down into earnest business – and now some have finished and everybody thinks everybody else’s is better than theirs, and there is much speculation.
One dark-eyed girl has a really artistic spray, a bunch of pansies, which must have won the prize, only she, alas is in disgrace and so cannot compete.
When all have finished, and their folded names are fastened to their respective bunches, they are laid on white paper, and very pretty they look. ‘Quite a flower show’ someone remarks. Then every one is turned out of the room while the judges (who have not been in the room during the arrangement) perform their office – a difficult one – for the merit is very even . The excitement and impatience outside is extreme, and when we are allowed to come in again, there is dead silence in the orderly line round the room, though the sparkling eyes speak plainly enough.
The momentous decision is given – a sweet little bunch of yellow, white and dead-pink daisies takes the first prize, and two others receive a second and third. Not a murmur of discontent is heard from the unsuccessful ones. They don their bunches, and think themselves very smart indeed. The proposal of a future competition in which the Matrons shall also compete, their exhibits to be judged by the prize-winners among the girls is received with acclamation – and so ends a happy evening.
All this pleasure was the result of a gift of flowers, and we feel sure that who send us, and others, hampers of flowers will like to know how much pleasure they give and how their beauty softens our girls and brightens their lives.
The writer continued:
It is much to be wished that our friends at Aysgarth, who so generously responded to their Vicar’s appeal could have been present at St Chad’s Home when their offerings were unpacked. The excitement and interest of the girls and children who were privileged to be present, was fully shared by the Matrons notably by the one-in-charge of the kitchen, who remarked ‘This butter has just come in the nick of time for I had none to send up for tea! Eggs! More eggs! Eggs again! Oh, look a these lovely brown ones – (and at those packed in moss) arn’t they pretty.’
Eggs were the special feature (39 dozen) and much we have enjoyed them since, that is some of them, for the greater number have been subjected to some mysterious process by means of which they will keep till Xmas (always supposing we do not eat them before then).
The clothing was eagerly seized upon by the clothing Matron. The biscuits, sweets, toys, and other good things gladdened the eyes of all, and we felt, as we watched the happy faces and eager hands, what a privilege it was to be able to give so much pleasure.
The Rev Stow reported that year about the Flower Service:
The Church was full, almost all the children of the parish and many adults were present. Before the sermon, while hymns were being sung, the children marched up the middle aisle each bearing a bouquet of flowers, and many of them also parcels of clothing, eggs, butter, money &c., as offerings in aid of the Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays. In addition about £4 was collected.
During the service the sun had been shining brightly, but after all had assembled in the Vicarage garden unfortunately a very heavy shower occurred. However, all got their tea either inside the house or out of doors as soon as the rain ceased. After this Miss Hill, one of the secretaries for ‘Waifs and Strays’ spoke a few words before a large and attentive audience about those for whom the society carries on its noble work.
The company then adjourned to the field in front of the house where the children held their athletic sports. A nice sum was collected for prizes and some exciting races were run. All seemed in good spirits and enjoyed themselves heartily. After a few speeches and cheers the proceedings terminated.
The flowers were sent, some to the Leeds Infirmary; some to St Chad’s Home for Waifs and Strays; and some to Stockton-on-Tees.
The church has copies of its parish magazine dating back to 1892. In 1892 it was reported: ‘A flower service was held at Aysgarth Church on Thursday June 30th. Each child brought a bouquet of flowers – six hampers of which were afterwards sent to the Leeds Infirmary. After the service the children of the parish and many of their parents and other adult parishioners had tea at the Vicarage. In all about 300 sat down. The weather was fine and it was a bright and pleasant occasion.’
It’s possible that was the first flower service at Aysgarth for the following year the vicar wrote: ‘Our flower service was held on Tuesday June 20. A still larger number of children attended than in 1892. Indeed there was scarcely a child in the parish absent. The quality of the flowers showed improvement. Many of our young friends must have taken a great deal of trouble to procure such charming bouquets.’ A shortened form of service was used and the address (by the Precentor of Ripon Minster) was ‘simple but admirable’.
Everyone – including 300 children – then adjourned to the Vicarage garden for tea and an afternoon of sports organised by the ‘gentlemen of the parish’ who gave handsome prizes to the boys and girls. And at the end of the afternoon each child was presented with a toy. These included 100 dolls which had been dressed at the Vicarage with the assistance of a ‘working party’ of friends. These, it was said, ‘delighted the motherly hearts of the little girls’. The other gifts included bats, balls, scissors, work baskets and musical instruments.
The Rev Stow added: “Quite a number of parishioners gave gratuitous help on the occasion which was indeed everybody’s treat.’ Two hampers of flowers were sent that year to the Leeds Infirmary and one to the York County Hospital.
The following year the church began supporting St Chad’s for, as the Rev Stow said in 1895, the flower service provided an ‘opportunity for our children who have happy homes to contribute to the welfare of those poor children who have no homes, or those who, whether they have homes or not, are cruelly treated. Children are invited to bring as offerings eggs or butter, toys or articles of clothing, or anything else ornamental or useful, in addition to their bouquets of flowers.’
Even more children attended the service in 1895 and the fun, the vicar said, carried on till after sunset. In June 1898 the entertainment went on into the evening thanks to a concert by the West Burton Brass Band. The Rev Stow commented again on how so many helped to make the day so successful and enjoyable. And that year participants could buy copies of photographs of those at the tea and sports.
No flower services were held during World War I but were resumed in 1919. For many years after that war the music in the evening was provided by the Hawes Band. It is not clear when the church stopped holding the services although it is likely that occurred during World War II.
The Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays (shortened to The Waifs and Strays Society) was founded in 1881 and by 1902 was caring for over 3,000 children in 90 homes. In 1946 it became the Church of England Children’s Society and i n 1982 that was further shortened to The Children’s Society. It continues to be Britain’s largest child support society having adapted to the needs of our modern society and now helping those from all faiths and backgrounds.
Maypole photo: from scrapbook of the late May Tunstall with kind permission of Tunstall family
Church Monthly annuals with kind permission of Aysgarth PCC
Group photo outside the Vicarage on a flower service day c 1900: the original was from the Rev Stow and reproduced in Marian and John Kirby’s ‘Aysgarth Church – Odd bits of history and some of its people’ published by John Kirby in 2009, with kind permission of Matt and Liz Kirby