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  High Days and Holidays


One hundred years ago, the pleasures of life were much simpler than they are today (2009); even though wages were low and many families suffered great hardship, people knew how ‘to let their hair down’ and enjoy themselves. Until the early years of the 20th century, people made their own entertainment; there was no radio or television, no computers or sophisticated toys and, therefore, great imagination was called for in organising social and celebratory activities.  

(Please click on each of the section headings in the article below for further details)

Annual Festivals and Celebrations

Traditionally high days and holidays were governed by the dual influence of the seasons and the Christian calendar; however, some of our festivals have their origins in pagan rituals. Christmas is celebrated at the same time of year, as the Winter Solstice, the Germanic feast of Yuletide and the Roman Saturnalia, and many of its modern traditions, such as decorating the house with greenery and lights, the Yule log and feasting have their origins in these pagan festivals. During Victorian times, Christmas became a family celebration with new customs of exchanging cards and presents, visits from Santa Claus, and decorated trees - made popular by Prince Albert. 

The agricultural year began on Plough Monday – the first Monday after the feast of the Epiphany, January 6 – with farm workers returning to the work after Christmas; this was accompanied by much feasting and frolicking. Shrove Tuesday followed with pancakes and races, and gave way to the austerity of Lent, which ended with Easter celebrations of eggs, fairs and games ushering in both Spring and the Resurrection. 

Originally May Day celebrations were unashamedly pagan: it was a festival of youth and fertility with garlands, May dolls and Maypole dancing. It was revived in Victorian times with the old pagan influences being replaced by moral celebrations; it became essentially a children’s festival with parades, organised displays of Maypole dancing and the crowning of the May Queen.  Until the post-war years, May Day celebrations were always popular in village and rural communities throughout the country, and Tickhill was no exception.  

Whitsunday brought Whit walks and parades, fairs and new clothes for children, and was followed by midsummer, whose rituals were once again shrouded in pagan rites; in Autumn the last cartloads of the harvest were celebrated by feasting and dancing - Harvest festivals, however, were a relatively new idea.  In 1843, the Rev. Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall revived the ancient thanksgiving of Lammas, which had originally been held on August 1 when the first wheat was harvested; the date was moved to October when harvesting was complete. The custom rapidly spread to other parts of the country; churches were elaborately decorated and thanks were given for a fruitful harvest. The year ended with Hallowe’en and Bonfire night. 

Like other villages and rural communities throughout the country, Tickhill people celebrated these events in a similar way. 

Agricultural Shows

People in agricultural areas have always taken great pride in their crops and livestock and, in turn, took great pleasure in displaying them at the local agricultural show. These ranged from the national Royal Show, which first came to nearby Doncaster in 1891 and returned at intervals until 1912, to small local shows, such Tickhill Agricultural Show. Competitions for best breeds of livestock, crops, fruit, vegetables and flowers, tugs-of-war and displays of ploughing, together with fairground rides and sideshows were all part of the eagerly anticipated annual event.   

Feasts and Fairs

Feasts and fairs were traditionally held to celebrate the patronal festival of the parish church or the sale of livestock, or in the case of the annual Michaelmas hiring fairs – people! Originally, they were a time of feasting and fun accompanied by colourful events such, as cock fighting, bull and bear baiting, wrestling and - drunken revelry. However, like May Day celebrations, the worst excesses were curbed in Victorian times and they became more respectable, family events, bringing colour and excitement into the drabness and routine of everyday life. 

Every community had its fair whether large or small; they were characterised by fairground rides and sideshows, dancing displays’, food and drink, together with sporting events and other competitions. 

Today (2009), most villages and rural communities hold an event, which combines elements of the agricultural show, feast and fair. 

Bazaars and Garden Parties

Bazaars, garden parties, together with sales of work were an important, largely middle class, female activity, usually associated with church and chapel. The belief that all recreational activity should be of a moral and improving nature focused their time, dedication and energy towards charitable work and fundraising for missionaries. The Castle grounds and Sandrock House were popular venues for such events in Tickhill. 

National Events

Important events in the life of the nation presented an occasion for community celebrations; the national way to mark the declaration of peace, Empire Day, a coronation, jubilee or royal wedding was a joyous out door event. Towns and villages were decorated with flags, banners and bunting; in urban areas, people celebrated with street parties, sports, games, singing and dancing; in rural communities the village green - in Tickhill the Butter Cross and Market Place - or a local field were the centre for similar festivities.  

Schools and Sunday schools played a big part in organising the celebration of these events, which were often preceded by a service of thanksgiving before the commencement of the festivities. Empire Day, in particular, was primarily a schools’ festival. To mark these special occasions all school children received a memento, such as a mug, spoon or tin of toffees, from the Local Education Authority. 

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll in 1953 was the last national event to be celebrated nationwide in the traditional way. By the Silver Jubilee in 1977, television had come to dominate people’s lives, and whilst some communities celebrated with parties and festivities, most were happy to sit back and watch the national celebrations on ‘the small screen’.   


After a long, hard working day, sporting events and activities provided leisure and recreation for people both as participants and spectators. In the latter half of the 19th century, physical recreation became increasingly popular with young people, and the range of sports on offer expanded rapidly, largely due to support and encouragement from churches, chapels, Sunday schools and the YMCA. Sport was seen to have a positive effect on society, instilling a true sense of achievement, discipline and team spirit; whilst sport was occupying people’s leisure time, the working man was thought to be less susceptible to bad influences, such as drinking and gambling. 

The most popular sport was, undoubtedly, football: it was considered ‘the game of the working class’; cricket, rugby, tennis, golf and hunting were enjoyed mainly by the middle classes. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, amateur clubs representing most sports had been founded in towns and villages throughout the country. Local parks offered great opportunities for everyone, providing large open spaces for football, cricket and rugby, and facilities for tennis, putting and bowls.  

Tickhill offered a wide and varied range of sports for local people both to participate in and enjoy, which included football, cricket, hockey, skating, tennis, rugby, bowls, cycling and hunting. There were several sporting clubs, which played an important social, as well as recreational, part in a villager’s life.  


Like sport, music offered people the opportunity to participate or, in this instance, to listen. Community music making, both choral and instrumental, has been a popular activity since the 19th century; every church and chapel had its choir, and organisations from the pit to the factory and the Co-op to the Scouts had their own brass band  - between 1900 and 1950 no community event was complete without their presence. 

Music played an important part in people’s lives: from songs accompanied by the ‘whistle and fiddle’ in the local alehouse to the respectability of a family singsong around the piano, from the choral society to the local brass band, this was entertainment that could be enjoyed by all. 

Music has featured prominently in Tickhill for almost 180 years; it’s association with the brass band movement began in 1850, and it can boast an even longer tradition of choral music from the formation of Tickhill Choral Society c1832 and Tickhill Harmonic Society in 1849 to the more recent Tickhill & District Male Voice Choir in 1969 and, of course, St Mary’s Church choir.  


Until the late 20th century, a wedding was probably the most important event in most people’s lives – something they would always remember. It was the beginning of a new life with someone special: vows were made and rings exchanged in front of family and friends in church, chapel or registry office.

In the past, the choice of date was considered very important, and people heeded the saying ‘Marry in haste, rue for aye’; farm workers avoided harvest times and favoured autumn, winter or Easter. Although it was traditional for the bride to wear white, dresses were rarely bought specially for weddings until 19th century; until then the bride would wear her best dress, which was usually coloured. Flowers represented fertility: roses, lilies of the valley, lilies and orange blossom were all traditional, and myrtle was considered the luckiest; some brides chose flower girls carrying baskets of petals rather than bridesmaids; the tradition of throwing rice was also symbolic of a fruitful marriage.  

Until the late 19th century, the bridal procession went to church and back on foot. The feast or reception with the traditional wedding cake - the oldest of the nuptial rites originating since Roman times – followed, and the celebrations usually ended with singing and dancing. 

Day Trips, ‘Treats’ and Excursions

Until post-1918, simple pleasures, such as day trips to local beauty spots or further afield, were considered ‘high days’ for the working classes, they had neither the time nor the money to take a holiday, which was seen as the prerogative of the rich. These outings were usually arranged by Sunday Schools, the local pub, organisations, such as the Scouts, or by coach and charabanc operators, and visits to Doncaster beauty spots, such as Hexthorpe Flatts, Sandall Beat and Beechfield Park, or Roche Abbey, Clumber Park and the Dukeries were all popular with Tickhill people.   

At the beginning of the 20th century, increased wages and cheap travel made a visit to the seaside a distinct possibility for many people; railway companies realised there was a market in day trips for low-income families, and promoted the ‘cheap day return’, particularly at Bank Holiday weekends. Unprecedented crowds flocked to the seaside, with the east coast resorts of Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe, Bridlington, Filey and Scarborough firm favourites; by the inter-war years, many families were beginning to extend their stay and enjoy a short holiday at the seaside. 


In the past, all leisure and recreational activities were seen as family or community affairs; a great sense of community and team spirit prevailed, whether in organising celebratory events or sporting and musical activities. Life was less complex than today, and people took great delight from simple pleasures. 


Baker, Margaret, Folklore and Customs of Rural England. David & Charles. 1974.

Beastall, Tom, Tickhill: portrait of an English country town. Waterdale Press. 1995.

Christian, Roy, Old English Customs. David & Charles. 1971.

Doncaster Chronicle: various references

Doncaster Gazette: various references

Gordon, Sheila, Holidays. B.T. Batsford. 1972.

Harris, H.A. Sport in Britain: its origin and development. Paul.1975.

Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. Helicon Publishing Ltd. 1995.


Horn, Pamela, Pleasures and Pastimes in Victorian Britain. Sutton. 1999.


Mardsden, John, The Organ and Choir of St Mary’s Church Tickhill. Author.1994.


Purton, Roland, Festivals and Celebrations. Blackwell,1981.


Sauvain, Philip, Holidays and Pastimes. Wayland.1991.


Tickhill Jubilee Brass Band 1887-1939, compiled by Den Stockley. 1994.

Walvin, James, The People’s Games: the history of football revisited. Mainstream. 1994.

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