Sunday School Queens, Carnival Queens and the like were common place before the war, but the post-war reintroduction of a May Festival in the town took place in 1947 by The Salvation Army. It was, in particular, started by Major Beth Hunter, a retired Salvation Officer (a former full-time minister) and by ‘Auntie Beattie’ (Mrs Cooper) who had charge of all the Young People, including the large and very active Sunday school.
Initially the event was not held during Whit week but was indoors on a Saturday evening in May with a repeat on the following Monday. The pattern of an outdoor crowning ceremony, followed by an extended indoor programme became normal but it was not until 1952 that Whit-Monday became the day to hold the crowning ceremony in the Market Place. Evening performances on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were in the in the Salvation Army Hall in Maltby Lane, but changed to the former Primitive Methodist Chapel in Queen Street, when it became the Salvation Army Citadel. The festival was held each year until 1989 when a severe reduction in the number of children attending made it impossible to continue the event.
The queens were always the important part of the proceedings and were chosen on merit. Their ‘reign’ was for one year.
There were many other ‘regular’ positions including a herald, crown bearer, sceptre bearer, maids of honour, train bearers, bodyguards, representatives from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales - and many, many ‘visitors to the court’ (Maypole dancers, singers, ‘flower girls’, timbrellists, Young Peoples Band and Singing Company, and others). In many of the years there were more than ninety children involved and each one had some little task to do.
‘May Festival’ was a big occasion and, as can be imagined, took a great deal of preparation and work by the large team of Sunday School Teachers and helpers. No sooner was one Festival completed than work began on the next. It had to be decided who was to be the queen and who would be suitable for all the other roles – what outfits were to be chosen and made? – what was the script to be? – what songs would be used? – who would teach the children their various tasks? – and what of the myriad of all the other requirements?
By the time Whit Monday came along all was ready, although the morning was spent preparing a tea for the scholars and visitors from other places. The weather for each of the 43 festivals was good and it was rare to get rain. In fact only once had the afternoon event to be held in the Salvation Army hall. The Senior Band was always on the parade and provided music at all the evening festivals.
The known United Sunday School Queens included Brenda Ramsden (Methodist) in 1939, Eileen Matthews in 1938, Ethel Bell (Salvation Army) in 1936, and a Miss Atkinson in 1934. These were supported by a retinue of other young ladies, two from each of the Sunday Schools.
It is thought that the first year there was a queen was 1934, although
the Whitsuntide Sunday schools event started about 1905.
The Salvation Army held an event, ‘May Festivals revisited’ on Saturday 9th April 2005. The event was open to the public and many who took part in any of the festivals attended. Many photographs were displayed from 10 a.m. and during the day light refreshments were available. There was a video of the 1984 festival shown in the evening.