NOSTALGIA: Clitheroe Torchlight processions celebrate coronations

Clitheroe Torchlight 2012 logo
Clitheroe Torchlight 2012 logo

AUGUST this year will see the revival of a long-held Clitheroe tradition, when the town stages its first Torchlight procession for a decade.

A packed weekend of activities is planned, and in the months leading up to it we are looking back at the long history of the Clitheroe Torchlight.

tongue in cheek: The procession banner of the 'Low Moor bacon eaters'.

tongue in cheek: The procession banner of the 'Low Moor bacon eaters'.

Here is Community Heritage Manager Sue Holden’s latest article:

The 20th century saw the Coronation festivities of four monarchs in England and Clitheroe held a Torchlight Procession for each and every one.

The first of these was for the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. The mock corporations are all represented – Worston, Cheshire and Wilkin, who managed to get Lady Godiva to ride on their float – rumour has it she is coming again this year! One of the features of the torchlight processions is that reading them can give an insight of what was happening in the England of the time. Boers and Britons are fraternising in the “Cheshire” entry, a reference to the recent British victory over the Dutch in the Boer War in South Africa.

A whisper from Wilkin laments the fact: “We’ve got a new bridge with a memorial stone, but the date to put on it is not yet known. This will be settled by the Corporation, when the work is finished – maybe next Coronation”.

All aboard: The 1953 Torchlight float from local business Thornbers, featuring Britannia herself.

All aboard: The 1953 Torchlight float from local business Thornbers, featuring Britannia herself.

This was a reference to the fact that, as early as 1883, a new bridge for Wilkin had been proposed, but the Council was arguing over who should pay for it. Although the stone is inscribed 1901, it must have been later than 1902 when the bridge was completed.

This programme has the first mention of the “Low Moor bacon eaters”, but no mention yet of the pig. However, the banner has appeared, and we know this was painted by well-known Low Moor resident Elijah Bolton. Elijah was an accomplished artist and apparently took photos of his subjects in summer so he could paint them in winter when the weather was too bad to paint outdoors. The reference to bacon stems from the fact every household in Low Moor was reputed to keep a pig in a sty at the bottom of the garden.

The next Coronation was in 1911 for King George V. The Royal Borough of Parson Lane has appeared, and they had their own ceremonial arch to mark their territory. The first mention of the Low Moor Pig appears, he is just “a pig on wheels” at this time.

The Borough of Wilkin has separated from Cheshire this year and has Adam and Eve in Wilkin Gardens, where the famous tobacco is grown for the Adam and Eve cigars – “when you’ve had ‘em, you heave!”

The 1937 Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth was held in May of that year. The usual suspects appear; the Morris dancers whose verse begins “Twinckley, Twinckley, little feet” a play on the name of the gentleman who had begun and trained the dancers for many years, Mr Bernard Winckley.

Among many references to local events within the rhymes is a plaintive one from Newton and Slaidburn – (or Light and Shade), a reference to the fact Newton had been connected to the National Grid in 1936, but Slaidburn still relied on oil lamps until 1942. A long list of the names of all the fireworks in the display at the end of the procession closes the programme.

Finally, the programme for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 is from the Borough of Clitheroe and the Garden City of Upbrooks, a probable reference to the new towns which were being created in England to alleviate housing shortages after the Second World War.

This year has the first appearance of floats from local businesses, James Thornber, Southworths, William Westhead, Bowker Brothers, Ashworth and Smith, Searsons, Sun Street Mill and Lancaster Hosiery all feature in the programme. Most of those have long since gone, but shown here is a photo of Thornber’s float, featuring Britannia.

If anyone was involved in a float for any of the local businesses and has the photos to prove it we would love to have copies of them for the library collection. Don’t forget the coffee morning at Clitheroe Library this Saturday, April 21st, at 10 a.m., all welcome.