Local Holidays & Wakes Weeks

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Wakes Weeks

1961 Press Cutting

The last week in July and the first week in August. known as the Blackburn Holidays, every mill, factory, and shop would close.

Wakes weeks were the annual holidays for the town when residents would have to opportunity to catch a bus or train and go away on holiday.

Extra trains would be laid on by the railway company, the most popular destination being Blackpool, in a bed and Breakfast house for a couple of weeks. Seaside, sand, and donkey rides, and if you were lucky sunshine as well!

Doing your local shopping during these two weeks would have proved to have been quite an adventure, all the shops being closed, and newspapers were sold from street corner stands with no local deliveries being made for the duration.

The creation of wakes weeks came from the mills and factories in the area, who made good use of the closure to carry out annual maintenance to their machinery and property without the need of moving people around the sheds.

The mills and factories were the biggest employers in the area for many many years, some employing hundreds of people in one place.

The two weeks summer break was first granted in 1952, extended the break by an extra week. For those who couldn't afford two weeks away some times one would suffice, and for those even more unlucky, charabancs were laid on by local coach companies. These were days out, often mystery trips, for there was little to do in the town itself!

On the 16th March 1961 the cotton workers of the district voted 1,517 to 396 in favour of the annual wakes weeks being in June.

Burnley had their holidays for 2 weeks after this, the same thing happening there.

The wakes weeks are now dying a death, the small local shops having to complete with the big multinationals, who stay open regardless of the time of year.

Even during the early seventies the special trains were still being laid on, calling at Burnley, Accrington, Rishton and Blackburn, before starting off to their destination. Parsons printers, up to the proprietors death in 1999, still closed for wakes weeks every year, but even that little shop full of tradition has gone from the High Street.

Why Wakes?

"So blithe and bonny now the lads and lasses are,

That ever as anon the bagpipe up doth blow,

Cast in a gallant round about the hearth they go,

And at each pause they kiss. Was never seen such rule

In any place but here at bonfire or at Yule;

And every village smokes at wakes with lusty cheer.

Then "Hey " (they cry) "for Lun and Lancasheere,"

That one high hill was heard to tell it to his brother,

That instantly agreed to tell it to some other."


It is necessary to distinguish between two ancient anniversaries. Every church at its consecration received the name of some patron saint, whose feast-day or festival became of course the festival of that church, which the people naturally celebrated with peculiar festivity. The day on which the edifice was actually dedicated was also kept as the established feast of the parish. These two feasts were clearly distinguished among the Saxons, and in the laws of Edward the Confessor the Dies dedica fionis is discriminated from the Fro sancli, that is, the dedication day was distinguished from the saint’s festival. These feasts remained till the Reformation; when, in 1536, the dedication day was ordered to be kept, and the festival of the saint to be celebrated no longer. Anciently the dedication day could not have been observed with the same regularity as that of the patron saint, which was denominated "the church’s holiday," and still remains in many parishes to the present time; while the dedication day is forgotten in most if not in all. The eve being of old considered a part of the day (Sunday commencing on Saturday at sunset), the services of the church commenced on the evening before the saint’s day, and were called vigils or eves, and, from the late hour, waeccan or wakes.

In a remarkable letter of Pope Gregory, written about the year 601, to the Abbot Melletus, he saysâ€""When, therefore, Almighty God shall bring you to the most reverend man our brother bishop, St Augustine, tell him what I have, upon mature deliberation on the affair of the English, thought of; namely, that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed. Let holy water be made, and sprinkled in the said temples; let altars be erected, and let relics be deposited in them. For since those temples are built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of the devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, not seeing those temples destroyed, may re move error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the same places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are wont to sacrifice many oxen in honour of the devils, let them, celebrate a religious and solemn festival, not slaughtering the beasts for devils, but to be consumed by themselves, to the praise of God. Some solemnity must be exchanged for them, as that on the day of the dedication or the suffering days [Natalitia] of holy martyrs whose relics are there deposited, they may build themselves booths of the boughs of the trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer beasts the devil." In compliance with these injunctions, in every parish, on the returning anniversary of the saint, little pavilions or booths were constructed of boughs, and the peopled indulged in them in hospitality and mirth. The feasts of the saint’s day, however, were soon abused; and even in the body of the church, when the people were assembled for devotion they began to mind diversions and to introduce drinking. The growing intemperance gradually stained the service of the vigil, and so scandalised the Puritans of the seventeenth century, that numbers of the wakes were disused entirely, especially in the east and some of the western parts of England; but they are commonly observed in the North, and in some of the midland counties. The wakes gradually led to the establishment of the commercial or trade marts which are called fairs. The people resorted in crowds to the festival, and a considerable provision was needed for their entertainment. This induced the little country hucksters and traders to come and offer their wares; and thus arising many temporary erections for hospitality in the neighbourhood of the church, various booths were set up for the sale of different commodities. In larger towns, surrounded by populous districts, the resort of people to the wakes would be great, and the attendance of traders numerous; and this resort and attendance constitute a fair. The festival being a feria or holiday, it took itself, and connected to the mart, the appellation of feria or fair. These fairs were generally held in churchyards, and even in the churches, and also on Sundays, till the indecency and scandal were so great as to need reformation.â€"-For this and additional information see Whitaker’s Manchester, vol. ii. 440-448.

The term wake means to wake up, and this what happened for 2 weeks every year, the inhabitants of the towns all woke up, even though the Northern industrial towns were all deserted and quiet.

But there is more, the Burnley holidays which follow the Blackburn holidays for 2 more weeks is known as wakes weeks because of the annual fair which was held there.

It is possible that the Blackburn holidays had a fair in Blackburn, one which is still held annually in Witton park during Easter time, or perhaps a pot fair was held in the town, whichever the explanation may be, it will be one of these!

IN WAKES WEEK, people had their annual reminder of how dirty was the normal atmosphere in town. "Except for that week, nobody really understood what clear skies were like. Then every factory was shut down; the shops were closed. At Burnley, if you hadn’t got a week’s supply of bread, you’d to walk either to Brierfield in one direction, or over to Padiham in another."

When the skies cleared, people went to the summit of Pendle Hill, or to a vantage point like Crown Point at Burnley, to look around: to ponder on Pennine high spots like Penyghent and Ingleborough, which would not be seen again for twelve months. It was said at Bolton that Wakes Week was the only time you could see the Welsh hills from the back of the town. It so happened that Leigh and Wigan were on holiday at the same time.

Pendle Hill was the attraction for thousands. "On Good Friday, we climbed Pendle Hill from Colne," said a local woman. "Each of us had a carrier bag with some butties and a bottle of water or milk; it depended on what we could afford. We went in clogs because they were warm. We were all singing as we walked through Barrowford to Barley, then on to the Big End of Pendle." A Burnley man told me of going through Newchurch to Barley, and afterwards walking on to Roughlee for a jug of tea in the old mill and a walk by the lake.

Such modest pleasures were for those who were not intending to go away for a holiday. Most people contrived to leave town. Blackpool was Mecca to them; others enjoyed quieter pleasures at Morecambe and St. Annes. Some embarked on steamers sailing from Fleetwood to the Isle of Man The stay-at-homes inhabited an almost empty town. Their friends "blew in" a year’s savings by the sea.

A Bolton man told me: "Everybody was in what was called a Diddle’ em Club. They put in so much a week and drew out the money just before Wakes Week. Every year, or so it seemed, someone ran off with the money belonging to one of the clubs. There would be a hue and cry for it. In the l930s you needed only £4 or £5 to take a family on a week’s holiday. For your digs, you’d pay about £2 for the week. If you were really posh you could have a private sitting room."

The railways were congested as Wakes Week began. A memory of Barracks Station, Burnley, as it was before the 1914â€"18 war, is of porters with sleeved waistcoats standing at the edge of the platform, urging the mass of people to stand back as a train arrived. "When the train came in, every window was packed with passengers looking out. Kids were hanging out, clutching their buckets and spades and bunches of flags. You had to fight to get a seat." The holiday was felt to have begun as the train left Preston. "All the children looked out of the window until one of them saw the Tower at Blackpool. Then there was a mighty cheer. Someone reported seeing the Big Wheel. A real shout went up â€" the sound carried all down the train."

Blackpool, Southport and Morecambe were the main holiday resorts for the cotton towns. Blackpool was far and away the most popular. It was created as a show centre with the Lancashire families mainly in mind. In 1919, some 10,000 people from Nelson alone stayed at Blackpool for at least four days. That same week, 1,000 people were at Southport and 500 made the crossing to the Isle of Man. The Blackpool landladies watched the hosts staggering to their front doors. The visitors had the familiar sight of a dining room window in which was set a table with the obligatory three bottles â€" brown sauce, tomato ketchup, vinegar.

It was customary for a family to take to Blackpool as much of their own food as they could manage to handle. Prepared well in advance, it was augmented by fresh food purchased at the resort. The family baking travelled in a tin trunk. Even the week’s supply of meat might be taken. The landlady would ask: "Are ter goin’ to board?" or "Do I do t’lot for thee?" Most families, very cost-conscious, merely took rooms and the landlady cooked their food for them.

Mill lasses, who had been saving for 51 weeks so that they could have a beano at Blackpool on the 52nd week, were determined to enjoy themselves. Some, with extravagance, hired a horse cab at Talbot Road station at Blackpool and were conveyed to Yates’s Wine Lodge, where port and lemon were ordered. A Bolton man remembers their determination to meet a boy. "Sometimes it led to better things; sometimes to worse things. If a group of girls went to a boarding house, it was likely there was a group of boys at the same digs. Each mill girl would talk for weeks afterwards about the boy she met at Blackpool." The evenings were spent dancing at the Tower Ballroom. "There was a very good dance band called Bertini’s, and Reginald Dixon presided at the theatre organ. The theme song of the Lancashire holidaymakers was: ‘I do like to be beside the Seaside’."

Outings to the seaside were possible in other than Wakes Week. Benevolent mill-owners treated their workers before the 1914â€"18 war. At Belmont, near Bolton, the management paid all expenses for a works trip to Blackpool in 1893, and the workforce was away from home for nearly 17 hours. The firm also arranged a trip to Wembley for the Imperial Exhibition. A number of enterprising families managed to acquire a second home in the country by having an old bus body tucked away somewhere. A field at Overhouses' Farm, at the bottom of Pendle, was covered by little huts and old buses.

Mill folk lacked the mobility that is taken for granted today. At Easter and times of national celebration, many hundreds of them walked from the cotton towns to the summit plateau of Pendle. Pedestrians visited Paythorne, by the Ribble, each November, on the day declared to be Salmon Sunday. They hoped to see some fish on the move.

The cycle provided many urban-dwellers with a cheap form of transport to selected rural beauty spots, often at considerable distances. A former cyclist recalls: "The ordinary people could scarcely afford to use the buses and trains, and the tram routes were rather limited. In my own case, the cycle meant I could get up to Ribblehead and Dent and be back home at night. Sixty miles a day was chicken feed. Sunday was the great cycling day because, remember, we were working in the mill till mid-day on Saturday."

Early vehicles, named charabancs, gave hundreds of people their first long excursions. "You climbed into a sort of toast-rack thing, with a door for every seat, and did a variety of tours. One of them was the Great North Round." In the days of solid tyres, a Burnley double- decker bus adventurously travelled with sightseers to York.

Deacons, of Belmont, were almost certainly the first company to take cloth from a Lancashire works they were bleachers and dyers to Manchester by steam lorry; the year was 1899. The distance between Belmont and the company’s offices in the city was 18 miles, and the lorry, with a four-ton load, made the trip comfortably in under four hours.

As railways began to lose the battle against road transport, some fabulous halfpenny-a-mile journeys were being offered.

Cricket, the main outdoor attraction in summer, drew thousands to the county matches. "Even the Lancashire League was high-powered stuff that received support from the masses," I heard at Nelson, where Leary Constantine was a professional. One visiting cricketer who bowled out Leary was told by an angry supporter:

"We’ve come to see Leary bat, not you bowl!" The crowd participated. One man, good at quips, shouted to a bowler: "Tha’s getten t’batsmen in two minds. He doesn’t know whether to clout thee for four or six!"

As the trade union laws changed for the working classes during the 1970's and 80's, giving the workers more flexible working hours, the annual wakes weeks began to fade. As the Millinium approached, Wakes weeks were no more, although the fortnight was still refferred to as 'Blackburn holidays' and 'Burnley holidays' well into the 2000's.

Easter Holiday.

Easter memories: Simple pleasures that greeted the first holiday of the year Looking Back, with Eric Leaver. WHAT'S your pleasure this Easter holiday - a run to the coast or a trip round the DIY warehouses? Few, I'll bet, will be dashing first thing to the local park with a view to grabbing a bench for the day. Yet just such a simple outing was what thousands of East Lancashire folk went in for not so very long ago when the first real holiday of the year arrived.

Back in 1939, we find the old Northern Daily Telegraph commenting on the phenomenon at Burnley. It worked out that though its five parks - Ightenhill, Scott, Queen's, Thompson and Towneley - accounted for only a 25th of the town's area, "they held a large proportion of the town's population, so that on Good Friday and Easter Saturday every seat in them was occupied by early morning." And though others headed by the thousand to the seaside - that year, 400 trains to the coast went through Preston each day over the weekend - for just as many, their outings were to spots much closer to home.

In 1939, for just 3½ pence Blackburn's townsfolk could by a cheap single to Wilpshire on one of the many special trains the LMS railway laid on to take ramblers to the countryside. Others went on foot. In Darwen, an old custom was a visit to the tiny school-chapel at Whittlestonehead which sold refreshments to Good Friday walkers. The fresh air and countryside around the sooty mill towns had long been the Easter escape for the workers, as seen in the picture above of Good Friday crowds of Burnley folk crossing the stepping stones over the River Calder at Ightenhill in Edwardian times. In the Ribble Valley, the riverbank alongside Brungerley Bridge at Clitheroe was also a big draw that day for picnickers who found boating, swinging boat rides and refreshments on offer there. Among those old-time East Lancashire trippers more than 70 years ago was 16-year-old Arthur Connell, of Great Harwood, who spent a lot of his working life loading canal barges with coal at the now-vanished Rishton pit. According to his recollections, recorded by his niece Mrs Olga Gilleard, of Blackburn Road, Rishton, the "in" place for a Good Friday outing was Whalley Nab.

An early start for the hike there was vital, once the supplies of sandwiches had been made, for those who arrived late could find nowhere to sit. At the Nab, there were swings for the children, an ice cream cart and a farmhouse selling jugs of tea. While the children frolicked and the women chatted, the men played an afternoon game of cricket.

Rishton's courting couples, however, the late Mr Connell recalled, went in for the more sophisticated treat of a "country run" on Sam Bailey's waggonette, with the lasses wearing white and shady hats to protect them from the sun. The all-day journey, stopping at pubs along the way, was made longer by driver Sam's concern for his horses. At every hill, passengers had to get out and walk and ease the load for the nags.

In the Burnley area, a trip to "Jack Moore's monkey" or a trek up Pendle Hill were traditions. Jack Moore's was a popular tea garden at the bottom of Barden Lane which had kiddies' rides and, of course, a monkey. That's long-gone now, as is the Pleasure Ground at Roughlee where the crowds enjoyed boating on the mill lodge, swinging boats and animals. East Lancashire's Easter pastimes, however, were not always so sedate. In the 1780s there existed a strange tradition of "lifting" or "heaving" that was believed to represent Christ's resurrection at Easter. The men lifted the women on Easter Monday by each arm and leg, three times into a horizontal position above their heads, and on the Tuesday the women lifted the men. It was a custom, described by a writer of the times as "a rude, indecent and dangerous diversion, practised chiefly in the public streets by members of the lower classes" and magistrates sent out bellmen to stamp it out.

Another custom was for boys decorated with ribbons and coloured paper and armed with wooden swords to go around "pace-egging" under the leadership of "Tosspot", a character with a soot-blackened face said to resemble Old Nick of the Norsemen. The custom varied from town to town. In Blackburn, where it took place on the Monday and finished on the Thursday before Easter week, young men used to dress up in disguises and go from house to house singing and dancing and accepting hospitality in the form of wine or ale. In 1842, it climaxed in a gang fight in the town in which a young man was killed.

But pace-egging prevailed in East Lancashire for at least another century. Brian Watts, 62, of Birch Terrace, Baxenden, recalls it still taking in the 1940s in the village. "It was mainly girls who took part," he said. "They dressed up in fancy costumes and put make-up on and they went knocking on people's doors and would break into song - usually 'Chick-chick-chick Chicken Lay A Little Egg For Me" in the hope of collecting a few coppers. The same sort of thing used to go on in Oswaldtwistle as well, I'm told." No doubt many of those coppers were spent on East Lancashire's top Easter tradition - the fair on Blackburn's old market square. The rides, sideshows and attractions formed more of Arthur Connell's boyhood memories - as did the cart at the corner selling two black puddings, pots full of black peas and roasted potatoes for just three halfpence. Such a big draw was the fair that on the opening Saturday, thousands forsook the seaside and countryside to be there - though the rides were dearer on the first day. In 1952 an estimated 150,000 went there on Easter Saturday.


Lancashire Legends by J. Harland & T. T. Wilkinson, Published by E. P. Publishing Limited 1973, ISBN 0 85409 851 8

Life In The Lancashire Mill Towns, by W. R. Mitchell. Dalesman Books 1982, ISBN 0 85206 704 6

Lancashire Evening Telegraph, Monday 24th March 1997