A Chapter in the History of Hebden Sports
The origins of Hebden Sports have been lost in the mists of time, but tradition has it that it started out in the nineteenth century as "Hebden Feast", and has always been held on August Bank Holiday. This sounds feasible, as the August Bank Holiday was created by the 1871 Bank Holiday Act. However, Pat Hodgkins unearthed an early Ibbotson's Institute accounts book that indicates that the history of Hebden Sports is more complex and episodic than that. This accounts book started life as the "Hebden Gala Book", and it describes an early chapter of Hebden Sports that lasted just five years. Hebden Gala was then normally held on the Friday closest to the solstice, and ran from three in the afternoon, presumably so that the children wouldn't miss too much school, with dancing continuing until the small hours of the following day.
The story starts in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. This was generally celebrated in the country on June 22nd which had been declared a public holiday for the purpose, but for some reason, Hebden chose to hold its festivities two days later. The occasion was described in the Craven Herald:
"The Jubilee Festivities of this quiet little village were held on Thursday, June 24th, and it proved the most joyous, unanimous, and social gathering that has been held in Hebden for many years, each one seeming to strive as to who could most contribute to the happiness of others, and the result was a complete success. The Carleton Brass Band arrived in the afternoon and enlivened the village with its musical strains. A procession was formed about 3:30 through the village, consisting of band, children, and townspeople. On the bridge was sung the National Anthem. Adjournment was then made to the school-room, where the whole of the inhabitants of Hebden and Hartlington Moor Side were invited to an excellent free tea. The children were then presented with Jubilee mugs, given by Mr and Mrs Nowell, of Linton; and medals by Mr Eddy, of Carleton (the Church Sunday scholars and teachers had previously received beautiful medals from Mr Bowdin). After all had partaken of tea from 4 to 6:30 p.m, they went to a field, kindly put at their disposal by Mrs Armitage, where sports were well entered into, and dancing gave enjoyment to those who wished in the tent till about 12:30 a.m. when the bandsmen left; others stayed on until 2:00 a.m. Supper was partaken of from 9 to 11. All passed off satisfactorily."
The township's folk also thought the festivities a success, for the introductory blurb in the Hebden Gala Book reads "A very happy successful and altogether pleasant day was spent at Her Majesty's Jubilee, and having a small Balance in hand it was then and there resolved if possible to make it an annual event.", and at a meeting on May 20th 1898 held in the schoolroom, it was resolved to hold a Gala on Friday, 24th June of that year. The Committee included some familiar names: Stockdale, Kitching, Moore, Waddilove, Clough, and a trio of Bowdins.
The Burnsall Band were engaged for the occasion for the sum of £2 15s, and a marquee, hired from Arncliffe for £3, was raised in the croft next to the Clarendon for dancing. The sports events, also held in the croft, included Children's Races, a Tug of War, Novelty Races, High Jump, a Fell Race, and novelty events including a 'Smoking Contest'. Prize money amounted to £2 13s 7d. The band played from 3.00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. The day cost a total of £14 10s 1d, but receipts from subscriptions and admission charges allowed a surplus of almost £10 to be taken through to the next year.
The 1899 Hebden Gala was held on Friday, June 16th. This time the Grassington Temperance Band was engaged to provide the music, and Professor le Phred was engaged to entertain with his Punch and Judy show. Donkey rides were also available, at 3d a go. Unfortunaterly, there are no details about the sporting events. Again the proceedings were considered to have gone well:
"A procession was formed near the Clarendon Inn of school children, the donkeys ridden by the children. These were followed by the lady waiters in white caps and being a lovely sunny day all looked bright and cheerful. These being led by the band these played to the Hall and then back to the field when Le-Phred amused them till tea time at 4:30. A rush was now made to the tea tables - scholars free, and ample justice was soon done to the food things(?) provided. Sports etc. were kept merrily till nearly 10. When dancing was indulged in in the marquee till 2 a.m. and brought to a close, a very happy day. No policeman there and none required."
The marquee came from Arncliffe, where it had been bought for their allotment keepers' annual show. It was hired out to neighbouring villages for £2, and it provided a service from at least 1893 until 1922.
The gala was financially viable, and over £14 was carried forward to the next year.
The 1900 Hebden Gala was held on Friday, June 22nd. The Burnsall band were engaged to provide the music for £5, and an entertainment group by the name of Bartous Company were engaged to provide the entertainment. The list of field events included 150 yard open flat races (open, local and ladies), 440 yard open flat race, a mile bicycle race for which the prize was £1, various novelty races, tug-of-war, a greasy pole, and the high jump. There was no fell race, and no mention of races for the children. A total of £7 6s 6d was given out as prize money. The Gala Book account of the proceedings reads as follows:
"The field this year looked particularly pleasing, all being neatly and nicely arranged and great credit is due to the above committee for the care and forethought they showed.
"At 4 p.m. the band marched up the Village, playing by the bridge, and again by the school, marching back again to the field where a goodly company quickly gathered around Mr. Burtou's Company, and were kept amused till 4:30. The school children (free) tea'd in the tent, and the adults in the School. This proved a large affair and the ladies were kept well employed. Mr. Burtou's Co. again kept attention, and were highly delighted with Yauks (?) the Negro comedian, who was exceeding clever and who was well supported by Mrs. Sandell, vocalist and mandolin. Prof. de Lyle's manipulations were not by any means equal to the foregoing. Altogether they proved a very able party.
"The sports were nicely carried out by the Committee.
"Many thanks were due to the attention of Sergeant McDonnell and his subordinates who looked well after the field etc.
"The band gave god satisfaction. Dancing was kept up briskly till 2 a.m., and finishing with the National Anthem, bringing to a close socially, but not financially one of the most enjoyable days Hebden Folk have had.
"Omission: Supper was very well attended and greatest credit is due to the ladies for the very able manner in which they did their work."
The 1900 Gala made a loss of about £6, reducing the amount carried forward to 1901 to £8 11s 9d.
A full description of the 1901 Hebden Gala is not included in the Hebden Gala Books, but we can glean a little from the minutes and the accounts. It was held on 18th June, a Tuesday. A requirement was proposed that the band should be not less than 16 players, and the Burnsall band were engaged for £4 15. No entertainers were hired on this occasion. For the first time, the event was advertised in the local paper. The Fell Race was added back into the sporting fixtures, and there was also a Shooting Match ("right hand barrel only to be used"!) with a first prize of a copper kettle, and the second prize a teapot. From the minutes it is pretty clear that tea was again provided free to the scholars, and that there was probably dancing in the marquee.
The date of the 1902 Hebden Gala is not given in the Gala Book, but it was almost certainly held on Thursday 26th June or Friday the 27th June. It was designated a Coronation Festival, celebrating Edward VII's coronation which was originally scheduled for the 26th June, with both days being designated Bank Holidays. As it happened, King Edward's health meant that the Coronation was postponed until August, but he insisted that planned regional celebrations should go ahead as planned.
The following account in the Gala Book speaks for itself, but it is worth noting that in addition to the Grassington band, a piano and pianist (probably Christopher Tattersall, the postman) and the "Hebden String Band" were also engaged - at a cost of £3 10s, 14s 6d, and 12s respectively:
"In the year 1902 the Gala took place as a Coronation Festival. The balance belonging to Gala remained intact as it was carried on with a fund gathered from several sources for the sole purpose of a Coronation fete. It was decided that what balance might be in hand after paying all expenses should be given to the school which is in debt.
"The affair was a thorough success and all the children besides being free for the day being presented with a China Coronation Mug. All the Villages were free to tea and Gala. Visitors however paid for their tea as shown in the accounts. After the Sports etc. a Supper and Dance took place at a nominal charge, these were well patronised and brought to a close a very enjoyable affair."
As an aside, we know from the Craven Directories for a number of years after the coronation that certain residents took to calling Chapel Lane, where they lived, "Coronation Street". It was obviously very unoffical, as Sarah Joy, who in 1911 declared herself as living in Coronation Street in the Craven Directory, whilst the 1911 Census firmly places her in Chapel Lane.
The last page of this chapter was the 1903 Hebden Gala. Again, it was a special occasion as it coincided with the opening of the Ibbotson Institute on Saturday, 27th June. Except for the initial opening ceremony, it followed the format of previous years. Items of interest from the accounts include the fact that getting on for £2 was spent on advertising in the Craven Herald and the Pioneer; the Grassington band was once again engaged to provide the music for £4 10s; and Christopher Tattersall, the postman, was engaged to play his piano for 15s. There are also itemised the purchasing of prizes for sports events from Fattorini (7s 6d), Birdsall (£1 1s), Manby's (£1) and Bainbridge (9s). It is known that Mr. Whitley Thomson, M.P. was presented with a silver key after he had opened the Institute, and it is possible that accounts for the purchase from Fattorini's. However, for the first time the Gala made a small loss of 30s., and whilst the books were still showing a surplus this had an affect on future decisions. The Gala Book describes the proceedings:
"Gala held on June 27/1903. The Gala held on this date was coupled with an interesting event in the Village, namely the opening of the new Ibbotson Institute or Reading Room. This has filled a long felt want in the village and is much appreciated by the villagers in general. F. Whitley Thomson Esq. M.P. member for the division performed the opening ceremony, there a goodly company had assembled to watch in spite of a rather showery day. Immediately after the Room was declared open, all adjourned to the Schoolroom where a very good tea was provided, followed by sports, the day being terminated by a supper and dance. The Gala, however, although a success in other ways was a failure financially, the profits if there had been any were to go towards the Institute. There was an adverse balance however of over 30s."
This was to be the last Hebden Gala for some time. In January 1904 a Committee Meeting was assembled where a proposal "that the affairs of the Gala be wound up as they seem to be getting too common in the district and can barely pay their way" was carried unanimously, and it was agreed to hand over all assets to the Institute to be spent on a Billiard Table for the use of its members.
It is not known for sure when the Gala / Sports Day was next revived, although there is a section in the Institute's 1911 accounts devoted to expenses incurred for George V's Coronation festivities on June 22nd. The festivities included sports (unspecified), entertainment by the Colne Concert Party, Christopher Tattersall providing music on his piano, a violinist, coronation mugs for the children, and a dance on Friday 23rd June.
Inconclusive evidence from programme notes and the odd comment in the minutes of the Sports Committee for 1938 indicate that it was reincarnated in its present form in 1921, with a gap from 1939 to 1945 for the Second World War, 2001 for the foot and mouth epidemic, and 2020 for the Covid-19 epidemic. The May 1938 minutes record a vote of thanks to Richard Holmes who had been Treasurer since 1921, and there is a record of a Jim Leeming winning the fell race in 1922. The earliest extant programme dates from 1923. It is almost certain that it has been held on August Bank Holiday since its reincarnation, but it was originally held in Sedbers Field at Townhead, and didn't move to the Powder House Field until 1955, which was deemed to be drier. The most radical change was in 1966 when six ladies were invited become members of the Committee.
The Sports Committee were very put out by an article in the Guardian in 1968, which said "One has to give or take a lot of things in Hebden Sports. It uses a whistle for starting races, and the new-fangled stopwatch has yet to reach this part of Upper Wharfedale. And nobody was quite certain to a minute or two, what the record was for the senior fell race." They took the comments to heart, and two years later acquired a stopwatch. They also began to record the winners of the Fell Race!
There was a minor drama at the 1973 sports day when the minutes report that "Questions arose about the two accidents on the Sports Field when two children broke their arms. One occurred by a fall in the high jump,and the other from a fall from the pony. The secretary reported that each child had been sent a £1 with a Get Well Card - the money being given by Mr. R.A. Stockdale."