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Neston's Historic Ladies Day Walk

Published: 8th June 2013 11:19

Ladies Day in Neston takes place on the first Thursday in June.

Photos and reports of previous Neston Ladies Club Days (2008 onwards)

Neston Ladies Day 2011 - photo by Bernard Rose
Photo by Bernard Rose
                      

The History of Neston Ladies Club Day

Ladies WalkOn the first Thursday of every June, Neston echoes to the sound of festival as the ladies of the local Female Society walk in procession through the town, drawing sightseers in their hundreds from the surrounding district.

Formed in 1814 as a means of mutual self help for women, it was the first female friendly society in the country. By paying regular subscriptions the members were able to establish and maintain a fund, from which they could claim assistance in times of financial difficulty, such as sickness and old age.

The colourful anniversary walk keeps the society in the public eye and mind. They are led by a band. The kilts added even more colour. Brightly dressed women and girls form the long procession which makes its way down the High Street to the Parish Church. In their hands they carry the same white staves that are carried at funerals, but instead of black crepe they are garlanded with flowers and ribbons.

Traditionally the flowers are gathered from the members' own gardens. Red peonies, which are at their best in the Neston area during the early part of June, have become such a feature of the occasion that they are known locally as Ladies Day flowers. Before the procession two stalwarts bear the society's 7ft. square banner with its motif of clasped hands and text from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, "Bear Ye One Another's Burdens."

The Mayor in his robes and chain of office, members of the local clergy, and many other local dignitaries walk as the guests of the society.

Inside the church the scene is as colourful as that in the High Street, with flowers packed onto every ledge that will hold them. Before taking their seats the members of the society stand their staves in the umbrella holders at the end of the pews, transforming the aisles into avenues of flowers.

Within recent years, however, the society has assumed an additional importance, it is once more unique. All the other female friendly societies in the country have been disbanded, rendered obsolete by the welfare state. Only the ladies of Neston, conscious of their responsibilities as the guardians of a tradition, walk in the footsteps of the pioneers of 1814.

Geoffrey Place,
Local Historian.

Re-produced by kind permission of Valerie Place and Neston U3A - click HERE to visit the U3A website.

Our thanks to Andy Williams for the following two pictures of Neston 'Ladies Club' in 1910:

Neston Ladies Club 1910

Neston Ladies Club 1910

View more historic images of Ladies Day in "Days Gone By - Neston."

 

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Comments

Susan C
At 19:45 on 16th May 2014, Susan C commented:
In the interests of giving a true picture of the history of the Society can the statement above, namely : -- it was the first female friendly society in the country ---be removed please? It is incorrect and may well be used by other media. This was written several years ago, and more history has since come to light. Unfortunatley Geoffrey died while ago, but he was a stickler for accuracy and would have altered this.
collierman
At 16:17 on 22nd May 2014, collierman commented:
Susan C is, of course, perfectly correct in pointing out that the Neston Female Friendly Society (NFFS) was certainly NOT the first to be formed in the country; indeed, its creation was relatively late in a long catalogue of such societies in the UK. Earlier examples include Barwick-in-Elmet Female Friendly Society (near Leeds, founded in 1778), Stowey Female Friendly Society (Somerset, 1806), Wrington Female Friendly Society (Somerset, 1797) and St Albans Female Friendly Society (1803, or earlier). I have some memory of once seeing a reference to a FFS which formed as early as 1733 although I don’t seem to have kept a note of this. I think the idea that the NFFS was the first in in England may be traced to the BBC Domesday Project of 1986 where volunteers across the UK recorded their recollections of their local area for the use of future researchers. Certainly, someone in Neston at that time recorded the ‘it was the first’ comment. For anyone interested in knowing more about the history of Female Friendly Societies it is worth having a look at: ‘The Friendly Societies in England, 1815-1875’ Peter H. J. H. Gosden (Manchester University Press, 1961) and 'Self Help in Nineteenth-Century Wales: the Rise and Fall of the Female Friendly Society' [ in the periodical Llafur : Welsh People's History Society, Volume IV, No. 1 (1984)
Whilst we are about it, can we obliterate the suggestion that the NFFS was formed as a response to assisting local families who had family members serving during the Napoleonic conflicts? I don’t know where this idea originated – other than the coincidence of dates – but it doesn't appear to be backed by any substantive evidence. Does anyone out there know different? Let’s hope that the forthcoming exhibition in Neston library, and the proposed commemorative booklet, do not perpetuate these misconceptions but, rather, provide a deeper insight into the real story of this fascinating local Society.

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