HUNMANBY’S “WIDOW SINGERS / WIDOWS PROCESSION”:
FIRST SATURDAY OF EACH NEW YEAR.
Circa. 1860 – 1946.
Originally the ‘WIDOW SINGERS’ were known as the ’LUSHINGTON BAND’ which originated somewhere about the 1840’s. Composed of village men and boys, they sang Christmas Carols each year and collected funds for various charitable reasons. For example, one was to provide a ‘chignon’ (wig) for an elderly Hunmanby woman. After a number of years this was extended to include all the village widows. Remember in the late nineteenth century there were no pensions or similar for widow-women.
Unless they had support from ‘family’ their prospects of regular food etc was limited.
Hence, after completing their round of carol singing at Christmas, on the first Saturday night of the New Year the collections were transferred into provisions such as flour, meat, sugar and similar necessities. These provisions were supplemented by anonymous gifts from tradesmen and those with a favorable living standard. Money was never included – all ‘gifts’ were of a consumer-able nature.
A procession was organized. Remember this was in January so it was dark.
Therefore the procession was illuminated by torchbearers. At the front rode a finely-dressed huntsman on a black mare (between the wars my uncle, Arthur Mowthorpe undertook this role on his black mare. After his death in summer 1945 his old friend Frank Stubbs led the 1946 procession. Unavailable for the last Widows Procession in 1947, Mr Railey who farmed on The Row did the honours). He was followed by the Hunmanby Brass Band (after 1922 the Hunmanby Silver Band).
Then came a colourful gaggle of decorated carts, (motor lorries in later years), decorated bicycles and even perambulators. Finally, the youths/lasses of the village in decorated fancy costumes – everything homemade. At the rear came a covered wagon, latterly a large motor-van. Inside it was stacked with all the provisions which were to be distributed amongst the widows. On the sides were banners which declared in large lettering “God Bless the Widows” and “Thy Bread shall be sure”. Winding its way around Hunmanby it stopped at each widow’s dwelling and she was given her share of victuals. Accompanying the whole proceedings were two young men dressed in huge teddy-bear costumes.
Their task was to collect coins from passers-by and households. These monies were for a supper in The Old School (today the Church Hall) for the Band and supporters of the procession later in the evening. The whole affair ended up on Cross Hill where victuals were sent to widows not in the path of the procession. Should there be any left-overs, these were given to the most deserving widows as ‘extras’.
Naturally during the two wars the Widows Procession was suspended. However during the First World War, the late Bennett Hudson and his protégé Annie Coates organized concert parties which managed to raise funds for ‘the widows’. Sadly in 1939-45 the issue lapsed but it must be realized that by this time there were relatively few needy widows.
Re-started in January 1946 it was spoiled by torrential rains. The same thing happened again in 1947.
Although nothing to do with the Hunmanby Parish Council directly, as the major governing body of the village, their Chairman Miss Owston placed the matter on the agenda. In 1945 the Welfare State had ensured that everyone in the country had means of some sort, specially widows. Hence the whole purpose of the Widow Singers became somewhat pointless. The Council generally agreed that it should be finally suspended.
1948 saw a procession organized in aid of the national cause ‘Freedom from Want’ during the summer months which was great success. Meanwhile the Parish Council had arranged for a Charity Committee to be formed. This Committee organized two functions which are carried out to this day. Firstly a second-hand furniture auction sale is held each June on Cross Hill. Secondly a village Carnival is held on the second Saturday in each August.
The first Carnival was held in 1949. It was felt that chances of these events being ruined by bad weather would be lessened at this time of the year. Prizes are given for different classes of decorated vehicles etc and a Village Queen and her Princess Rosebud elected annually from senior schoolgirls. They always head the procession as it winds its way through Hunmanby. Collections are taken from those who gather to watch the proceedings. Monies from these two efforts mean that a five Pound voucher can be given to every Hunmanby house-hold which has some-one over 65 years of age living therein.
Therefore the principle of the original Lushington Band/Singers is being carried forward.
Sad to relate, literally as this was being placed into our Archives section, it has been deemed impossible to carry on the Hunmanby Carnival in 2006.
The reason, EU regulations require all vehicles used to be licenced to carry passengers ! !
Of course the vehicles were lent gladly by local farmers and tradesmen who could not carry such a burden. Also, insurance rates have hyped so high – because of the compensation culture – that they are no longer viable.
Sadly we see the end of an attractive and very worthy village custom. The five pound vouchers will be paid out for the last time in Dec.2006.