Whit Friday is a significant day around here. It is a festival day, with its roots in the Industrial Revolution when philanthropic mill owners gave church going workers a day off to celebrate Pentecost: the birthday of Church (unlike the miserable Manchester mill owners whose employees celebrated Whit Sunday instead). The tradition is that brass bands escort the assembled churches as they process through their respective parishes to assemble and join in a mass act of worship. Over the years a unique aspect of the tradition developed in Saddleworth: the bands stayed around for the rest of the day, playing whilst the children enjoyed sports in the afternoon, then as evening approached, each village held a competition for the bands to compete against each other. One hundred or so years on the tradition is thriving; the morning celebration a happy event as church goers don their best outfits to parade into Uppermill square. Even modern day policing gives way to tradition with the officers marshalling the processions marching smartly in their ceremonial tunics rather than their more usual quasi-militaristic - but necessary - body armour and utility belt; these smart young men and women brought a tear to many a grannies' eye as they stirred memories of the old fashioned bobby on the beat; my friend Sarah will be pleased when I tell her that Manchester's finest did her proud.
The assembled masses were treated, this year, to the presence of two bishops stood with the assembled clergy on the back of one of J. Barratt's articulated trailers, given a day off from hauling goods for the occasion. Bishop Michael - the Bishop of Rochdale, not the boss bish Nigel, I was surprised to see - delivered an address to the thronged thousand or so church goers that was, for him, direct and relevant: talking of the need for people of all faiths to be agents of change in society. You will gather by the inclusion of the words 'for him' in that last sentence, that he is not always a direct and straight forward speaker. The trouble is he is very clever and if he preaches at your morning service you can bank on it taking until Gardener's Question Time comes on Radio 4 to work out what he was on about (Gardeners Question time has been extolling gardening advice on Radio 4 at 2pm every Sunday for years).
The worship complete, the ten Saddleworth church congregations, with their respective bands blasting away to pysche each other out in anticipation of the later comptetiton, made a fabulous site and sound as they paraded off the field and along Uppermill main street. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as my favourite march tunes punched through the air - Death and Glory, True and Trusty, The Army of the Nile - I wonder how many of the processing Christians were aware of the irony of their peaceful, life-affirming event being carried out to these war like, martial tunes.
Our appetite whetted for the evening's events we grabbed an excellent sandwich from Buckley's baker's shop (just round the corner from the new kitchen shop if you are passing) and spent a couple of hours in the garden before heading for Mrs C's aunt's house, conveniently situated in Greenfield with legitimate access to parking at the heart of the village where we can enjoy the contest. More of that soon.
Incidentally, I noticed in tonight's Oldham Evening Chronicle (or the 'Chron as it's known) that the reason that the boss bish Nigel wasn't there was that he was saving himself for the opening of the prestigious Saddleworth Festival on Saturday: an altogether more urbane event of the coming weeks.