Film ID: YFA 3129 Video of YFA 3129 Children's Day Leeds 1951 CHILDREN'S DAY LEEDS 1951 Visitor TabsDescription This is a film of Children’s Day at Roundhay Park, in Leeds in 1951. It shows an extremely impressive display of choreographed dancing and synchronised exercises by the boys and girls. Title: ‘Children’s Day’ ‘Roundhay Park, 1951’ The film opens at Roundhay Park in Leeds and shows a little boy in a policeman’s uniform. A large crowd of people that have gathered for the event can be seen in the background. Intertitle: ‘Crowning of the Queen’ A procession for the crowning of the Children’s Day Queen walks onto the field led by the Lord Mayor and other dignitaries. The Queen is surrounded by young children dressed as courtiers, a small boy who walks in front of her carries the crown on a velvet cushion. The party then walk onto a stage and she is crowned by the Lord Mayoress. Intertitle: ‘Silver Spoons for Healthy Babies’ A line of mother and babies wait to receive their spoons from the Mayoress. The spoons are lined up on a table and she hands out each one, a large crowd watch. Intertitle: ‘Athletic Events’ Boys and girls take part in sprint races, and hurdles and there is a boy’s tug-of-war. The Queen watches from her stage at the side of them. Intertitle: ‘Massed Dancing and P.J.’ From an elevated view point a country dancing event is seen. Children from local schools skip in lines onto the fields and stand by maypoles that have been placed on the field. They then proceed to take the ribbons from the poles and dance around in unison. There is then a gymnastics display. Many girls run in line onto the field and separate into groups. They then get into circles and perform choreographed movements in time. They then all stand in neat lines and do star jumps. Intertitle: ‘Departure of the Queen’ The film ends with the Queen and her courtiers being driven around the Park waving to the crowd. Context Children’s Day Leeds was made by a husband and wife film team of filmmakers from Leeds, Betty and Cyril Ramsden. They began making films in 1945 and continued into the mid 1960s. During this time they made over 50 films, mostly in high quality 16mm film and in colour. Their collection of films was donated to the YFA in the spring of 2006. It is an outstanding collection: by virtue of its remarkable technical quality, composition and broad subject matter. As well as family and holiday films, there are a wide range of documentary type films and some fictional films done with a light humour. Cyril worked as a dentist, and was the original owner of the dental practice now known as Far Headingley Dental Care. Betty was a teacher before working full time doing the administrative work for the dentistry practice. They both made films, together and individually. Although not professional filmmakers they took their hobby very seriously, and won many certificates for their films from the Leeds Camera Club, which they helped found (coming out of the Leeds Camera Club, which was founded originally in 1893, and now named Leeds Movie Makers). Betty had a better eye and was responsible for many of the films, including this one for which she managed to get a press pass, allowing her to get close to the participants. Several of their films are on YFA Online, including Craftsman on Kilburn (1948), Coxwold Gymkhana, also made in 1951, and Humber Highway (1956) – see the Context for this latter for more on the Ramsdens. Their film collection was made the subject of a BBC/Open University television programme, Nation on Film, made in 2006, narrated by Sir David Jason, in which this film featured heavily. As a result the film got a lot of coverage by both the BBC and the Yorkshire Evening Post, resulting in many people coming forward with their memories (with hopefully more people contributing their memories and stories of the event to the Open Space). One of those seen in the film, at just seven years old, was Kevin Hazelgrave, who recounts how it felt to be dressed up as a page boy and driven into the Park, his first ever car ride. According to some of these accounts it was a big day for the children involved, and on occasion was covered by BBC Radio and Pathe Newsreel. One contributor remembers a wartime Children’s Day in 1943, when instead of receiving medals the winners got National Savings Stamps instead, worth maybe 5/-, a lot of money at that time. Another mentions that the Children’s Day had a Leeds Schools Dental Competition. Maybe the Ramsden’s were involved in this. In 1953 film stars John Mills and Joan Greenwood were among the judges for the Queen at Leeds Civic Hall. The YFA also has film of Leeds Children’s Day from later on in the 1950s, and film of very similar children’s displays in Roundhay Park for the Royal Visit to Leeds July 1949. Children's Day in Leeds ran from 1922 until 1963, and was one of the biggest festivals of youth staged anywhere in Britain. It has been estimated that there were around 100,000 people in Roundhay Park on the day. It was organised by local teachers and included pupils from just about every school in Leeds. It must have been an amazing feat of organisation to bring all the schools together for the rehearsals necessary to produce such an impressive display of synchronised dancing and gymnastics. In the post war period gymnastics and exercise for children was very much encouraged in schools, as can be seen also in Free to Grow Up (1956). The delight in dressing up in fine and colourful clothes was also a feature of the time as the country emerged from austerity, albeit one that was expensive for the parents involved – and the children who sometimes had to save up their pocket money to pay for the costumes. Although plenty of exercise remains an ideal for many schools, this is less so for English country dancing. It isn’t known for sure at what time of year this event took place, but given the Maypole dancing the May Queen, it is most probably around May Day (it is clearly fine weather in this year, but apparently it often rained). Both of these may be thought to be very old traditions, whereas in fact they both only date from around the beginnings of the Victorian age, as part of what Roud calls the ‘Merrie England movement’. They were created to have the appearance of being older customs within this cultural movement: “’Ye Merrie England of ye Olden Time’ of stage and story, with its folk chiefly engaged in dancing around the maypole on the village green . . . is the creation of the romanticists and poets and painters of the nineteenth century.” (the folklorist A R Wright, quoted in Roud, p 372). Whatever questionable ideological use this idea of a mythic past may play now, it is perhaps understandable why at that time, with the huge growth of dirty factories and slum cities, it came into being. It was the English school system that disseminated the ‘ribbon dance’ around the maypole as seen in this film, and numerous others within the YFA Collection. This is not to say that maypoles, usually standing very high on the village green, don’t go back much further, nor that they didn’t have ribbons and were focal points for dancing. But this, like so many similar traditions, was much more spontaneous and free than the orderly kind of dancing imposed by the Victorians. For more on maypoles see also the Context for The fall and rise of the Barwick Maypole (1978). Among those propagating the idea of a May Queen was the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennsyon, in his poem ‘The May Queen’ of 1832. Out of this idea the familiar pattern of the procession through the village headed by the local vicar and other dignitaries leading to the crowning ceremony, developed during the course of the nineteenth century. Yet even if many of the specific customs have been invented, nevertheless there is a tradition of celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of Spring (for good reason especially before artificial light and heat). In an era when life revolves much less around the passing of the seasons, many of the events bound up with this celebration have naturally gone out of fashion. Roundhay Park has been the venue for many a large gathering, and is featured in many of the YFA films, including Leeds Marks Time (1984), which provides a potted history, and in Vespa Rally (1959). When Leeds City acquired the parklands (Robinson dates this 1868, Weldrake 1871) – opened to the public 1872 – for the sum of £139,000 (adding to the city’s great debt and leading to much criticism), it had already been made into parkland by its previous owner Thomas Nicholson. He instigated the creation of Waterloo Lake during the Napoleonic War, hence its name, planted trees, built bandstands and follies. At that time the 700 acre Park – the second largest city park in Europe and twice the size of Hyde Park in London – was rather remote, but a middle class suburb developed around it, and in 1907 it opened a Lido. It has over the years added many other features and has recently had extensive upgrading thanks to Heritage Lottery money. There isn’t any such thing as a general ‘Children’s Day’, in the way that there is a Father’s Day and a Mothers’ Day, and it seems that Leeds might have been on their own in organising a regular large event of this kind. But the Day had something of a revival when in 2008, the Garry Chappelow Foundation, along with the Leeds Rugby Foundation, organised a similar Children’s Day event at Headingley Carnegie Stadium. References Percy Robinson, Leeds: Old and New, reproduction by S R Publishers, Leeds, 1971. Steve Roud, The English Year, Penguin, 2006. Brian Thompson, Portrait of Leeds, Robert Hale, London, 1971. David Weldrake, Roundhay and Oakwood History Yorkshire Evening Post on Leeds Children’s Day Nation on Film BBC TV programme on the 1951 Children's Day in Leeds.