Mercury and Herald – Merry Comrades
contributed by David Folwell
In the 1950s children of New Bradwell and Old Bradwell were busy raising money for Northampton Hospital under the collective name of Merry Comrades, a charity run by the Northampton weekly newspaper the Mercury & Herald. The charity was headed by a lady, called for some strange reason “Aunty Dick”, who headed up the charity via her column in the newspaper.
Aunty Dick promoted the charity by getting volunteers to start fund raising groups in as many villages and towns in Northants and North Bucks to raise funds in order to provide facilities for local hospitals. Quite often a television set, a rarity in those days, was bought and presented to a particular Hospital or ward.
A group was formed in Old Bradwell run by wife Sally’s aunt Win Walker, her neighbour Flo Atkinson and Sally’s mum Phyllis Goodger, ably supported by their immediate families and other helpers from the village and Bradville. Many fund raising events were organised including concerts, bazaars, May Day with Maypole dancing and a Carnival Day in the Summer. A May Queen and Carnival Queen were chosen from members to lead a parade and were later crowned.
The Fancy Dress competitions were always well supported, I must have been brave in those days as I dressed as a Nurse for one competition borrowing my sister Josie’s St Johns Ambulance uniform and as Monica, a Radio school girl character, in another, this time borrowing Josie’s Gymslip and Hockey stick.
These were great village occasions with a lot of money raised for the Hospitals.
In late September when people were able to donate eating apples Phyllis Goodger with Sally helping, would make the most delicious toffee apples and sell them on a Saturday morning from her home in Althorpe Crescent, there was always a queue of eager children, me included, waiting at the door with the aroma of hot treacle toffee drifting from the kitchen window.
Mrs Dorothy Parker from Althorpe Crescent also helped initially at Old Bradwell but later formed a group with neighbours and friends at Bradville and New Bradwell, organising pantomimes and entertainment at the Statonbury Social Club in St James Street as well as other fund raising events. I vaguely remember my part as Buttons in the Cinderella Pantomime and mum sowing all the buttons on my waistcoat.
When children became members of the Merry Comrades they received a membership badge and were encouraged to raise money individually. They were rewarded by being made a CAPTAIN, or for greater efforts a STAR CAPTAIN. I can’t remember how much was required to justify, Captain or Star Captain status but Star Captains were invited on stage at the special performances of New Theatre Pantomime for the comrades each year.
Every Christmastime there was a large Bazaar in Northampton when most village groups organised a stall. I had just started courting Sally and a trip to the Bazaar in November 1958 was probably our first serious date, I was suitably embarrassed when I won a doll in a carrycot and had to collect it from the stage. I hasten to add I didn’t keep it!
These were great times involving so many families in Old and New Bradwell, having fun together, a real community spirit, as well as raising money for a worthy cause.