OLNEY’S LEISURE PURSUITS 1945 – 1960 (2)

The Post WW2 element of Olney’s social history was originally intended to be presented in four time periods: 1: 1945 – 1960, 2: 1961 – 1980, 3: 1981 – 2000 and 4: 2001 – 2020. Unfortunately the ODHS no longer possesses the resources to compile the three later time periods.

The 1945 – 1960 time period comprises three sections: 1 Social History, 2 Leisure Pursuits & 3 Significant National Influences. Click the relevant link to see another published section of this time period.

1945 – 1960 Olney’s leisure pursuits and pastimes during the immediate post WW2 years

Please be aware that the content is an ongoing development. Most, but not all, of the photos will show an enlarged view by clicking on the image.

Olney Old Tyme Dancing Club enjoying their photo shoot! (Early 1950s)

The contents of this section are:

PAGEANTS, GYMKHANAS AND FETES

The British Legion Fete – 3 September 1949

The Parish Church Pageant and Fete – 30 June 1951

Olney’s Coronation Festivities –  2nd June 1953

The Olney Rugby Club Gymkhana

Summer Fetes organised primarily by the local Churches

RECREATIONAL & SOCIAL CLUBS

Olney Old Tyme Dancing Club 

Country Dancing Group

Olney Caged Bird Society

The Senior Citizen’s Club

OTHER SOCIAL AMENITIES & EVENTS

The Electric Cinema Olney 

The Olney Pancake Race

Olney Bathing Place 

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PAGEANTS, GYMKHANAS AND FETES

1945 – 1960 could be considered as Olney’s ‘heyday’ for pageants, gymkhanas and fetes.

 The British Legion Fete – 3 September 1949

This event was obviously very popular and very well attended. Following the tradition of the pre-war pageants, the parade through the town was assembled in Midland Road.

The parade making its way to meadow on Emberton Road

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Interesting mix of Fancy Dress entrants!

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The gypsies are in town today!

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The Grand Circus has come to town!

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Wizard, fairies and goblins ready for judging!

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Being herded up to collect a prize?

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The Parish Church Pageant and Fete – 30 June 1951

This event may have been considered Olney’s contribution to the 1951 Festival Of Britain.

Ed: Could use more photos for this significant event 

The pageant and fete was held to raise money for the Fabric Fund of Olney Parish Church and organised by the Vicar, the Rev. R. W. Collins. The highlight of the pageant was the re-enactment of John Gilpin’s ride to the Bell at Edmonton from William Cowper’s famous work ‘John Gilpin’. It was reported that several thousand people gathered in bright sunshine to celebrate this occasion.

The riders taking their bow after their re-enactment of Cowper’s poem ‘John Gilpin’ – 1951
John Gilpin was re-enacted by Peter Middleton (second left), also the post-boy and two highwaymen.

Later the Bedford Sea Cadet’s Band marched around the Market Place and led the fancy dress possession to the fete held in the sports field of the Secondary Modern School. Unfortunately these photos do not give any impression of the numerous stalls and sideshows supporting the fete which included a Punch and Judy Show for the children. There was also a large exhibition of lace in the school rooms with demonstrations of lace making and a collection of over 2000 lace bobbins.

Harold Osborn’s pony and trap on their way to the 1951 ‘Grand Fete’
‘Min’ Wells, Carol Megeary and Graham Lenton are in the trap
and Julia Webster as the Queen ‘Trooping the Colour’ on the pony alongside.

 

Harold Osborn’s pony and trap at the 1951 ‘Grand Fete’
accompanied by ‘Min’ Wells, Carol Megeary and Graham Lenton.

Two earlier ‘Great Pageants’ involving hundreds of Olney residents took place in 1925 and 1926, the former to celebrate the Sexcentenary of the SS Peter and Paul Church and the latter to raise funds in aid of the church roof. The crowds at these events numbered several thousand and both included a re-enactment of William Cowper’s famous work ‘John Gilpin’.

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The 1951 fete was opened by Viscount Curzon
who with the Viscountess judged the fancy dress
entrants

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Olney’s Coronation Festivities –  2nd June 1953

Link to the official Olney Programme of Events 

Coronation parade assembling on the (damp) Market Place

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The Two Brewers Pub decorated in readiness for Coronation Day?
Ed. I have my suspicions that this image may have been taken a few years later!

An unscheduled Coronation Day morning Wheelbarrow Race starting from the Two Brewers Inn. Entrants (so far): Norman Campion, Morris Crouch, Gerald Campion, Chas (Tom) Harris and Ken Harris.

The unscheduled Coronation Day morning Wheelbarrow Race 

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Coronation Queen and attendants on their float

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Coronation parade passing the Bull Hotel

The activities were well supported and an undoubted success even though rain fell for most of the day. Spirits were high for the Carnival Procession, as shown in the photograph below taken outside the Bull Hotel. The motor car shown is a French Vinot owned by Robert Soul. The driver and passengers are members of the Mann and Morgan families. It is said that fireworks including jumping jacks were thrown from the car to liven up proceedings!

A fine body of men; ?/? Jim Adams, Frank Abraham, Roger Perkins?

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A group of Coronation Gypsies!

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Cowper Street’s Coronation Day ‘Street Party’ held in the Ambulance Hall
(Ed: Names of attendees could be supplied if required. – I remember it well!)

The rain was heavy and prolonged enough to postpone some of the planned street parties. The party organised for Cowper Street was held on the following Saturday, 6th June, in the Ambulance Hall in Wellingborough Road. The photograph demonstrates that it was well attended and enjoyed by all.

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The Olney Rugby Club Gymkhana

This popular event was held annually on the Recreation and Rugby fields on Whit Monday. The gymkhana was considered an important social event on the Olney calendar and was always well attended. Michael Farrer from Cold Brafield was Master of Ceremonies and commentator on the proceedings of the gymkhana itself.

In true Rugby Club tradition the event always possessed a well stocked beer tent, a’bowls for a pig’ competition and a full range of side stalls.

Ed: Unfortunately I have no photos to present under this heading. 

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Summer Fetes organised primarily by the local Churches

These fetes could also be categorised as social events ‘not to be missed’.

Congregational Church fetes were usually held on the large lawn of Mill house. Whereas Parish Church fetes were often held in the garden of ‘The Lindens’ a large house situated on the east side of the High Street.

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The Mill Fete being opened in 1954
by Barbara Forrest (nee Brook) daughter of Pearl BROOK (nee GUDGIN).
The gentlemen seated are believed to be Jimmy Hanson and the Congregational Minister the Rev. Gray

 

The view of the goods on sale at a typical stall at a Mill House Fete
One needed to make sure that one was appropriately dressed!

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RECREATIONAL & SOCIAL CLUBS

Olney Old Tyme Dancing Club 

Old time dancing was very popular in this time period (1940s and 50s). Dances were held regularly in the town and surrounding villages. This club was somewhat unique in its scale as indicated in the photograph. It probably was one of the rare occasions in Olney where young people could meet socially on a regular basis. The photograph was taken in the early 1950s, the exact year has yet to be confirmed. The names of most, but not all, of the people in the photograph are available. The club was established and run by the Moye family from Olney and the Whitworths from Sherington. The upcoming ‘Rock & Roll’ period probably led to its demise.

The Olney Old Tyme Dancing Club

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Country Dancing Group

Country dancing had its supporters too.  This photograph of the Group was taken outside the Cowper & Newton Museum around 1950. This display may have formed part of the 1951 Pageant and Fete.

Country Dancing Group on the Market Place (early 1950s)

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Olney Caged Bird Society

Popular caged birds such as budgerigars, canaries, zebra finches and many others were keenly reared by residents young and old. The birds were displayed in ‘regulation’ show cases in local competitions. The photograph appears to have been taken in Olney Ambulance Hall around 1955. Such societies appeared to become less fashionable in subsequent decades.

Keen members of Olney Caged Bird Society on a competition day

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The Senior Citizen’s Club

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There is much to be incorporated under this heading. 

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OTHER SOCIAL AMENITIES & EVENTS

The Electric Cinema Olney 

Olney did not have a large enough population to support a theatre. The nearest theatre was the New Theatre in Abington Street, Northampton. However, it did have a cinema converted from the ‘New Hall’ originally built by  Mr Lewis Thompson an Olney grocer at 9 High Street.  It became the New Hall Picture House in 1919, and was eventually re-named the Electric Cinema, with seating for 286. The heydays of this cinema were the 1920s, 1930s,and 1940s. The Electric Cinema was closed on 28th June 1952 with Fred Astaire in “Two Little Words”. Mr Percy Wright’s article on the early days of this cinema can be found using the following link.

The film being shown at the time this photo was taken was the 1927 ‘King of Kings’
a silent film directed by Cecil B de Mille – an iconic film of its day.

The Olney Pancake Race

The pancake race was revived in 1948. The American connection with Liberal in Kansas was initiated two years later. The race at Olney and the race against Liberal has continued ever since. The history and a full description of the Olney Pancake Race is contained in the book by Graham Lenton published in 2003.

The start of the Olney Pancake Race in 1956

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Olney Bathing Place 

The Bathing Place was an ideal place for picnicking with the family on a warm summer’s day! Many if not most Olney children learnt to swim here, as the primary school arranged for the top two classes to have morning swimming lessons in the summer months. Mind you, the quality of the water for such activities was questioned even in those times.

A busy Olney Bathing Place circa 1945

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SPORTS CLUBS (to be developed)

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Betting – particularly on horse racing

Football pools – Littlewoods and Vernons

LADIES CLUBS & GROUPS (to be developed)

Such as the Woman’s Institute, lace groups and handicrafts groups

 

Endpiece

Ed: There has to be many more social events that would warrant inclusion in this section.  I am currently seeking photos of those events, and indeed photos that better illustrate the events that I have included!

 

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