Saddleworth streets thronged for annual Whit Friday walks and band contests

COLOURFUL BANNERS flew high and proud voices swelled and rolled skyward as hundreds of men, women and children filled Saddleworth’s streets for the traditional Whit Friday walks.

They marched from churches and chapels across the villages on their yearly pilgrimage to pray, sing and meet friends.

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Rev Duncan Rhodes leads Kiln Green Church to the gathering in Uppermill

This year’s walk to Uppermill had an added poignancy for legendary villager Reverend Duncan Rhodes, who took centre stage for the first time at his 80th Whit Friday.

Rev Rhodes led his flock from Kiln Green to Uppermill before his debut address to the huge audience assembled for the united service at King George’s V playing fields.

In an uplifting address he thanked the churches, bands, and people for supporting the Whit Friday celebrations and bought warm laughter when referred affectionately to his wife, Nancy.

BRUISED: Rev Duncan Rhodes

There was more laugher when he shrugged off a severe fall he suffered a week before, which left him with stitches and bruised and battered face.

After, reflecting on a lifetime of celebrating Whit traditions, Rev Rhodes said: “My first Whit Friday days were almost certainly in a pram. I remember walking from the age of four.

“The traditions are as firm as ever now and, in my view, it’s gratifying the community aspect of the whole day is still maintained.

“It’s wonderful so many villagers are happy and eager to walk with the church procession.”

A collection was taken in support of Chasing Rainbows and the North West Police Benevolent Fund.

pictures by Carl Royle

Later in the day, locals and visitors thronged the villages once more for the eagerly-awaited brass band contests, which saw hundreds of bands from across the country battle for the cash prizes.

This year there was an added continental air as bands from Switzerland joined the celebration.

Entrepreneur Phil Beckwith of Champion Brass, invited M.G. Dietwil, Ligniere and Musik Frohsinn Oberburg to join bands in Denshaw, Diggle and Uppermill, along with Lund University band, from Sweden, who played for St Georges church at Mossley’s Whit Friday morning.

Another special guest, Robert Hankinson, came on a 10,000mile journey from Australia to join the colourful Whit Friday brass band contest.

Robert, 66, whose brother Richard was the former squire of Saddleworth Morris Men, said: “I went online and saw Dobcross needed a player… so it was an added reason to see the family.”

At the contests, many bands also paid tribute to popular cornet player Mark Rodgers, who passed away earlier in May.

Uppermill Band, who Mark was playing for at the time of his death, wore white roses in their jacket lapels and Mark’s cornet was carried at the head of the band to all contests.

And Delph Band held a minute’s silence in memory of Mark before their performance in Delph.

Some of the alcohol confiscated from youngsters (Picture thanks to GMP Saddleworth and Lees)

Meanwhile, it was a relatively peaceful day for the local police officers, who patrolled the streets to keep the peace.

GMP Saddleworth and Lees commented on Facebook: “Officers have seized large quantities of alcohol and the picture shows some of the bottles and cans taken from our U18s.

“No arrests were made this evening and it’s been a very successful operation and your local Policing team would like to thank the community for the support given.”


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