Whit Friday: Reverend Duncan Rhodes, remembered

A STALWART of Whit Friday will be remembered as Saddleworth ‘celebrates’ its annual day of tradition, albeit confined by remaining lockdown restrictions.

For most of his life, Reverend Duncan Rhodes ensured Whit Friday was his most eagerly anticipated day of the year.

Last September, Rev. Rhodes passed away, aged 84, but his contribution to the ‘greatest free show on earth’ will never be forgotten.

Now his family have paid their own tribute and recalled their memories of the born and bred Diggle.

Daughter Abigail said: “One of dad’s earliest recollections was when he was four years old of the Whit Friday walk from Kilngreen over the hill to St Chad’s.

“But his first Whit Fridays, he would have been in the procession in a pram.

“His commitment and loyalty to the Diggle and particularly the Kilngreen processions are well known.

“He was for many years to be seen leading the procession and the singing at the hymn stops where he also conducted the band.

“Following his ordination as a local ordained minister in 1993 he led his flock from Kilngreen to Uppermill for the united churches’ service on King George’s V playing fields in Uppermill.

“Here he conducted the band and lead the massed hymn singing.

In 2016, he addressed the assembled congregation on the field as part of the service.

“Duncan’s enthusiasm and energy for preserving the tradition of the Whit walks extended to and included the whole of Saddleworth.

“In addition to his considerable contribution in Diggle, he was also a long-time member of the Uppermill brass band contest committee, long before the Diggle contest was started.

“For over four decades, he was actively involved each Whit Friday night announcing the bands on the contest platform in Uppermill. Indeed, he will long be remembered there and sadly missed.

“Duncan was the voice and face of the event, able to give some background information and fill in the time with local stories when there was a lull in the flow of bands.

“Any suggestion that threatened to shorten or simplify the day he would resist and actively campaign against.

“When it was debated in the 1970’s, whether to stop walking on Whit Friday and walk on Whit Sunday instead, Duncan was instrumental in the resistance to these proposals, being vehemently protective of the tradition.

“The special and inclusive community aspect of the day was very precious to him.

“Whit Friday was his most eagerly anticipated day of the year. He worked hard in preparation for it, both raising funds and organising people to do their parts in it and when it finally arrived he enjoyed it to the full.

“His day was long, beginning at Kilngreen early in the morning before 9am for Hail Smiling Morn before the procession and service, pausing for meat and potato pie at lunch time and finishing as late as midnight at the end of the Uppermill contest.

“His enthusiasm and energy were unflagging year after year.”

Duncan’s own memories are recalled by the man himself. He said:“The traditions are as firm as ever now.

“In my view, it is gratifying the community aspect of the whole day is still maintained.

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

And Abigail added: “This year will be different but I know he will be with us in spirit.”

Duncan’s full and varied life included his time with Saddleworth Musical Society who remembered their former President by recording, ‘Hail Smiling Morn’ and posting it on their website ( www.saddleworthmusicalsociety.co.uk) in his honour.

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