16 August: Wakes Weeks




‘Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside

I do like to be beside the sea!

I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!

Where the brass bands play:

‘Tiddely-om-pom-pom!’

John A. Glover-Kind (1880-1918)

Wakes Weeks have their origin in Church Feasts when people took a day off to celebrate their parish saint. The summer calendar is thick with the saints days of popular parish saints. Before the reformation it would have been usual for the devout to stay awake all night to keep a vigil before the celebration, hence church ‘wakes’.

King Charles I wrote in 1633 - "Of late, in some counties of our kingdom, we find that, under the pretence of taking away abuses, there hath been a general forbidding... of the feasts of the dedication of churches, commonly called wakes. Now our express will and pleasure is, that these feasts, with others, shall be observed... "

Church wakes fell foul of the Puritan revolution and although they were revived with the restoration of the monarch, it was with the rise of the industrial revolution that these holidays changed into a communal rest for all the workers from the mill or iron works, each town or factory having its own particular and traditional week. The factories could be closed down, engines and boilers turned off for maintenance, and so in fact the arrangement suited all parties.

Workers from the cotton and wool towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire went to the seaside, sometimes by charabanc and later by train. Blackpool and Morecambe were popular destinations, although Scarborough on the east coast was the favoured holiday resort for workers from the West Riding. It’s not difficult to imagine the anticipation of children as whole streets boarded the train to go to the seaside. Mums and Dads, kids, young people and old, all going on big, dirty, noisy, steam trains with a great sense of excitement and relief.


When they got there, there would be all the fun of the fair, deck chairs, end of the pier shows, Punch and Judy, winkles in paper, saucy postcards, sand, sunburn and Grandad’s knotted handkerchief protecting his bald spot. As Dylan Thomas says ‘There was cricket on the sand and sand in the sponge cake, sand-flies in the watercress, and foolish mulish religious donkeys on the unwilling trot.’ In his memoir ‘The Road to Nab End’, William Woodruff gives us a great description of going from Blackburn to Blackpool for Wakes Week, on his return he says the air in Blackburn felt ‘like breathing lead’.

So something sea-sidey - Candy floss? Crab sandwiches? Potted shrimps? Fish and Chips ? Ice cream? - Of course! Ice cream! No contest. This is my homage to The Harbour Bar in Scarborough, an amazing ice cream bar still exactly as it was in the 1950s and the only place I know that still serves Bovril and coffee made from Nescafe in glass cups. Its ice cream sodas and knickerbocker glories are out of this world. I take my nieces there every time I go up north.

Cheat's Vanilla Ice cream

This couldn't be easier. You take a carton of fresh (not Ambrosia!) bought custard or creme anglaise and a 300ml carton of double cream, add 2 large tablespoons of icing sugar and pour into an ice cream maker. I bought mine second hand years ago, I keep the bowl in the freezer permanently. Then let it do the business. I layered the ice cream in a dish with fresh mashed raspberries, poured Cornish double cream over, topped with an almond finger and fresh cherries. Simples!

There’a a famous seaside place called Blackpool
That’s noted for fresh air and fun
and Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son...’

(and we know what happened to him)

From ‘Albert and the Lion’ by Marriot Edgar (1880-1951)

NB Thanks to my friend Dianna for the deckchair backdrop

9 comments:

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

you know what... I am really loving your blog posts! So informative and fun... particularly about old British customs... and then topped off with scrummy food, perfect! My partner tells me about what used to be known as Leicester Fortnight, when all the Leicester lot arrived at Skegness in their droves, so amazing and really founded these great seaside towns. Thanks x

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Any festivals for next Saturday?

Emmalene said...

They still celebrate saints' days in Spain- in preference to their birthday- when the celebrant must buy all his/ her friends and family a drink!

Emmalene said...

I forgot to say that I enjoyed reading your post- as always! Hope you're enjoying your hols...

Liz said...

A quick note from deepest Bavaria, where I'm recovering from a 15 hour train journey yesterday from Tolouse- thank you all as ever for your encouraging words. Sorry Underground Rst, nothing on the 21 Aug, next post is the 24 Aug.

Choclette said...

Interesting as ever Liz - I've always thought of a wake as something sombre rather than celebratory. CT says someone he used to know from the Manchester area referred to "Making a Wakes" of something - ie making a mess, a shambles. So presumably derived from excessive alcohol consumption and other fun activities resulting in mayhem?

Sorry to have missed you in Totnes last Saturday.

Choclette said...

Interesting as ever Liz - I've always thought of a wake as something sombre rather than celebratory. CT says someone he used to know from the Manchester area referred to "Making a Wakes" of something - ie making a mess, a shambles. So presumably derived from excessive alcohol consumption and other fun activities resulting in mayhem?

Sorry to have missed you in Totnes last Saturday.

Liz said...

I'm sorry to have missed meeting you all in Totnes too, but I was at the Jazz Festival in Marciac - it's a hard life..

Gerry Snape said...

Loving the recipes. A mention of both Cornish cream and Morecambe in one week!!! What luxury.