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Ilkley Through Time (3)

By Prof Mike Dixon

  1. Ilkley Carnival
  2. Wharfedale Music Festival
  3. The Ilkley Players
  4. Ilkley Flower Show
  5. Twinned with Coutances


1. Ilkley Carnival

The Ilkley Chamber of Trade resurrected the Black Hats v. White Hats cricket match in September 1978 and this and subsequent matches included a fancy dress parade complete with Brass Band. However, its scope was somewhat limited and visionaries amongst the Tradesmen (and women) felt that the whole town needed to be involved. Thus the idea of an Ilkley Carnival in which all the organisations in the town could play a part was conceived. The idea came to its realisation in 1988. The novelty cricket match became just a small part of a day of fun and activity which commenced with a long procession of decorated floats on the theme of "Circus". The May Day Carnival has gone from strength to strength. Its changing themes give plenty of scope for imagination and involvement and the event is now firmly established in the Ilkley calendar.

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2. Wharfedale Music Festival

The first intimation that a local competitive Music Festival might be held in Ilkley appeared as a notice in the Gazette in September 1906 when "all who are interested in music are asked to attend a public meeting." The meeting attracted 63 people from various towns and villages in Wharfedale and was presided over by Mrs Steinthal. The first festival was held in the Grove Lecture Hall of the Congregational Church and the Assembly Hall of the Wesleyan Chapel in Wells Road, the Festival moving into its permanent home in the King's Hall in 1908. Until the Winter Gardens were built the competitors awaited their turn in a large marquee erected on the site. The Festival grew steadily in stature and attracted competitors from throughout the North. Many professional musicians, actors and actresses gained their early competitive experience in the Festival. Interestingly the Festival has had only six secretaries since its inception; A. Aitken Crawshaw 1907-8, A.T. Akeroyd 1909-43, Frederick M. Hood 1944-50, Charles W. Bainbridge 1951-2, Ella Crawshaw 1953-71 and Robert Lantaff from 1972 to the present.

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3. The Ilkley Players

Little is known about the formation of Ilkley Players. What is known is that they staged their first production at St Margaret's Hall in Regent Road in January 1929. After only one other production at this venue they moved to the King's Hall and continued there until 1938. In the meantime the Players had established a clubroom in Sedbergh Chambers for play-readings, rehearsals and social events. They became increasingly frustrated with the high cost of rental at the King's Hall, at 15 guineas per performance it proved difficult to make any profit, and so the Players determined to acquire their own premises for a "little theatre". The result was the move to the upstairs room of the Liberal Club in Weston Road, a building originally erected as the Working Men's Hall in 1876, and within this insalubrious former furniture store the Ilkley Playhouse opened in September 1938. The company expanded and prospered. In 1960 they purchased the building outright and this paved the way for more dressing rooms, wardrobe rooms and a Green Room. In 1973 they joined the Little Theatre Guild, an organisation in which the Ilkley Players have become a leading light.

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4. Ilkley Flower Show

At a meeting in February 1954 members of the Horticultural Section of the former Ilkley Agricultural Show decided to hold an Annual Flower Show in Ilkley. The first of these Ilkley Flower Shows was held on the 21st August 1954 and was a great success. The first President was Mrs J.C. Ford and the officers were Mr Roger Craggs, Mrs Florence Hampshire and Mr J.H. Spensley. Apart from a crisis in 1976 when it was feared that the Show would fold for lack of members to run it, it has become increasingly successful. This summer's Show will be the 41st. It attracts competitors from a wide area and according to the Judges it has a very high standing. The Show is well supported by local shops and businesses who are generous in their provision of special prizes.

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5. Twinned with Coutances

The link between Ilkley and the Normandy town of Coutances was forged following many years of annual school exchanges. The first contacts date back to before the Second World War when the Senior French Mistress at Whitcliffe Mount Grammar School at Cleckheaton introduced a friend, M. Bleriot who was Head of the Lycee in Coutances, to the late Mr. Newby then Headmaster of Cleckheaton School. In 1937 M. Bleriot discussed the possibility of a school exchange between Cleckheaton and Coutances but any preparations were interrupted by the War. After the War, Mr Newby became the Head of Ilkley Grammar School and he started discussions with M. le Chaptois the English Master at the Lycee in Coutances with the idea of an exchange with Ilkley. In August 1947 a party of young people visited Ilkley in the care of a senior pupil and thereafter M. le Chaptois became a regular visitor in charge of school parties. Discussions about a possible town twinning started in 1968, and in the following year a party of representatives visited Ilkley and attended an inaugural dinner at the Craiglands Hotel. The town link grew from strength to strength. A Rotary Club was formed in Coutances and became twinned with Ilkley Rotary. There were visits to Coutances by Ilkley Rangers (football), the Swimming Club and Cantores Olicanae, and return visits by their French counterparts. In May 1975 the Coutances Cathedral Choir visited Ilkley as the guests of the Council of Churches and this paved the way for exchanges of Christian groups. In 1978 the Vicar of Ilkley Parish Church, Rev Richard Cleland, made history by becoming the first Anglican priest to preach in the 700 year old Coutances Cathedral. In October 1994 we celebrated 25 years of the town's link with Coutances.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 June 2010 08:02