An annual procession of Sunday school children was first recorded in 1828, when it took place on the last Sunday in August. About 1,000 children from the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday school walked that day, and hymns were sung in the Market Place. By the mid 19th century the event was known as Cap Sunday, from the caps worn by the girls until 1859. Because the crowds of onlookers attracted to the event were considered inappropriate for a Sunday, the procession was moved in 1859 to the afternoon of Club Day, the first Friday in August. By then the children walked with banners and flags and were accompanied by bands.
In 1860, evidently for the first time, children from the Church of England Sunday schools took part; they walked on their own, however, after the Wesleyans had finished singing in the market place. Children from the Congregational church seem not to have joined in the walking until 1867; from 1893 children from the Roman Catholic Church also participated.
In the late 1890s Anglicans no longer walked on the same day as the nonconformists and Roman Catholics, but they again took part with the others from 1909. By then the procession took place on the third Saturday in July, the date having been changed probably in 1906. The change of date was probably made to dissociate the event from Club Day, with its secular entertainments, and the title Leek Sunday School Festival was in use by 1910.. Roman Catholic children could take part because the festival was not regarded as an act of worship, there being hymns but no prayers. The Lord’s Prayer and Bible readings, however, were introduced in 1969.
In the 1980’s the lorries, which used to carry small children and infirm adults, were withdrawn for safety reasons leaving large empty spaces in the Market Place.
By the 1990’s each Club Day followed a theme, reflected particularly in the worship and the hymns. Over many years, the children have worn smart, traditional dress but in recent years this has relaxed and there are many uniforms or casual outfits to be seen, as well as the much cherished traditional garments.
‘Leek Club Day’ became the official title for the event, officially dating from 2002 although this had been the popular name for many years rather than the old ‘Leek Sunday School Scholars Festival’. Many, though, still refer to the more descriptive and popular title of ‘walking round day’
Pat Baldwin was elected as Organiser (then called Coordinator) in 2000 when George Naden retired after more than 25 years. Since then Pat and her team have developed strong working relationships with the councils, police and contractors, bringing safety standards up to date and increasing the numbers of people taking part. In the next few years the focus changed from children in Sunday schools in favour of reaching out to children who have any form of Christian learning; which, nowadays, takes place in many places and on many days.
- No one knows when Leek Club Day started but the earliest newspaper report that we have found is from 1828, when it had already been running for several years.
- Pat Baldwin, the Co-ordinator, has been managing the event since 2001, including the four years that she was living in London
- Pat has taken part in Leek Club Day ever since she was two
- Over 1000 people took part in the procession in 2010 with several hundred people lining the route
- The MP, Town Mayor and Chairman of SMDC usually take part in the procession
- Leek Club Day takes place on the second Saturday of July
We don’t know when Leek Club Day started but we know that it was reported in a local newspaper in 1828 when it had already been going for many years. It has had several names: Leek Sunday School Festival; Cap Sunday (from the caps worn then by the girls) and now Leek Club Day but a lot of people call it ‘walking round day’. It was started by the free churches but Anglicans and Roman Catholics have been taking part for over a hundred years. We start with Moorlands Praise, a singing group, leading modern worship songs as the all gather. Groups from each Church take part, including the Sunday School, Scouts and Guides, Mother and Toddler groups and some have a day school. Many churches have a band and they all carry a banner. There are flowers in head bands and buttonholes and often a maypole or two. Each church gathers together and parades to the Market Place and it is great to watch and listen to them as they assemble. When everyone has come together there is a short service of worship and then we all walk in procession around the town. The route is exactly a mile – about 1½ kilometres In some of the Sunday Schools, children dress up in matching outfits, either traditional or modern. The member churches consider it an honour when it is their turn to lead: this year it is the turn of Trinity Church. Worship is lively, often with action songs and a short talk, sometimes by a visiting speaker, who will talk to us about the theme. The band of The Salvation Army in Leek often leads some of the singing, too Safety is very important and so we have marshals staffing the processions and the road barriers. We always have first-aiders in attendance. Numbers are difficult to assess and are very dependent on the weather. Numbers have been increasing in the last few year and for the first time for decades there were over 1000 people in the 2018 procession and about the same again lining the route.