Rector's Letter for June 2003

My dear friends,

Inspired by the Congleton Chronicle series "Glancing Back", I have wondered what curiosities I might discover amidst our old Parish Magazines.  Braving both the dim lighting of the Rectory attic and the ever-present cloud of dust that surrounded me, I drew a bound volume from the filing cabinet: Astbury Parish Magazines 1902-03.  Turning to June 1903, I discovered that issue from 100 years ago was dominated by a report of Astbury May Day or "the Astbury Maypole Festival" as it was then known.

I couldn't have been more familiar with the names recorded: Pedley, Cliffe, Hocknell, Hollinshead, Condliffe, and most remarkably a reference to "the senior church warden, Mr Bibbey", our own recently retired senior warden's Grandfather, and part of an unbroken lineage spanning three generations and covering more than a century!

Astonishingly little of substance has changed.  In 1903 a May Queen was selected by lot from girls attending the School, one difference being that only those with a perfect attendance record over the previous school year were eligible.  On the day itself, the procession was led to Church by a band, and after a short service, returned to the Rectory lawn where the maypole and throne were erected.  The crowning ceremony had all the pomp we remain familiar with, and included a role for the retiring queen, maids of honour, crown bearer, sceptre bearer, and rather curiously, a young man bearing the title "Lord Chamberlain" who seems to have disappeared from the modern counterpart.  Spare a thought for poor Miss Lena Buckley.  In her seven years at Astbury School, little Lena had never missed a single day.  This meant that seven times she was entered in the ballot for May Queen, but seven times was cruelly disappointed.  She was, nevertheless, rewarded by a sympathetic Rector who presented her with a silver watch as a token of her remarkable achievement.

One substantial difference between 1903 and 2003 seems to have been the weather.  The Parish Magazine reported Easter Day as "Cold and snowy", whilst Astbury May Day was bathed in a warm sunshine inspiring the reporter to wax lyrical:

"King Sol reigned supreme and shone on the merry party with all his refulgence, the warmth of his rays tempered only by an acceptable breeze"

Ah, they don't write them like that anymore!

Intriguingly, the Parochial Church Accounts for 1902 were also reported.  Three items may be of interest to the modern reader:

Firstly, the major part of Church income was expended on an item described as being "for Diocesan Institutions".  At a guess that would be the equivalent of the Parish Share, no doubt as popular then as it is now!

Secondly, 2s.6d. is recorded as being donated to the Melanesian Mission.  A century later and our link with these South Sea Islands remains alive and well.  Only weeks ago our Confirmation Service was led by a Melanesian Bishop, the Rt Revd William Pwaisiho, one time Bishop of Melaita in the Solomons and now an outstanding Rector of Gawsworth.

And thirdly, a personal favourite.  The Church accounts reveal that the sum of 8s.6d. had been spent on "wine for the sick".  At a guess, this probably did them at least as much good as any pastoral visit from the Rector.  I think here we have a tradition worthy of re-instatement, donít you?

Jeff Cuttell.

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