BOURNEMOUTH’S Children’s Festival is back this month – after a slight hiatus of 100 years.
It was once a highpoint in Bournemouth’s calendar, with thousands of schoolchildren parading through the town for a giant fete in Meyrick Park.
The idea of a family festival in the park was revived in 2010. This year, it has been renamed the Children’s Festival and will include a parade to mark the centenary of the original event being halted by the First World War.
The first Family Festival arose out of a lengthy meeting of Bournemouth’s education committee in March 1905. Councillors decided on a Children’s Day, later renamed the Children’s Festival, which would be free for the town’s pupils, with a charge made to other visitors.
Individual schools had previously organised sporting events for their children at Dean Park, dividing the proceeds among charities supported by the National Union of Teachers. But following the Education Act of 1902, which standardised the state education system under the control of local councils, the council wanted to organise a borough-wide celebration.
Around 8,500 children, from elementary schools and Sunday schools, took part in the first event in June 1905.
The younger ones were taken directly to the park but 5,800 met at assembly points around the town before marching to a central assembly point at the Square. From there, they processed to Meyrick Park with the mayor and members of the council leading the way.
As well as a tea for 8,500, there were sports, fancy dress and a host of other activities.
An exhibition of drill by the girls was led by Mrs Moore, headmistress of St John’s Girls’ School in Boscombe. Around 170 girls demonstrated sash drills and dances, to the accompaniment of the Municipal Band (the predecessor of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) under its founder Dan Godfrey.
The events were rounded off with a daytime firework display.
The fun was enjoyed by 18,000 people in all and reminded many of the festival held to mark the Coronation of Edward VII in 1902.
The festival quickly became an institution. In 1909, the Echo reported on “the merry-making in Meyrick Park, where nearly eight thousand children were assembled yesterday afternoon”. The festival was “on a much more elaborate scale than that of four years ago”.
Special tramcars brought the children to a meeting point at the Lansdowne, from where a procession was led by a “tableau car, emblematical of the Empire, gaily decorated with real English roses”.
A young girl played Britannia, seated on a lion, surrounded by costumed representatives of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, while children in fancy dress represented “every race under the British flag”.
The paper recorded that the “ingenuity and quaintness of many of the costumes were the subject of note”. There were fairies, nurses, soldiers, butterflies, Red Riding Hoods and a girl whose gown was made of pine needles and fir-cones. There was also a girl dressed as the Bournemouth Daily Echo.
Admission to the park, for those not at borough schools, was 6d and more than £200 was taken at the gates in aid of the Mayor’s Hospital Fund.
Showers in the morning had led organisers to consider postponing the festival, but in the event, the Echo reported that “confidence in the kindly capriciousness of the elements proved justified and clouds gave way to bright sunshine”.
The capricious elements were not so kindly in 1911, when the rain held off during the day but spoiled the evening proceedings, with dancing on the green abandoned and several thousand making their way home through a downpour.
The last festival happened in June 1914, with war looming in Europe. It would be almost a century before the town would see anything like it again.
In 2010, Bournemouth Borough Council decided to put on a Family Festival Park in July, combining a play day, a youth festival and a family information day. There were 85 stalls, with 12,000 families enjoying the fun.
The entertainment and activities had doubled by 2011, with 20,000 families turning out and Sportacus from TV’s LazyTown helped the mayor open the festival. The festival had become the town’s second biggest event of the year, behind the Air Festival, and the biggest family festival in the south west.
For 2014, it was decided to call the event a Children’s Festival and reinstate the parade, which will feature children who have registered an interest.
The mayor will be in a horse-drawn carriage at the head of the procession and all children taking part will be given a peace medal, similar to those given out in 1919 to mark the end of the war. There will be 170 stalls, while the headline entertainment will be the Bewitched Party Band, featuring former B*Witched singer Keavy Lynch. It’s hard to imagine what the children of 1905 would have made of that.
This year’s Children’s Festival is on Thursday July 24, 10am to 4pm. Details are at bournemouth.gov.uk/familyfestival