Wakes Week in Rawtenstall

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Audlem and District History Society
History Shorts 17 by Dorothy Jones



Wakes Week in Rawtenstall

The recent ghostly appearance of our towns reminded me of my childhood in Rawtenstall, a Lancashire mill town, where absolutely everything also closed down, but for a happier reason — the annual summer holiday, known as Wakes Week.
Every local town had its own allocated week which followed on from each other through the summer months. For Rawtenstall, it always started on the last Saturday in July.

Short 17 Train
The Cotton Mill Express recreated on the East Lancashire Railway. (Photo: David Ingham CC BY-SA 4.0)

During this time the majority of the textile mill workers travelled to either the North West or North Wales coast on specially arranged trains direct from their local station, meaning that fellow passengers were your close neighbours!

As a family we always went to stay in a static caravan in Abergele where we regularly used to meet up with a family from Nottingham (somewhere that sounded very exotic to me). Our luggage — a large brown leather suitcase (that I still possess) for which my father had sewn a material cover — travelled ahead of us.

The only time that I stayed at home was the year that my father died. I don't know how my mother coped with shopping in the days before supermarkets and home freezers, but I can recall going to the street corner to buy a newspaper off the seller.

Sadly, the mills have now all closed and with it the tradition of Wakes Week. The railway line closed in 1972 but has since reopened as the heritage East Lancashire Railway, running from Rawtenstall down the Irwell valley to Bury and Heywood.

Short 17 Family photo
Family photo

The family photograph shows us at Rawtenstall station and, as you can tell from my extremely glum expression, I was obviously very excited to be going on holiday!

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