It is believed that 2020 will be Prestwich Carnival’s 94th Grand Parade, although the Carnival has its roots in various traditions that stretch back into the mists of time.
The first element is the South East Lancashire tradition of Rush Bearing. Originally it seems to have been the practice for the parishioners to carry the rushes to church in bundles. As the custom became more of a festival, these were ornamented, and born by young people in their best attire, to decorate the church. This method was common all over the country but in South-East Lancashire a far more elaborate arrangement grew up. The rushes, formed into the shape of a haystack, were placed in a cart and village rivalry ensured more and more fantastical arrangements. The addition of Morris Men and bands made them a sight to be seen.
Rush bearing was an integral part of the second carnival ingredient the Wakes. Wakes have been many things over the years, originally a vigil, then village holidays and eventually the annual factory holidays which only stopped 20 to 30 years ago. Vigils, or wakes, are of great antiquity, probably coeval with Christianity itself. The venerable institution of the village wakes was regarded as a reunion, by which old associations and old friendships were revived. The wakes at Prestwich, though nominally commencing on the Sunday, in reality began on the Saturday, and was a custom which our forefathers delighted to observe; and in connection with this annual festival, the rush cart was taken to the church gates and dismantled, and the rushes taken into the church and strewed upon the floor. Many more entertainments were added and festivities lasted for a week.
The third ingredient was the May Day parade. This was where the parade tradition and the Queens originated. The carnival embraces all three of these traditions. The wakes continued until the 1830’s, in the last few years it was actually known as carnival; however the Victorian puritan ethic eventually declared it was too much of an excuse for raucousness and debauchery. It was revived intermittently but only started again on a regular basis in the 1920’s. There was a long break during WW2 and the aftermath.