The famous Stretford Pageant had its origins in a gala held at Gorse Hill Farm in 1907. This became the Stretford Open Air Fete and Crowning of the Rose Queen Festival in 1909 to raise funds for the building of St. Peter’s Church for the Gorse Hill community. After the First World War, in 1919, this festival was reborn as the Stretford Pageant which continued until 2011. The event became so firmly established because it had strong commitment from the families that lived in the Gorse Hill area who willingly gave their time to ensure its success.
Elsie Grant’s family became involved in the Rose Queen Festival and played a key role from its early days to get the event off the ground and established as the major annual entertainment occasion in the Stretford area. Indeed, it was May Grant, Elsie’s older sister, who was chosen to be the first Rose Queen in 1909 when, ‘“Her Majesty” presented a charming picture in a dress of white silk, trimmed with roses, with train of old gold trimmed with white fur, crown of roses and a garland of smilax and roses.’ (Stretford Telegraph, 27 Aug 1909, p.4)
May Grant, Gorse Hill Fete Rose Queen 1909
Commitment of the kind shown by the Grant family saw the event grow and grow. Perhaps inspired by the May Day celebrations in Knutsford to which many Stretford people travelled by rail, morris dancing was introduced as a major feature of the festival in 1910 when the Gorse Hill troupe was founded. This troupe survived until the early 1970s, despite interruptions from the two World Wars.
The Stretford Rose Queen Pageant programmes demonstrate that the Grant family played a large part in the proceedings from the early days. Mrs Grant served on the organising committee of the Rose Queen Festival in 1910 and 1911. Elsie’s had five siblings - Florence, Harold, May, Amelia and Sidney and they all played a part. Her sister May was not only the first Rose Queen but danced with the morris dancers from 1911 to 1913 and continued to train the Gorse Hill morris dancers after the war. Oldest sister, Florence, took the role of a milkmaid in 1909. Her younger sister Amelia (Milly) was one of the Garland Children in 1909 and a Maypole dancer in 1910. Harold danced for the first, all-male morris troupe at the 1910 event and continued until 1912. In 1913 he assisted in the organisation of the evening entertainment for the Pageant. He was soon to be recruited into the army and, sadly, was killed in action on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme whilst serving as a private in the machine gun section of the 9th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. Elsie’s younger brother Sydney took the role of Dick Wittington in the procession in 1910 and joined the Morris dancers at the age of ten in 1914.
It was clear from her family’s involvement that Elsie Grant was destined to be part of the Rose Queen Festival. She had the good fortune to be chosen to be the Queen for the 1913 Rose Queen Festival, replacing the previous Queen, Susan Smyth. About 1000 characters in fancy costumes turned out for the procession which was led from the yard of Gorse Hill Council School to Gorse Hill Farm by ‘The Morris dancers in their quaint picturesque costumes’. (Streford Telegraph, 25 Jul 1913). These included her brother and sister.
The 21 July 1913 edition of The Manchester Courier reported that:
‘The Rose Queen was attired in a gown of cream silk trimmed with crimson roses, her train being of crimson velvet lined with white silk and trimmed with ermine. She wore a gold chain and pendant, the gift of Mrs Robinson, and carried a beautiful bouquet of crimson roses, presented to her by Mrs Latimer.’
Elsie received her crown from Mrs Robinson, wife of the former chair of Stretford District Council.
Elsie was born in Salford on 5 Jul 1898 and baptised at St Bartholomew’s Church there later that month. Her parents were James, a cotton stiffener and finisher, and Elizabeth, née Renshaw. The family had moved to Gorse Hill from Salford and lived at 16 Harcourt Street at the time of the 1901 and 1911 censuses.
Elsie was living with her father and three of her siblings at 17 Lonsdale Street in Gorse Hill at the time of the 1921 census and was working as an electrical coil winder at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park. Along with sister Millie, Elsie was involved in training the morris dancers in 1926 and Elsie continued in 1927. She married James Dickson Butterworth at St Peter’s Church, Gorse Hill in 1928 and by 1939 she was living with her husband in Urmston. She died in November 1987 in Manchester. Her daughter, Margaret Perkins, talked proudly to the Stretford and Urmston Messenger in 1999 about the collection of mementos she had of Elsie and May Grant’s time as Rose Queens. (Stretford and Urmston Messenger, 3 Jun 1999, p.3)
Without families such as the Grants, and that of James Clement Birtles, whose contribution is covered in detail in ‘Carnivals, Contests and Coronations’, the Stretford Pageant would not have become the event so fondly remembered by generations of the town’s people.