C H Nadin
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The Sunday School Union in Chesterfield was formed in 1850, and meetings of scholars in the Market Place were taking place from these early years of the Union. Processions have been a feature of the gatherings, usually on Whit-Monday, but in the early years, they were not like the Processions as we know them. At first, only the town centre schools (usually five or six schools with about 800 children) met in the afternoon in the Market Place, and after singing of hymns, processed to nearby churches for afternoon services. In the evening the annual tea-meeting of the Union was held when the Annual Report was presented. Eventually, the afternoon services were held on Whit-Sunday and, for a short time, at the Whit-Monday gatherings, after singing in the Market Place, the children processed to a suitable venue for a picnic tea. In 1877 the Whit-Monday gathering transferred to the morning, when the usual singing took place but it is not clear whether there was a procession. Also at this time, some schools were unwilling to assemble on Whit-Monday and on three occasions in the l880s no Whit-Monday gathering took place. We are not told why the schools were unwilling - the SSU. Minutes are not as informative as they could be. In 1888 it was decided to use the newly opened Queen's Park for the gathering of schools after the procession from the Market Place. This extended the procession route outside the town for the first time, by way of Low Pavement, Packers Row, Burlington Street, Cavendish Street, Saltergate, Foljambe Road and Boythorpe Road. This, then, was the first of the big processions that they have become. Two years later, the route was changed again, and the procession returned to the Market Place. By the turn of the century, the gatherings were getting bigger - more schools and more scholars were taking part, and were attracting some attention. The 1900 gathering was described in the Press as 'one of the largest Whit-Monday gatherings ever held. The large number of children and teachers - over 2,000 scholars from 10 schools - astonished many and manifested to all that nonconformity is a greater force in Chesterfield than some would imagine'. By 1905, the Queen's Park was in use again and continued to be used until 1935, the route being via Park Road and later by way of Foljambe Road and Boythorpe Road again. Newbold Road, Queen Street and Tennyson Avenue came into the route for the first time in 1914. The present route of the Procession has been in use since 1936. Every school had a banner and after the First World War, decorated tableaux became part of the Procession. The 1918 report refers to the large number of decorated cars and tableaux, with prizes given for best decorated car. Tableaux were on decorated drays mainly demonstrating Sunday School work and prizes were awarded. In 1919 Brampton Congs. got first prize for 'Gospel Lifeboat'. The best years for size were the 1920s and 1930s with 18 to 20 schools and 3,000 to 4,000 scholars.