History of Leeds Childrens Day Festival

According to Leeds Rugby President Harry Jepson and a former Ground Marshal at the city’s Children’s Day celebrations, "There was nothing in the country to match it." Begun in 1922 and running at Roundhay Park until 1963, the annual event was recently revived at Headingley Carnegie Stadium in a partnership between the Garry Chappelow Memorial Fund and Leeds Rugby Foundation and takes place this year on Sunday 14th August.

Players from the Rhinos and Leeds Carnegie will be present among the multitude of stands and sideshows.
“Initially, Children’s Day was set up as the finals of the district sports competitions”  Jepson recalls, who was a noted head teacher.

“The schools were divided into six geographical districts and had their own championships at places like Headingley and Parkside and they all came together in the arena at Roundhay Park to decide the city champions.”

“It developed into an expression of the great variety of physical activity going on in those days like musical skipping and trampolining. Mind you, there was no changing for PE, the kids used to do it in their ordinary clothes – to see a pair of shorts was quite an event in itself.”

“Gradually, other activities were brought in like Scottish dancing, country dancing and the great and hugely popular massed display, a choreographed drill involving all the schools in the arena, which was a wonderful spectacle.”

A cultural element was also included as the extravaganza caught the city’s imagination with a Variety Matinee and Evening Stars Young Entertainers’ sitting alongside poster and art, handwriting and poetry competitions, maypole dancing and the Royal Signals motor cycle display and band.

“It became a great festival and had tremendous crowds,” Harry Jepson continued. “It was very successful and in 1946, the first after the War, over 96,000 were in the Park. As it became bigger, more expense was involved. The procession, which began at Leeds Town Hall and was led by the Children’s Day Queen, was a tremendous affair with decorated floats carrying children weaving through the streets.”

“Ultimately, Children’s Day outgrew itself. The Leeds Schools’ Sports Association who ran it found that they were losing money, compounded by the fact that in the last five years we had some awful weather. Two of them were dreadfully wet which spoiled everything and the last one, in 1963, was a complete washout and never took place.”

“For many years, while at Rodley, I was the ground master and it was a big job. I had a fortnight off school with a group of boys to help me set it up. They had magnificent rehearsals, each school had two and, on the day itself, all the tramway staff gave their services for free and the trams ringed around the Park.”