The last part of this series on Childhood in the early years of the century is devoted to the sort of diversions and entertainments that were provided for children by adults. Although children were expected to devise their own amusements with very little in the way of bought toys or games, there were certain traditional activities laid on for them which they enjoyed immensely, such as going to the circus:
"In those days in summer, all the circuses used to come touring round the villages, and there was one called Sanders. It had a big menagerie, which was entirely like a big zoo on wheels, and they used to come in the park and set them out in a big square, and you had to pay an entrance to go in, and see all these animals and watch when they put all the lions in one big cage where the lion tamer went in with them.
"Then there was another called Bill's Wild West Circus also used to come and there we used to see 'The attack on the Deadwood Mail', with the coach galloping round and the Indians chasing after it on their horses and there was sort of imitation fire going on inside and the cowboys firing blank cartridges; we lapped it up!
"A big circus had what we called a three pole tent; anything with only two or one was not much good. We would go down, and they would say, 'Now then, if you take the horses for a drink or if you help to carry these seats in, we'll give you a free pass after. Just ask for Mr So-and-So; and in the afternoon when you went to ask for Mr So-and-So there was nobody there of that name. Get lost!
"It was sixpence in old money for the afternoon performance, but the really amazing thing was that as the evening performance finished, they were starting to pull the whole thing down, and when you think it was all horse-drawn, and next day it would be all set up in Keswick. They didn't have much time to rest."
Tuppence-ha'penny, once a week on a Saturday afternoon, could buy a child a seat at the bioscope, where one gentleman vividly remembered the first silent film he ever saw:
"It was 'Ivanhoe'; and there was a pianist there who used to fit the music to the occasion. We would have a film like 'Ivanhoe' and then there would always be a comic one on the end, like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. There was never anyone selling sweets or anything like that; just to get in, for tuppence-ha'penny, that was the thing."
Very little in the way of entertainment was provided for very young children, but once children started school, there were classes in country dancing and traditional events like Maypole dancing for the crowning of the May Queen. In Ambleside most important national events such as a coronation were represented in the form of a human tableau, which took place at the Assembly Rooms where children and adults dressed up to form motifs such as Britannia ruling the waves, or St George slaying the Dragon.The girls loved the hiring of the costumes and the hustle and bustle which always accompanied these patriotic scenes. Many of them were members of The Girls Friendly Society, a Church of England society for single girls. One of their activities was a sewing class:
"...I would have been about fourteen, still at school...we used to go and sew in this gorgeous diningroom, it was real service to us, the maid brought China tea in beautiful cups and saucers on a tray; the lady who ran the sewing class was very sweet, she wore little lace mittens and a cap and she would read us a story as we sewed."
Life for teenage children could be so busy, they hardly had a free evening. There were practises for the church choir, the town choir, various bands, the bell-ringers and The Volunteers, and anyone with a good singing voice or musical ability to play an instrument was soon snapped up. Even the most reluctant could usually be pressured into joining a choir by the choirmaster and few dared say "no". Nor was it over and done with when a boy soprano's voice broke:
"When we were short of bellringers, we got them from the choir. We'd a full choir in those days, men and boys, and when the boys' voices broke they came to be bellringers, so we usually had five or six about to come up and join us."
Some churches stopped ringing their bells for practise in summer in case it annoyed the visitors; so for one novice bellringer, Christmas was his first big test with few weeks of practise beforehand:
"We had to start ringing at half-past five in the morning on Christmas Day. I got up in the Tower house feeling very proud of having gone down in the dark, there were no lights so I had to have a torch, and it could be very frosty and slippery. I thought,I hope there's someone there, I was very nervous at just fifteen. So I took a run up the Tower, sixty-one steps right to the top, and I had to stand by a ringer and if there were eight ringers, I didn't get to ring. This particular Christmas morning at half-past five there were only seven, so I went in. I've never been so nervous in my life."
Although children enjoyed all the activities laid on for them by their elders and betters, the atmosphere was very much one of school-type discipline as they sang, danced or played. Although children contributed much in their free time, there was very little levity or humour allowed, even outside school. This is how one little girl's Rushbearing Sports Day was ruined by a turn of the head:
"We had to behave ourselves at Rushbearing; today they're dreadful during the service. I turned round in the Rushbearing service because for once my mother had gone with a cousin of hers who'd come; and somebody said, 'Your Mam's there!' And I turned round in high glee and Miss Routledge, our teacher, said, 'You don't go to the Sports on Monday.' And I daren't go. I didn't dare tell my mother, and when she said, 'Why aren't you going to the Sports?', I said, 'Oh, I don't want to go.' But it wasn't that I wouldn't go - I daren't!"