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The Early Days of the Parade by Judy Chapman

The Early Days of the Parade

It was the spring of ’65. The long cold winter of ’62/63 was just a bitter memory. England was yet to start swinging.

I was working in the job which I’d had since leaving school two years earlier. In those heady days of full employment, I’d struck it lucky straight away. My colleagues were friendly and welcoming; the clients who came into the reception office which I shared with one other girl were an interesting mixed bunch of farmers, growers and wholesalers and the surroundings were, to say the least, interesting. Just a few yards from my workplace were cattle sheds and sheep pens which were buzzing with the sights, sounds (and smells) of livestock sales each Tuesday. Immediately opposite my office window were In the season large the sales tulip sheds and from daffodil which bulbs fresh for flowers, which plants and vegetables were sold by auction. Spalding was famous were sold at weekly bulb sale days. This busy place, not far from the middle of Spalding, was the Spalding Bulb and Produce Auction which was run by a consortium Of local auctioneers.

However interesting my work surroundings were, they became even more lively in that spring Of 1965. Looking out of my office window at the hangar sized shed No. 4 (which, incidentally, was 2 years later to be the venue of the famous Barbecue 67) I watched as giant straw clad structures of varying shapes and sizes were driven into the sheds. Underneath these straw mats were the steel frames which had been skilfully constructed over the previous months by well known local blacksmith Geoff Dodd, using working drawings created by Dutchman Kees van Driel. It was fun to guess what the completed floats would be. Some resembled animals, others were giant flowers, yet others were coaches and horses. As the parade was still somewhat in its infancy in 1965 (the first was in 1959) the design of the floats was not yet as elaborate as later sponsored floats. Memorable later ones being an Inter City125 train; a pouncing tiger and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang amongst other spectacular shapes.

I watched as drivers carefully manoeuvred the floats into the shed, barely able to see from the seats of their Ford Dexters or little grey Fergies around which the structures appeared to have been built. As soon as they were in place they were surrounded by trestles and planks. Now the fun began. Sack loads of tulip heads of all colours (a by-product of the crop which was grown for its bulbs rather than its flowers) were brought into the sheds. With these came gangs of workers, some of them employed in the bulb industry whilst others were volunteers. The atmosphere took on a party feel whilst these workers – mostly women – got on with the intricate task of pinning hundreds of thousands of tulip heads on to the floats, transforming dull straw covered shapes into colourful and recognisable structures. Each head was laboriously pinned to the straw with a hairpin shaped piece of wire until the floats were a riot of colour. Despite this intricate and somewhat tedious task, the workers remained cheerful, working energetically into the night, long after I had left my office for the day. They could be heard singing happily along to the latest hits which blasted out from their transistor radios; a favourite being the Clapping Song by Shirley Ellis which, to this day, reminds me of those happy simpler times whenever I hear it.

As the afternoon progressed members of the public began to drift in to watch the construction of the floats which would pass them by in their full colourful glory on Saturday’s parade. Visitors had come to Spalding from all parts of the U.K. Some stayed with families in private homes, forming friendships which would last for many years. Others brought their touring caravans, creating temporary shanty towns of ‘vans on fields which had been let out for the weekend by farmers or schools. These visitors would be joined on Saturday by day trippers who arrived in convoys of coaches or on special excursion steam trains – a treat for local train spotters.

I left work on the Friday evening, passing temporary stalls that had cropped up along the roadside, selling anything from plants, flowers and fresh local produce to bric-a-brac. There was a carnival atmosphere throughout the town which would come to a crescendo on Saturday afternoon. As I didn’t work on a Saturday I went into town early to bag a prime spot along the route from where I could watch the parade of these fantastic floats which I had seen being transformed from straw covered metal frames to a colourful parade of animals, flowers and carriages interspersed with marching bands and vintage vehicles.

Of course, everything changes. Fields of tulips have now been replaced with fields of cabbages and cauliflowers; the Bulb and Produce Auction has moved to a larger out of town location, its original site is now a Sainsbury’s supermarket; Geoff Dodd’s forge is now a fascinating visitor attraction known as Chain Bridge Forge, and with more opportunities for travel further afield it is doubtful that such large crowds would visit Spalding, even if such an event were possible considering the changes in farming practices. But us locals have long memories and recall with nostalgia the days when the name of Spalding was synonymous with tulips and the tulip parade.Judy

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