The day Gracie Fields came to Chorley

Gracie Fields when she was a VIP guest at a Sports and Gala Day in Whittle-le-Woods in 1938
Gracie Fields when she was a VIP guest at a Sports and Gala Day in Whittle-le-Woods in 1938

While the Royal Ordnance Factory, which became known as ROF Chorley was still being built, a large Sports and Gala Day was hosted on the grounds of Lisieux Hall off Dawson Lane in Whittle-le-Woods on Saturday, August 20, 1938.

While the Royal Ordnance Factory, which became known as ROF Chorley was still being built, a large Sports and Gala Day was hosted on the grounds of Lisieux Hall off Dawson Lane in Whittle-le-Woods on Saturday, August 20, 1938.

It was to be a celebration of the large construction project and a mass day of entertainment for invited guests, locals and the construction workers of Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Co Ltd.

But it was the apperance of one of the VIPs, the famous Gracie Fields, which dominated the day.

Gracie was born in Rochdale in 1898 and became one of the nation’s most loved actress, singer and comedienne.

In 1938, the year of her visit to Chorley, she was made a CBE in the King’s Honours.

She continued in her show-biz career and through her all into entertaining the troops during World War Two having enlisted in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

Shortly before her death in 1979, she was elevated in the Honours list to Dame in recognition of her services to entertainment.

There was also Walford Hyden and his Café Colette Orchestra, Silcock’s World Fair, a playground and sports competition. Walford Hyden was a well known musical composer and achieved success after the war arranging the music for the 1946 film Great Expectations which starred John Mills and Valerie Hobson.

The sports competition consisted of 100 yards sprint, 400 yards, sack race, wheel barrow race, high jump, long jump, tug of war, and even a marathon race which started at Chorley Town Hall.

The whole event proved to be very popular and was a great success. Such was the interest in the occasion that highlights of the day, especially the performance by Gracie Fields was recorded by Pathe News and now resides in the film archives.

The Gala Day was enjoyed by the local community and was a boost to morale for the construction workers and within 12 months, the overall ordnance factory site would be complete and ready to host a very official and very Royal opening by King George VI.