The History of Wakes Weeks and the Easter Fair
During Lancashire's industrial era, the most widely anticipated time of the year was the annual summer holiday, generally known as the Wakes Week. The origin of the wakes are to a certain extent still shrouded in mystery, although it seems likely that they were originally intended to commemorate the anniversary of a church or chapel being founded in the local area. However, by the 19th century, the wakes had few religious connotations, although 'rush-bearing' processions to the local church continued in some parishes for many decades.
The Lancashire wakes are best seen as a tradition which became an institution. Each town in the cotton belt had celebrated the wakes in one form or another for centuries before the industrial revolution. Once their lives were regimented by the mill clock, most factory workers felt even more strongly that this traditional 'time-off' should be preserved and formalised.
Each town had its own insular tradition, which eventually developed into a 'week off work' - consequently, local towns took their weeks at different times to one another. The owners of mills and factories found that they could do little to prevent their workers from taking the wakes week off - they would simply not turn up for work. Millowners could hardly complain, as they were not overly-generous with holiday entitlement.