Published 20/06/14 by Pixyled publications
Permission granted for use.
Flash a remote village on the borders of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire has a number of claims to fame. It is the highest village in England 1518 feet above sea level. Its location made it a town for counterfeiting, ‘flash money’; a more dubious claim to fame perhaps. A better claim to fame is that it is home to the Flash teapot parade, a far more wholesome claim and not just because it involves tea!
No flash in the pan
Sick or burial clubs were widespread across England in the days before the NHS when medical care or burial costs was expensive. The earliest mention of such a group is from 1767 with a Quarnford Club, and by 1846 the Flash Loyal Union friendly society was established and based at the Traveller’s Rest. By 1906 it became known as the Tea Pot Club by 1906 which had 700 members at its peak. This name is believed to originate from the means in which the money was stored as Doug Pickford (1992) in his Myths and Legends of East Cheshire and the Moorlands:
“people would keep their spare halfpennies and farthings in teapots….regular collections were made by an elected Committee and all proceeds kept in the tea pot. Whenever a family needed to use the monetary contents of the teapot, a committee member would call and empty the entire money onto the kitchen table. The collection would start again until the next person or persons needed to have the contents emptied.”
Such that the money was then given out to villagers in times of unemployment, sickness or bereavement. Like many Friendly Societies, each year they would have a church service and then parade and photos exist from the 1800s and 1940s showing assembled groups often carrying banners. Andy Collins, one of the organisers stated that members had to attend or pay a fine and would march with a local band starting alternatively from the Parish or Methodist church but always to the Traveller’s Rest and back for a tea, where she adds seed cake and ham sandwiches were eaten.
Doug Pickford in his Earth Mysteries of the Three shires makes an interesting observation, a teapot would have been an odd commodity for a remote community to have, and believes it has a more ancient origin from the Celtic Taoiseach (pronounced tea shock) for leader! This he believes may be more significant for when the find was dissolved no teapot was found!! A point I raised with one of the organisers, who thought it was interesting idea, although did say the teapots were those belonging to the individual members. It is an interesting point, perhaps greater research may reveal the answer.
No flash pan!
The Tea Pot parade is the pivotal event in this remote village when eyes from outside look in and not to say they had been the highest village in the world! It is indeed a strange village, one a hamlet of disparate houses perhaps and a pub whose sign remembers Flash’s other claim to fame – counterfeit money or Flash money…did this swell that teapot I wonder. I arrived as the group was midway through their special, Tea pot church service, sitting in the churchyard was a blue striped teapot, a surreal object amid the graves. I decided to have a look at the well dressing and it was a fine one. The topic for this year, being an obvious and much to be repeated one across the season no doubt, WWI, but it was professionally executed with a delightful teapot tradition. Soon the vicar arrived and followed by his congregation he blessed the well in a simple service. Then it was time for the parade, sadly the local brass band, usually the Leek and District Scout and Guide Band appeared to no longer attend, but a violinist and drummer provided some evocative and stirring music. The banners were collected by a large group of adults and children and proudly displayed ready for the off. Amongst them were the delightfully dressed Flash Rose Queen and retinue. Before they could go of course, the teapot had to be moved into pride of place…then we were off. The procession moved majestically up the minor road, little traffic travelled down there, but I wonder what happened when we reached the much busier A53 where the Traveller’s Rest lay. As we reached the A53, the road was closed as we climbed to the Inn, around us the sky darkened, storm clouds gathered. Here the group downed banners and had a drink or two. Then the procession returned down towards Flash but stopping at the Village Hall for some tea.
Storm in a teapot
This parade of course is a sort of facsimile, a copy but without an association with the group it was based on. Why? The fall, quite literally, of a notable newspaper magnate and the subsequent disappearance of millions of pounds of pension money, had a big effect. Why should that have an effect on a remote village and its custom? New laws on saving organisations had their impact and as such the small volumes controlled by the group could not be legally collected and so in 1995 the Flash Loyal Union friendly society was finally dissolved and its banner was laid over the church door. However although in 1995 the last authentic Flash teapot parade finished, 1996 saw it continue as a village tradition organised by the locals as a valid attempt to keep the custom alive. No doubt due to the remoteness of the communities here it continued for longer than most. This re-invention rather than revival was a conscious effort by Andy and some other local incomers and involved the children making banners and significantly a giant teapot! She also added that for several years a play was performed on how the society was formed. This sadly has lapsed. Of course, this being the Peak District, something was missing, then in 2006 a well dressing was introduced and this continues to this day. However, all in all, this custom remains a unique addition to the year’s calendar especially if you like a cuppa.
Thanks again to Pixyled publications for the use of this article.
Last modified: 17 June 2020