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      Memories of Rag Day
Mike Spencer remembers “Rag Days” at Chester
 
Among my fondest memories of college are those of Rag Day. High-spirited, crazy, maybe a little destructive and certainly disruptive to the good folk of Chester, they acted as a way of letting off steam and as a healthy safety-valve against the over-regulated and somewhat repressive regime we lived under. For me, whose path in life had known nothing but the discipline of my school days, next a job, then my two years of National Service in the RAF, Rag Day gave me an unfamiliar taste of freedom and a refreshing (if temporary) feeling of harmless anarchy. But there was more to Rag Day than simply a noisy rampage through the city. In fact, these events raised much-needed money for local charities. The 1958 Rag raised £775 and the following year, a total of £960; translated into today’s equivalent monetary value – a considerable amount!
 
 
Caption: The 1959 Rag Day band led by Bill Halstead as a drum majorette! (Cheshire Observer)
 
The Oxford English Dictionary states that the origin of “rag” derives from an ancient term meaning to engage in rough play, to be noisy and riotous act of ragging; esp. an extensive display of disorderly conduct, carried on in defiance of authority or discipline. The Chester College Rag was instituted as an annual event in 1923 complete with a procession into the city, music performed from a lorry parked in the Town Hall Square and stunts throughout the afternoon and early evening. That year it was reported good-humoredly in the Chester Chronicle that “peaceful citizens were held up by weirdly attired nondescripts who demanded money in no mild or half-hearted way”. The Collegian later reported that over £146 for local charities had been raised through the efforts of a motley crew of “pianist, violinists, singers, organ-grinders, handcuff manipulators hypnotists, artists, and elocutionist etc.”
 
At our first Rag Day, in 1958, we Mid’Uns were rookies, observing and learning the ropes. Few of us will forget the portable zebra crossing, which was laid across the street and occupied by sitting students bringing traffic to a standstill. Only when the stationary cars drivers gave a donation were they allowed pass on. We followed gleefully those carrying an 18’ ladder that was carried through the station and even through the aisles of Woolworths
 
The following year we entered into the spirit of the day with gusto. Much fun was had dressing up. A group of us (myself, John Carter, Geoff Sadler, Tony Birkbeck among others) dressed as “toffs” carrying walking canes and copies of The Times. Thus attired, John Carter went into Lloyds Bank presenting a cheque for 3d to be as cashed in half- pennies but insisting the coins be counted out “heads up”.
 
Arthur Harada presented an unforgettable sight, parading the city with a chamber pot on his head (see last photo). I remember Peter Herdman dressing as the Devil pairing up with Graham Martin dressed as an angel. Steve Moore and Rod Hunt, in drag, had put a thatched roof and a window box with paper flowers on Steve’s Lambretta scooter.
 
The Rag Day clearly had the blessing and imprimatur of the College because Prinny’s wife, Mrs Price judged the Rag Day costumes as we paraded round and round in a circle in front of her until she finally announced a winner.
 
Notable was the marching band, led by Bill Halstead dressed as a drum majorette, at the core of which was the College All Stars, with the band’s leader Dave Dixson attired as a Cossack and the unforgettable Jim Long dressed as a weird sheik playing his Sellotaped-up clarinet. Other musicians joined in: Jim Martland, playing his baritone horn but too intent on his music score to keep in step. 
 
Caption: The Toff’s in Toppers
 
One memorable incident occurred. John Robinson reverting to his former identity as Second Lieutenant, and sporting his rolled umbrella as a swagger stick, commanded a breakaway squad to march in close formation down to The Groves which flank the Dee. There the squad formed up on the suspension bridge where John ordered them to pee in order through the iron lattice-work into the swirling waters below. Whether the peeing was aborted is a mere detail as this nefarious behaviour drew the attention of a passing police-man. Never lacking “style” John marched up to the constable and presented arms with his umbrella, then offered up his wrists to be handcuffed. The constable entered into the spirit of the day and made a mock arrest but soon allowed John to go on his way.
 
Another feature was “Pyjama Parade.” A group of students armed with a bugle, bells and tin cans making a racket outside the Blossoms Hotel at 6.00a.m prompting the manager to hasten out and make a generous donation to obviate the threat of his guests being rudely awakened!   
 
Not all the Rag Day “stunts” had such a happy outcome. In 1958, flour bombs and water bombs were carried by marauding group of students and the bombs thrown in a short-lived battle of flour and water in the Town Hall Square A number of schoolgirls from Dee House Ursuline Convent School had their blue gabardine raincoats besmirched with dough-like flour prompting the Head, Sister Paul Flood, to write to Prinny deprecating the students behaviour and enclosing the dry cleaning bill for the restitution of the raincoats.
 
Even more serious was “The Incident of the Eastgate Clock.” As a Rag Day stunt, someone climbed up the iconic ironwork and attached an effigy to the famous clock. It was a step too far, and caused quite a stir. Recorded, I believe, in the Chester local newspaper, Prinny was not amused and Brad led an investigation. Doubtless the culprits were identified and severely reprimanded.
 
 
aption: Steve Moore & Rod Hunt in drag on the thatched scooter.aption: Steve Moore & Rod Hunt in drag on the thatched scooter.
 
Two other features of the Rag was the Rag Mag and the Rag Dance. The magazine of our day, mild and devoid of the crude humour and filthy jokes of the university rag mags of later decades, made a considerable profit, while the Rag Dance in 1959 realised the modest sum of  £7 11s 4d. In 1960 a much grander dance was held in October. “Ye Ragge Ball” with an “’Ighly Informal” theme was attended by Ian and Mary Morris and Mary kindly sent Rod the double ticket at 8/- to put in the Year Archive.
 
Caption: Ragge Ball ticket.
 
How about Rags in the years after we had left? In his book “On Chester On” Graeme White writes: “The Rag Day of 1968 was marred by a heavy police presence which gave the procession “a funeral air” and led to several stunts being called off. There was concern at Academic Council early in 1970 about the bad taste of the previous year’s Rag Mag and of the speeches at the most recent College Christmas Dinner. The behaviour of some first-year students at the next Christmas dinner was such that catering staff could only be persuaded to continue if it was restricted to academic staff and third-and fourth-year students.
 
“For the student community of the 1970s Rag Day had effectively become the climax to Rag Week, an annual late-October extravaganza in the name of charity, which included outings to sell Rag Mags up and down the country. Concerns about unruly behaviour and content of the magazine still surfaced from time to time but £5,400 was raised for distribution to worthy causes in 1976.”
 
By the early 2000s a sea-change in social behaviour wrought a new attitudes. The rise of the “Health and Safety culture” coupled with a strengthening of attitudes that were more inclusive and politically correct and which eschewed the yobbish and sexist elements of Rag Week meant that there was less of an appetite for the extreme and crude tenor of the Rag Week stunts and activities. In addition the founding of initiatives such as Band Aid & Live Aid and the charity Comic Relief with its Red Nose Day, as well as Children in Need becoming national institutions, began to divert the public support towards a more respectable, regulated and inclusive means of charitable fund raising
 
Graeme White writes: “By 2005 the College rag had been replaced by alternative volunteering initiatives: the 65,440 hours reckoned to have been spent by students in volunteering work between 2002 and 2007 was deemed equivalent to over £300,000 had payments been made at the minimum wage. The Students’ Union became increasingly active in mounting campaigns to safeguard communal health and welfare: in 2001-02 for example, it hosted an anti-racism evening, publicised meningitis awareness, and prioritised the prevention of spiking dinks on the campus.
 
“By 2013 student volunteering had been a prominent activity since the demise of the Rag . . . and was reckoned to contribute over 23,250 hours of community service per annum, with an office in the Beswick building and a presence on Facebook to assist with the co-ordination.”
 
In the late 1950s we lived in simpler times and in a climate of less complex social mores. As I said at the beginning of this article, I remember Rag Day fondly but I am only too aware that what we got up to in those days, would be unlikely to happen today.
 
 
Caption: Many of the Astbury lads of Mid Year II out side their hostel. Fisher didn’t have such esprit de corps.