‘Carnival’ was traditionally a Catholic festive season that took place in the days leading up to Lent. Originally from the Italian word ‘carnevale’ which means ‘put away your meat’. The event spread to become world-wide and typically involved a parade and various activities celebrating life.
In the early part of the 20th century carnival parades became a way for local clubs and groups to promote their activities whilst collecting for good causes. In addition to adult activities such as drama, horticulture and sport, there were parades of youth activities such as Boy Scouts, Cubs and Boys Brigade. Local businesses were also quick to take advantage of the publicity that the parades could provide. In their simplest form, trade vehicles were decorated with bunting, banners and garlands of flowers but as time passed the decoration of vehicles (known as floats) became more elaborate and often included purpose built structures to make them resemble a theatrical set. Initially horse-drawn delivery vehicles were used but in time these gave way to vans, flatbed lorries and even motorcycles.
Collecting coins en-route became an important feature, raising funds for local charities and projects.
I give below some facts and information I have collected from the local paper archives along with a few photographs. Most events and meetings of the Carnival Committee were originally held in the Memorial Hall, High Road, Laindon but transferred in 1959, to the newly built Laindon Community Centre, in Aston Road.
I found brief references to Laindon Carnivals in 1925 and 1926.
In 1927 a Carnival was organized by the Laindon Philanthropic Society which included fancy dress and baby competitions. Sports and a concert added to the enjoyment. The Hon. Sec. was Mr W J Brett and Mrs W F Boss distributed the prizes.
The winning float in the 1929 Laindon Carnival belonged to Jimmy Richards who lived at the farmhouse ‘Sunnymead’ on the unmade part of King Edward Road. His float consisted of a motorbike decorated with a sign ‘Drink More Milk’, thus advertising the family’s milk delivery service. Attached to the motorbike was a sidecar containing a live calf!
1932. Carnival Queen: Edna Gibbons. Attendants: Misses. Whomes, Wright, Hull, Swann, Richards and Warwick. 1933. Carnival Queen: Miss Renee Swann. Attendants: E. Willetts, Alice Hollington, L Muller, Doreen Woodhouse, N. Wright and C. Barr.
1934. Carnival Queen: Bella Whitehead of ‘Mahala’, Tavistock Road, a typist in a local builder’s yard. 1st Prize: Decorated horse-drawn trade: J. Cottis – Bakers. That year the carnival was raising funds towards furnishing the Nurses Cottage in the High Road which had been built in 1932.
1936. Carnival Queen: Marjorie Marchant of High Road, Laindon. Attendants: Olive Barker, Lily Sampson, Mary Polden and Marjorie Hopper. The event took place on Bank Holiday Monday 1st June when a cine film was taken of the parade carefully negotiating one of Laindon’s bumpy, uneven roads.
1937. No information apart from: 1st Prize decorated trade vehicle: H. Simmonds – Corn Merchant. 1938. Carnival Queen: Elsie Sykes of High Road, Laindon. Attendants: I. White, A Sykes and R Linkman. 20,000 people travelled by rail during the weekend – the greatest number on a Bank Holiday. 1st Prize for decorated trade vehicle: W. H. Gibbons. 1st Prize for undecorated trade vehicle – Gas Light and Coke Company. 1st Prize for Professional advertising – Spratts Ltd. 1st Prize for decorated private car – Radion (Laindon) Ltd. Decorated cycle or motorcycle: L. Ewing.
The cinema entered a decorated private car, possibly to promote the change of name from Laindon Picture Theatre to the Radion. (The exact date of the change has not yet been established.)
Competition winners: Ankle – Mrs Silver. Tiny tots fancy dress – Mary Pratt. Boys (5-9) fancy dress 1st – A Earle. 2nd. M Mansfield. Girls (5-9). Ist – Beckwith. 2nd – J. Ellerby, 3rd – I Oliff. 4th – J Buckenham. Girls (10-14) 1st – P Thomas. 2nd – P Plenty. 3rd – I Fowler. Gentleman’s fancy dress: 1st – W Tyler. Juvenile couples up to 14 years: 1st – I Finch and C Jarman. Children’s beauty: 1st – D Smith. 2nd – J Mansell. 3rd – P Pelman. 4th – D Mansfield. 5th – S Emson. 6th – E Hancock.
Comic dog show: Longest tail – Mrs Hewitt. Shortest tail – Miss J Buckenham. Ugliest – Mr Miles. Most mournful eyes – Mrs Clark. Most hansom – Miss Norman. Consolation prizes: Mrs Carfield, and the Misses P and J Buckenham.
1939. Carnival Queen: Joan Bowyer. Chairman: Mr W Kiddell. Organiser: Mr R. Moorcroft. Secretary: Mr E. Howe.
Tilbury Boys’ Band and Southend British Legion Band played. Some of the winners were: Best decorated cycle: Freda Griggs. Best decorated trade cycle: E. Godden. Best decorated horse vehicle: W. T. Townsend. Best led horse: M. Koppit. Tiny tots parade: 1. Olive Sawyer. 2. Joan Frost. 3. Robin Burford. 4. Betty Pearman. 5. June Firman.
Later that year, Carnival Queen Joan Bowyer and her Court attended the Dunton Fete where £20 was raised towards the repairs to the church roof.
1940. Carnival Queen: Miss Clara Findlay aged 16 of Vowler Road was chosen as Carnival Queen on Saturday 4th May. Her Maid of Honour: Miss Daisy Richardson. The retiring Queen, Miss Joan Bowyer, performed the crowning ceremony at the Memorial Hall on Wednesday 8th May.
I can only remember going to one carnival myself which I believe was in 1951. All I can recall is a float with a magician sawing a lady in half. The unfortunate lady was being played by a young woman called ‘Lydie’ (short for Lydia) who worked in ‘Manor Dairy’. (See the 15th photo in the article ‘Sloper’s Dairy of Laindon’ by Peter Sloper).
Lydie was also a member of ‘Laindon Revellers’ and demonstrated her acting skills by screaming loudly as the magician appeared to be going to work with his saw. No wonder I remember that particular float so clearly. I can also remember a few years later, seeing Lydie appear at the Memorial Hall in the pantomime Aladdin, when she played the part of a spoof TV Newsreader. Sitting in a cardboard TV set, she kept giving out comical news reports. Jean Pattle played the principal boy.
After the carnival, we went to the field behind the Laindon Hotel where I was entered into a toddlers’ race. I was in the lead until I saw my mum and sister standing at the side and heard them shouting something to me. I stopped and ran over to them to see what they wanted, while the other children ran passed me to the finishing line. I was told ‘you would have won that if you hadn’t stopped’. I was very young and obviously had a lot to learn.
1951. Carnival Queen: Miss Flora Houser. Attendants: Dorothy Banks and Betty Crowe. This was the first Carnival post-war and the main event of Laindon’s ‘Festival of Britain’ celebrations in May.
The Whitson Bank Holiday weather was disappointingly bleak when the floats assembled in Samuel Road where the event was ‘opened’ and sent on its way by the wife of Mr Bernard Braine MP. Mrs Braine cut a ribbon that had been stretched across the road and said into a microphone: “It is not easy to run a Carnival and it takes courage to be gay in the face of difficulties. That is one thing the British have never lacked, they have always had courage. This afternoon let us forget politics, the cost of living and the worries of feeding the families. Let us set out to enjoy ourselves.”
The half mile long procession set off on its 4½ mile route in the bitter cold led by the impressive figure of Mr G T Saunders riding a white horse and dressed as John Bull. Despite the cold wind and overcast sky, many people lined the route. Over 10,000 people attended on the day, many of whom had travelled to Laindon to watch the procession and afterwards flocked to the fete in Mr Toomey’s field in Aston Road where many sideshows and stalls had been set up. A favourite attraction proved to be an Essex County Road Safety Exhibition in a converted double-decker bus. The evening finished with a dance in the Memorial Hall with Wally Card as MC. Music was provided by The Billy Dee’s dance band.
Around this time the Carnival began promoting the Community Association’s campaign to raise funds to build a Community Hall in Aston Road.
1952. Carnival Queen: Brenda Buckenham. The crowning ceremony took place on the stage in The Radion cinema.
1953. I recently read an old press cutting from a local paper, reporting the lack of local girls willing to enter the Carnival Queen Competition leading up to Coronation Year. I must admit one part made me laugh out loud and another part made me quite cross. Headed “Only five girls wanted to be Laindon Carnival Queen” I quote as follows:-
“Laindon’s young women are shy and apparently do not want the honour of being Laindon’s Coronation Year Carnival Queen.
Two weeks ago when the Carnival Committee held a dance to select six finalists, the attendance was so poor that only two were selected. On Saturday, at Langdon Hills Cricket Club’s dance at the Crown Hotel, at which it was hoped to select a further six finalists, only five girls would enter the competition and only three were chosen finalists.
Two of the three entered last year’s Carnival Queen Competition and one of them was a Maid of Honour to 1952 Queen, Brenda Buckenham.
The three are Miss Joan Hutton of Casablanca, Tavistock Road (last year’s Maid of Honour), Miss Joan Cobb, (an unsuccessful entrant from last year) and Miss Doris Marner of Old Post Office, High Road, Langdon Hills.
Said an official of the Carnival Committee after the dance: ‘It is, to say the least, most disappointing’. It is hoped to select six more finalists at a dance this Saturday at the Essex Country Club.
There was a sixth entrant for the competition – the Langdon Hills, Cricket Club Treasurer, in a borrowed dress and wearing make-up filched from his wife’s handbag! He was judged ineligible and disqualified.
Judges of the competition were Mr and Mrs Siddall, licensees of the Crown Hotel and Mr R Davis”.
I can’t help thinking that when a further 6 finalists were needed and only five turned up, how unkind it was to only choose three of them! I hate to imagine how rejected the other two girls must have felt. And, although the ‘in drag’ entrant was very comical, it was almost adding insult to injury in respect of the girls who had entered but hadn’t been selected to compete.
Quickly moving on.
I believe the last carnival in Laindon took place in 1957. The parade then transferred to Basildon.
1958. Carnival Queen: Joan Bartle.
1959. Carnival Queen: June Ferguson. Attendants: Dorothy Matthews and Ann Bartle (sister of the previous year’s Queen). See separate article called “Carnival Queen 1959”.
The Carnival still takes place, although the route and the rules have changed over the years. Health and Safety regulations now stipulate that each float must have four out-runners, everybody on the float must be seated and there must be an insurance policy in place.