How many Carnivals have there been?
(Published soon after the 2022 carnival)
After a 2-year lull due to covid restrictions, 2022 saw the welcome return of Kenilworth’s Carnival parade. Even before the parade, 2023’s Carnival was being advertised as ‘90 years of Kenilworth Carnival’, but calculating just how many Carnivals there have been is not quite as straightforward as one might imagine.
Firstly, one has to determine just what is meant by the term ‘Carnival’; normal acceptance is that there has to be a parade and for this article, that is the meaning that is followed. A wide range of definitions of the term can be found here Carnival definitions and the reader is left to decide for themselves if a different or wider use of the term should be used.
It is accepted that the first recognised Kenilworth Carnival was in 1926 Origins of Kenilworth Carnival; this was an amalgamation of other events and was specifically to raise funds for Warneford Hospital, but it was referred to as a ‘Festival’ and was organised by the Working Men’s Club. It consisted of nothing but a parade through town and evening dancing in the park. In 1927 is the first reference to ‘The Kenilworth Hospital Carnival Committee’; it appears to have separated from the Working Men’s Club and this time a fair was included. No record of a Carnival Queen being chosen for either event can be found; 1928 saw the first time a ‘Queen of the Carnival’ was chosen, thus creating a disparity of two between the number of known Queens and Carnivals. From then on, the event was always referred to as ‘The Hospital Carnival’.
In 1940, despite the threat of invasion looming, a Carnival was planned and a Queen, Rosalind Booden, chosen, but at the last minute, days after France surrendered to Germany, the Carnival week events were cancelled. There was no parade and no fair, the Queen’s Coronation and Carnival Ball happened a month late but a door-to-door collection was taken. So no Carnival parade but there were a Queen and fund raising events.
However, as the war progressed numerous fund-raising activities were held in Kenilworth; the ‘Salute the Soldier’ campaign, ‘Spitfire Week’, the sponsorship of HMS Campanula and the raising of £100,000 in the ‘Wings for Victory’ campaign are the best known, but the majority of the huge funds raised were paid into National Savings and were thus an ‘Investment’ rather than a ‘Donation’. In 1943, a ‘Gala’ was held to raise funds directly for the ‘Merchant Navy Comfort Fund’ during the August ‘Holiday at Home’ week. George Tisdale was the Chairman of the Committee, as he had been for many Hospital Carnivals in the pre-war years.
Then in August 1944, as the war progressed and the threat of invasion all but disappeared, the ‘Warneford Hospital Carnival Week’, as it was called in the local press, was held along much the same lines as pre-war events including a swimming gala, sports and dancing in the Abbey Fields. The funds were as with all pre-war Carnivals for the Warneford Hospital. Celia Reeves, the chosen ‘Miss Kenilworth’ and her maids were a focal point at the proceedings and paraded through the town on a float. George Tisdale once more headed the Committee. This was a fund-raising event for the same cause as all pre-war Carnivals, with the same Chairman, a parade, and events in the Abbey Fields; surely it should count as a true Kenilworth Carnival?
After the war with the NHS bill in progress, Warneford Hospital no longer had to rely on charitable donations in the same way and so the raison d’etre for Kenilworth’s Carnival was gone. But in 1947, the British Legion members were instrumental in putting together a Carnival for their own funds. This was a new set up with a new cause and new organisers, but is counted as a continuation from 1939, ignoring the wartime events. The Carnival has run continuously since to the benefit of a wide variety of local charities and other good causes.
The next difficulty is counting the number of Queens, as in 1970 there were two, Kenilworth’s Forgotten Carnival Queen; although the originally crowned 1970 Queen does not appear to have attended any functions, she was still chosen as a Queen; her replacement that travelled on the float and attended functions, was the original runner-up. Should both be counted?
I now come to the Covid-ravaged years of 2020 and 2021.
In 2020 a Queen was chosen, Faith Brough, but the parade was cancelled. In its place was a competition for decorating houses and places of business, and the Mayor walked the route on Carnival Day to continue the tradition of collecting donations in a fishing net! So a Queen, fundraising, but no parade or fair.
2021 saw Faith Brough enter the record books; having become in 2020 only the second Queen (after Rosalind Booden in 1940) to have ‘her’ parade cancelled, she became the first to be Queen for two years, her reign extended in the hope that she would now get a parade. Alas, it was not to be but Faith did judge the second street decoration competition. Also, having missed out in 2020, the fair returned to the Abbey Fields and a Picnic in the Park was held. Then finally in 2022, Faith in her third year as Queen and breaking more records, finally rode her carnival.
We have had Queens without parades and parades without Queens; we have had fundraising with a Queen but without a fair; and fundraising with a Queen but no parade; and a parade with neither Queen nor fair. So to count as a Carnival, does there have to be a Queen, fundraising, a parade, and a fair? Or a specific combination thereof?
How does this all add up? Here is a summary (with entries in red that should be considered to be added to the records):
And so back to the headline; How many Carnivals have there been? Including 2022, there have been 88 processions, but including occasions where fundraising took place without a procession (1940, 1944, 2020 and 2021), there have been 92.
The detailed history of the first 25 years of Kenilworth’s Carnival is included in my book, Kenilworth People & Places, Volume 2
(Note: The above has been submitted to the Carnival Committee for their observations and discussion; I shall post the outcome here.)
More Kenilworth Carnival articles on this website: