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Carnival has been an integral part of Southend since its inception in 1906, when it was part of the annual regatta. It has always been dedicated to raising money for the town’s charities, and was created exclusively to raise funds for the Southend Victoria Cottage Hospital in Warrior Square.
Since that first year, when it consisted mainly of horse-drawn floats, the procession has always been the key to Carnival. In 1923 a one-day event was added. This, and the events that followed during the next few years, were so successful that in 1926 the Southend-on-Sea Carnival Association was formed.
By 1930, Carnival had become a full week of events and was now raising funds for the proposed new General Hospital. There was something for all the family to take part in including the children's Fancy Dress Parade, Beautiful Toddlers competition, circus and fete in Chalkwell Park, All Sorts dog show, Beautiful Legs parade, daylight procession on Wednesday and torchlight procession on the final day of Carnival. Every event was graced by the attendance of the Southend Carnival Queen and her court. The spirit of Carnival permeated every event; it was not unusual for the procession to take as long as two to three hours to pass. This was a golden era for Carnival in Southend.
During the war years Carnival was put on hold for the duration and the Carnival Association worked instead to help the British Service men and women. Carnival returned to Southend in 1946 with a one-day event at the Kursaal Amusement Park. However, in 1947 it was business as usual and Carnival Week was reinstated. Between 1946 and the end of the 1960s Southend Carnival raised over £90,000 for Southend Hospitals and many other charitable institutions in the borough. This included, in the 1950’s, the setting up the Carnival Estate for the aged poor in Leigh-on-Sea, which we still own and operate today.
Whilst in 70s and 80s many local businesses had supported carnival, with sponsorship or by entering the procession – or both – this support began to dwindle with the local economy. During the early 90s, interest and participation in the events began to decline and this prompted the decision to stop holding the daylight procession and concentrate, instead, on raising the profile of what had become the Illuminated procession.
With the dawn of the 21st century Carnival has taken an upturn, bringing an estimated £3 million of business into the town. In fact, it is estimated that over the years Carnival has invested more than £10 million (in real terms) in the local voluntary community.
2006 was a special year when we celebrated 100 years of Carnival in Southend. It also marked the launch of our strategy for Carnival in the town “Making Carnival Count”
The continuing regeneration of Southend makes 2007 a very special year for Carnival. In the true spirit of Carnival, the events throughout Carnival 2007 are aimed at every member of the community, young or old.
Carnival Queens Pre-War Style
The following information was published in a Carnival Queen Souvenir Programme at the Odeon Theatre on the 8th August 1947. The pictures that accompanied this article are on the carnival court photos page and can be viewed by clicking here. Both the photographs and the text are reproduced by kind permission of Linda Hurst.
Their Carnival Majesties of the Pre-War Years
The Carnival Queen Committee has great pleasure in reproducing on these pages photographs of previous Carnival Queens, all of whom so ably fulfilled the duties of this most important position during the years of Carnival from 1928 to 1939. Many entries were received year by year and there was always keen competition for the honour of being Carnival Queen. The final selection was always a task of great difficulty for the well-known judges who honoured us by their presence and valuable help. These celebrities amongst others, included Mr. C. B. Cochran, (1932), Miss Wendy Barrie and Mr. John B. Myer, (1933), Miss Jessie Matthews and Mr. Victor Savillle, (1934), Mr. Leslie Banks and Miss Patricia Hilliard, (1935), Mr. Edward G. Robinson, (1936), Mr. Clive Brook and Miss Edna Best, (1937), Miss Valerie Hobson and Sabu, (1938), Miss Enid Stamp-Taylor and Miss Anne Maritza, (1939). Southend was always famous for its Carnival Week and Carnival was always famous for the beauty and grace of its Carnival Queens.
A footnote on the programme offers thanks and appreciation to Miss Margaret Clarke for the loan of the photographs reproduced.
The photograph of the 1947 Carnival Queen on the carnival court photos page, the Photograph of the 1948 Queen above and the following timeline were published in a Programme at the Odeon Theatre 29th July 1949.
Maurice Chester's Circus
The following article and photograph appear courtesy of John Boon.
My uncle, James Martin Boon, was a member of the acrobat troop in Maurice Chester's Circus in the 1930s. The attached photo was taken at the Southend Hospital Carnival, although I don't know which year. Jim is standing, right in the photograph.