Chronicles: A History of Ventnor Carnival by Fay Brown

This week’s article is taken from the commentary which the late Fay Brown wrote to accompany one of her slide shows. 

Ventnor’s first carnival was held on 10th September 1889 and took the form of a torchlight procession of ladies and gentlemen in fancy dress. This first Carnival was a really grand affair and two extra editions of the Isle of Wight Advertiser had to be printed as the elaborate description of the Carnival took up many columns and was keenly read by residents. Houses and streets were decorated and illuminated. Ventnor Park was decorated with 3000 Japanese or Chinese Lanterns and there was dancing on the lawn. Afterwards a Masquerade Ball was held in the Assembly Rooms (later known as the Town Hall). The whole thing was a great success and Carnivals continued, with only a few years when it was postponed or curtailed because of bad weather, or ‘lack of enthusiasm’ (or, of course, the two world wars of the last century).

In 1890 the Ventnor Fire Brigade was drawn by four horses and led by the Captain on a black stallion, there were amazing coloured fires on Gills Cliff – these were also to be seen in subsequent Carnivals –  and there was standing room only on the three special trains running to and from Ventnor.

The 1912 Carnival included a Whirligig in the Park and a Haunted House, and the procession included a nineteen foot long aeroplane with a propeller worked by a bicycle chain and pedal. There were not one, but TWO Britannias in the 1913 event which was arranged at two weeks’ notice and filmed by Pathe and Gaumont – the film was later shown at the Gaiety and Bijou Cinemas. A Rifle Range was always popular as was the Battle of Flowers.

After the Great War, the Carnival was revived in 1919, and the years between the two wars were hugely popular, with up to 25,000 people attending.  The photograph here shows Carnival crowds in Belgrave Road. The 1923 film of the Carnival was shown as far away as New Zealand and was entitled: The Finest Carnival in the World.

There were of course no Carnivals during the 1939-45 war, but at the end of the war an organisation was formed called ‘The Wardens of Ventnor’ and from 1948 they provided entertainment for residents and visitors. The Wardens carried on for a couple of years and then the Carnival Association took over once more. And so it has continued to this day, although sometimes perilously close to ceasing – it has been very hard at times and offers of help are always needed. The IW Mercury printed the following comment after the 1933 event: Ventnor Carnival is a revelation of what can be done when everyone enters into the revels in the right spirit.

We finish with this picture of Skimbo leading the Jazz Band down the High Street in 1961; in nearly all the Carnivals there has been a Jazz Band of some description – it just would not be Ventnor Carnival without it.

Fay Brown, Ventnor & District Local History Society.  This  article was taken from the commentary which the late Fay Brown wrote to accompany one of her slide shows, and was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in August 2016.

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