How many Carnivals have there been?

(Published in an edited form, Kenilworth Weekly News, 19th July 2013)


The choosing of the Carnival Queen, this year it is Sarah MacPherson, begins the countdown to the town’s major annual event. The ‘official’ tally is that this year is the 81st Carnival and Sarah is our 79th Queen, but counting up just how many of each there have been is not quite as straightforward as one might imagine.

It is accepted that the first recognised Kenilworth Carnival was in 1926; 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 “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. To get the ‘official’ tally of Carnivals this one has to be excluded, although Rosalind remains on the list of queens.

These stories together, with a gap until its revival in 1947, give us in 2013 our 80th Queen, our 81st procession, but 82nd occasion.

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’.

But, in 1943, a ‘Gala’ was held to raise funds directly for the ‘Merchant Navy Comfort Fund’ during the August ‘Holiday at Home’ week. This involved a parade through the town, a week of events and entertainments in the Abbey Fields, and the choosing of Jean Davies as the “Maid of the Seas”. 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, 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. George Tisdale once more headed the Committee. These two war-time events also have to be excluded to satisfy the official ‘count up’.

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.

But is it right that the wartime events are excluded from the list of ‘Official’ Carnivals? In 1943 a different good cause but an event similar to those before the war has a claim to be included. If it is deemed that a parade is not needed then 1940 with its Queen and fundraising events, however few, should be added; but surely the 1944 fund-raising festival for the Warneford Hospital must count as an ‘official’ Carnival. If all three are included then this year we have our 84th Carnival and Queen Sarah II is our 82nd - or perhaps our 83rd - Queen. The difficulty with the queen count is that one year there was two; the first was crowned but later resigned and was replaced - should both be counted? One did not take part in the parade, but nor did Rosalind Booden in 1940 and she rightly appears on the ‘official’ list.

In my opinion, continuing fund raising in this way during the war years is something the town should be proud of, and should be added to the annals of the event. Although by adding in one or more of these three ‘lost’ Carnivals it means that last years 80th celebrations were misplaced, it does of course mean that we are closer to the 100th than was realised!


Carnival Counts

(This includes the war-time 1940 fund raising events, and the "Warneford Hospital Carnival" of 1944, for the same cause as all the pre-war Carnivals. Please see the article 'Kenilworth's Lost Wartime Carnivals'.)

Carnival Events:

1926 - 1940               15    

1944                            1

1947 - 2020              74

Total                          88


Carnival Queens

1928 - 1940               13     (No known Queens 1926 - 27)

1944                            1

1947 - 2020              75     (In 1970 there were two Queens, see the article 'Kenilworth's forgotten Carnival Queen')

Total                          87


Carnival Processions

1926 - 1939                14       (1940 had a Queen and fund raising events, but no parade)

1944                             1

1947 - 2020                74

Total                           87



2020 is Kenilworth Carnival's 94th birthday