By GEORGE JEVONS
Staff of Walsall Times in Carnival costume, 1930 (Wilf Sims front left)
Bloxwich Carnivals began with the aim of supporting the community, and have continued to do so throughout their history.
Early in 1918 the Walsall Observer had been calling for support for the Walsall Hospital, and was raising quite large sums of money for this cause. When the First World War ended, peace celebrations began, many towns held these back until 1919 when the troops started arriving back, Bloxwich was one of these.
Homeshaw in his history of Bloxwich tells us that Bloxwich’s Carnivals started at this time. Though a report in the Walsall Observer on the 1925 Carnival reported that this was the 3rd annual effort of the Bloxwich and District Hospital Aid Society whose own history goes back to 1909, so maybe they were organised by another group.
1926 saw the coronation of the first ever Bloxwich Carnival Queen Miss Edna Holden, which was held, at the Wake Ground. Edna was also selected, by public ballot, for 1927, and because the rules changed to prevent it she will be the only queen to have reigned in successive years.
The route for these early carnivals makes our two-mile procession look very small. The 1926 carnival left the Wakes Ground, High Street pausing at the War Memorial for Edna to place her Queens bouquet, into Lichfield Street, then Field Road to Red Lion, then Green Lane to Four Crosses, then via Leamore Lane, Portsea Street, Cope Street, Broadstone Avenue, where the parade stopped for a tea interval, before proceeding through the new Blakenall housing Estate, to Pinfold, then along high street and ending in Bellfield Meadow.
In 1930 the queen was replaced by Lady Godiva, who was played by Miss Doris Mugglestone of Leicester, who was repeating the post she had performed previously at Leicester. This caused quite a controversy, not because the lady in question was nude, (she wore “pink fleshings”) but because Coventry accused Bloxwich of “trespassing on their historical rights”.
The 1930’s proved to be a difficult time for Bloxwich Carnival, there was not a carnival in 1931, and the final carnival was run in 1932, possibly due to the economic climate at that time.
Post War Carnivals
Cinderella float, Bloxwich Carnival, 1949
This period boasted what has proved to be the most successful period of Carnivals to date, most under the control of Arnold Roe – the longest serving president to date.
In 1949, following two years of collecting and running events for the “old folk” of Bloxwich, William Henry Fletcher and a group of local councillors decided to have a big event to generate more funds, and in 1947 the carnival was revived.
This revival began the longest continuous run to date of the Carnival, making it one of the largest, if not the largest carnival in the area, with attendance’s of up to 25,000 people.
Bloxwich Carnival Committee was very inventive in selecting events for Carnival day.
- 1949 a talent show looking for new acts for the BBC was judged by Mr. W. Hughes of BBC Midland Region, the winners were Miss Francis Bradburn (soprano), Mr Robert Hope (baritone), Mrs Irene Gardener (contralto)
- 1956 there was a beauty contest for the selection of a dairy princess to represent the Area in a national competition organised by the National Milk Publicity Council in connection with the June Dairy Festival.
- 1958 there was a ladies football match, watched mainly by men!, between Wolverhampton Ladies and Tillington Ladies of Stafford. Wolv won 5-3.
- It was believed to be the first to hire a helicopter in 1960
- 1964 there was a Rodeo
- In 1969 the Carnival ran to two days with the 2nd day being a Steam Rally
Carnival Queen Janet Cook and attendants, 1968
The carnival was visited by a range of celebrities, and even had Ken Dodd as a Vice Chair for a period in the early 1960’s.
It was not all good news the chairman often had to call for new blood, and often lack of volunteers threatened the carnival. The carnival was so well placed though that in 1955 the then Treasurer – Austin Farrow, commented that Bloxwich without its Carnival would seem like London without its Lord Mayor’s show.
In 1957 our honoury president Arnold Roe took over the chair of the carnival, which he held until the last carnival of this period in 1977, when public apathy & lack of support killed the carnival, after an unbroken run of some 27 years.
Elmore Row Adult Centre float, Bloxwich Carnival, 1980’s
In 1981 Bloxwich Rotary who had been formed just 4 years previously revived the Carnival after 3 years of absence with an attendance of 6,000. These carnivals ran until 1985, when once again they stopped.
Then in 2000 the Friends of Bloxwich Parks successfully applied for and were awarded a £5000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund under the Millennium Festival for All, for the restoration of the 1891 fountain in the Promenade gardens, and the revival of the carnival. They brought together a range of community groups within Bloxwich to work as a sub committee of the Friends Group to organise the carnival. On August the 12th 2000 the 48th Bloxwich Carnival was successfully revived on a day bathed in glorious sunshine.
Instead of a Carnival Queen it was decided to ask local primary schools to select a pupil who, through their own personal endeavours, rather than academic achievements, should represent the town as Ambassadors.
The carnival continues to run successfully. In 2001 the “Old Folks” tea party was revived, now taking place on the Friday before the Carnival, where invited old folks attend a performance by one of Pat Collins’ fairground organs.
Our 50th, Carnival fell neatly in the year that celebrated the Queens Golden Jubilee.