You are in [Events] [Hungerford Carnivals]

How did it all start?

The annual summer carnival was a popular and well-supported event in the town's calendar between the wars. Carnivals were first held in Hungerford in 1932 (17 Sep 1932), in order to collect money for an ambulance service.

As part of the festivities, water sports were held around the canal, including children's swimming races and the popular greasy pole (and pillow fights) across the canal (remembered in the Eatwell and Cox audio).

Mrs June Prictor kindly contacted the Virtual Museum (in Sep 2011) with a paper recalling the excitement of the first carnival in 1932, including extracts from the NWN:

"Searching through some old papers recently, I came across this report which appeared in the NWN when Hungerford had a Carnival in 1932 to support Hungerford Nursing Association and Hungerford Division, St. John's Ambulance to provide the town with a motor ambulance, and thought it worth sharing with others who may be interested, or bring back memories to anyone who remembers this Hungerford. Such a lovely descriptive piece of reporting written with such enthusiasm, at least I think!!

Hungerford's great Carnival Day was a wonderful success. Two factors largely contributed towards the achievement. One was the whole-hearted spontaneous and united manner in which the inhabitants responded to the appeal for service, and gave themselves up to jollity and revelry; the other was the weather, which could not have been more favourable. September has sprung a surprise with a miniature heat-wave. A misty morning on Saturday gave promise of a hot afternoon. It was gloriously fine, if anything a little too warm, but really ideal for the swimming sports in particular.

So completely did the townspeople captive the carnival spirit and surrender to its joyous influence, that at every turn one met, behaving with surprising frivolity, fearsomely and grotesquely disguised citizens, who normally go about their day's work with dignified decorum. Quiet, reserved folk parade the streets, wearing fancy dress, jocularly jostling their fellow townspeople and the strangers in their midst. At night the town was besieged, and the High Street, sometimes regarded by the casual visitor as sleepy and sober, became flooded with light and colour, pack with a dense and lively crowd, boisterous without overstepping the bounds of propriety, but full of fun, friendliness and wholeheartedly merry.

Many who went to look on, became captivated by the happy laughter of the slowly-moving throng, and finding themselves caught in the exuberant whirl of youthful humanity, ere they paused to think, were riding on the merry-go-round, whose gaudy, glittering lights flashed to the screaming notes of the music, or engaged in trying their luck at the numerous side-shows. The fun of the fair attracted many, but everybody was in generous mood, and though collecting boxes were thrust under one's nose at almost every turn, people dipped in to their pockets for silver and coppers with unabated willingness. This carnival awakened the Hungerford into new life and possibly there will be another next summer.

Residents did their part well by enthusiastically co-operating in the decorating of private houses, shops and other business premises. It was noticeable that the occupiers of the small type of property, in particular, were most liberal with displays of bunting and fairy lamps. Flags were universally displayed, and when the multi-coloured fairy lamps outlining the windows were lit up at night, a striking and charming effect was produced. Lines of streamers were displayed at the entrances to the town. The canal bridge had chains of lanterns, which were electrically illuminated at night, the Fire Station was a pretty picture with its fairy lights, and the Fire Brigade had strings of electrically lit coloured lamps on their engine. The Poor Law Institution played its part, while the War Memorial in Bridge Street, standing as ft does on an apex of land with water running each side, received special attention, presenting a fine spectacle. Hundreds of fair lamps were suspended here, and their reflection in the water caused many people to pause and admire the scene."

Great detail is then given to the various events that took place - on the Friday evening people interested in the testing of the illumination scheme thronged the streets and were entertained by a silver band, a jazz band and a barrel organ; carnival day itself included a baby show, aquatic sports (which took place at Canal Wharf), grass track racing on the Recreation Ground, a comic football match, motor cycle sports programme. After the procession had dispersed a large crowd collected in the High Street just below the railway bridge to watch an exhibition of Indian club swinging, following by a torchlight display, all to the accompaniment of local bands - "a most spectacular show".

"In the gay atmosphere of a Fancy Dress Dance the carnival was brought to an end on Monday evening when over 300 took the floor and the scene was one of much revelry the MC kept the evening going with a swing and was 'hard put' at 10.30 when it came to clearing the floor for the Fancy Dress Parade and judging at midnight an Ankle Competition for the ladies was held, much amusement being created as the competitors in batches took up their positions behind a curtain and sometime after two, amid scenes of gaiety the Carnival was brought to a close.

Note: I do not remember this particular carnival but it is indicative of pre 1939 -I clearly recall my rather taking part in the swimming competitions and "walking" the greasy pole across the canal by the town bridge in a later Carnival (this would have been before September 1939)."

A further insight into the Hungerford Carnival spirit is gained from The Newbury Weekly News of 19 September 1935, which stated:

"Hungerford's Fourth Annual Carnival, extended over four days for the first time, was was thought to have eclipsed all previous financial records.

The first event, on Thursday, was crowning Madge Pine as carnival queen. The merriment reached its climax at Monday night's winding-up dance, which was notable for a sudden breakdown in the electricity supply owing to the gale. Dancing was continued by the aid of candles and torches.

Saturday was a great day The High Street, a blaze of glittering lights and colour, was besieged by crowds of people, who gave themselves up to jollity and revelry. Thousands watched the spectacular procession which, it was generally agreed, surpassed in picturesqueness and length, those of the last three years.

New features introduced were a band contest, and the Dagenham Girl Pipers, who gave performances between the events at the motor gymkhana, and headed the evening procession.

The carnival was in aid of the Hungerford Motor Ambulance, the Nursing Association, and Savernake Hospital. The new ambulance, for which another £120 is needed to complete the purchase, was on view, and much admired."Hungerford Carnivals were restarted in 1953 at the time of the Queen's Coronation in order to collect funds for the open-air swimming pool. Jack Williams adds that there was a great firework display on the Common".

The carnival procession is still held, now normally on the last day of the HADCAF arts festival (since 2019 renamed "Hungerford Summer Festival") in July.

Follow these links for:

- Hungerford Carnival 1985.

- Hungerford Carnival, 2010.

- Hungerford Carnival, 2012.

- Hungerford Carnival, 2014.

- Hungerford Carnival, 2016.

- Hungerford Carnival, 2018.

- Hungerford Carnival, 2019.

Photo Gallery:

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See also:

- Hungerford High Times - the Carnival RagMag, Sep 1935

- Hungerford High Times - the Carnival RagMag, Aug 1936

- Hungerford High Times - the Carnival RagMag, Aug 1937

- Hungerford Carnival Programme, Jul 1979

- Hungerford Carnival and Centenary Town Criers' Competition Programme, Jul 1980

- Ambulance Service

- Markets and Fairs

- Open-air Swimming Pool

- Kennet & Avon Canal

- "Carnival's back for good" - NWN 18 Jul 2019