A Very Merry Time
A band of local men, pictured by a merry-go-round in 1929, organised carnivals during the 1920s and 30s. A good time was had by all.
The men who organised the carnival of 1929 were, left-to-right: Percy Gray, draper; Dennis West, printer; Lewis Wood, garage owner; M Holder, Stationmaster; (behind) Teddy Holmes, coal merchant and haulage contractor; Frank Duke, builder; Mr Linfield from Bramber; Handley Ham, retired churchwarden and Mr Kibblewhite, headmaster of the National School.
The likes of Ted Holmes could have told us a thing or two about how to organise a carnival. You can see him in this photograph of the merry-go-round at the 1929 Steyning carnival, standing in the middle of the group of solid citizens who ran the show.
Ted Holmes was a coal merchant but he and the others knew how to have fun. Ted was the one who, as a younger man, rode bareback into the Norfolk Arms dressed as Henry VIII and ordered a pint of ale. Those who know the Norfolk will be pretty impressed by this claim and it must have been a memorable evening.
Between them these men organized many days of fun, including a series of crazy sports and games. In the tug-of-war, the contenders were encouraged to “make your muscles creak at the thought of the beer money.” The push ball match of 1932 featured a, “ball filled with wind at the last Parish Council meeting”, as the programme claimed.
Children in fancy dress on the cricket field at the British Legion carnival, 1926. On the left with moustache and hat is Charles Woolgar, wheelwright. Holding sign and wearing cap is Harry Linfield. The two girls next to him are Nancy Coote and Hazell Adcock. Background centre wearing cap is Mr. Pelling, next to Mr.George Coleman, carrier.
In one year, when Steyning had many more pubs than it does now, the organizers turned a two hundred yard race for publicans into a handicap race, with half a yard taken off the distance for each year of the entrant’s age. But most of the races didn’t involve that much running. There was:
What were the usual rules is now impossible to say and what was involved in the “Blindfold Bottle Race, Ladies & Gents”? Suggestions welcomed.
The programmes were carefree and cheerful. Ted Holmes advertised, “Colourless coal for colour blind customers – carried carefully by ‘Carrots’” and Frank Duke (also in the photograph) offered road repairs with a “Special Squad of Neat Navvies in Natty Knickers.”
The builders of Frank Duke's carnival float in 1929 and a sign advertising "Duke's demolition detachment". Does anyone know any names?
They thought nothing of knocking their own products for the fun of it. H.J.Burt recommended, “Property descriptions guaranteed entirely inaccurate and misleading” and the Steyning Building Society explained that their directors were, “not clever enough to defraud any of our subscribers.”
Felix Cherryman, one of the butchers, was one of several to include a dodgy verse in his adverts. His effort ran as follows:
In the background, throughout a carnival day, were dozens of children and adults buzzing around in fancy dress. Many were making last minute adjustments to the elaborate floats which formed an integral part of a big parade around the town in the early evening, led by the town band.
There were prizes galore, even for the best decorated houses. Then, for good measure, there was an ankle show – “Bow Legs and Knock Knees no bar. First prize: either Judge as a husband.”
And even then the day had not finished. There was still a carnival dance to be held in St. Andrew’s Hall. Some of these dances had music provided by Mags Mitchell (whose father ran the Soldiers Return pub in Charlton Street) and her orchestra.
Maybe some of what our ancestors enjoyed would not now be to our taste but at the end of a Steyning carnival most of the town would surely have gone to bed happy. Some might even have heard, as the programme claimed, the “Town Clock strike five – at midnight."