The Box Files Title

The Box Files Link

A Very Merry Time
How to organise a carnival, Steyning-style

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.

Carnival organisers 1929The 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.

Carnival fancy dress 1926Children 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:

The “Sack Race, 75 yards, mixed”                       
The “Mixed Wheelbarrow Race, 50 yards”        
The “Slow Cycle Race, 100 yards, Ladies & Gents – usual rules”
and many more.

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.”

Duke's carnival floatThe 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:

Mary had a little lamb,
‘Twas clean and bright and fat;
It did not live to tell the tale,
For Cherryman’s saw to that.

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.

Children's parade
Children in military and other costume in Mill Road during a carnival. The banner reads "The Tin Kan Fusiliers, Battle Oners". Pictured left to right: Percy Nicholson, Peter Allfrey, Bert "Bonker" Boyd, Maggie Mitchell, George Dawkins, Roly Coleman (with medals), Arthur Emery and Arthur Sheppard.

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."

Some Facts About
Steyning Festivities

Steyning funday

A Steyning carnival was held every three years between the two world wars. Different groups took turns to organise them. Today there are Steyning country fairs in years with odd numbers and Steyning arts festivals in years with even numbers. The Christmas shopping evening is also a popular event with stalls and attractions in the High Street.

Steyning people loved a parade. They often came out with their banners, uniforms, Sunday best or fancy dress to march together, as pictures show. There were parades for Armistice Day, Funerals, Peace, Coronation Days, Royal Jubilees, the Hospital or the Church, as well as community carnivals.

Museum archive
The Steyning museum archive has hundreds of pictures and newspaper cuttings. They are a valuable source for local and family history. One way in which people with local connections can help future researchers, is to identify the names of people in pictures at the museum.


Steyning Arts Festival
Find out what's on in this May-June event, only in even numbered years.

Steyning Country Fair
This event is held on late May bank holiday Mondays in odd numbered years. Find out about it on the website.

West Sussex Past Pictures
Many more pictures of Steyning and local villages in times gone by appear on this West Sussex County Council website.

Top of page ^

Terrible Times Link