A little slice of carnival history

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The Afternoon Carnival Procession in 1958
The Afternoon Carnival Procession in 1958

Words by Mary Bailey

The roots of English carnivals go back over 100 years and carnivals still continue a great tradition of local people making their own entertainment.

Little is known of Gillingham Carnival before the Second World War, but Gillingham held its first Hospital Carnival in 1907. It was not until 1949 that regular carnivals were held. The carnivals of the 1950s were usually led by local character ‘Dinger’ Bell and the Gillingham Imperial Silver Band, which continues to lead the processions today. Gillingham Carnival is a major event in the town’s calendar and attracts visitors from across the region. Family members often return home to Gillingham to make it into a special celebration. Gillingham Carnival consists of a children’s carnival procession in the afternoon and a grand illuminated procession in the evening.

The Hospital Carnival Barrel Origin in 1908
The Hospital Carnival Barrel Origin in 1908
Oake Woods & Co Ltd in 1958
Oake Woods & Co Ltd in 1958

In recent times, further entertainment ahead of the evening procession is provided by a band parade along the high street, followed by a “Cavalcade of Steam” (a magnificent display of historic steam vehicles) and after this, a majorette parade. It is organised by the Gillingham Carnival Committee, a group of volunteers who raise funds through events, donations and street collections in order to finance the running of carnival. The carnival entrants come from far and near, spending many hours preparing their costumes. The big floats, known as carts, take a great deal of planning and work, as well as funds, to prepare them and they may travel to a number of carnivals across the region. Walking entries are equally important and also take many hours of work to design and sew the costumes.

The Brownies’ Toy Soldier Band in 1980
The Brownies’ Toy Soldier Band in 1980

Gillingham is fortunate in receiving wonderful support for its children’s carnival, both from individual entrants and local youth organisations. Gillingham Carnival is the biggest and best children’s carnival in the area.For more information, or if you would like to be involved, call carnival committee chairman Mary Bailey (01747 823365) or go to the website: gillinghamcarnival.org.uk

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