Although Kenilworth’s first fundraising Carnival is recognised as being in 1926, it was really a continuation of an event which started 40 years previously….
Leamington’s Hospital Saturday movement raised funds for the town’s Warneford Hospital, whose costs amounted to £15,000 a year. In 1886, the scheme was extended to Kenilworth because the cost of treating patients from here was about twice the amount of money being donated by the town’s residents. Businesses and pubs started their own collections; the Tannery regularly topped the charts as it had the largest workforce, but the brickyards, fellmongers and builders also made good contributions.
The Hospital Saturday movement continued into the 1920s. Then, in summer 1925, Kenilworth’s council school paraded to raise money for sports equipment. Some of the children were on floats; wagons loaned by businesses such as Stickley coal merchants and Street’s the fellmongers. A few weeks later Working Men’s Club members’ children paraded as part of their annual party. These two events seem to have inspired the first ‘proper’ carnival which took place the following year.
In 1926, Hospital Saturday ended but Kenilworth continued fundraising for the
Warneford. A ‘festival’ was organised primarily by the committee of the Working Men’s Club, which resulted in a procession through the town of over 700 people in fancy dress, some in cars, some on horses, but most on foot. In the evening there was dancing in the Abbey Fields. The following year, the event expanded with a fair in the Abbey Fields on Carnival Day.
1928 saw the choosing of the first Kenilworth Hospital Carnival Queen – controversially for some, a Coventry girl. The following year a Kenilworth girl, became the first home-town Queen. Other attractions such as pony racing at Crew Farm, a swimming meeting and a dance all helped to establish the Carnival as the biggest annual event in the town.
By rights, 2012 should be the Carnival’s 86th birthday, but festivities were suspended during the war years. Today, of course, Kenilworth town charities benefit from the fundraising, such as the Waverley Day Centre. So, as you make your donations at this year’s Carnival, remember you are continuing a tradition started by generous townsfolk more than 125 years ago…
This article was created using copy kindly supplied by local historian and author Robin Leach www.victoriankenilworth.co.uk