Memories of Carnival from Mrs Nancy Barrett (1986)

Nancy Barrett (nee Hawkins) Aldbourne’s first Carnival Queen in 1934

When I was asked by the Carnival Committee if I would write some of my personal memories of the Carnival with which my family have been so closely involved over the years, so many things came to my mind that I find it difficult to know where to begin.

My very first memory of the Carnival is setting off from the shop in West Street (now the framers) where we then lived, to take part in the procession with Molly Lunn (Stacey), as Bride and Bridegroom. We were between five and six years old!

We have come a long way since those days, when the Carnival was a much simpler affair, but nevertheless an important event in our village life.

When my father took over from Mr Arthur Ford as Secretary, around 1930, we had moved to Southern Farm, and for a few weeks each year, the Carnival took over our house which was overflowing with posters, prize cards and collecting boxes, etc.

At that time, all the proceeds were for Savernake Hospital and every collecting box had to be clearly labelled to that effect.

Unlike today, there were no events during the week preceding the Carnival, except for ‘Bowling for the Pig’ which took place in the Square from Friday evening onwards.

A comic football match on the Saturday afternoon was a jolly event, leading up to the grand procession which, by any village standards, was always second to none and drew crowds of onlookers.

After a tour of the village (not quite so far in those days), the procession always wound up in front of the Old Rectory, where the prizes were given out from the steps of the house.

The climax to the evening was the Carnival Dance in the Memorial Hall, but when the Fun Fair became part of the celebrations, this event was dropped through lack of support.

I clearly remember the Sunday evening Carnival Service, also in the Memorial Hall, at which one of the resident doctors at Savernake always took part. One thing that stands out in my mind is that we always sang the hymn ‘Sun of My Soul Thou Saviour Dear’, and I associate that hymn with those services to this day.

I was seventeen when the powers that be decided to introduce a Carnival Queen to the proceedings and I was literally thrown in at the deep end. It was a new venture for the Committee, and I and the four attendants: Marjorie Barrett, Nellie Crook, Molly Brind and a young girl who worked at ‘High Town’, were more or less left to make our own arrangements. Not for us the glamorous crowning ceremony, the bouquets and presents etc. We made our own dresses and the cloak and crown were borrowed from Swindon Carnival Committee.

I seem to remember that we did visit the local hospitals and, on Carnival Day, my uncle Chris (Hawkins) dressed as a coachman and drove us round in the procession in an open horse-drawn carriage which we had decorated ourselves. I think we worked harder than the Committee that week.

Sadly, the Carnival lapsed during the War, but was resumed with even greater enthusiasm at the earliest opportunity.

When hospitals came under the Health Service, the Carnival proceeds were divided between the Memorial Hall and the Sports Field which had to be reclaimed after the War.

Although the Community was much smaller in those days, it was surprising how much money was raised each year. The boxes were all taken to the [Memorial] Hall on the Monday evening and the total takings were known the same night.

For several years a special feature of the Carnival was Mr Cooper’s vintage car which transported the Secretary at the head of the procession.

Our involvement in the Carnival carried into the next generation and sometimes it was difficult to think of new things to do each year.

One year we even took Tim’s pony into the old farm-house kitchen when it rained during the preparations. The only other shelter was already taken by Andrea’s pony.

The Band has always played an important part in the proceedings and that involved my husband and later, Tim.

There have been many memorable incidents too numerous to mention, such as the year history repeated itself and Andrea won the 1956 Carnival Queen.

When Mr Tony Gilligan became Secretary in 1962, things were far less hectic on the home front but Carnival week remained very important for our family.

These days, relegated to the side lines, I get very nostalgic at Carnival time and when the Band plays ‘Nightfall in Camp’ and the flags are lowered round the pond, I feel sad for the things that are past, but glad that so many of our new residents have caught our Carnival spirit and are helping to keep the tradition alive.

Carnivals have come and gone in neighbouring villages and towns, but hopefully ours will go on. Long Live Aldbourne Carnival!

Nancy Barrett writing in the 1986 Aldbourne Carnival Programme

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