REWIND: The Kenilworth Carnival - is 2023 actually the 90th anniversary?

By Robin Leach

14th May 2023 | Local Features

The Carnival Queen and entourage in Abbey Fields as part of the 1944 ‘Warneford Hospital Carnival’. The similarity to the ‘carnival’ of 2021 is striking, but this event is currently not counted as a Kenilworth Carnival (Image supplied)
The Carnival Queen and entourage in Abbey Fields as part of the 1944 ‘Warneford Hospital Carnival’. The similarity to the ‘carnival’ of 2021 is striking, but this event is currently not counted as a Kenilworth Carnival (Image supplied)

Local historian Robin Leach looks back on the history of the Kenilworth Carnival and answers the question 'is 2023 the 90th anniversary?'

The newly revamped Kenilworth Carnival website is proclaiming this year the Carnival is 'Celebrating its 90th Anniversary'. This is curious as the carnival's centenary is just three years away in 2026, the first being in 1926.

Also, this year's carnival is the 89th procession, (1926 to 1939 – 14, 1947 to 2019 – 73, 2022 and 2023 – two; total 89) so where has the count of 90 come from?

Soon after last year's carnival, when it had been announced that 2023 would be the 90th, I raised this question with the carnival committee and in March this year they confirmed that the 2021 fundraising event that had no procession is included in the carnival count, but not 2020's. This however opens a can of worms.

The raison d'etre for the carnival's existence was raising money for Warneford Hospital.

The first carnival in 1926 had only a parade and a celebratory open-air dance; no funfair, no side shows, no other events, and even no Queen, but it counts as the first carnival simply due to it being a parade, replacing the previous non-processional fundraising events for Warneford Hospital.

Ever since, the number of Carnivals has been counted by the number of parades; this is responsible for the well-known phrase, 'there were no carnivals during the war'. However…..

Twice during the war there were major fundraising efforts for Warneford Hospital.

The procession returned to Kenilworth Carnival last year for the first time since before the pandemic (image supplied)

In 1940 the annual carnival procession was planned as usual, then cancelled due to so many townsfolk being involved with ARP work.

But a month late in August the Carnival Queen was crowned, the traditional Carnival Ball held, and street collections made.

In 1944, there was a larger event with the queen and her entourage parading through town, and stalls, events and picnics held in the Abbey Fields, very similar to 2021. 1944's event was even referred to in the press as the 'Warneford Hospital Carnival'.

I have long argued that these wartime events should be added to the history of the carnival; they involved particularly praiseworthy efforts due to the circumstances.

Now that the current committee has decided that a procession is not required for events to be classed as a carnival, there is no reason left for their omission.

Locals were encouraged to decorate their gardens for the carnivals during the pandemic (image supplied)

Far from ignoring 1940 and 1944, we should be shouting from the rooftops that 'Even Hitler couldn't stop the Kenilworth Carnival!' The 1940 Queen, but not 1944's, is included on the carnival website list of Queens.

And so there is a choice; either the carnival is counted by its processions alone and this year is the 89th, or all the years there were fundraising events but no processions must be included, which makes 2023's the 93rd.

None of this of course should detract from the hard work and effort that goes into the carnival each year, and long may it continue!

Robin Leach is the author of the only published history of the carnival, in Kenilworth People and Places Volume 2.

More on this subject and other Carnival articles are on his website.


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