A float from the 1923 Carnival, The Albert Eden Collection

Following ‘Storm Brian’, which ravaged the Fylde coast in early November 2017, metal detectorist Michael Brady from Preston decided to scour the sands of Blackpool’s Central Beach.

Although Michael was relatively new to the hobby, he knew that storm conditions often bring objects to the surface. In this case he was rewarded with a splendid find while combing the sands near Central Pier. After hearing a ‘bing’ from his metal detector Michael dug down to uncover a very rare souvenir pendant from the Blackpool Carnival of June 1923.

Although many thousands were produced hardly any have survived, and yet this find is in near ‘mint’ condition in spite of laying lost for almost 95 years! Michael contacted Blackpool Museum Project curator Emma Heslewood, who confirmed the find, and to her delight Michael donated the pendant to the Blackpool Heritage collection, which did not have one.

The pendant bears the image of Florence Stevenson, daughter of Councillor Edward Stevenson who later became Mayor of Blackpool. Florence was a singer in a Music Hall on the Prom and was chosen to be the face of Blackpool Carnival; she also appeared on other promotional material including leaflets, posters, and the Blackpool Carnival song sheet.

Blackpool Council took the decision to hold a carnival, loosely modelled on the one held in the French winter resort of Nice, as a way of increasing the number of visitors to the town in the early and mid-summer months. A team of craftsmen from Nice was brought in to manufacture the amazing grotesque masks and heads to be used in the procession, under the watchful eye of their splendidly-named manager M. Auguste Guano.

The event was promoted far and wide throughout Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands. And although it was recognised that there were some potential dangers involved in attracting huge numbers of people to the resort over a relatively short period of time, it was decided that it was worth taking the risk. As well as increasing the number of policemen to be on duty, a volunteer group ‘ Karnivillains ‘, recruited from the younger middle class of Blackpool, was established to help promote a cheerful image of the town, as well as to create a lively yet safe environment.

In fact, over a period of eight days, from June 9th to 16th 1923, more than 2 million people visited the town. On the final day alone half a million people were estimated to be present; 1000 charabancs and approaching 20,000 other vehicles clogged the roads to Blackpool.

The carnival began with the opening of the Open Air Swimming Pool, on the South Promenade. The following days saw a succession of events, including processions along the Prom, dog shows, motor races, pageants and fairs. Local clubs and schools were encouraged to dress up and join in, and as always in Blackpool, little encouragement was needed!

Leading the fun was the Comedy King of the Carnival, Doodles, principal comedian at Blackpool Tower, and Comedy Queen, Fred Walmsley, comedian at the South Pier.

In spite of all precautions being taken the event was not without its issues. Not surprisingly the town was full of hawkers, some selling fake souvenirs, recycled confetti, etc. There was an influx of pickpockets and prostitutes from all over the north.

The 'Royal Family' of the 1924 carnival

In spite of this, the event was judged to be a great success and the council, always intending the carnival to be an annual event, took the decision to hold another, bigger and better carnival in 1924.

In terms of visitor numbers 1924 was just as popular as 1923. A number of event-free days were included to encourage visitors to shop in the many new retail outlets in the town. This also meant that there was more time to indulge in drink and raucous behaviour. Hooliganism became rife and the local reaction quickly turned from positive to distinctly negative. The correspondent for the Daily Dispatch described a walk down the Prom as akin to coming through a battle!

It was clear that the 1924 Carnival would be the last. Arrangements were made for it to be replaced by an Illumination Display to extend the holiday season in 1925. It was so well attended that it has been an annual event to this day.

Kevin Armstrong

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