Sue Darby was chosen as Northampton Carnival Queen in 1962. Below you can listen (or read) Sue recount her time as Carnival Queen and view a Sue Darby Carnival Queen gallery of images.
Okay so it is Tuesday the first of May 2012 and I’m here with Sue Darby who was queen of Northampton Carnival 50 years ago. Sue could you tell me a little bit about your experience of being carnival queen?
Well it seems an awful long time ago now, when I start to look back on it but in another sense it seems like almost yesterday because it was absolutely super, I had an absolutely wonderful year. I did lots of different things; I was taken out and about by the Mayor and Mayoress, which was very very nice. Sat for lots of different camera clubs and it was an honour to represent the town for 12 months.
What inspired you to enter the competition to be carnival queen?
My fiancée at the time said “you should go into this” and I said “no, no I’ve never done anything like that” and he said “oh, alright then” and the next thing I knew the forms had arrived and he’d filled them in and sent them off, and so (laughs) I was notified that I was one of a number of girls that needed to turn up at a nurses home on a particular evening, and that is actually how I entered it.
And what was the ceremony like? How were you chosen?
Girls all sort of mustered in a little side room and then we were taken into the main hall of the nurses’ home and all sat in rows and then one after the other we would parade with our number through the hall and then we were whittled down until they found the last sort of six or so.
What did it feel like to be chosen?
They called the number that I was holding and I just sat there thinking ‘oh that’s nice’, and started looking around and my cousin was sitting behind me and she gave me a push in the back and said “it’s you!”. (Laughs) And I said “oh my goodness” and I had no idea that I was holding that particular number so I sort of very slowly stood up (laughs).
And so what was the.. you were crowned later were you? Or crowned on that night?
Yes crowned actually on carnival night, a beautiful float, the lorry was loaned to us by British Timkin which was a large firm in Northampton at the time, beautifully decorated with flowers and then the mayoress would come up onto the lorry and crown you just before the carnival moved off.
And so what was the rest of the carnival like as carnival queen?
Amazing! It took over an hour to go by people that were standing. Lots and lots of people in the town and the carnival queen float was head of the carnival. The Mayor and Mayoress’ car was first and then I believe there was a band and then the carnival queens’ float and then the rest of the carnival just came on behind. Different lorries interspersed by people walking, local bands, the Scouts were there, the Red Well Band which was absolutely an amazing music band, played marching music. So it was just a mixture of different things and just sort of wandered through the town very very slowly.
You’ve got some amazing pictures of your dress. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Oh yes that was absolutely beautiful! It was made for me by the Brooke Manufacturing Company in Northampton at the time and I was given carte blanche to just choose the fabric that I wanted and the style that I wanted. I was very very pleased with it, it was absolutely beautiful. And then after my year as carnival… I had it altered and made into a ball gown.
And what colour was it?
It was white with a silver thread running through it and then I had long, very long white gloves.
And what were some of the duties you had to perform as Carnival queen after the carnival was over?
Mostly, I would say looking back, sitting for different camera clubs. And then when it was suitable the Mayor and Mayoress would take me with them to some of their functions. They were very, very kind to me I have to say. It was quite a different group of things that I went to. The year just seemed to go very quickly.
What were some of the functions that you went to?
I went dancing with the Mayor and Mayoress one evening at the Town Hall. The Twist had just become fashionable so I think the local paper, the Chronicle and Echo had a photo of us “Queen Goes Twisting with the Mayoress!”. (Laughs) that was nice, they took me to the local maternity home of Christmas morning to see the new babies, which was very very nice. I was invited to draw the raffle for the very first Cherolet calf that came into the country, down at the local cattle market, and that was very interesting that morning. And after I’d done that I was taken and had lunch with some of the farmers at the Chain Walk Club, a Gentlemen’s Club, and that was very, very nice, I enjoyed that very much. So there was quite a mix of different functions that I went to and really, really enjoyed it.
And you were saying about the first cash machine in Northampton…
Oh yes! I was asked if I would be the model for demonstrating how to use the first open air cash machine that came to Northampton. That was at the Anglia Building Society which now is known as Nationwide and that, the cash machine was on the corner, I believe it’s now the Northampton Radio building at the top of Abington Street. This sort of metal container was on the side of the pathway and you could, it was a drive through, and you just drive your car in, stopped, popper your savings book into this little hole and a lady would ask you how much you would like, you told her, and the book reappeared with cash and you drove off, which was quite inventive for Northampton in 1962 (laughs). It was quite something!
had you taken part in carnival much before you were Carnival Queen? Had you been to it as a child?
Not as a child but as a young teenager we would go on some of the floats. You know the people who had buckets on floats we would say “yes we’ll go on the flat and collect”. I never walked in the carnival, it was quite a way, but I used to sit on the floats and collect money.
And did you do that after you were Carnival Queen as well?
Yes I did for a couple of years, I did the same again. I sat on the floats and had a bucket an collected pennies as they came whizzing past (laughs).
Do you think that the position of Carnival Queen was taken very seriously? There was a lot of respect for it?
Yes it was. Yes it was in those days. It’s a strange thing really because in these days we have political correctness. But in those days you didn’t need political correctness becaiuse people used to look upon you with respect, even as a young girl. As a local Carnival Queen I was looked upon with great respect and I appreciated that very, very much. Today it’s not the same.
And is there anything else you’d like to say about the carnival? As it was or as it is now?
I haven’t seen the carnival as it is now, which is the Caribbean style carnival. Being the grand old age of 70 now I’m quite a traditionalist and I would hanker back to the days of the carnival as it was. I suppose we all look back through rose coloured glasses and think ‘ ah times aren’t what they used to be’. But it was an innocent time then, innocent pleasures and it was just a lovely, lovely eve, the carnival was a lovely evening. People looked forward to it being carnival evening. I’m sure they do now but it isn’t the same. I’m sure there are people still living in Northampton that will remember carnival as it was and think ‘oh yes it was great’.
Thank you very much, that’s brilliant.