Carnival has been an integral part of Southend since its inception in 1906, when it was part of the annual regatta. It has always been dedicated to raising money for the town’s charities, and was created exclusively to raise funds for the Southend Victoria Cottage Hospital in Warrior Square.
Since that first year, when it consisted mainly of horse-drawn floats, the procession has always been the key to Carnival. In 1923 a one-day event was added. This, and the events that followed during the next few years, were so successful that in 1926 the Southend-on-Sea Carnival Association was formed.
By 1930, Carnival had become a full week of events and was now raising funds for the proposed new General Hospital. There was something for all the family to take part in including the children’s Fancy Dress Parade, Beautiful Toddlers competition, circus and fete in Chalkwell Park, All Sorts dog show, Beautiful Legs parade, daylight procession on Wednesday and torchlight procession on the final day of Carnival. Every event was graced by the attendance of the Southend Carnival Queen and her court. The spirit of Carnival permeated every event; it was not unusual for the procession to take as long as two to three hours to pass. This was a golden era for Carnival in Southend.
During the war years Carnival was put on hold for the duration and the Carnival Association worked instead to help the British Service men and women. Carnival returned to Southend in 1946 with a one-day event at the Kursaal Amusement Park. However, in 1947 it was business as usual and Carnival Week was reinstated. Between 1946 and the end of the 1960s Southend Carnival raised over £90,000 for Southend Hospitals and many other charitable institutions in the borough. This included, in the 1950’s, the setting up the Carnival Estate for the aged poor in Leigh-on-Sea, which we still own and operate today.
Whilst in 70s and 80s many local businesses had supported carnival, with sponsorship or by entering the procession – or both – this support began to dwindle with the local economy. During the early 90s, interest and participation in the events began to decline and this prompted the decision to stop holding the daylight procession and concentrate, instead, on raising the profile of what had become the Illuminated procession.
With the dawn of the 21st century Carnival has taken an upturn, bringing an estimated £3 million of business into the town. In fact, it is estimated that over the years Carnival has invested more than £10 million (in real terms) in the local voluntary community.
2006 was a special year when we celebrated 100 years of Carnival in Southend. It also marked the launch of our strategy for Carnival in the town “Making Carnival Count”
The continuing regeneration of Southend makes and the in the true spirit of Carnival, the events throughout Carnival 2012 are aimed at every member of the community, young or old.