Rio, Venice, Notting Hill…. and Ripley. Sounds odd? Maybe now, but for a few years in the 1930s, Ripley’s Carnival was famous throughout the county.

The first was in 1932. It was a period of hardship and unemployment, vividly captured in the novels of Waingroves writer Walter Brearley. The idea seems to have been mainly to have some fun, but it was also a fund-raising exercise, the profits going to Ripley Hospital and various other local medical organisations; in a time before the NHS, there was a pressing need to provide health care for all.

One of the first ideas was to have a Carnival King and Queen, and people were invited to apply for the jobs, supplying photographs. Applicants were told: “Your crown and robes will be provided, your court will accompany you, you will be crowned by a most important person” (The Empire Theatre had agreed to provide a film star, a Miss Wyn Richmond).. “and for a short time you will be the Carnival King and Queen of Ripley.” The Queen, chosen from 40 applicants, was Nancy Marshall, the 17 –year old daughter of John Marshall, owner of the Hippodrome. She was elected, it was said, with tongue firmly in cheek, by 21,001 votes out of 80,438 votes cast. There were fewer applicants for the role of King, and eventually Bert Weekley, a member of the Optimists concert party, was chosen.

Nancy Marshall, Bert Weekley and the “film star”.

The Carnival was spread over 5 days in July, starting with a motor treasure hunt on the Wednesday (only 2 cars out of 14 finished!), shows at the two theatres, dances and a grand procession with 450 individual entries, floats and bands, leading to the crowning of the King and Queen on the balcony of the Town Hall. There was an ox roast, requiring “a ton of coal, a cart-load of wood, three barrows of sand and 800 bricks”, and an expert brought in from Stratford-upon-Avon to supervise the roast, feeding 300 people at 6d a sandwich.

Thursday was mainly sporting activities, garden parties, and a baby show; on Friday a ladies’ ankle competition (very daring) and a tramps’ ball, with prizes for the scruffiest tramps. On Saturday there was another procession, supposedly followed by 15000 people, with sports and dances. Special trains were laid on from  Derby.

All the time there were fund collectors in the streets (unless you bought an immunity badge), sellers of the Carnival Magazine, “The Rip”, and even stunts to raise money. At least twice, a car was overturned and an accident staged to stop motorists, who were then surrounded by hoaxers rattling collecting tins.

Finally, on Sunday there was a religious procession to an open-air service in the Market Place, and in the evening the film “Jenny Lind” at The Hippodrome and a concert by the Butterley Male Voice Choir in the Town Hall.

The total receipts were reported to be over £1500, about £75,000 in today’s money. The spirit of fun continued right to the end, the “film star” turning out to be a hairdresser from Nottingham.

First published in “All Things Local” in January 2020