Brighton’s Carnival Capers of 1922

Ninety years ago, on 24 June 1922, Brighton initiated its first carnival. It was the inspiration of Captain Arthur Applin who regarded the festivities as an opportunity to bring prosperity to Brighton at a time when the resort was experiencing a decline in visitors. He described it as the ‘first British carnival ever’ and it was ‘to be a pioneer in acclimatizing the real spirit of the continental festival’. If Nice and Cannes could attract the English to their carnivals, why couldn’t Brighton do the same? He declared that it would be a ‘clean, happy, healthy, jolly week’ and ‘the best antidote to socialism’.

Carnival programme
Carnival programme
Original art-work for carnival programme
Original art-work for carnival programme

A carnival programme was published, the cover of which depicted a young woman in a fancy dress costume scattering confetti, with the Royal Pavilion in silhouette behind her. A newspaper report described her:

‘as a torch shewing a happy new way for post-war England’

The town was decorated throughout with bunting and flags while shops put on special displays. Messrs. Chipperfield and Butler, drapers, (in conjunction with The House of Clarkson, London theatrical costumiers) provided costumes for the carnival. All manner of outfits were available including:

’Toreadors, jazz costumes, Carmens and Eastern ladies’

The revels started on Saturday 24 June with a grand sports event at Preston Park, but the main highlight of the carnival took place the following Wednesday with the crowning of King Carnival and the Battle of the Flowers on Madeira Drive. The King received his sceptre from the Mayor at Duke’s Mound and led the parade to the Aquarium with a line of decorated cars, wagons and carts processing behind him. One in particular caught the eye of the reporter from the Star newspaper: a motorcycle and side car covered with 5,000 blossoms. It took the form of a chariot and was driven by Police Sergeant David Morgan, dressed as a Roman soldier.

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He described the scene as great fun, with everyone throwing flowers and blowing ZooZahs (party blowers) until they burst. He was enjoying the parade until:

‘one particularly fierce Maenad [a female attendant of the Greek god, Dionysus] having run out of blossoms, started heaving seaweed’

Worse was to come when:

‘girls in pink and blue harem skirts stole my bowler hat and the last time I saw it, it was being battered to death by a score of frantic bladders [balloons], to a dead march by the ZooZah Band’

The following day the Parade of Bathing Costumes took place on the West Pier. Miss Doris Webb of Messrs. Plummer Roddis won first prize, dressed  as the ‘Brighton Queen’, in a tight fitting blue costume emblazoned with the Borough Arms. Also of note was Miss N Etheridge, who represented a wasp. The contestants later paraded in the pier theatre and on the roof terrace.

Brighton's Bathing Beauties
Brighton’s Bathing Beauties

On Friday the ‘Pageant of Fair Women and Beautiful Frocks’ took place on the Palace Pier. Miss Dorothy Green, winner of the contest, appeared in a costume which was ‘all crystals and white’, with angel’s wings and a glittering head-dress which bore the words ‘Prosperity to Brighton’.

The driving ability of women drivers (in the decorated vehicle parade) came under the scrutiny of the Auto Motor Magazine:

‘To handle a car under such conditions, and while bombarded with every kind of carnival ammunition, is a test of skill, tempers and nerves, through which the lady drivers came with flying colours’

The carnival concluded with a parade of cars each featuring characters from Brighton’s history including Richard Russell, Mrs Fitzherbert, and Martha Gunn sitting on the back of a bathing machine with Smoker Miles. Also in the procession was George III’s state coach pulled by six black horses. The week’s festivities concluded with a masked ball held at the Dome.

Revellers in King's Road
Revellers in King’s Road

When asked to comment on the carnival, Arthur Applin described the carnival poster girls (from the department store of Leeson and Vokins) as the epitome of his concept:

‘marching  behind the band, with thousands of streamers floating behind them as they swung by, they had got in perfection the spirit which I had been aiming at. If you get that spirit right through, you are going to have carnivals in England as good as abroad – and even better’.

Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer

5 Responses

  1. A fascinating account, well presented. As an old Brightonian, I enjoyed seeing the town enjoying itself so fulsomely and in such good spirit. That tradition seems to have survived into modern times.

  2. Shelagh Mayo

    So pleased to find this article. I have just found a fragile newspaper photo from June 1922 showing my grandmother with other girls from the millinery dept at Leeson Vokins, I think in the harem trousers mentioned!, in the carnival. I am going to try to scan the photo to preserve it.

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