The week Woking went carnival crazy (part 2)

THE people of Woking raised £3,300 during its carnival week in June 1923. It was a sizeable amount, the equivalent of £200,000 today, and helped to pay for an extension to the town’s hospital.

This week we continue the story of the carnival that must have remained long in the memory of those who took part and those who helped to organise it. And coming just four and a half years after the end of the First World War, it was a joyous event during times, that for many, were still tough.

Festivities: An unmarked picture postcard postmarked 9 May 1924 and likely to be from the 1923 carnival

Carnival week included a fete held at Woodham Hall. The News & Mail reported: “The ideal weather, combined with the very attractive programme staged in the beautiful grounds lent by Mr R. N. Stevens (president of the Cottage Hospital), drew an attendance of several hundred people to the venue during the afternoon and evening, and was one of animated gaiety arising from the fancy dress costume of the collectors and workers.”

The Duchess of Sutherland was a guest of honour at the fete. She and her husband, the 5th Duke, lived at Sutton Place, near Woking. The band of the Royal Scots Guard played and there were also concert parties and dancing displays.

There was another fundraising fete held at the Recreation Ground on the Wednesday afternoon (that being Woking’s early closing day for shops) and on into the evening.

It was reported: “The attendance during the afternoon was rather disappointing, but this was only to be expected, while the bulk of the townspeople waited in the streets to watch the procession pass before paying a visit to the Rec.

“After lining the whole of the procession route to the extent of three or four deep, this vast concourse of people descended upon the Rec, and by eight o’clock some eight thousand people were spread over a large open space, and nearly all of them paid for admission.”

They witnessed fancy dress cricket and football matches, wireless concerts, the Nine Elms minstrel troupe, tug-of-war competitions, a village fair, Madame Howe in her “marvellous thought-reading exhibition”, topped off with a fireworks display!

Under the heading “MONSTER CARNIVAL PROCESSION”, the News & Mail commented: “The response to the open invitation to the public to provide decorated vehicles and to come in fancy dress costume, was quite beyond expectation, and the streets have never presented scenes of greater revelry.”

CREAM OF THE CROP: Adams’ dairy’s carnival procession entry complete with thatched roof

In fact, Woking enjoyed three processions during carnival week, each one well attended. The report continued: “Many of the cars had been beautifully decorated, the tableaux displayed no lack of ingenuity and originality, and in the cycle, perambulator and foot character classes there were many striking features and costumes.

“So large was the number of competitors that a preliminary judging was necessary in each of the various groups, leaving the official judges the task of choosing from the selected.”

The newspaper provided lengthy descriptions of the entries, for example: “Another craft that flew the skull and crossbones was the ‘Yacki Hicki Doo Lo’, piloted by Mr J. Lush, ‘The old lady who lived in a shoe’ was a novel exhibit by Mr L. S. Waters, and among others were ‘Crinoline’ (Mrs Baker), ‘Women in the home’ by the Women’s Co-operative Guild, and a British Legion car, in which ‘Old Bill’ was conspicuous.” He was a First World War cartoon character drawn by the artist Bruce Bairnsfather.

Yet another feature of the carnival was a lecture titled Ancient Woking, given by Mr Arthur Locke CBE, at another fete held at Hoe Place. The report noted the he “spoke of Woking’s history through 15 centuries, proving that Woking had been mentioned in history far earlier than was generally believed. Tracing the story from the departure of the Romans from Surrey in the Fifth Century, Mr Locke spoke about the discovery of ancient relics at Hockering and of his own recent discovery of Roman tiles at St Peter’s Church.”

Thanks to Mark Coxhead for his research and postcards of the carnival processions.

If you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call me, David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at:

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