I had one of those local history emails to deal with today, where the question sounds easy but the answers well - not what you expect. "I am trying to put a little project together with my daughter who is only 6, for school and I was wondering if you could help me out with any information about the history of Ramsgate carnival?"
My family moved to Salisbury in the mid 1950s so my father could run a bookshop there, my parents split up in mid 1960s, my mother buying a guest house in Augusta Road in Ramsgate and getting a day job as a chemist at The University of Kent.
As a child I was a regular visitor to Salisbury Museum where they have The Giant and Hobnob, which I had assumed were part of a carnival tradition going back to before the 1500s. I think in my mind was a sort of pagan May Queen metamorphosising into the carnival queen around 1750, hobnobs, hoodden horses, morris dancers all leaving the May Pole and forming a jolly procession through the streets of jolly old England.
As far as I can see carnivals just didn’t exist in the uk before WW1, fairs yes, processions yes, circuses yes but carnivals no.
There is of course the fight between carnival and lent, see https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-fight-between-carnival-and-lent but carnival in this instance is eating up before lent, or probably in reality the poorer people’s winter store of food running out and going hungry before the crops started to grow in the spring.
Ramsgate carnival queen 1938
As far as I can see carnivals in the modern sense seem to date from the 1930s, I think if there were carnivals here before WW1 they would figure in local glides and photos. Earliest seem to be Ramsgate regatta, the card is postmarked 1906 and Ramsgate Floral Fete 1905 where there are floats but no mention of carnival The Ramsgate water gala seems to pre date the carnival photo looks to be pre 1930, becomes called Ramsgate Water Carnival and this may have developed into the carnival around 1930
Plenty of photos on the web like http://www.seasphotography.org.uk/archives/tag/carnival
I think the answer is that the carnival just started in fairly modern times 1920s or 30s, no one seems to have considered it’s origin and Ramsgate probably had a carnival because other uk towns did. I really don’t think that Victorian carnivals existed, perhaps the queen didn’t approve.
I would guess there is some mention of carnivals in the local paper microfiche archives in Ramsgate and Margate libraries, but I’m afraid I just don’t have the time to search them.
Anyway if anyone has any more information I would be grateful if they could post it as comment.
Amongst the books that went out in my bookshop today a good run of the Ladybird reading scheme, so if you are trying to teach a child to read they could be worth getting, here is the link http://michaelsbookshop.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/ladybird-in-bookshop.html