Littlehampton is famous for its carnival that sadly came to an end last year. The carnival had its roots in the early 1900s and was a popular annual event albeit with some periods of inactivity.
Like most traditional carnivals, Littlehampton’s had local businesses design and drive decorated vehicles in a procession around the town. This highly decorative silver trophy was given to the best of these “Local Trade Vehicles”, the last winner was Elite Care Services in 2015. It is likely that the engraving band has been replaced over the last few decades.
Carnival tradition can be seen all over the world and have long been a part of British culture. We only have to think of the famous Notting Hill Carnival in London to appreciate the appeal of such community activity. Historically, these were spiritual events, where the participants enjoyed the freedom of good food, drink, and mischief before a period of abstinence.
It is thought that religious carnivals were being held up until the Restoration period, but then began a transition to more festival-like events lacking religious inspiration. By the late 1800s the religious aspect had been completely shed. The 1950s saw another popular transition for carnivals with the influence of the vibrant Caribbean culture brought over by immigrants.
Just like Notting Hill, the Littlehampton Carnival had food stalls, colourful and theatrical costumes, entertainment, music, and dancing. Early examples often had a strong focus on other cultures. For example, a ‘float’ for the 1906 Littlehampton carnival was dedicated to ‘Red Indians’. This was built at a time when the British Empire was at its height, and their imitations of other cultures would be viewed as inappropriate today. The men in the photograph are dressed up in native American style costume, including blackface – a practice more often associated with Victorian minstrels and music halls.
The Museum holds photographs of other past carnival events including this one from 1925 of the procession passing by South Terrace.
As you can see, local business Ockenden’s are advertising their Central Heating Engineers with a trade vehicle entry containing a mock-up of a modern bathroom!
This great photograph from 1937 shows the carnival queen with her attendants. The Littlehampton carnival, like many others, has a long tradition of appointing a queen to oversee the event and was usually given to a teenager.
The 1961 carnival saw an Elizabethan England themed float that featured a royal court style design.
All images are from Littlehampton Museum's photographic collection.