Dancing on the prom and swimming round the pier: A potted history of Cromer Carnival
PUBLISHED: 16:46 25 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:04 26 June 2018
With up to 40,000 people expected to descend on Cromer for the town carnival in August, the annual event is one of the biggest of its kind in the country.
But the week-long spectacular hasn’t always been such a grand affair and when it kicked off in its present form in the 1960s, it boasted less than a dozen floats and a small programme of events including a tug of war contest, dancing on the prom and a beach barbecue.
Run by town crier Alfie Howard, who had an office next to Woolworths in Church Street, carnivals in the 1950s and sixties were based on the beach and promenade and included a week of children’s entertainment organised by the local youth club.
The first parade was held in 1963, but, when the town council’s Pier and Entertainments committee folded, Cromer was without a carnival for a few years.
However, after a new committee was formed by a group of local people calling themselves Cromer Voluntary Entertainment Organisation (VEO) in 1969, the annual event was revived and organisers began to think ‘bigger and better’.
The carnival was given a revamp, with new attractions added, including a waiters and waitresses’ race, a swimming round the pier contest, beach sports and a raft race and regatta.
Things really took off the following year when the parade route was changed and a display by the Red Devils Parachute Regiment freefall team was the main attraction.
During the 1980s, the carnival continued to grow, with more events added, visitor numbers increasing year after year, and top celebrities of the day turning out to crown Miss Cromer - ranging from comedy legends Norman Wisdom and Les Dawson, to dancer Lionel Blair and Eastenders’ Pat Butcher. Pam St Clement.
The Red Arrows, who have missed appearing at the carnival only once since 1980, are still one of the biggest crowd-pullers, but today’s packed programme also features dozens of other attractions, ranging from a soapbox derby, to an illuminated procession.
Chaired by former Sheringham Primary School teacher Tony Shipp for the past 38 years, the carnival now has a turnover of well over £100,000, with Cromer VEO organising year-round events including the town’s Christmas lights switch-on and Christmas tree festival, an annual dinner and concert for local elderly people, an art exhibition and a clay pigeon shoot.
Mr Shipp, who has been involved with the carnival for nearly 50 years, said planning had already begun for next year’s carnival, which will celebrate the VEO’s 50th anniversary.
He added: “People can look forward to all the traditional tried and tested events, but we will also be adding some new things, and bringing back some of the most popular events we have had in the past.”
Cromer carnival kicks off on July 30 with the first of two children’s weeks, with the soapbox derby running on August 5 and carnival week running from August 11-17. For more information, visit www.cromercarnival.co.uk
10 top carnival facts
The first recorded carnivals were held in Cromer in the 14th century.
The prize presented to the 1958 carnival queen was £5, with attendants receiving £2 each.
Attractions in 1963 included Alfie’s family dance, community singing with fun and games and a display by the Regimental Band of the Sherwood Foresters.
When the town council’s Pier and Entertainments committee was wound up at a meeting, held at the Red Lion pub in 1969, town councillor H W Graveling said: “Cromer has got in a rut and if we don’t get out of it, we shan’t get any visitors.”
The original carnival parades were held in the afternoon, set off from Suffield Park and did not include floats.
Items on the agenda at a 1973 carnival committee meeting included posters, a raffle of fruit and turkey and the purchase of 20,000 tickets for a ‘Gonky dip’ at a cost of £3.30 per thousand.
A 1973 carnival ‘It’s a Knockout’ contest held at Cabbell Park football ground included teams from Sheringham and Cromer Roundtable, Norfolk Ambulance Service, Cromer and Sheringham Police, and Cromer Fire Service.
The 1979 selection dance, which was held at Crabs nightclub, attracted 15 entrants, with Lois Moston chosen as Miss Cromer and Teresa Goodson and Lorraine Armstrong picked as attendants.
1980 attractions included the Red Arrows, the Red Devils and the White Helmets.