When the Carnival Came to Town

by Sophia Smith


Thousands of Morris dancers from across the North-West danced for hours along the main roads of Colne over 60 years ago. Troupes arrived in from Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester and Earby competing in their English folk dance with bells tingling and handkerchiefs waving for the great folk tradition…

“They had a huge parade across the town, with approximately 30 troupes, there were 1,500 dancers! They went for hours.” Geoff beamed. Way back in 1895, Colne had its very first Giant Carnival in honour of Colne’s Charter Day, and since then many events have been held in magnificent style in Alkincoats Park. In 1935, the Silver Jubilee Gala was another great celebration and the Mayor’s Fund Gala in 1941 helped to raise money for the war effort. Summertime is traditionally carnival season and in 1958, 7,500 people turned up to Alkincoats Park to celebrate Colne’s first Charities Carnival. Fifteen-year-old Geoff read in the local newspaper that it would be a shilling to get into the grand celebration and gathered his mates to go. The official opening on August 9th, became the biggest event in Colne since V.E day.

1958 Colne Queen Joan Hodson

The parade started at 2 o’ clock from the market ground in Colne and made its way to Alkincoats Park. “My dad had a pet shop on Albert Road so we had the best view of the parade.” He chuckled mischievously, “We had heard that a celebrity was coming too, the glamorous Vanda. I watched her with my pals – Allan Lister, Mick Crabtree, Dave Horsfall and Malcs Graham. She travelled up the road in a black dress sitting in the back of an old Bentley. Dave hung his head out of the upstairs window and shouted, ‘Vanda, I’ll see you for a drink later!’ and she just blew him a kiss back, she had heard it all before.” Newspapers called Vanda the ‘buxom blonde bombshell’, she was a film star and on the television. Vanda was just one of many celebrities to open the carnival over the years, including Freddie Davies and Richard Todd.


The official opening on August 9th, became the biggest event in Colne since V.E day.

After eagle-eyeing the blonde bombshell, Geoff and his friends wandered up to Alkincoats, and grabbed an ice cream with lashings of raspberry sauce. He had never seen anything like it in Colne before. The grounds were splattered with archery shows, dog shows, pipe bands and dancers!

An archery display by the Walverden Bowmen was held at the grounds of ‘Ivanhoe’ in Alkincoats. “It’s next to the playground now, it’s a great big house. A man called Mr Adolf Likierman let the carnival use his garden, he was a millionaire and at the time his house was one of the biggest in Colne.” Geoff explained. “Around 500 people were watching the archery display, every time someone hit a bullseye, everyone cheered and screamed.”

Close by was a Punch and Judy show being performed by Peter Lovesey with children sitting on the grass enthralled, and nearby was a dog show with 100 dogs organised by the Colne and Nelson Canine Society.

Around 500 people were watching the archery display, every time someone hit a bullseye, everyone cheered and screamed

Geoff recalls a popular stall – a vinyl tent exploding with people dancing to ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ by the Everly Brothers. “Turners had a record store in Colne Market Hall, they were vinyl specialists. They played records at the carnival all day. “We had never had a proper carnival before, I remember getting home after 6 o’clock and my mum went berserk because I was late for my tea, it was worth being in the field all day though.” Laughed Geoff.

Over 60 girls entered the Carnival Queen competition, and there were that many entries, they could not fit all the girls on one photo! 18-year-old Joan Hodson was an office clerk at the local Colne Co-op. Unbeknown to Joan, her photo was sent in for the competition, and after a count of almost 600 votes, Vanda presented her a crown and sash as the winner. Joan will always be remembered as Colne’s very first beautiful Carnival Queen. The second year’s winner in 1959 was lovely Jacqueline Snowden, who was photographed with a real leopard!

1959 Colne Charity Queen Jacqueline Snowdon

“The leopard was from a private zoo on Keighley Road in 1959. Me and my pals used to go up and pay six pence to get in. There were ostriches, flamingos, and warthogs. It was such a big garden, but they were in cages, it wasn’t fair, so it only lasted around a year.” In total Geoff attended all 20 carnivals from 1958 through to 1978, and even created the quizzes inside the carnival pamphlets. Each year he would get at least 200 entries!

Charities Carnival sadly ended in 1978 after raising thousands of pounds over the years, however a local committee was formed to revive the event under the ‘Colne Gala’. Over ten years later in 1989, Geoff and Mick  O’Connor, a local artist, created one comic strip a week for a year for the Colne Times, Nelson Leader and Barnoldswick and Earby Times. The ‘Pendle Personalities Past and Present’ featured the first Carnival Queen, Joan. “How we did it every week for the deadline, I have no idea! I would find all the photos and Mick would draw them, they were superb.” said Geoff.