Carnival Island… since 1888

Carnival Island… since 1888

We are well known for our fabulous carnivals here on the Island so make sure you catch at least one of the parades this summer. They’re always very colourful, often astounding and frequently funny – Queen Victoria was even amused by our very first carnival back in 1888.

The carnival spirit kicks off each year in June with Ryde Arts Parade that is followed by a week of workshops, poetry, art, music and children’s activities. The frivolities then continue on until first week of September, with many carnivals having a week’s worth of activities culminating in the main carnival procession – well worth attending throughout the summer. Ryde Illuminated procession is always the last carnival parade of the summer.

A bit of history…

Although the first Ryde Carnival was held in 1888, it was mainly as a result of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in Ryde the previous year (1887) that Victoria herself attended, and that were deemed a great success. Festoons of flags, crowns, shields and red and green drapery decorated the streets and ‘Highlanders’ in full costume played patriotic Scottish airs from the second floor window ledges as the Queen passed by. It was even reported that she was amused on this occasion displaying ‘smiling looks’.

The following year it was decided to hold the event again and to call it a carnival in order ‘to get more of the general public to join in the fun’. The theme was mainly kings and queens of England, although Robin Hood, Red Riding Hood (complete with performing wolf) and twelve ghosts also made an appearance. The Volunteer Band and the Fire Brigade led the way, many of the shops and houses along the route were decorated, and the evening ended with a bal masque at the Town Hall.

Queen Victoria attended again, accompanied by her daughter Beatrice and it was reported that ‘Her Majesty scanned the grotesque figures which met her gaze with an amused smile’, and that she and Beatrice were much amused by a troupe of white ghosts who all stood in line to give them a very unghostly salute – so she was amused again!

After the success of this first carnival in Ryde other towns around the Island joined in the festivities. In 1889 Sandown and Ventnor held their first carnivals and the other towns of the Island quickly followed, with smaller villages entering floats and their own queens too.

Although they already had a regatta that was patronised by Princess Beatrice, Yarmouth’s carnival procession did not set off until 1911. Now the town have a whole week of activities that include a crabbing competition, harbour sports and decorating dinghies.

The last carnival to join the throng was that of Pan, on the outskirts of Newport.

The carnivals became quite a competitive arena with cups, certificates and money being awarded for the best entries. Local businesses would enter floats as an early form of advertising, and the themes could be extremely diverse. Costumes were painstakingly made over the months preceding the carnivals and some even went to the trouble to hire attire from London costumiers.

By the turn of the twenty first century our carnivals were beginning to wilt a little and the IW Council decided to recruit carnival development experts to infuse the Island carnival tradition with new costume, music and performance skills from carnivals around the world. This was a very successful and inspirational move that saw many Islanders learning new skills, amazing new entries to the parades, and the foundation of a Carnival Learning Centre on the Island.

Dinosaur Island. Photographs by Sarah Moss on behalf of www.iwight.comMass bands of walking performers with amazing structural costumes are now a big part of the carnivals, along with rousing Salsa Bands, especially at the Ryde Arts Festival Parade. Huge structures such as a large white bull have added great interest and stilt walkers, fire-eaters and circus skills all add to the fun.

The Island is now one of the best and most concentrated places in the country to see carnivals with 17 parades on offer throughout the summer. Most towns have both a main carnival and an illuminated procession and a children’s carnival too. So make sure you join the fun!

Photographs by Sarah Moss on behalf of – The Isle of Wight Portal for all aspects of living, visiting and working on the IOW, developed by the Isle of Wight Council.