Published: 00:01, 10 March 2019
| Updated: 12:21, 11 March 2019
A carnival has been saved from extinction by an author who hopes to transform it into a Victorian-themed extravaganza.
The future of the 121-year-old Whitstable Carnival had been in doubt since October when its entire committee announced plans to retire, and made an apparently fruitless appeal for new organisers.
But at a meeting on Wednesday - as the former carnival committee formally stepped down - 65-year-old writer and retired postman Chris Stone announced he will be taking it on and forming a new carnival committee.
Since 1897, the annual event has seen floats and pedestrians parade through the town led by a carnival court - comprising ‘Miss Whitstable’ and her princesses.
But in recent years, fewer businesses and residents have been keen to get involved.
Mr Stone explained: “I think it’s got harder and harder to run an effective carnival because there are more barriers in the way these days, in terms of health and safety and things like that.
“In the old days, each pub in the town would run its own float - loads of people got involved. But it’s harder now.
“I thought ‘if nobody takes the carnival on, it will die’. Nobody else volunteered for it.”
Mr Stone - know by his pen name C.J. Stone - plans to transport the carnival back to the 19th century with horse-drawn carriages and period costume, culminating in a celebration on Westmeads Recreation Ground.
“We want to take it back to its origins in the Victorian era, so want people to be in Victorian dress,” he said.
“It’s going to be a bit steampunk, maybe with a similar feel to the Rochester Dickens Festival. We want as many floats as possible.
"We don’t know yet if we’ll be allowed horse-drawn carriages, but that’s the idea. We’ll do something on the day - even if we have to walk through the streets on foot.
“We’re thinking of having a different theme each year. Everybody will be invited to dress up.
“We hope everyone who usually joins the carnival - Scouts, Brownies, Sea Cadets, Women’s Institute - will still get involved, as well as old carnival queens and people who might not have been before. Our purpose is to bring the town together.”
This year’s carnival will begin at 5pm on Saturday, August 3.
“We’ll be starting in Tankerton as normal, coming down Tower Parade and up Harbour Street and High Street to Oxford Street,” said Mr Stone.
“But rather than just ending there as usual, we want to take it up Cromwell Road and finish with a party on the rec, with food stalls, bands and entertainment from people who were in the parade - maybe even a small fairground. That’s our aspiration.”
Mr Stone hopes David Sanger - of Sanger’s Stage Show - and horror film director Emma Griffiths-Malin will also help to bring the vision to life.
Last year, the town’s carnival made national headlines when organisers invited boys to enter the carnival court contest for the first time in the event’s history, after no girls entered the search for Miss Whitstable.
But Mr Stone says the new-style event will see a carnival king and queen selected from the town’s residents - with no age limit on entrants.
The court will be organised by Sadie Hennessy - chair of Whitstable Anchorage Klub - who holds regular contemporary variety nights in the town.
Informal interviews will be held at Whitstable Labour Club from 3pm to 5pm on March 30.
The city council is helping Mr Stone and his team with the plans.
Spokesman Rob Davies said: “We have had positive discussions with the new carnival organisation and they have now made applications for the carnival procession and fayre through our events service.
“They have some exciting plans and we’re keen to help make them happen. Advice has been given about issues such as event management, road closures, cleaning and sponsorship and we’ll continue to support the group as the event gets closer.”
To get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To enter the carnival court, email email@example.com
More by this authorLydia Chantler-Hicks
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