Summertime is traditionally carnival season, and in Walthamstow celebrations have been enjoyed in various guises by residents for more than a century, whilst raising money for local and national charities in the process.

Back in 1896 a Children’s Harvest Carnival organised by the Elm House Conservative Club was held at the Rectory Manor House, Church Hill, in aid of the Walthamstow Hospital. The grounds were decorated with arches, flags and fairy lights and there were fancy dress contests, games, races and performances from the town band, all finished off with a magnificent fireworks display.

By the turn of the century the Walthamstow Carnival had become a regular fixture and that, which in 1900 raised money for the Daily Telegraph War Fund, included an atmospheric torchlight procession, and all along the nine-mile route residents decorated their houses with flags and bunting, and people visited from outside the area to come and watch the spectacle.

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1950s carnival queen float. Credit: Walthamstow In Pictures

The Carnival procession continued to be a major part of the event, and by the 1930s began with the crowning of the Carnival Queen by the mayor at Church Hill. With her maids of honour, the queen then led the procession throughout the town, finishing at a funfair in the grounds of Comely Bank House, where she presented awards and prizes. The beneficiary was again the Walthamstow Hospital (renamed Connaught Hospital in 1928), with funds raised in the region of £230 each year (worth relatively more than £10,000 today). In 1939, an iron lung donated to the hospital even formed part of the parade. Very tellingly, this particular parade also included local defence forces, and was the last carnival to be held for some years, halted by the advent of the Second World War in 1939.

The Carnival was resurrected c1947, with a series of annual musical festivals, which by the 1960s had developed into a full-blown Carnival Week, a week-long celebration of festivities leading up to Carnival Day, held on a Saturday, with the Wood Street Walk on the Sunday. It was a significant event in the community calendar; many local shops and businesses were involved, and an extensive Carnival fete was held, sometimes in the field next to George Monoux College. Additional events included fancy dress, a treasure hunt and musical performances. The parade was formed of the Carnival Court (the queen and her maids), a marching band and ever-elaborate floats represented by various community groups, including sports and youth clubs.

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Walthamstow Carnival in the 1960s. Picture: Vestry House Museum

Over the years floats of all shapes and sizes appeared in the procession, with varying degrees of decoration, some very elaborate. The 1900 carnival procession was formed of carthorse-and-carriages decorated with various different themes, including Babes in the Wood, the Four Seasons and an illuminated coach accompanied with pipers, as well as a large number of decorated cycles.

In 1932 The Dominion Cinema float incorporated clever advertising as well as reflecting the fundraising side of things. A decorated car was festooned with bunting and crepe paper, cut out lettering of a current film, a board featuring images of cinema and human organs, slogans such as “Bill Underhill will always feel your musical pulse on the mighty Wurlitzer organ” and a model Wurlitzer console that proved exceedingly popular. Other floats entered by local companies and organisations were less fancy, but still an important part of the processions.

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Carnival programme. Credit: Pete Perry, member of the carnival committee in the 1960s

Later floats were often entered by individual streets as well as local groups such as the Brownies and Guides, and prizes were awarded for the best entries. In the early 1980s a ‘4-and-20 blackbirds baked in a pie’ float had children dressed as birds, with a baker in front of an arced rainbow, with hundreds of flowers attached along the side of the vehicle. And in 1971 the Brownies won first prize with their nursery rhyme float.

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1960s Fullers float. Picture: Peter Chappell

For those not participating the Carnival procession in particular was fun to watch; living along the route, or visiting relatives who did was especially enjoyable, but folks would also find a spot to watch from, sometimes catching it at more than one place along the route. The Carnival disappeared over time, but a form of it was revived in 2008, when a Carnival Day with elected Carnival Court was organised, with the charity element very much at its heart, while the fundraising spirit of the Carnival has been seen in various smaller charity fetes and fayres held in more recent times.

Karen Averby is a seaside-loving historian and research consultant specialising in researching histories and stories of buildings, people and places. She researches house histories for private clients and collaborates in community heritage projects ( She is also director of Archangel Heritage Ltd, an historical research consultancy providing research services for the commercial heritage sector ( Also found on Twitter @karenaverby and @archaheritage