Grandad's Watton

The Carnival

Many of our granddads and great granddads were very caring men. We do. of course now have a magnificent health service, but this did not come about overnight because a government passed an Act of Parliament. Basic health care has been with us for many many years and since the beginning of this century a few pence subscription to Friendly Societies like the Foresters or Odd Fellows would ensure free medical treatment for the family and assistance with dental and optical charges. Very low cost participation in local and county hospital contributory schemes entitled members to free hospital treatment and maintenance. Nor were those who could not afford even the very low subscription forgotten. I have a rule book of the Watton Victoria Hospital published at the time of the opening in 1897 which states. . "Rule 5. Patients whose weekly income does not exceed 20/- (£1) shall be admitted free, as far as board and nursing are concerned. Those in receipt of higher wages shall pay for their maintenance in the hospital such weekly sum as may seem to the committee to be fair and equitable." Having regard to the inflation rate this wage of £1 is about equal to an income well in excess of £109 in our own time.

Financial support for the hospital came from many sources. Donations, subscriptions, fund raising efforts of all kinds. The Watton Hospital Football Cup Competition in which townsmen like Don Moore, Tom Milford, George Drake and many others were so closely involved provided a regular sum each year. On selected Sundays in the summer Merton Hall gardens were opened when, for sixpence you could walk through the rhododendrons, have a cup of tea and listen to the Band. All these and many other events were important, but the really main one was Hospital Carnival Week. Since the closure of the hospital the tradition of carnival week has been well maintained by organisations like the British Legion and Round Table, and large sums have been raised for many charities. But social patterns have changed, alternatives exist, and organisers of local functions of this nature find it increasingly difficult to arouse and maintain interest in this type of project. The hospital week was the one big social and charity happening of the year.

The week started on the Sunday with a sacred concert in the afternoon and a United Service in the evening on a meadow which now forms part of the Charles Avenue estate. On the Monday the Carnival Queen, who had been elected, or selected, was crowned at Loch Neaton by Lord Walsingham. The evening's activities included bowls tournaments, tennis tournament. Band concerts and swimming sports. Sometimes there was a bit of a novelty ending to the swimming sports when as dusk approached a few wing clipped brown ducks were released on to the water of the Loch, and anyone who fell so inclined could dive in after them. 1 think this event was designed more for fun than food, because I have more than once been among those splashing about in the weeds and water lilies, but 1 never caught a duck, and I don't think anyone else did, either.

Carnival Week 1935.

Top - - Carnival Queen Miss Marjorie Fickling (Mrs J Parker) left to right - Dr. Boag, Mr A A Gompertz and Mr. A T Edwards
Centre - - Crowning ceremony by the late Lord Walsingham, The Queens attendants were Miss Dorothy Fisher, Miss Be Parrot, Miss Eileen Wyerand Miss May Baker
Bottom - - The Queen in her float ready to join the procession

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