Carnival Day has arrived. Four women are standing on the Promenade. Two of them hold firmly to the belief that they are the rightful Carnival Queen of Penzance, 1933. Step forward, man about town 1933, and tell the story.
‘It was all supposed to be so straightforward. This was going to be the year of the “bigger, brighter, better” carnival. And one of the chaps on the committee came up with a rather clever idea – making a bit of a show out of choosing the Carnival Queen. A bit of harmless fun. Parade the girls around a bit. Then get people to vote. In fact yes, make it a bit of a fund-raiser. Charge people, tuppence a vote. Count up the votes, and put some barometers along the Prom. Show everyone how each of the girls is doing.
‘To start with, one of the girls - Ida George - was clearly in the lead. Lived in Quay Street with her family; worked at the steam laundry. That sort of family. All the way through, people would keep referring to her as a proper local “Penzance girl”, “the public’s choice” and the like. But then the second placed girl, Miss Bartlett – well, her father was a bank manager. Some kind of campaign got underway. People drumming up support, buying up votes by the load. Well, it was understandable. Not everyone wanted to see a laundry girl up there, all dished up as the best Penzance had to offer. And of course the committee was happy. It was all money flowing in.
‘But tempers were getting a bit heated. And so a fortnight ago, when the chaps on the committee announced the result, they decided to say that both Ida George and Miss Bartlett had exactly 12,000 votes each. They could both be Queen! Make the best of a difficult situation! But of course at the big dance, it would be Miss Bartlett who was crowned. It was 3/6d to get in, for heaven’s sake. Hardly the place for Quay folk. And….. well, better not to go into the whole story here and now. It got a bit ugly for a time. A lot of ill feeling, and a bit of loose talk about social class, which isn’t the sort of thing we want to encourage down here. The Cornishman stood by the Carnival Committee, but the West Briton was a little unkind. Still, everything was smoothed over. Hatchet buried, and all that. All’s well that ends well.’
And now it’s the big day. The weather? Perfect. Here is Ida George, with her ‘gossamer steps’, ‘dark raven hair’ and ‘classic brow’. Here she is, waving to her cheering supporters. Dressed in white, she clutches flowers, and is surrounded by cheering well-wishers. There will be two official Carnival Queens, and both will have their place in the carnival parade. But, as an eye-witness will remember over 80 years later, ‘Miss Bartlett didn’t get the reception Ida George did.’
West Briton August 31 1933 gives the events of the day.
The full story forms a chapter of the Penwith Local History Group’s 2016 publication, Women of West Cornwall, available to buy from the website or from local bookshops, which gives a full range of references.