They were the days before the National Health Service, when local communities did what they could, when they could, to raise money for their local hospital. Health care didn't come cheap and every year towns across the Black Country held a carnival to help support the cause.
Thanks to a Bugle reader living in Cradley Heath we have been able to take a look at the official programme of events for the Halesowen Hospital Carnival of 1931, covering three days, 18th, 19th and 20th of June, and using comments made by the organisers and advertisements at the time, we can try and appreciate what life was like for folk during the Great Depression.
President of the Carnival Committee was local industrialist Seth Somers, Esq. J.P., and he used an impassioned plea to get his message across for the carnival to raise as much money as possible: "The Carnival is with us again, and this year we have very urgent reasons to appeal for your special support. We have had to increase the accommodation at the Cottage Hospital, and we find we must also employ an additional District Nurse. These extensions of our work have been made necessary by the rapid growth of the district in recent years and the corresponding increase in the demand for hospital treatment and the district nurse's services.
260 patients were treated in the Cottage Hospital in 1930 compared with 160 in 1929, while the district nurse paid 3,100 visits compared with 2,100 in the same years. 1931 promises to surpass all previous records. This work of relieving the sick can only be carried on by your generous help.
“Our nursing staff give ungrudging service; back them up by giving what you can. Be it much or little, it will be appreciated by the Committee — and by the sick. You gave us over £300 in 1929, over £400 in 1930. Make it £600 in 1931. Everybody's little makes a big lot. So give your bit."
For the ladies there were light refreshments, fruit, and a sweet stall on Thursday, again on Friday, and teas in the pavilion on Saturday for one shilling. Regarding decorations the Committee asked for the whole-hearted support of residents and tradespeople in decorating premises and streets.
However, it was ‘particularly requested that all will refrain from damaging private property through breaking down, and cutting trees and shrubs.’ Street collectors were issued with boxes handed out by Mr W.E. Lay at Messrs. James Grove and Sons Ltd. canteen, and told that those wearing Knight of Carnival Immunity badges were to be exempt from further contributions.
There were several Carnival competitions, including a ‘Load of Coal’, presented by Baggeridge Colliery Ltd. (2d per ticket), a toy motor car, presented by W. L. Brown Esq., J.P. (You had to guess the number of nails in the jam-jar inside the car to win it), an iced cake presented by A. D. Wimbush and Son, (guess the weight and take the cake, 2d a go), get a good carnival snap shot and win Messrs. Dearne and Raistrick's competition, and a spotting competition that ran all week, (‘buy a card early, use your eyes and win a prize’).
One of the key figures at any carnival is the Carnival Queen, and in 1931 the Halesowen Hospital Carnival Committee chose Miss Gladys Harvey to wear the crown, ably assisted by Miss Alice Marson (Lady in Waiting), and maids of honour Nellie Bloomer, Maude Hackett and Winnie Hackett.
Carnival roastings were also a popular item, with the Woodman Hotel in Bromsgrove Street offering a sheep roast on the Wednesday prior to the carnival, and the Samson & Lion on Stourbridge Road serving another on the Saturday. The catch phrase was, ‘Dine out on these nights and save the missus cooking — bring her with you instead’.
“A more traditional pig roast was held at the Witley Hotel where host and hostess Mr and Mrs T. H. Roper declared the following information: ‘The customers of the Witley Hotel have purchased a pig for roasting and the entire proceeds of the sale will be given to the Hospital Funds ... get your sandwiches early.’ One of the advertisements in the programme read, ‘Have your holiday the Midland Red way’, and several destinations were listed with prices for both long holidays and short stays. If you fancied a 12 day break on the south coast in Devon and Cornwall it would cost £18-18-0, alternatively a 2 day excursion to Snowdonia would hit the piggy bank to the tune of £2-10-0. All fares included first class hotel accommodation, lunch, dinner, bed and breakfast, plus all the normal gratuities. More specifically, a return trip to Weymouth would cost 25/-, and to Blackpool 20/-.
Sport was of course popular at the carnival, with lots of activities taking place at the Grove Recreation Ground, and in the evening music and dancing was the order of the day. On the second night of the carnival there was a Jazz Band Contest, a Grand Dance, and a concert by the Sunbeam Follies. The catchphrase for this was ‘An evening's good entertainment is a better tonic than any doctor can prescribe’.
Newsworthy events for 1931 included the revelation that the population of the UK had ground to a halt at 44.8 million; the first Highway Code was issued; the Labour Government was defeated and replaced by an allparty coalition led by Ramsay MacDonald; and King George V decided to take a £50,000 pay cut for the duration of the country's economic crisis.
But despite the continuation of the Great Depression worldwide, in Halesowen, in June 1931, the local community had only one thing in mind, to try and make the Hospital Carnival an even bigger success than it had been the previous year: "Thank you one and all to the increasing number of friends who have given freely their services, time and money to make our carnival a great success. The help rendered in the past for hospitals has been invaluable and is appreciated, and the wonderful response to last year's appeal encourages us to greater efforts.
Of this we are confident that in whatever direction your help has been given, large or small, it has been most generous and willingly given".