Jersey Battle of Flowers
The Jersey Battle of Flowers grew out of an event staged on Victoria Avenue in 1902 to celebrate the Coronation of King Edward VII. The parade was so popular that it was held again the following year as the Battle of Flowers.
In the early days floats were usually horse drawn and flowers were torn off at the end, giving the event its name.
In 1912 Charlie Chaplin appeared in the Battle of Flowers, the first of many stars to make an appearance over the years, although it was not until after the Second World War that the practice of inviting a top personality to participate began.
The early days of Battle were similar in form to the spectacle that spans Victoria Avenue every August now - just a lot smaller. Newsreel footage from British Pathe of the 1910 Battle shows floats drawn by horses, led by small boys. The floats were covered in flowers on which sat girls in white. There was also a flower covered castle tower with a fairytale King in a big crown and long beard surrounded by little boys in sailor suits.
The first break in the new tradition was the sombre summer of 1914, as the world prepared for war. The event was revived by First Tower village fete, who held a Battle of Flowers in St Andrew’s park, each year from 1922 to 1927, although this was a much smaller event than previously.
A Carnival Week started on the Bank Holiday Monday (held at the beginning of August at that time) and lasted for four days.
In 1928 the Battle was taken over by the Jersey Chamber of Commerce, using Springfield stadium, as the venue. The event continued each year until the German Occupation put a stop to it.
After the Occupation, the Battle of Flowers returned to Victoria Avenue to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951, with singer Petula Clarke as the first guest personality. Since then, the Battle has been an annual event. The actual “battle” was stopped in 1964 because of violence, and the complete destruction of the floats.
Now the floats remain intact after the parade and since 1989 they have participated in a night parade the following day, which has become almost as popular as Battle day itself. Hydrangeas were the dominant flower on many early floats but in 1959 the Principality of San Remo in Italy introduced carnations and gladioli; they also created an award to be given each year for animation. Floats created with wild flowers also competed for a specific award.
In the early days the floats were mainly small and the prize money only a maximum of £15. But by 1951 one float was 51 feet high (the maximum height permitted now is 17 feet) and in 1972 some floats were up to 70 feet long (the maximum length now is 45 feet).
The 1952 battle was special because not only did it help celebrate the accession of Queen Elizabeth II, but it was also the 50th anniversary of the event, watched by more than 40,000 spectators and included more than 100 entries. The largest ever crowd for the Battle - over 60,000 people - was in 1969.
The first Miss Battle of Flowers was chosen to participate in the 1953 parade, and in 1954 the first male star - Anthony Steel - accompanied the carnival queen. Actress Anna Neagle was the star in 1956, but from then on it has always been a male star of stage, screen or sport who has been the escort for Miss Battle.
The music for the parade has been provided over the years by numerous very fine local and visiting bands, including the Band of the United States Air Force, the Dutch Rijnmondband Schiedam, the Tivoli Boys Band from Denmark and many British military bands.
The majorettes troupes which add so much to the colour and movement of the parade have become increasingly popular and the floats themselves are now much animated.
The Battle of Flowers festival consists of music, funfairs, dancers, majorettes and a parade of flower floats alongside various street entertainers. The largest attendance to date is thought to be that of 1969, when 60,000 people were present.
The major floats are usually produced by the parishes of Jersey. Miss Battle of Flowers, the overall winner of the Miss Parish contests, rides on her own specially made float. There was also formerly a Maid of Honour who rode with the Miss Battle but this has now been dropped. The tradition of having a Mr Battle to escort Miss Battle was in abeyance for a number of years, but Kyran Bracken revived the rôle in 2007, and 2008 saw Christopher Biggins occupying the role. It was then brought back again in 2011 with Gareth Gates as Mr Battle.
The 'Battle' itself originally consisted of dismantling the floats to provide floral ammunition for a literal battle of flowers between participants and spectators, but this aspect has long been abandoned. Since 1989, a night-time Moonlight Parade with the floats festooned in lights has been introduced. The Moonlight parade ends with a large fireworks display.
Francis Foot photographs
Among the most prolific photographers of early Battles was Francis Foot, perhaps better known for his shop in Pitt Street, selling, among many other things, early phonographs. His HMV dealership sign, painted on the Dumaresq Street wall of the property, remains, albeit terribly faded, to this day.
From 1905 to 1920 Foot was a regular visitor to the Battle on Victoria Avenue and many of his pictures survive in a collection held in La Société Jersiaise's photographic archive.
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