Leeds West Indian Carnival

Leeds West Indian Carnival

In 2017, the Leeds West Indian Carnival will celebrate its 50th year as an authentic Caribbean carnival parade at the heart of Leeds culture. It is held on the last Monday in August every year and is the longest running Caribbean carnival parade in Europe. 

It began as a Carnival Fete in 1966 led by Arthur France, MBE, who came from St Kitts Nevis in 1957, and two of his friends, Frankie Davis, from Trinidad, and Tony Lewis, from Jamaica. They were students in Leeds, and wanted to celebrate and share their heritage. 

Arthur had always wanted to be part of a Carnival, but his parents were very religious and would not let him take part back home in Nevis as a child. 'But I was always very fascinated by carnival,' he said. 'As a child I remember seeing Levi Jeffers and other men who are in Leeds now in a play called David and Goliath which they put on the road in carnival, along with a Masquerade troupe. When I got to Leeds I dreamed of having a carnival here. When I could hear the St Christopher Steel Band in Potternewton Park, just with the pan round their necks, I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true.'

The Carnival now happens on August Bank Holiday Monday each year and attracts thousands of people of all cultures from all over the UK, Europe, America and the Caribbean, and troupes from Birmingham, Luton and Nottingham.

All carnivals are usually a time where roles are reversed. They have a parade, and the crowning of a Carnival Queen and Princesses. To be an authentic West Indian Carnival, Leeds also has a number of strong Caribbean traditions:
  • J’Ouvert Morning, the traditional early morning, mini-procession starts Carnival Day. Jouvert is French for 'opening the day'.
  • The King and Queen Show showcases the figurehead carnival costumes competing for the prestigious Carnival King and Queen titles. The Prince and Princess Show is the junior version.
  • Carnival Parade costumes are inspired by Caribbean masquerade, designed and manufactured to a carnival theme.
  • There is traditional and contemporary carnival music through steel pan, soca, drum and calypso. It includes the Calypso Monarch Show - a live lyrical and musical contest with singers performing their own original calypso compositions.
  • There is a strong tradition of dance (both through choreography and performance) 
The Leeds West Indian Carnival starts and finishes in Potternewton Park, Chapeltown, Leeds, LS7.

Chapeltown is an area of Edwardian terraces in mid-east Leeds which has provided affordable housing for many different communities when they were new to Leeds. Around 20,000 people live there. In the 1950s and 60s the Jewish community that had made their home there started to move out to the wealthier suburbs and Chapeltown’s flavour became more Caribbean.

Curriculum Links:

History – Black History; Local Study (study of an aspect of history dating from a period beyond 1066 that is significant to the locality); Literacy, ICT

History – Local Study (Significant historical events, people and places in the locality); Literacy, ICT

Aims of resource:

This resource enables children to explore what the Leeds West Indian Carnival looks like, what it celebrates, and why it is significant to the local area of Chapeltown in Leeds as well as to the wider Leeds community and beyond.

Learning objectives:

  • Knowledge of the history of Carnival, specifically Leeds West Indian Carnival 
  • Understanding of the roots of the Carnival, and why it is significant to Leeds, Chronological Understanding
  • Skills – comparing and contrasting, researching, creating a timeline, creating a quiz, invitation writing

Discussion ideas:

  • What words come to mind when you think of ‘Carnival’? 
  • How do you think the Leeds West Indian Carnival might be different from other carnivals? 
  • Why is it important that the Leeds West Indian Carnival is celebrated every year? 
  • How has your understanding of what Carnival means changed since learning about the Leeds West Indian Carnival? 

Activity ideas (for 'Audio' clips please see links below):

  • Listen to Claude Hendrickson (one of the organisers of events) at the Fortieth Leeds West Indian Carnival talk about the meaning of Carnival (from 00.44 – 1.36), and decide on three reasons why Carnival is important.

  • Explore the Leeds West Indian Carnival website (see 'Related Links' at the bottom of the page)

  • Listen to Khadjah talk about where the traditions around Carnival come from (from 00.00 - 00.47). For more information on the West Indian Slave trade, see 'Related Links' at the bottom of the page).

    - Look at The Schoolrun website ( see 'Related Links' below ) for a short timeline on the slave trade, and see if you can create a new timeline for the Leeds West Indian Carnival

  • Using the ‘What is Carnival?’ fact sheet (see 'Downloads' link below) and research from the Leeds West Indian Carnival website:
    - Create a 5-question quiz for someone else, based on the information on the fact sheet
    - Write a letter of invitation to someone (a child who lives in another city perhaps), persuading them to come to Carnival. You’ll need to include when it will be held, where, who it is run by, why it is important, and the reasons why they should come along! 

Document icon Learning article provided by: Leeds Museum Discovery Centre |  ArtForms Artemis | 
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