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Post memories: Dagenham’s last ever carnival queen

PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 May 2015 | UPDATED: 09:19 11 May 2015

Sheila Rowe in the Dagenham town show in 1964

Sheila Rowe in the Dagenham town show in 1964

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In the days when royalty reigned over Dagenham one beauty spent a special year representing the borough for the final time before its merge with Barking, hobnobbing with the likes of Bobby Moore and the West Ham team. Anna Silverman delves into her memories.

Dagenham carnival queen Sheila Rowe age 17Dagenham carnival queen Sheila Rowe age 17

Sheila Rowe was shy, embarrassed and felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny of camera flashes – so it may come as a shock to hear she reigned as the glamorous Dagenham carnival queen.

Her bashful nature didn’t stop her enjoying a year of royalty after auditioning for the throne in 1964.

“I suppose I grew up because of it and I got to travel,” she told the Post – half a century after touring the south east’s town shows and carnival scene.

“I was too shy for photos, that really wasn’t for me. I remember after I won, photographers wanted to take my picture but I felt uncomfortable and just wanted to go home.”

Sheila's mum, Elsey Rowe, age 94Sheila's mum, Elsey Rowe, age 94

Now 68 and living in Yorkshire, Sheila is proud to be the last Dagenham carnival queen as her reign ended just as the borough amalgamated with Barking in 1965.

At 17, she was crowned at the Odeon cinema on the Heathway and was accompanied everywhere by the two runners-up, her “attendees”,

The film Goldfinger was released at the cinema that year and for the premiere a special James Bond car was brought to the Odeon.

Her Majesty took pride of place in the back seat with Cllr Fred Brown, the mayor at the time, and the acclaimed West Ham football team.

A cutting from the Dagenham Post from July 1964 when Shelia was crowned Queen (Picture provided by the LBBD Archives and Local Studies Centre)A cutting from the Dagenham Post from July 1964 when Shelia was crowned Queen (Picture provided by the LBBD Archives and Local Studies Centre)

“It was a dream come true at the age of 17 or 18,” Sheila recalled.

“They were nice looking lads and Bobby Moore and the team were all there.

The council provided the queen’s dress, shoes, crown and cloak and, because it was the final fete, Ford motors also loaned a car to use as the float.

Sheila said she had a giggle with her attendees who came to all the carnivals with her.

They would hide Opal Fruits under her large dress and sneak them at intervals when they thought nobody was watching.

“If you’re in the procession for three or four miles at a time that’s a lot of smiling and our mouths would get dry,” she said.

“The float was a spectacular, massive, pink thing. It was really a nice year and a nice change from the norm.”

And Sheila isn’t the only one to look back on her reign fondly.

Her mum, Elsey Rowe, recalls the presents her daughter was showered with by shop keepers before the town’s show.

The 94-year-old, who still lives in Dagenham’s Calverley Crescent where Sheila grew up, said: “It was tradition that they gave presents, she got vouchers and jewellery.

“Sheila was over the moon after the auditions when she found out she’d won.

“A lot of people thought it was a beauty contest but it wasn’t, it was to become queen and represent the borough wherever she went.

“There is still a carnival and it goes into Dagenham but she was last one to represent Dagenham alone.”


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