THE HISTORY AND ORIGINS OF ALDERNEY WEEK – IN A NUTSHELL!
In 2018 Alderney Week celebrated its 70th anniversary since the end of World War II.
But the roots of this week-long carnival of family fun, entertainment, competitions and frolics can be traced back as far as 1851. In fact, the origin of one particular event, the Torchlight Procession, on the last day of Alderney Week, goes back to ancient times. Alderney Week 2020 nearly didn’t happen as the COVID-19 pandemic took over, but at the very last minute, Ronnie Cairnduff and his Team – with the approval of Guernsey’s Health and Border Authorities – were able to pull of a mini-Alderney Week featurning over 60 events!
If you are relative newcomer to the spectacle of Alderney Week, you may well have wondered how it came to be that once a year a normally sedate and unassuming Island becomes a cross between the longest village fete in history and Blackpool!
Alderney Week, as we know it, retains many aspects of its earlier known roots and quite rightly so. What we have here is tradition in its finest form. Communities have , since the beginning of time, held festivals to celebrate many things, but the most universally celebrated rite was of course fertility. Here we have the roots of Alderney Week. And, with the help of local historian Brian Bonnard who has published an extensive report about the History of Alderney Week, we’d like to give a brief history of this fantastic annual event.
THE TORCHLIGHT PROCESSION – A PAGAN FERTILY RITE
To this day, the highlight of Alderney Week is the traditional Torchlight Procession which takes place on the last Saturday and marks the end of Alderney Week.
Starting from the Island Hall at 9:00pm and preceded by the band, the long procession winds its way up the High Street, down Victoria Street and up to the Butes where a huge bonfire has been constructed. The Fire Brigade is in attendance for safety, and the torches are thrown onto the bonfire to light it. First to light the bonfire are Miss Alderney and her Maid(s) of Honour and the Alderney Week organising team, followed by the torch-carrying members of the public. When the fire dies down, a beautiful “son et Lumiere” firework display marks the climax to the whole week and is followed by live music on the Butes.
In ancient times the island celebrated the remnant of a pagan fertility rite which later became the first Sunday in Lent, when the young people of Alderney, as in most other communities elsewhere, assembled to feast and dance at the time of the spring plantings, in order to ensure the fertility of the crops.
In Alderney, these festivities were held on the tidal of Clonque (now Fort Clonque- but not then connected by a causeway), where they all repaired in their best clothes, with musical instruments, to picnic and dance, play kissing games and make other entertainment.
In the evening a huge bonfire was lit, after which they all danced back to the town bearing torches of rush, or made from twisted straw. They ran through the streets waving these to the great danger of the thatched roofs of the houses.
This custom was knowns as “Les Brandons”, and in the early 1700s the Governor of Alderney tried to have it banned because of the danger to houses. Despite this it continued well into Victorian times, in the late 19th Century.
At an unknown date, a similar festivity appears to have come into being, in September at the end of harvest, in celebration of the crop, and this has also been referred to, probably incorrectly, as “Les Brandons”, or otherwise “Le Jour des Vitres”, a name suggesting that masks (and perhaps other fancy dress) were worn by the participants.
Although it does not now start from Clonque or take place at the same time of the year, the traditional torchlight procession and bonfire, always on the last Saturday of Alderney Week, may at least have its origin in an almost unconscious attempt to revive the old customs or “Les Brandons “ and “Le Jour de Vitres” and has become a firmly established part of Alderney Week today.
As you carry the torch down Victoria Street and throw it onto the huge bonfire burning on the Butes, you are effectively taking part in a ritual that has been in existence for thousands of years. So now you can tell all your friends that you went to Alderney and took part in a Pagan Fertility Rite!
COMPETITIONS AND RACES – BACK TO THE MID 1800’s
The competitive aspect of Alderney Week plays an important part of ‘keeping in touch with our roots’. The Alderney Week programme always features numerous competitions, on land and at sea, which are based on an idea from the mid 1800’s when it is recorded that rowing races were held in the Harbour between local men and soldiers from the garrison. We can assume that competitive events took place throughout the year, but it was not until the start of the 20th Century that such events spread across an entire week.
ALDERNEY WEEK – 1908
In 1908, the 2nd Batallion, the Middlesex Regiment, three companies of which, together with the regimental band, bandmaster R.C. Cooke, formed the garrison of the island under their C.O. Major B.E. Ward, who organised a whole week of events and sports competitions, from 12-18 July, which was referred to the newspapers at the time as The Alderney Week, probably the first use of this term.
The programme back then was quite comprehensive and started with a moonlight picnic at Clonque on the first Saturday, perhaps with vague memories of “Les Brandons” in the minds of the organisers.
On Sunday morning there was a garrison church parade on at the cricket pitch at the Arsenal which was also attended by the Boy’s Brigade, and a large number of inhabitants. The Victor took part as well as the army chaplain, and the regimental band played the hymns. Afterwards prizes were presented to the Garrison school children by Mrs. Ward, wife of the C.O.
On Monday afternoon the C.O. and his wife were ‘at home’ to some 60 guests in their quarters in Essex House (which later became the Devereux House Hotel). The Band again played for the event and in the evening did duty for a dinner dance for 40 guests at Scott’s Hall, given by the Middlesex Regiment Officers.
Tuesday morning saw the arrival of SS Courier from Guernsey with more visitors, and in the afternoon a picnic at Rose Farm. The evening was crowned by a Camp Fire Concert and Supper on the Golf links at the back of Fort Albert attended by about 400 islanders.
Two French Tornedo Boats, No. 228 and 229, made a two-day visit on Wednesday and Thursday. Their crews competed with the garrison, and the naval personnel of the Alderney Coastguard station, in a number of sports events.
Wednesday also saw an open “Guest Day” at Fort Tourgis. This was followed in the evening by a fancy dress dance given by the R.A. officers in which many decorated carriages, including the three-horse Ambulance from Fort Albert, were used to convey the guests to the Fort. Other events followed, and the “Week” finished on the Saturday with a Torchlight Tattoo and Fireworks on the Butes.
ALDERNEY WEEK – 1922 ONWARDS
In 1922 the custom for garrison sports, shooting competitions and horse races held in the 1820’s was revived by Lt. Col. F.H. Dorling, C.O. of the 1st Batallion the Manchester Regiment. When in Alderney aa Captain in the early 1900’s, he had married Judge Barbenson’s daughter and was now stationed in Guernsey. Two Rifle companies and the Regimental Band were stationed in Alderney under Major W.K. Evans, and it was customary for the Guernsey companies to join the rest in Alderney for a couple of months in the summer, for joint training and exercise in which the Alderney Militia also took part. To foster a spirit of competition, and to prevent boredom, Cl. Dorling instituted a week of sports in which the various units competed in athletics, boxing, football, cricket, shooting, water sports and races between farm horses. On the final day there was a carnival with a prize for the best decorated bicycle, and in the evening a fireworks display, followed by a dance for all ranks.
By the 1920’s Alderney Week had joined with the Annual Cattle Show and became a major event on the Alderney Social Calendar.
ALDERNEY WEEK – 1948 ONWARDS
This custom was revived after the war in 1948, when the first post-war cattle show was held, and visitors came from the other islands to buy. Various other attractions were scheduled. The show rapidly developed into a carnival with a beauty queen, and the first elected was Eileen Sykes, who many years later became a States Member and also the island’s Vice President.
This soon became more than a one-day event and included sports and competitions as in pre-war days. From about 1953, it always included a cavalcade of decorated floats. The decline of the Alderney agriculture in the 1960’s led to the last Cattle Show being held that year, but an attempt was made to continue the entertainment.
Ray Parkin, who had already been associated with Alderney Week since 1961 – then a large committee – ran the organisation with Peter Moss as Chairman. Then the principal events were the Cavalcade, the swimming sports in the Inner Harbour, Olympic Gold Medallist Duncan Goodhew regularly took part in these events as a child, and still is a frequent visitor to the island.
The Alderney Drama Club (now known as the Alderney Theatre Group) always staged a performance during the week. But moving the Cavalcade to Marais Square on year, cause such traffic chaos that it returned to the Butes where it has been held ever since.
The Cavalcade is now held every first Monday of August. Unlike the rest of the Channel Islands and Britain, Alderney has not adopted the end of August holiday, but has retained the traditional August Bank Holiday, on the first Monday in August, which is now Cavalcade Day.
In 1969, when Ray Parkin was Chairman of the States Tourism Committee, Peter Moss resigned after staging that year’s festivities. And, no volunteers being forthcoming, Ray agreed to do it for one year only, provide he ran it just with an Alderney Week Secretary – and no committee! Ray Parkin’s one year’s term of Alderney Week started in 1970 and was to last no less than 3 decades!
Having decided on a more ambitious programme, Ray arranged event organisers for each, and let them find their own helpers, a system which has worked well over the years. It was Ray’s inspiration, enthusiasm and dedication that helped Alderney Week grow into the island’s biggest annual week-long tourism event. In 1965 Alderney Week had about a dozen separate events, by 1979 this had risen to some 65 events, and from 1990 onwards, the programme boasted over 100 happenings.
ALDERNEY WEEK IN THE 21ST CENTURY
In 2000 Ray decided to hang up his hat. It would not be possible to summarise Ray’s dedication in a few words but it is a fact that Alderney Week would not exist today if it had not been for his boundless enthusiasm and his unique talent for motivating people. Alderney Week is, and has always ,self-funding, relying totally on volunteers. Many people who have helped with Alderney Week over the years will have fond memories of Ray stopping them in Victoria Street and saying “I’ve been landed with a bit of a problem and I wondered if you could help”.
Ray was succeeded by a number of Alderney Week impresarios, starting with Gail Gregg and Brian Talbot and followed by Barbara Benfield and Sally Bohan, Ralph Burridge and then David “Magic” Stanley. All have introduced new event and shown total commitment to the success of Alderney Week, whatever the weather.From 2005 until 2014, Ronnie Cairnduff -who had been actively involved with Alderney Week for at least 30 years – and his team were at the helm of Alderney Week. Their programme featured over 120 events. And, although Ray had taken a back seat, he came to the forefront on the last night Alderney Week when Ray Parkin and Friends delighted thousands of revellers with the most stunning grand “Son et Lumière” fireworks display.
In recent years, every Alderney Week has been given a theme and some scene from the island’s past is re-enacted, the shop assistants and many inhabitants wearing suitable dress for the chosen theme throughout the week and the shop windows entered for the best decorated shop window competition.
From 2015 to 2017 Emma Odoli and her team ran Alderney Week introducing a new style and many new events.
Chris and Bryony Harris took over and organised Alderney Week in 2018 and 2019.
But when nobody came forward to run Alderney Week 2020, Ronnie Cairnduff and several members of his ‘old’ team stepped in to make sure Alderney Week will happen. Watch this space!
Alderney Week is now well established and is the principal week of the season for tourists, the population of the island almost doubles in most years, and some people are making it their regular holiday time to join in the fun. But in order for Alderney Week to survive we must move with the times. Major corporate sponsorship is now essential to the continuity of Alderney Week and we hope that you will see this as a sign of the faith that these businesses have in Alderney as a viable Island community and not as an intrusion. And to help us pull off the many events every year, volunteers – both islanders and visitors – are desperately needed.
As the week progresses, you have all an opportunity to play a part in the history of Alderney Week. If you have an idea or you spot something that you think could be done differently, or better, approach the Alderney Week Team and let us know what you think.
Who knows – in 20 years’ time you may be able to look back and say “that was my idea!”
And to take a look at the many happenings during Alderney Week. Thousands of photographs have been published on our new Flickr site. To view the albums and to download any photos you like, click here
YEAR THEME ORGANISER MISS ALDERNEY
2020 “THE TWENTIES” Ronnie Cairnduff & Team No Miss Alderney due to COVID-19
2019 “ANIMAL MAGIC” Chris & Bryony Harris & Team Abbie 20Chandler
2018 “MYTH & LEGENDS” Chris & Bryony Harris & Team Poppy Taylor
2017 THAT’S MUSICALS” Emma Odoli & Team Neroli Queripel
2016 “CARTOONS & COMICS” Emma Odoli & Team Roisin Gaudion
2015 “COWBOYS & ALIENS” Emma Odoli & Team Ruby Walker
2014 “TREASURE ISLAND” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Emma Etheridge
2013 65th Anniversary” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Maria Etheridge
2012 “THE GAMES” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Charlie Barker
2011 “FANTASY ISLANDS” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Bonnie Flewitt
2010 “HISTORY MAKERS” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Joanna Woodnutt
2009 “AROUND THE WORLD” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Hannah Cox
2008 60th Anniversary Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Adele Woodruff
2007 “HOLLYWOOD” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Marie-Claire Jean
2006 “HEROES & HEROINES” Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Lianne Bunn
2005 “THE MUSICALS “ Ronnie Cairnduff & AW Team Samantha Ball
2004 “ANCIENT CIVILISATIONS” David & Angela Stanley Gina Lowe
2003 “ONCE UPON A TIME” David & Angela Stanley Claire Shaw
2002 “CARTOON CAPERS” David & Angela Stanley Laura Roberts
2001 Alderney Week Ralph Burridge Rebecca Maloy
2000 Alderney Week Ralph Burridge Alison McCulloch (née Spice)
1999 Alderney Week Ralph Burridge Charlotte Dupont
1998 Alderney Week Barbara Benfield & Sally Bohan Claire Digney (née Capazario)
1997 Alderney Week Barbara Benfield & Sally Bohan Alex Harrisson
1996 Alderney Week Barbara Benfield & Sally Bohan Samantha Hogg (née Jenkins)
1995 “Space Oddity” Gail Gregg & Brian Talbot Catherine Calder
1994 “AW Goes to the Movies” Ray Parkin Kerry Walker
1993 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Emma Dale
1992 “Peace” Ray Parkin Karen Solway
1991 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Sally Redmond (née Goodchild)
1990 “Mardi Gras” Ray Parkin Helen Heathcote (née Simonet)
1989 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Paula Lawson
1988 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Tania Miller
1987 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Karen Knight (née Miller)
1986 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Samantha Jenkins
1985 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Lisa Bunn (née Mahieu)
1984 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Michelle Mitton (née Jones)
1983 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Tracy Collins
1982 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Claire Mullins
1981 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Paula Moore (née Bunn)
1980 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Anita Giles (née Herival)
1979 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Anita Giles (née Herival)
1978 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Carol Allis
1977 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Bonnie Jenkins
1976 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Candida Osborne
1975 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Madeleine Jean
1974 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Barbara Field (née Allen)
1973 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Maisie Turreff
1972 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Harriette Fane
1971 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Janet Stone (née Rick)
1970 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Doreen Tugby (née LeCocq)
1969 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Tanya Ryan
1968 Alderney Week Ray Parkin Carol Chalker
1967 Alderney Week ? ? ? ?
1966 Alderney Week Peter Moss Jackie Troke
1965 Alderney Week ? ? Jackie Troke
1964 Alderney Week Ken & Isobel Cowell Daphne Main (née Baron)
1963 Alderney Week Mr. O.S. North Sally Bohan (née Tinson)
1962 Alderney Week ? ? Sally Weld
1961 Alderney Week ? ? Anne Gillingham
1960 Alderney Week ?` ? Patricia McLernon
1959 Alderney Week ? ? Marie-Therese Hunter
1958 Alderney Week ? ? Ursula Cadoret (née Jennings)
1957 Alderney Week ? ? Ursula Jennings
1956 Alderney Week ? ? ? ?
1955 Alderney Week ? ? Dawn McLernon
1954 Alderney Week ? ? Nancy Johnston
1953 Alderney Week ? ? Eileen Sykes
1952 Alderney Week ? ? Miriam Kidd (née Angel)
1951 Alderney Week ? ? Olga Bott
1950 Alderney Week ? ? Pearl Goodhew (née Venn)
1949 Alderney Week ? ? Eileen Sykes
1948 Alderney Week ? ? Eileen Sykes
1895 Grand Fêtes H.F. de Faby (President) No Miss Alderney
To view images of all Miss Alderneys since 1948, visit our Miss Alderney Wall of Fame. Click here
To view photos of the Miss Alderney Vin d’Honneur in 2008 which marked the 60th anniversary of Miss Alderney – click here