Iain Aitch's exploration of Margate beauty queens past. A working class social history in a seaside town. Seeking out former Miss Lido, Miss Margate, Miss Westbrook, Miss Cliftonville, Miss Rovex, Miss Klinger competitors and more.
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Looking at the local papers in Margate from the 1960s and 1970s, it seems the town was very backwards in its taking up of female equality in the workplace or elsewhere. But I doubt that things were much different in the rest of the UK. After all, the Sex Discrimination Act did not come into law until 1975.
This was a time when many factories in the area had their own beauty shows, including Klinger and the famous Rovex factory in Westwood. Even local trades unions held their own beauty show, as did political parties.
Rovex, who made Hornby trains and Scalextric racing cars, appealed to women with their ads referencing the ‘model world’, workplace safety and half-day Fridays (so you could go to Dumpton Market and pick up the latest knock-off fashions). There was also the chance to win the title of Miss Rovex at the company’s annual dinner and dance each December.
I am looking to find any Miss Rovex, Miss Klinger or any other workplace beauty queen from a time when that was a seemingly normal thing to happen. Similarly, I would love to speak to any judges from that time. Please pass the message on to your mum, nan, aunt, sister or friends. The workplace shows are as much a part of the Margate beauty queen history as any show at the Lido or Winter Gardens.
My Beauty is a project about the beauty queens of Margate’s past, but it is very much one that concentrates on the photography of the time, too. After all, the SEAS photographic archive at Canterbury Christ Church University is a partner in my project.
Most of the images I am finding are those that will have been taken by professionals. The candid shots by beauty queens’ families are fascinating, but some of the unused and discarded shots by the pros are simply outstanding. Some packets show the editor’s pick marked up for print in the local press, but the throwaways nearly always show more history.
The above shot is of women waiting to take part in the 1960 Miss Margate competition. It is from a set of colour negatives in local historian Suz Foad‘s archive, with most of the other shots being standard beauty show material. Shots of the winners, shots of the line ups and shots of the judges. But this shot recalls the work of English photographer Tony Ray-Jones (who sadly passed away in 1971 at the age of 30).
Ray-Jones shot in black-and-white (and did shoot in Margate), but the colour image is certainly one you can image him taking . The photographer is capturing the moment and perhaps telling you more than he thinks. Ray-Jones may have composed it better, but you can judge for yourself by looking at one of his own candid beauty queen pictures in an article about a retrospective of his work curated by fellow-photographer Martin Parr in 2013. It is one of my favourite images by him.
Below is another shot from the same set of Margate negatives. It may be by the same photographer, although it is from 1968. Do remember to contact me if you spot any relatives in the photos (you may not have much luck with the below unless you know them very well!) I would love to hear from them, as well as from any of the photographers. Full contact details are in the About section, or you can just email on email@example.com.
There is little doubt that Margate was a very white place in the 1970s. The demographics show that the area still has a very small number of black or Asian residents. Black and Asian daytrippers from south and east London were a regular sight on the seafront, but the numbers who chose to stay and make a home in the town were small.
This picture of a Miss Margate show at the Winter Gardens in 1975 is the first sight I have had of a black woman taking part in a Margate beauty competiton. I assume the woman on the left is runner up to winner Pip Neale (centre) here. But I do not have a name as yet. Click on the picture to see it larger. Do you know her, or know someone who may know her?
It is quite likely that the woman in question was part of the groups of women who entered the local beauty shows while not living in the area. In the heyday of beauty shows, many women spent the summer travelling from town to town and entering shows. Women from London, Essex and the Midlands regularly took part in Margate beauty shows. There was a decent living to be made if you were placed and it sure beat working in a factory, digging potatoes or selling ice creams.
You have to remember that entering these shows must have been a bold move in the mid-1970s. This was before England had a black player in the national football team. This was a time when black women were still highly exoticised, judging by some of the other pictures I have seen in the local newspaper. This was when the National Front was on the rise.
The picture is from a largely unlabelled set of negatives on loan from brilliant local historian Suz Foad. Apparently they were rescued from a skip when a local newspaper disposed of much of its own archives.
Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any clues as to the identity of or contact details for any of the women in this picture or on the website. It would be great to hear from you.
My Beauty feels like it has been under way for some time, from meeting the beauty queens who inspired it (back in 2011) to receiving Arts Council England funding and setting up this website. But yesterday (Tuesday) felt like the first proper day of the project, as I was out meeting and photographing former-beauty queens.
I had a tentative contact from Rosalyn last week, telling me she lived a long way from where I was concentrating my actions. She also told me that she would be leaving the UK again soon. With time being of the essence, I quickly arranged a meeting with Rosalyn in Dorset. The sun was out and the train timetable was kind. Although the café where we had arranged to meet had closed down.
Worried that we may never meet, I had a look around the station and was relieved to find Rosalyn. I was even more pleased to find that she had her sister Evelyn with her.
As we sat and chatted over coffee, I learned that Rosalyn was Miss Dairy Maid 1960 in Margate and that both had entered Miss Margate 1958. Evelyn was runner-up in that contest and often appeared in the Miss Margate sash, as the competition winner was regularly unavailable for the public engagements that went with the title.
The sisters – whose parents used to run the Rhonallea Hotel in Edgar Road, Cliftonville – were a delight to be around. They were exceedingly generous with their time and their anecdotes of Margate and beauty shows past. I think they’d both had a crush on a young Reg Varney, who was performing in summer season with Benny Hill when they were teens.
I look forward to meeting more amazing women like Rosalyn and Evelyn. So do let me know if you, your aunt, sister, mum or nan ever took part in any beauty contest in Margate, Cliftonville or nearby. The more I explore this untapped history, the more I find. And that will just keep driving me on, recording history, telling stories and making sure those voices are heard.
On a day when the Labour Party is in yet more trouble in the media, I thought it was time to hark back to what some may call simpler times. Others may simply call them less enlightened times
Whatever your view, this picture of Margate’s Miss Socialist is pretty shocking. Yes it was taken 50 years ago, but it reveals so much about the world of politics at that time. Trades unions were holding beauty shows. The Liberal Party also had one of their own in Thanet up into the 1970s.
I have not found any Conservative Party contests as yet. Whether that is because local Tories found the contests demeaning, common or simply beneath them will have to be left to speculation for now. But if you come across any or every took part in a political party beauty contest in the Margate area I would love to hear from you.
This picture from the local press shows Miss Julie Cannon, a 17-year-old student from Birchington, winning the contest at the annual Labour Party dinner and dance at Queen’s Hall. The ‘eight charming competitors’ were judged by local councillors and then local(ish) MP David Ennais. Miss Jenny Hamilton of St Peter’s and Miss Eva Van de Hurste of Margate were the runners up. Let me know if you know any of them.
I was pleased to have the chance to write an article about My Beauty for the Thanet Gazette last week. It has already paid dividends, with several beauty queens getting in touch after reading my call out for anyone who has taken part in beauty shows in Margate.
The article also detailed my first event, which will take place at Batchelors Patisserie at 246 Northdown Road, Cliftonville, from 1pm-4pm on Thursday the 9th of June. I’m offering free cakes and coffees for any beauty queens who come along. I wanted to use Batchelors as it is somewhere that still exists in Cliftonville from the area’s heyday. Hopefully some former-Miss Cliftonvilles will be enticed in.
So if you know any former-beauty queen contestants from any show in Margate (from the Lido contests to Miss Westbrook) who may like a bun or a doughnut, then do send them along. Or just come along and say hello and see how I am getting on with the project. It would be great to meet you.
I am seeking to collect memories, photographs and items such as programmes, judging cards and sashes. Everything will be returned and I can always visit people at home and pick items up. I’m also interested in hearing from judges, photographers, sponsors or promoters of shows.
More to come soon, including details of an event at Dreamland, Margate.
My Beauty is now live. I am seeking former beauty queen contestants from the hundreds that have taken place across Margate’s history. I am seeking to create a new exhibition and book from the photographs, memories and ephemera of those who took part in the shows, which peaked in the 1960s. Prizes could be life-changing (some enough to buy a house with) and the shows were a feature of the town, its press, its image of women and local pride.
Such a history has never been attempted before, leaving these contestants missed out of the history of a town that is on the rise once again. My aim is to correct that, looking at the fashions, attitudes, desires and culture of this important era in Margate’s history. Please contact me on email@example.com you were ever a contestant in a beauty show in Margate, Cliftonville, Westbrook or anywhere in the CT9 postcode, from your workplace to the Winter Gardens or Lido.