For those new to My Beauty, here is a quick recap. I started the project (in my head at least) way back in 2011 when in Margate working on a project called Cachetabout youth subcultures in the town. The idea was to get working class locals into Turner Contemporary while recording their important part in the area’s cultural history. This worked surprisingly well.
While doing my research I kept meeting ladies of a certain age who would stroll up and proudly announce themselves as Miss Margate 1972, Miss Cliftonville 1964 or Miss Lido 1958. At first I was confused. Then I was hooked. What was it that was so important about these contests? What was it about the beauty shows that had stuck with them? And just who were they?
As I dug a little, I found out that the contests were as varied as the women I met. Some shows were about civic pride and evening gowns, others were about swimsuits and cash prizes. Sometimes the cash prizes were life-changing. A flat and a sports car life-changing. A Way Out. In the same way that boxing was for young working class men. For me, this is working class history, told from a working class perspective. These are untold stories, refreshed and not moderated through the same old lens.
Fast forward five years and I spent the summer back in Margate, interviewing and photographing 25 women. Quizzing them on class, feminism, beauty, family, local pride and just about everything else I could think of. They were ALL wonderful, ranging in age from 50- to 84-years-old.
Now for more hard work, putting it all together as a book and exhibition. More soon!
I will be down at Dreamland this Saturday, from 1pm to 5pm and hoping to meet more beauty queens and beauty show contestants from the area.
Saturday is the first anniversary of the amusement park re-opening and is also the first day that it is free to get in for all. So come and say hello, enjoy wandering around and bathing in nostalgia. But make sure you bring yourself/your mum, aunt or nan to share their memories with me.
I have met some wonderful beauty show contestants so far, but would love to meet more. Come along if you were ever a contestant in a show in Margate, whether it was at Dreamland, the Lido, the Oval, the Winter Gardens, a hotel or even your workplace. Beauty shows took place all over Margate, from Rovex to the annual balls of trades unions and from the beach to nightclubs. Whether you were a carnival queen, Teen Queen or Miss Dreamland I would love to meet you.
Tomorrow (Monday 13 June) sees the second My Beauty event in Margate. This is a special screening of a surprise beauty queen feature film at the wonderful Tom Thumb Theatre, 2A Eastern Esplanade, Margate CT9 2LB.
I am told that the former-owner of the Tom Thumb was a beauty queen. So it’s great to have a venue with a link to Margate’s beauty queen past.
The bar upstairs opens at 7pm, with the screening beginning at 7.30pm. Admission is free for any woman who was an entrant in Margate beauty shows, from Westbrook to Cliftonville and Miss Socialist to Miss Rovex or even Miss Lovely Legs at the Lido. Bring your photos and your memories as My Beauty takes over Club Hydropathe film club at the Tom Thumb for one night only.
If you can’t make this event, then there is another at Dreamland on 18 June, from 1-5pm. You don’t need to pay to get into the part where I will be (inside the main entrance on the seafront). But former-beauty queen contestants will be given free admission to Dreamland itself.
Last week’s event at Batchelors was a great success, with lots of beauty queens coming along.
It has been a busy few days in Margate and I have been dashing around meeting women who took part in beauty queen shows in the area.
Today I get to sit down for a while and meet beauty queen contestants and anyone interested in the project at the wonderful Batchelors Patisserie in Northdown Road. It’s the sort of venue a beauty queen would have hung out at in the 1960s or 1970s, sipping a coffee or enjoying one of their much-loved doughnuts or pastries (this was an era before size zero).
The furniture is still largely original, dating back to the opening of the famous bakery. Before that, the building was a travel agency, largely selling rail tickets. I’d always assumed it was too posh for me. I don’t think I went in until I was 40.
I shall be there from 1-4pm today (Thursday 9 June). So do come and say hello. I shall be taking the Roy Hudd role from this picture.
Below you can see Batchelors as it is now and as it was in the late 1950s.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.