Miss Newton Abbot- Uncovering Underhanded Deeds in the Archive?

Volunteer Lucy tells all about stories uncovered in the museum records

Whilst browsing the archives, an unexpected drama unfolded ahead of us – this being the local competition of Miss Newton Abbot in 1946! Miss Newton Abbot was really a competition used for fundraising – the Thanksgiving Fund – contestants having to pay a shilling for entry to the contest which would be held on the 31st of October 1946 at the Penn Inn swimming pool. Perhaps this competition was held to boost moral after the war, whilst also raising funds and unifying the community.

However, this competition was far more controversial than anybody could’ve predicted! Our archives reveal that there was some possible bias between judges – Mrs Nicholls writing a letter which detailed that one of the judges was a close family friend of Miss Weekes (a contestant). Nicholls begged for assurance that there would be no favouritism in the competition before she allowed her daughter to participate!

Nevertheless, we also know the competition was short of judges as a letter from the organiser’s states that if an impartial judge was not located then over three judges would have to be present. Some letters also suggest forced participation from overruling mothers – adjudicators expressing concerns for these contestants after growing suspicions of forced entry. This was due to only mothers inquiring about the competition and enrolling their daughters without actually allowing the judges to hear from them.

Other letters detail women even refused entry, sending me down another spiralling rabbit hole within our archives to find out why. The drama continued with contestants being told that they have entered too late or are located too far away to be allowed to enter.

Before my time at the museum, I would never have expected such a scandal to run loose in an archive: were the judges really biased, were bossy mothers forcing girls to compete, or did it all work out in the end?

These images are a little later than most of the letters dating from 1951, but they offer a glimpse into the competition:

1951’s reigning champion is on the right, accompanied by Mr George, the chairman of Newton Abbot Urban District Council (NAUDC)
Congratulations and bouquets are in order
The winning contestant pouring some celebratory drinks