Tributes to carnival stalwart whose connection went back 70 years

Tributes have been paid to a much-loved woman who was a stalwart of Bishop's Castle carnival for over 70 years.

Rita Coxall of Bishop's Castle.
Rita Coxall of Bishop's Castle.

Rita Coxall, who has died aged 93, was also involved in many other aspects of life in the town, including the Red Cross, the Royal British Legion and Friends of Stone House Hospital.

She received a town civic award in 2016 in recognition of her voluntary service to the community.

And in the Queen's diamond jubilee year of 2012 Rita was given a special honour by the carnival committee, being made the Diamond Jubilee carnival queen.

"She had been involved in the carnival for many, many, years," said carnival committee official Amanda Houghton.

"She loved to do a shop window competition every year for the children of the town, with a town trail to find clues in the shop windows. That was her little baby. On the day she would sell raffle tickets and promote the event. She dedicated a lot of her spare time to helping us organise the carnival."

With Covid distancing Rita is "crowned" pom pom carnival queen in 2020, after 70 years helping with the town's carnival.

Rita's involvement in the carnival started at an early age, taking part as the young Miss Rita Beddow, and she went on to the organisational side, including as carnival committee secretary.

She also amassed a large archive of photos of the town's carnivals and other town events, and in the 1990s produced a booklet of photos from the carnival from the 1900s to 1960.

The young Miss Rita Beddow, right, on a carnival float around the late 1940s.

Born in Much Wenlock, the family lived at Easthope, but after losing both parents at the age of six Rita was brought up by her grandmother, moving to Bishop's Castle just before the war. She went on to work at the Walter's trouser factory, but when that closed worked for the NHS at Stone House, and in retirement worked at town florists Floraline.

For over 30 years she was responsible for organising, and serving on, a weekly rota of volunteers to assist service users in the Stone House Care Home and patients in the community hospital.

Young Rita

Her connection with the hospital had begun in the 1970s when she joined the nursing staff and she took an active role in campaigns to save the hospital when it was threatened with closure.

Her collection of memorabilia about the history of Stone House, from workhouse to the present day, had been shared with, and enjoyed by, many local people.

One of Rita's many historic carnival photos – this is the procession coming up the High Street in the 1928 event.

Among her other local roles she had sold poppies in aid of the Poppy Appeal for 50 years and was the RBL standard bearer, served on the Public Hall committee, was a trustee of the town's museum, and was president of Bishop's Castle FC.

She married Graham Edwards in 1951 and had sons Alan and Bernard. Graham died in an accident in 1969 and in 1979 she married a second time, to Arthur Coxall.

The funeral took place at St John The Baptist Church in Bishop's Castle.

The town's first recorded carnival took place in 1897 and the event usually takes place on the first Sunday in July, although there is no carnival this year, partly because of uncertainty caused by Covid during the long planning lead-in.

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