Will Bridgwater Carnival's switch to Saturday night put all town shows in peril?
Martin Coppell is chief marshal at Wells carnival. He says the carnival calendar has been thrown into turmoil by Bridgwater’s move to a Saturday night event.
Below, Dave Stokes, publicity officer for Bridgwater’s committee, says the decision was taken in the carnival’s best interests and everyone will be consulted after the trial has ended...
Somerset carnivals are very special to us all in the West Country, and not just the infamous Winter Carnival Circuit, the “Magnificent Seven”, but also the South Somerset and Wessex circuits.
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It’s a tradition that has been going on for 100 years or so. But the winter carnivals are in turmoil due to date changes by the Bridgwater Carnival Committee, which now runs a Saturday carnival which they have wanted many years after falling behind Glastonbury in the biggest collections.
Bridgwater claims to be the home of Carnival, which I doubt, and anyway, they should rename it The Broken Home of Carnival.
Bridgwater carnival was traditionally held on the Thursday night nearest to Bonfire Night, and the next day was called Black Friday, another tradition in Bridgwater when all the gangs would go from pub to pub and celebrate with each other.
Carnival itself began to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and all the gangs would dress their Guy before parading it around the town. The one that received the biggest cheer was deemed the winner.
Now here we are, and all these traditions have been ended by the Bridgwater committee, which has been envious of Glastonbury drawing the largest crowds and the biggest collections. That is why the town now holds a Saturday night carnival, a week before anyone else. The committee has in the past tried to take North Petherton’s night away from them and Yeovil before them.
Bridgwater did change to a Friday for a couple of years, a day now taken by Weston-super-Mare. Now Burnham-on-Sea wants to go before Bridgwater in 2014, the year in which Bridgwater would review and then let the rest of us know what they are deciding to do in the future. Confused yet?
If Bridgwater decides to continue with a Saturday carnival in 2015, it would be on Saturday, October 29, as the Mid Somerset Carnivals would stay in their present format, with Shepton Mallet on the Wednesday, Wells on the Friday and Glastonbury on the Saturday. As for the next five years, the dates Glastonbury has announced on its website would push Bridgwater further back into October.
No doubt the committee will not like this, but it’s the price for breaking with tradition. It is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.
Nothing can be done by the Somerset County Carnival Association, which is an advisory committee only and not a governing body.
Any committee can do as it pleases, but for the sake of carnival this must change now, or this amazing tradition will cease to exist.
Bridgwater, please go back to the traditional Thursday or you will be the death of carnival here in Somerset, well, in Sedgemoor at least Mid Somerset carnivals will still be going, I am sure of that.
Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival Committee is always looking at ways to secure the future of our carnival. With rising costs, dwindling collections, smaller crowds and a general lack of young people getting involved, we felt that a carnival on a Saturday would help.
So in 2012 we began a three-year trial – an idea which was passed through the Somerset County Guy Fawkes Carnivals Association in 2011. We have always said that, we will consult various carnival stakeholders about its success and make a decision about the future.
Carnival in 2012, held on November 3, exceeded all expectations. With increased support from local authorities, businesses and The Arts Council of England, we held a fun-packed carnival day of which any town would be proud. We had the biggest crowd for many a year, and the highest collection since 2008 – just under £25,000. We also organised a number of school projects, including two children’s parades on carnival day, the decorating of 12 giant squibs, a carnival literacy challenge and a competition to design and build carnival carts.
Bridgwater Carnival has not historically been held on a Thursday. For 300 years, Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival was held on the ‘Glorious Fifth’ (November 5). The only exception was when that fell on a Sunday, and the carnival was then held on the following day. It was not until 1909, when the town started to attract crowds from far and wide, that businesses asked for a move to a Thursday, which was half-day closing. Time and circumstances change so, with no half-day closing and crowds diminishing, the committee felt it should change the day. Saturday would have been preferred but this was not able to be negotiated with other towns, so in 2001 we opted for a Friday. It was to a degree more successful but not ideal, as we wished to include a children's parade and all-day entertainment.
Black Friday celebrations began very quietly in the 1970s, so can hardly be described as a long-standing tradition. It was one of the few days of the year when pubs opened the entire day. Pubs can now open all day throughout the year and clubs now celebrate on the Sunday after the parade.
Carnival began with a huge bonfire in the town centre which drew people to the night’s activities where thousands of home-made squibs were ignited and effigies tossed on the flames.
Bridgwater Carnival is the oldest in the UK and is held in great esteem. “Home of Carnival” is a justifiable claim.
Bridgwater Carnival has a policy of not publicly commenting on the plans of other carnivals, and we continue to provide support to others on the circuit with advice, marshalling, judging, road closures.