Somerset’s Carnival Towns
- Credit: Mark Atherton, Weston & Somerset
Our spectular carnivals with their dazzling displays will be lighting up the streets again
The word ‘awesome’ comes up a lot when the Carnivals In Somerset Promotion Project (CISPP) takes its work into primary schools.The excited young audiences love to dress up in the costumes and hear the story behind how our carnivals began.CISPP was formed in 2009 by a group of carnival folk who were concerned that this unique part of our heritage could be lost in future unless others were encouraged to take part.
Gordon Stockman, who manages the project, received the MBE for his services to carnival. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject and has been involved for 42 years. He says carnival is so important to the area.
“Illuminated carnivals in Somerset, as well as those in the adjoining counties of Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon, have been a key element of the economic, social and cultural fabric of many rural communities for over 400 years. There are currently around 30 illuminated carnivals in South West England, the most famous being the ‘magnificent seven’ of the Somerset County Guy Fawkes circuit in November. These parades have important economic, social and cultural benefits for the area, although there are a number of threats to the future of these spectacular and unique parades.
“The economic downturn is affecting carnival clubs, as floats can cost up to £20,000 to put on the road; carnival organising committees face similar outgoings, which include insurance, licences, barriers, road signs and prize money, and can total between £10,000 and £30,000 annually.Illuminated carnivals receive little in the way of private sponsorship and limited financial support from public sector bodies, and thus rely on fundraising activities and voluntary donations.”
Each year it is estimated that the local economy benefits to the tune of up to £40million during the carnival season, which lasts from late August until mid-November, Gordon adds. “Around £120,000 is raised from street collections during the parades, which goes towards the cost of staging the carnivals with the rest being donated to local charities and voluntary organisations. In excess of £2million has been raised from these collections alone since 1980. In addition, clubs and committees fundraise and spend in the local economy the whole year around.”
10 facts about our carnival towns
*Bridgwater Arts Centre is one of the oldest in the UK and this month celebrates its 70th anniversary
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*Burnham-on-Sea has three lighthouses. The much photographed low lighthouse on legs was built on the beach in 1832.
*Chard is the home of steam-powered flight and the museum’s collections of national importance include those of aircraft pioneer John Stringfellow.
*The custom of sending a cutting from Glastonbury’s Holy Thorn to the monarch each Christmas dates back to the 17th century.
*Highbridge is the birthplace of Frank Foley who saved thousands of Jews during the Second World War. A statue of him stands on the town green.
*The Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust looks after the restored station buildings at Midsomer Norton with its signal box, museum, wartime pillbox and diesel locomotive.
*Discovered near North Petherton church in 1693, the 1,000 year old Alfred Jewel is considered to be one of the most exciting finds in the country. *The Museum of Somerset in Taunton is home to the largest collection of coins ever found in Britain.
*Weston-super-Mare Museum may be closed for a major refurbishment until 2017 but staff continue to provide outreach programmes to schools and community groups.
*Wincanton is twinned with a place that doesn’t exist: Ankh Morpork is a fictional city created by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld books. Visit the Discworld Emporium on the High Street.
South Somerset Federation of Carnivals Committee Circuit
These processions feature about 20 floats and about 80 entries and last about one hour and 15 minutes
24 September: Wellington, 7.30pm
1 October: Ilminster, 7.15pm
8 October: Chard, 7.30pm
15 October: Taunton, 7pm
Wessex Grand Prix Circuit
These last about one hour
17 September: Frome, 7pm
14 October: Wincanton, 7.30pm
15 October: Castle Cary, 7pm
Somerset County Guy Fawkes Carnival Association
The carnivals feature about 60 floats and about 120 entries and last two to three hours
5 November: Bridgwater, 7pm
7 November: Highbridge & Burnham-on-Sea, 7.30pm
11 November: Weston-super-Mare, 7.15pm
12 November: North Petherton, 7pm
14 November: Midsomer Norton, 7.30pm
16 November: Shepton Mallet, 7.30pm
18 November: Wells, 7pm
19 November: Glastonbury, 7pm