The Tar Barrel tradition is hundreds of years old. The exact origins are unknown but probably started after the gunpowder plot of 1605.  Various alternative reasons suggested for burning barrels have included fumigation of cottages and as a warning of the approach of the Spanish armada.

The West Country has a history of torchlight processions and burning barrels and Ottery was only one of the many towns and villages following an annual tradition containing barrels which were rolled in the streets on November 5th each year. Somewhere along the line someone decided rolling was tame and carrying barrels on your shoulders was far more appealing and so the present tradition was born and now Ottery is the only town in the country carrying full sized lighted tar barrels through the streets.

The procession of tableaux is also an old West Country tradition and is still a popular part of the winter months when most weekends will see a procession of brightly lit tableaux in a great many Towns and villages.

November the 5th each year is the traditional day for the Tar Barrels and only changes when the 5th falls on a Sunday. The procession and fireworks are normally on the Saturday before the 5th of November.

Years in the making

Barrels in one night

Barrel Rollers

Thousand Pounds raised for local charities

 

The Tar Barrel tradition is hundreds of years old. The exact origins are unknown but probably started after the gunpowder plot of 1605.  Various alternative reasons suggested for burning barrels have included fumigation of cottages and as a warning of the approach of the Spanish armada.

The West Country has a history of torchlight processions and burning barrels and Ottery was only one of the many towns and villages following an annual tradition containing barrels which were rolled in the streets on November 5th each year. Somewhere along the line someone decided rolling was tame and carrying barrels on your shoulders was far more appealing and so the present tradition was born and now Ottery is the only town in the country carrying full sized lighted tar barrels through the streets.

The procession of tableaux is also an old West Country tradition and is still a popular part of the winter months when most weekends will see a procession of brightly lit tableaux in a great many Towns and villages.

November the 5th each year is the traditional day for the Tar Barrels and only changes when the 5th falls on a Sunday. The procession and fireworks are normally on the Saturday before the 5th of November.

 

The Bonfire

Ottery’s giant bonfire is an integral part of the annual Carnival and has had many sites throughout its history.  It is hard to visualise a bonfire being situated on the Flexton near the town’s monument, but it was.  The present site on St Saviours Meadow has been home for the bonfire in more recent times and alternative banks on the River Otter have been used over the years.

Most people associate the bonfire with the fairground as they stand adjacent to one another.  Many a photographer has caught the magic moment as the fire blazes, complemented by the coloured lights of the big fairground wheel in the background.

Three weeks before the carnival, all manner of material is collected from the community to build the bonfire.  The sight of the first fully laden tractor and trailer seems to herald the coming of the carnival and in turn generates a bout of communal pruning.  One the week before the carnival the bonfire is finalised and usually stands about 35ft high with a girth of around 50ft.

The Guy for the bonfire was made by the Young family from 1958 to 2009.  Now we have a Guy competition for the children in the community and a winner is selected for placing on the bonfire.  On Carnival day the ceremonial Guy is placed on top of the bonfire and in the evening the Carnival Vice President sets a flaming torch to the base and a spectacle of flame is enjoyed by all.