Weston Carnival prepares to mark 50th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 17:59 07 November 2019
'I hope Weston Carnival continues forever'. Those are the words which will make people across Weston rejoice as committee stalwart, Terry Gilbert gives an insight into the charity's work to mark 50 years of spectacular illuminated winter processions in the town.
Tens of thousands of spectators are set to line Weston's streets to watch the annual parade tomorrow (Friday), and the Mercury has exclusive behind-the-scenes access with the committee which makes the event a reality in North Somerset.
"It is brilliant Weston Carnival is still going - we have been on a shoe string at times," Terry explains, as he took on his role at the committee after former chairman Brian Coombs died after a long-term illness in 2017.
He continues: "It has cost us around £35,000 to run the carnival this year, and we started working on the procession from December last year, to make sure the event runs perfectly and smoothly in November."
Weston Carnival is an annual celebration dating back to 1871 and is the only parade to take place in North Somerset, which is thought to be part of one of the largest illuminated circuits in the world.
It falls under the Somerset County Guy Fawkes Carnival Association (SCGFCA) umbrella, which was started after the gunpowder plot of 1605, and around 100 entrants, from walking to 100ft-cart entries, take part in the procession.
The earliest Weston carnivals began at Knightstone Island and travelled around nearly 'every street in town' and crowds dispersed at Weston beach, where bonfires were lit and effigies burned.
The town's celebrations were reported in London newspapers during the late-19th and early-20th centuries and processions used to feature huskies, oxen and horses until the 1970s.
Terry is praying for good weather, as Weston has experienced 'hail stones and rain' over the past four years.
He said: "The weather was the worst we have ever had last year, we had a meeting at 5pm on the day to decide if the carnival would run - due to high tides and strong winds.
"If we needed to, we would bring people off the carts at the seafront.
"At 8pm, the winds died down, so we did decide to run the carnival - it was the last thing we would have wanted to do to stop the show.
"We're overdue a lovely night, calm, not windy and rainy - that would be a treat."
World War One and Two both cancelled the long-running event in Somerset and Weston, and in 1969, Lions club members Tom Churton, Dave Amey and Ron Phillips pulled together to get the event onto the Somerset carnival circuit.
The parade begins in Bridgwater, the home of carnival, on the first Saturday in November, which then proceeds into Burnham, Weston, North Petherton, Shepton Mallet, Wells and finally Glastonbury ending in mid-November.
Terry continues: "I've been involved in carnival for as long as I can remember, but the biggest shock to me was I didn't know how many people get involved with the event - it's like a big family.
"We've got 85 marshals this year along the circuit, and we'll have around 200 volunteers on the night.
"Silver Control ensures we keep things running smoothly, and they tell us if something is broken down during the parade, so we can get to it in the quickest amount of time and in the best way possible.
"We want the carnival to run as smoothly as it can.
"We've even brought a fire truck down to the line-up before, and ambulances regularly have to get through to assist people."
Terry says the event has eight new sponsors this year, including Weston Town Council, which gave the committee £500 towards its 50th celebrations, All The Two's Taxis, the town's museum, Birnbeck Insurance, Rossiter & Sons and more.
Terry says North Somerset Council's funding towards the event runs out next year and the committee has had to 'dip into its saving pot' to run the show in 2019.
He suggests if 10 businesses could donate up to £100 each to keep the event alive in town, it would be 'ideal'.
Weston Carnival committee will hold a dinner dance at the town's Winter Gardens, in Royal Parade, on January 25 at a time to be confirmed.
Weston Carnival will start at Locking Road car park at 7.15pm.
For more information about the carnival route, visit www.northsomersetcarnival.co.uk