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Sarah Ford meets the residents of Bridgwater, Somerset's Carnival town

PUBLISHED: 16:14 27 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013

Life's a Carnival

Life's a Carnival

To say that Bridgwater is the home of carnival is an understatement. It's in the blood and many people there could not imagine life without it. Doug Robson is one of them. Currently president of the Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival Committee, he is ...

Sarah Ford meets the residents of Bridgwater, Somerset's Carnival town





They are typical of many Bridgwater families for whom carnival seems to have an irresistible pull. Life for them revolves around preparing for this annual spectacular, when the community comes together to entertain the crowds.



Doug and I have arranged to meet in the Carnival Inn, a large pub in the centre of town, which stands along part of the route the dazzling two-hour procession will take on 7 November.



He tells me that he followed his parents into carnival, and next year marks his 50th anniversary of being involved in some way or another - whether as a performer on the illuminated carts (or floats), marshal, committee member or street collector.



"My dad was from Newcastle and my mum was a Londoner, and they met when he was working in London during the war. The factory he worked in as an engineer was bombed, and they felt the Westcountry was safer so they moved here. That's where they stayed and that's when I came along.



"My earliest memory of my dad being in carnival was when he used to take me out on a Sunday morning to help out on the cart. I remember, as a youngster, waiting for carnival and feeling that something special was going to happen in the town.



"I would have been about 15 when I first took part myself, and I did a comic entry with a couple of friends. It was a strongman act linked to a Guinness advert."



There are some 13 clubs within the Bridgwater association today, and planning and preparing for carnival is a year's work. Doug, like many others, is very passionate about this hobby, which has become a way of life. He admits he could 'talk carnival' for a long time and not get bored!



"I suppose there is a little bit of show business in everybody - they would like to be able to perform, tell a joke or sing well - and it's such a lovely feeling to have the town come together on the night.



"It's something that has been handed down from family to family. We could walk through the town together now and I would probably be able to point out someone in carnival, it's that much connected to Bridgwater."



The carnival spirit has been alive here for 400 years, and today a new generation of dedicated, skilled young people are being trained up in a variety of practical skills to ensure this tradition continues into the future.



Students can now gain qualifications in set design, construction, costumes, electrics and model-making in the Carnival Academy at Bridgwater College. Doug, who has been in engineering all his life, has been teaching the subject at the college for 15 years.



His role as president of the Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival Committee now takes him into local schools, where he encourages children to make their own models and costumes to generate interest from an early age.




"I suppose there is a little bit of show business in everybody - and it's such a lovely feeling to have the town come together on the night"




"It's surprising how many people are unaware of the organisation that's involved." Last year's event attracted 150,000 spectators and more than 28,000 was collected and shared between the carnival and local charities. Doug hopes this year's audience will be just as generous with their donations.



Doug and I take a walk through the town and, as he predicted earlier, we soon bump into someone connected with carnival - a past president and his wife.



We walk to the Cornhill, where, for centuries, on 5 November, the people of Bridgwater gathered around a huge bonfire to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. The 'Spirit of Carnival' statue, which was unveiled here in 2005, is a reminder of the origins of carnival. It depicts a masquerader dressed in the style of clothing worn in the 17th century, and above his head he holds a squib - one of the large fireworks which were lit and held aloft by townsfolk as they made merry around the bonfire.



Squibbing is unique to Bridgwater and it still continues each year, a parade of some 150 'Squibbers' lining the High Street and bringing the carnival to a spectacular close. BY SARAH FORD. PHOTO BY MIKE ALSFORD



Bridgwater Carnival starts at 7pm on 7 November. For further information visit www.bridgwatercarnival.org.uk. Other carnivals take place in November at North Petherton (8th), Burnham-on-Sea (10th), Shepton Mallet (12th), Midsomer Norton (13th), Wells (14th), Glastonbury (15th) and Weston-super-Mare (17th). For further details call (01934 750833 or visit www.somersetcarnivals.co.uk.


Mike Alsford is happy to carry out portrait shoots for both professional and private clients. For more information visit www.alsfordpictures.com.

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