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Carnival 2019 - 6pm Saturday 2nd November

History – 2

Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival

History - 2The local authority considered enough was enough and called in the newly formed fire brigade to douse the flames and put and end to the festivities. Not a wise move as this angered the revellers, so much so that they cut the fire hoses and those which remained intact were turned on the firemen themselves. Fireman James Ware refused to give up the possession of a standpipe however and he was set upon by the angry mob who chased him through the streets of the town. Although sustaining a few cuts and bruises he managed to escape to the shelter of his home where he remained under the protection of the local police.

Next day, the riot was the talk of the town and various parties were blamed. It took a letter from Frank Squire, written to the Bridgwater Mercury, to focus people s attention on the real issues. He suggested that a controlling committee be formed and an annual procession organised so that citizens in other parts of the town could witness the magnificent costumes which were, by now, a major feature in the festivities.

Frank s suggestion received substantial support and the following year, 1881, the first carnival committee was formed and the first official Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival paraded through the streets of the town. From this inaugural event has grown the country s longest running carnival, justifying the town s title as the Home of Carnival .

Two years later, another event occurred in the town which proved a significant milestone in the history of our carnival.

A new town bridge, crossing the River Parrett, had been commissioned by the local authority and due to be opened in the autumn of 1883. Capt. W.J Ford, the popular first President of Bridgwater Carnival, light heartedly suggested that the official opening of the bridge should take place on 5 November to coincide with the carnival parade. The Town Councillors thought this an excellent idea and arrangements were made to open the bridge in the afternoon of carnival day.

The carnival committee decided to play their part by staging a baptism of fire as the parade reached the river crossing. This was to consist of a spectacular firework display with Roman Candles, Sky Rockets and, of course, Bridgwater Squibs. Such a display would be expensive to stage so the committee came up with the idea of a fund-raising concert.

The evening of Popular Entertainment was duly organised and staged at the Town Hall on 31 October and this first Carnival Concert raised the magnificent sum of 14 guineas more than enough to pay for the new bridge s baptism of fire with a small amount left in the kitty. But that s not all that was achieved that night. So popular was this concert that it has been staged every year since, with the exception of the war years, and still remains a vital source of funding for the annual carnival parade itself.

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