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A Brief History of the Origin of the Glastonbury Carnival

November 7th 1891      Price One Half Penny



In all the history of our town, no event perhaps has exercised a greater amount of influence upon the public mind than the Guy Fawkes Carnival of 1891, celebrated with all due pomp …

The affair partook of a somewhat disjointed character on account of the rivalry between two sections of the masqeraders know respectively as The Carnival Club and The Bonfire Boys,  And thereby hangs a tale. In the year 1889 a few of the old hands were asked to send out circulars to get a few friends together to carry out the bonfire as it should be.  A secretary was appointed pro temps to send out between 30 and 40 notices, several of which were sent to members of the now Carnival Club. It is said that the only responses to these were from two gentlemen, one of whom from his official capacity, was unable to take part in the scheme.  Of course it rained on the eventful night, but the moisture of the atmosphere did not prevent the Boys from carrying out fully the proposed programme.  Up to the present time the Fifth has been observed in the latest approved fashion, the “Old Firm” adhering to the principles of business to the extent of publishing a balance sheet from year to year.  Last year, it will be remembered, the pluvial authorities were unusually generous, and the over-plus of rain which fell throughout the evening had a tendency to put a damper on everything, bonfire-boys not exempted.  A few weeks later a public meeting was convened in the Town Hall, and about a hundred of the townspeople assembled in response.  The idea of establishing a Carnival Club was them mooted, and after a free and fill discussion it was resolved by a large majority to put the suggestion into tangible shape, and accordingly the new venture was styled “The Glastonbury and District Carnival Club” and a provisional committee was appointed to draft rules and discharge various other functions appertaining to the launching of the club. Whilst on the matter of this Committee a question was asked as to who constituted the Committee of “The Old Firm”.  In response Mr Stanley Squires (hon. sec.) handed a list of names to one of the now hon. secs. of the Carnival Club, but intimated that he was no authorised to act on behalf of his confreres.  Subsequently several of the Old ‘uns were nominated to serve on the provisional Committee, but these withdrew their names, on the ground that the whole of the Bonfire Boys Committee should be nominated, they having borne the brunt of the work in by-gone days.  It was further argued that the Boys had a large membership, and a substantial fund at their banks, and that, therefore they were entitled to election en masse on the provisional Committee of the new organisation.  This, however, was not the mind f the Committee of the New Firm, and the result was that the “Boys” decided to wash their hands of the whole affair and to carry out their own programme as in previous years.  Things went on for several months in this way; the Carnival Club adopted rules of the provisional committee, elected its officers and took such steps as were necessary to formulate plans for the forthcoming Fifth.  The “Boys” did ditto at their headquarters, and latterly each part has held meetings, some committee and some general, almost every week.  The new Firm appointed collectors, and the Old Firm did likewise and for several weeks past the town has been vigorously canvassed for “tin”, the unfortunate citizen having to decide between the merits of the rival ‘firms’ and fork out in conformity thereto, or else subscribe equally to both.  The bonfire boys disclaim the assertion that they are a rival party, arguing that having occupied the carnival arena for several years prior to the advent of the New Firm, can in respect thereof lay claim to being the ‘old established’ party, while the Carnivalites are obviously the intruders.  On the other hand it is contended that the Boys never were an organised body, and that the Carnival Club therefore stand first and foremost in this respect. After the first meeting of the latter in November of last year the Bonfire Boys Committee, not being asked (so they say) to stand as a body on the general committee of the new club, declined to act, feeling that they had not been fairly dealt with.  Time passed away, and then a delegates’ meeting was arranged, and the overtures were very satisfactorily accepted on both sides and the amalgamation (for which a certain Civic Father has prayed fervently and unceasingly of late) was pretty generally considered to be complete, but then came the bone of contention.  The New Club already had a committee of 30 members and it was felt that it would be a bad business to dismiss any of these.  The Old Firm were numerically the smaller body, and in view of these two points, the New Club decided that in the event of amalgamation the Boys (should have less representation) on the General Committee.  This was considered by the Boys to be a violation of the contract entered into by both sides at the delegates’ meeting, and announced that unless the Carnival Club would consent to equal representation on the Committee, they (the Boys) would withdraw their consent to the amalgamation.  The Carnivalites, however, were determined to stick to their point, and so between the two stools, the much desired union between the two factions very complacently fell to the ground.  During the past fortnight party feeling has waged high in the town, and a certain amount of iIl-feeling has been occasioned in consequence.  It was generally felt that there being such a strained relationship between the two parties a regular “bust up” on the eventful night was inevitable.  The common mode of salutation in the streets for several weeks was “Old Firm” or “New Firm”, and it became quite proverbial to swear by the Carnival.  Thanks however to the efforts of several influential people, the two parties were prevailed upon to adopt different routes on the evening n question, and an amalgamation in the matter of the bonfires was brought about, the Bonfire Boys consenting to build the fire on the cross and the Carnival Club that at the top of the town.  This is briefly how the ‘machinery’ of the event stood up to last evening.

Glorious weather favoured the pageant, which was attended by several thousand persons, including a number of excursionists, visitors from Street, Walton, Baltonsborough, Meare, Pennard, Westhay, Wells, Godney, Butleigh etc.

Early in the morning immense quantities of fuel were collected in the Market-place and at the top of the town, and monster fires were built later in the day, Mr. Jim PHILLIPS being chief fireman.  The torch was applied to the piles about seven o’clock, and an hour later the fires were burning brightly and merrily.


They met together at the top of the town at seven o’clock when the huge bonfire already prepared there was ignited.  The preliminary matters having been got through, a procession was marshalled and proceeded through High Street in the following order.  First came the torchbearers in goodly numbers, followed by the ‘magnificent’ banner of the Order on which was inscribed the words “The Old Brigade”.  Then came the Street (old) brass band (Bandmaster Mr. Albert Hosper) who played a spirited air.  A number of signal lights, i.e. tar barrels under the guidance of the renowned Beef-eater Mr. John Chivers, were followed by masqeraders in goodly numbers, including the Prince of Clowns (Mr. Charles Haines), ‘Night and Day’ (Mr. Frank England) a capital character, the dress being half white and half black, ‘The Australian Gold-digger’ (Mr A. Baily), Night and Morn’, (Mr. D. Dunthorn), a costume of black and red, etc.  The ever-green Guy Fawkes occupied the first car, and in the opinion of everybody, the arch-traitor ‘took the cake’.  The effigy was about 20 feet high and was of immense proportions.  The face, a very wicked one, was covered with grizzly beard and surmounted with a high cocked hat. Over the shoulders was thrown a red cloak fringed with yellow.  The hands were encased in white gauntlets and one of them grasped the immortal lantern.  The legs were jointed, and a man in the bottom of the car manipulated the strings and kept the effigy’s pedals dancing about to the music of the band.  Then came a posse of torch bearers, under the direction of the boss of Wells-road, Mr John Page, and it must be mentioned that the effect produced by the innumerable lights was uncommonly good.  Another batch of signal lights succeeded and these in turn were followed by more torch bearers.  The popular jockeys of the day (Messrs. R Champion and Brooks) came next, the former mounted on “Common” and the latter on “Deemster”.  The second car was a really smart representation of H.M. Ship ‘The Lady Brue’, manned by twenty jolly tars, notable amongst whom were Messrs. Major and Claydon.  As the procession moved along the coloured fire was ignited fire and aft of the ‘vessel’ and the tars lustily sang the chorus of the popular song ‘Sailing’. Following this was a capital model of a gun, measuring from 19 to 20 feet in length, and labelled “The Old Firm”.  The A detachment of Artillery guarded the ‘early closer’, under the command of Mr. A. Lisk.  Then came a battalion of the Queen’s own ‘Mocus’ riders with ribbons and flowers, and the riders dressed in fancy garb.  The ‘Witches’ a Shakespearian tableau, which followed next in order, was unquestionably the feature of the procession.  This was a car canopied with laurels and ivy; in the centre was the cauldron, in which were stationed three witches.  (……. stand was responsible for the staging of the piece. Each character was armed with the most mysterious of crooked sticks, and was to all appearances deeply engrossed in invoking evil spirits to their aid. A weird effect was continuously produced by the burning of the coloured fire in the fire underneath the cauldron.  The witches were represented by Messrs. W. Edmunds, H. Tucker and G. Lester.  Then came the celebrated clowns just imported from Barnum’s with their eight-day donkey “Sambo”. The antics of these celebrities-Messrs. Godfrey and Sharpe, were highly entertaining. A gang of masqueraders representing Buffalo Bill, Turks, Niggers, Red Jackets, Zulus and the King of ‘Snouts’, attracted considerable attention, their costumes being particularly good, and their general appearance adding immensely to the effectiveness of the procession.  The ‘Dancing Bear’ (Mr. J.W.C. Pearce) was thoroughly domesticated, and his performance gained him enviable renown. Mr. T. H. Harrington came out in the character of a Devonshire Volunteer, and was a rare get up.  The donkey chariot which brought up the rear of the display was occupied by two of the funniest of funny clowns – Messrs. T. King and H. Strode, both of whom displayed well-timed jocularity.  If course there were hundreds of minor characters in the procession, whom space will not permit of our noticing individually. To one and all we offer our hearty congratulation on the exhibition which they each so ably contributed to.  On reaching the Cross, a move was made towards the residence of Mr. H. Hanham, and as the procession paraded through Northland Street, the effect produced by the various coloured lights, monster squibs and the costumes and set pieces was charming.  On returning to the Cross, the procession passed that of the Carnival Club near the Lamb Inn, but to the credit of all concerned be it said, the utmost order and good manners(?) prevailed. A move was made to Benedict Street, and from thence in turn Magdalene Street, Manor House Road, and High Street were visited, the band inspiriting everybody with the lively music that they played.  Mr. S. Squires acted in the capacity of Marshal, being picturesquely attired.  All along the route of the procession coloured fires were ignited and squibs of “fine and large” calibre were continually let off, so that everything looked bright and animated throughout.  Subsequently the Market-place was resorted to, and here the Boys disported themselves to their hearts’ content. Frequently the Band paraded the High Street, and was followed by the masqueraders, who baptized the spectators lining the streets with showers of fire from their squibs. In due course, Guy Fawkes was tried by Court Martial, sentenced to be burned, and amidst the cheers of the Old Brigade, was consigned to the flames. We are requested to state that the Boys feel themselves much indebted to Mr. R. Hanham, of the Rose and Crown, for the many services he has from time to time rendered the cause; to Mr. W. Lewis, who has expended time and energy in helping to arrange matters; to Mr. R. Champion, for the use of his pony and trap and personal services; to Mr. Idiens, to S. & D.R. Co. for the loan of wagons; and to the general public for their kind pecuniary assistance which enabled the Old Brigade to celebration the time-honoured Carnival in accordance with their high prestige.



The members and friends of the Carnival Club assembled shortly before seven o’clock in the Fair-Field in Benedict Street, and here the tedious process of marshalling was (promptly performed.  The (?)) Committee offered prizes for the best costumes, single, double and groups, and the judging took place in the field. The judges were Rev. H.L. Barnwell, and Messrs. E.B. Sly and J.A. Bright, and owing to lack of management in arranging for the Competition, these gentlemen experienced a somewhat trying time of it.  “Come and be judged, you naughty boy,” was the joke on everybody’s lips. The cars were drawn up in line to be judged, whilst a ring was formed for the inspection of the masqueraders, the spectators holding aloft lighted torches.

There were over a hundred competitors, and some of the dresses were exceedingly smart; there was a close run for the prizes awarded. First honours (15/-) for the best tableau was unhesitatingly awarded to the car representing Britannia.  This was a massive structure, rising tier upon tier to the height of 20 feet, and on the summit was seated Britannia with her trident, and at her feet were soldiers and sailors. On the lowest tier were stationed a number of British subjects from every point of the globe, all of whom were effectively dressed in characteristic costume.  John Bull (Mr. Cridland), was a splendid make-up, as was also the Zulu (Mr. Culverwell).  The second prize (10s), went to a most realistic representation of the Tor-hill tower; and the third (8s), to the Electric Barber’s Shop; the fourth (6s), to Robin Hood and his merry men; and the fifth (5s), to the “Darkest African” Minstrels. In the competition for double costumes the Ring clowns (Messrs. E.H. Roach and E.R. Williams) with their chariot artistically decorated with comic sketches by our “local Boz” and tandem donkeys carried off the first award (10s 6d).  Owing to lack of entries in this department the judges decided not to award second and third prizes, but gave a fourth award to a happy couple “Darby and Joan” (Messrs Churchill and Hiscox). For single masqueraders there was a capital display, “King Hal” (Mr. W.T.M. Tucker) carried all before him in his costume being artistic and elegant, and it was an easy matter for the judges to award him the premier honours (7s 6d).  Mephistopheles (Mr. F. Pollett) came second (6s), The Zulu (Bert Fisher) third (5s); The Bear (a Baltonsborough boy) fourth (3s) and the Jockey (unknown), fifth (2s 6d).  The decision of the judges gave general satisfaction.


Started from the Fair-Field shortly before eight o’clock, and paraded all the principal streets of the town in the following order:- Benedict Street, Magdalene Street, Bere Lane, Chilkwell Street, Lambrook Street, High Street, Northload Street, Manor House Road, returning to the Market Place.  First came torch bearers innumerable, most of whom were fantastically dressed.  The torches, of which there were about 150, were composed of yard poles with tin cisterns, each having a two inch wick-holder, being calculated to hold a pint and half of oil. The effect produced was capital, the torches burning clear and giving good light without the volumes of smoke which render the old tar torches so objectionable.  Then came the celebrated Glastonbury Brass and Reed Band (27 performers) under the conductorship of Mr. E.F. Huish. Preceded and flanked by torch bearers followed the Glastonbury Fire Brigade in full uniform under the command of Capt. E.V.P. Barker and Lieut. A.A. Blakiston.  The members were located on their engine, which was drawn by four spirited horses with postillions. Then came a party of masqueraders representing the various nations of the earth, each in characteristic native garb, and carrying the flags typical of the nationalities.  This was an exceedingly clever feature.  A decidedly smart and novel car came next illustrative of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  The car, which was drawn by two horses, was embellished with fir trees and evergreens, and contained Robin Hood (Mr. Geo. Curtis), Will Scarlet (Mr. C. Mills), Friar Tuck (Mr H.J. Carpenter), Maid Marion (Mr. A. James) Little John (Mr E. Pester), Allan Adale (Mr. C. Burns).  The various characters were splendidly got up and as the car was illuminated with coloured fire, the effect was strikingly pretty.  “The Electric Barber’s Shop” followed, and was the source of endless amusement.  The car was fitted up as a shaving establishment, and the officiating barber (Mr R Vile), who wore a business-like air and a white apron was disclosed operating upon a couple of victims in a most “life-like” manner. The shaving brush was about two yards long, the razor – warranted “best Sheffield steel” – was proportionately huge, and the comb might have done service for kitchen garden pailings.  The assistant barber, who wielded a pair of immense scissors in a hair dressing operation , was impersonated by Mr. W. Clark.  Then came another conspicuous gang of masqueraders, all of whom were most picturesquely attired, and whose smart appearance was generally admired.  An extraordinary feature of the procession was the car on which was displayed a splendid model of the Tor Hill Tower.  This unique piece of workmanship (for the construction of which Mr. A. R. Williams, one of the honorary secretaries was responsible) measured 15ft. by 6ft. and was composed of canvas stretched on a wooden frame. The exterior was realistically painted by our local artist, even the carved figures on the original being depicted. This model was surrounded by a group of notabilities, charmingly dressed. A batch of torch bearers followed, and then came a distinguished personage “Boss of the Road from Blow Hard Corner” (Mr. W. E. Renshaw) who was attired in a huge broad trimmed hat, red wig, America Imperial white Newmarket coat with stars and stripes, breeches and top boots, and who drove a pony attached to a ‘spring’ gig.  One of the features of the procession was the miniature car drawn by two donkeys, and on which was seated the two inimitable King Clowns – “uncle Joe” and “Tompkins” (Messrs. E.H. Roach and A.R. Williams) in company with their “leetle dawg”. Both Clowns were grotesquely attired, one wearing a skull cap and the other a sugar-loafer bearing the inscription “How do you do?”  preceded ad guarded on either side by torch bearers came the immortal Guy Fawkes, borne aloft on the shoulders of several men, the archtraiter being drawn by a pair of horses.  This was the nigger troupe each of whom manipulated an instrument of some kind and filled the air with nigger songs and absurdities.  The following composed the troupe:- Messrs. W. Pearce, A. Pearce, A. Dunthorn, T. Kerridge, J. King, W. Bryant, and R. Marsh.  Next in order was the ‘performing bear’ accompanied by its keeper. Then followed the Baltonsborough “Star of the East” Brass Band (conductor Mr. A. Silcox), and in the rear came The St. Dunstan’s Brigade, under the of His Satanic Majesty now on furlough (Mr. J. Bond), St. Dunstan was impersonated by Mr. Stacey, whose get-up was very clever.  There were representations of “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, Buffalo Bill with his rough and tumble riders”, “Red-skirts”, “Huntsmen, “His Eminence, Ally Sloper, F.O.M.”, direct from the Sloperies, Mr. W.T.M. Tucker appeared as Henry VIII, in the following costume:- Cloak of red velvet, silver brocaded jacket, grey and amber satin breeches, black velvet court shoes, grey hat and plume.  The ‘rig-out’ was mounted with silver braid and buttons, and was one of the chief features of the procession. Mr. F. Pollett impersonated the renowned Mephistopheles, in ‘Faust’, and was becomingly attired in a costume of black and red loose blouse with cloak and tight fitting pants, and was in every respect a warm and sparkling character.  The rear of the display was brought up by the grand car representing Britannia.  Her Majesty, (Mr. F. Bautch), fully robed, was seated on a raised dais covered with the national colours, and was surrounded by 22 subjects, the whole forming a most picturesque tableau.

The Marshalls of the procession was Messrs. W. H. Higgins, H. Hanham and the Hon Secs. (Messrs. Williams and H. Sanders), the former being dressed in a costume of Silver Mail.

As the procession moved through the town the various cars were illuminated with coloured fire, whilst fireworks, such as squibs, Roman candles, shells, rockets, triangular wheels, huge gerbs, flying pigeons, cobars, golden rains, aerial murrions, Chinese flyers and fountains, were discharged on route.

At the conclusion of the procession the Carnivalites gave a grand display of fireworks in the Market-place, and the fun was kept up until midnight.


Shortly before twelve o’clock Mr. Bisgood, D.C.C. appeared on the scene and briefly congratulated the “moving spirits” on the success which had attended the demonstration and the perfect good feeling with which the proceedings had been carried out, and also that his men had practically enjoyed a night free of duty. One of the crowd called for cheers for the popular Deputy Chief, and this was responded to heartily by all present.

The Fire Brigade then brought out their Engine and pumped a volume of water on the remnants of the fire, totally extinguishing it, and the Bonfire Boys and the Carnivalites wended their way to their respective homes, not however, before cheering for the “Old Firm”, and the “New Firm”. The arduous duties of the hon. secs. to the Carnival Club were admirably discharged by Messrs. Williams and Saunders, to whom the utmost credit is due.  The Carnivalites are indebted to their Marshall (Mr. W. Higgins); Mr. Elston for the use of his yard, wagons etc, and the general public who supported the Club funds.



“The great th’important day” big with the fate of the above mentioned institutions has come and gone, and all that remains this morning of the glorious Carnival are a couple of heaps of ashes and charred wood, and an extraordinary amount of brown paper strewn about the market place.  Truly it was a remarkable sight, and to those who for the first time in their lives received a generous baptism of fire, will not soon be forgotten.  By a strange freak of the water god no rain fell all the evening, indeed a cloudless sky (gave fine weather from beginning to end) (?).  It is to be regretted that the affair was carried out by two rival parties, but it was a due amount of consideration, must be allowed for the exuberance of a section of the old and the New Times. The first indication that something unusual was ‘on the board’ took place at early morning when two large bonfires were built, one on the Market-place and the other at the top of the town.  Later in the day the shopkeepers in the High Street and the Market-place, who were unprovided with shutters wisely had their shop windows covered, some with boards and others with wet canvas, as a protection against the explosives anticipated at a more advanced hour.  Shortly after six o’clock visitors commenced pouring into the town; traps heavily laden (came from the surrounding villages, others were conveyed by the proprietors of the railway buses.)  Very soon the streets became densely populated, and one had to elbow one’s way through the crowd to get from the cross to the station.  The Carnival Club Members went to the Cricket field where their paraphernalia awaited them.  The masqueraders numbering several hundred, soon took their allotted positions, and the Judges (the Rev. H.L. Barnwell and Messrs. Bright and Sly) got through their work of judging the various costumes and awarding prizes according to merit.  The torches was all then lit, and the various carts properly illuminated, and about eight o’clock all was in readiness for the start.  Mr. W. Higgins, who wore a splendid costume of silver mail, performed the duties of Marshal with great tact and promptitude, and under his guidance the details of the pageant were well displayed.  The procession looked extremely picturesque as it left the rendezvous, and the spectators cheered heartily particularly when the final car – Britannia – hove in sight.  The tableaux were all cleverly done, everything being carried out in an elaborate and imposing scale.  Some of he costumes were works of art, notably that of Mr. W.T.M. Tucker (King Henry VIII).  The Procession was about a quarter of a mile in length, and was composed entirely of masqeraders in fancy costume.  Even the bands (the Glastonbury Band, the ‘Star of the East’ Baltonsborough) donned special attire, the former wearing white helmets, and the latter, soldiers’ uniform.  The Bonfire Boys congregated at the top of the town at seven o’clock, and were promptly marshalled in procession by Mr S. Squire, who wore the garb of the Royal Engineers.  

There were two exceedingly clever set pieces, one a vessel, “The Lady Brue”, manned by sailors in costume, and the other a realistic tableau, representing the Witch scene in Hamlet.  Then there was a detachment of Artillery in charge of the 101 ton gun which rejoiced in the name of the “Old Firm”.  Other novel features of the procession were arranged in order with a view to effect, conspicuous positions being of course occupied by the signal lights. The Street Brass Band were chartered r the occasion and leading the way they started off at the word of command through High street and from thence to Northload street . Now a good many people imagined that if the two parties met in the street there would be a free fight.  True, such an occurrence would not have given rise to any great amount of surprise, but that neither party intended to create a disturbance was soon proved inasmuch as the Old Firm met the Carnival Club mid way in Northload street, and those the road at that point was narrow and the two processions cleared one another admirably and not an ill word or an offensive action came under our notice.  Later on the processionists passed and repassed in High street, and but for a lot of good-natured chaff on both sides, nothing unparliamentarily took place.  This is to the credit to all concerned; to the Bonfire Boys especially as they felt themselves the aggrieved party in the matter of the amalgamation which was suggested a few weeks previous.  The Carnival Club concluded their peregrinations first and the Fire Engine and cars were hailed away forthwith.  The ‘Old Brigade’, however preferred to give the public the benefit of their united display  and for fully an hour after the other party had ceased operations they paraded the streets of  the town.  Ultimately a final halt was made on the cross; the cars taken to a place of safety; Guy Fawkes effigy (one of the best we have ever seen, and a credit to the Brigade) was drawn up alongside of the Monument; the boys settled down to squibbing, and the bands alternately discoursed short selections of music. There was plenty of smoke, banging, sparks, shouting and bustle all the evening and it was the fault of the spectators if they did not enjoy themselves.  The Brigade claim to have had the most and the best of the squibs and it was evident that they intended the spectators to unanimously endorse the opinion, for they kept up the continual discharge for several hours.  The (call from everybody) bar the Carnival Clubites was ‘The Old Firm’, and often this was heard above the booming of the fireworks.  Mr W. Higgins discharged some immense squibs and a splendid assortment of rockets and Roman candles.  The Market-place was literally packed with spectators until nearly midnight, and the fun waxed fast and furious until a like period.  The fire at the top of the town was occasionally visited by the bands followed by gangs with squibs, but the display of fireworks otherwise took place at the other end of the High street.  The St Dunstan’s Brigade, from Baltonsborough positioned their celebration at home and threw in their lot with the Carnival Club.  In return for this we understand that the members of the later institution intend going over to Baltonsborough to-night for the purpose of making the Carnival in the village a thing to be looked back upon with awe and wonder.  So far as we can gather this morning, the affair of the last evening passed off from beginning to end with éclat, and the perfect harmony on both sides, and there is little doubt that next year this time will find the New and Old Firms happily amalgamated.  May it be so.

Originally printed by John Whitby and published at their offices at No.2 High Street, Glastonbury, and opposite Crispin Hall, Street.